Berserk – Tim Lebbon

image

I’ve always heard the saying you don’t judge a book by its cover and I can say that I haven’t picked out a book that way since I was a kid wandering around the adult fiction section for the first time at the local bookstore. Well that bookstore met it’s demise by the wrecking ball long ago. Since then, I’ve expanded my reading horizons in a more systematic way. First, it was through the recommendations of like-minded friends. In the last couple of years, it’s been through the recommendations of my like-minded Goodreads friends and Tim Lebbon was one of those recommended that I should check out. So, when looking through his work, I came across Berserk and it’s cover with the creepy girl with grayish-green skin and evil eyes peeking… No, leering out at you. What a great cover! I had to see what it was about. I’m pleased to tell you, the story behind that cover is just as creepy.

Lebbon introduces us to Tom, a husband who is still grieving with his wife over the loss of their only child, Steven, twenty years earlier. Steven had been in the army and was apparently killed in an accident at a military base. The details of which were kept secret by the government. Tom and his wife buried an empty casket. Steven’s body was supposedly never recovered. This has never set well with Tom. One night, he overhears two soldiers talking about that fateful accident in a local pub and learns that his his son was buried in a mass grave not far from there. If this sounds like an “uh oh” moment, you’re right. But the “uh oh” isn’t the fact that a distraught father took a shovel out to a deserted army base and broke in to do some digging. The “uh oh” is in what he dug up and the aftermath of it. Lebbon weaves a creepy and eerie (there are those two words again) tale dripping with atmosphere and good characterization. Although, watching what Tom does throughout the story is like witnessing a train wreck unfold and you can’t look away, you understand where he’s coming from. You feel his anguish and despair controlling his decisions. While I may have preferred a different ending, Berserk was a chillingly fun ride. A solid 4 stars.

4 out of 5 stars

Advertisements

Book of the Dead – edited by John Skipp & Craig Spector

image

In the 1980s, the only person that was doing anything significant with zombies was the Godfather himself, George Romero. In horror fiction, zombie stories were as dead as the zombies themselves. Then, in 1989, this little gem of a collection came along and among it’s pages were some heavy hitters from the horror and sci-fi genre. If you’re looking for chills and scares, keep moving. You won’t find them here. But, if you’re looking for good, campy fun ala Tales from the Crypt types of zombie stories, by all means, sink your teeth into this perverted bag of goodies. And I mean perverted. Many of these stories have either zombie sex or the biting off of penises in there somewhere. Two stand out tales for me that left me crying laughing were On the Far Side of the Cadillac Desert with Dead Folks by Joe Lansdale and Jerry’s Kids Meet Wormboy by David Schow. Those two alone were worth the price of admission. Here’s my take on each one.

Blossom – Chan McConnell

The dangers of hooking up with someone you don’t know and having an exotic fetish all while the zombie apocalypse is beginning. Enjoyed the irony of this one.

4 out of 5 stars

Mess Hall – Richard Laymon

It’s never good to be a serial killer and be around your victims when the zombie apocalypse happens. I’ve had issues with the two Laymon novels that I’ve read being extremely juvenile with unbelievable characters or story lines. But, this short story was the exact opposite. In fact, I loved this short story so much that I’m going to give his novels another try.

5 out of 5 stars

It Helps If You Sing – Ramsey Campbell

Door-to-door Jehovah’s Witness zombies + Haiti voodoo = a bad day. Just ok. Not my favorite.

2 out of 5 stars

Home Delivery – Stephen King

Maddie Pace is the most indecisive woman you’ll ever meet. Trying to determine what can of soup to buy out of all those choices on the shelf will send her running from the store without buying anything. But when the dead begin to rise on Genneseault Island, Maddie has already forced herself to cope. Good characters but felt incomplete. It seemed more like a snippet from a longer story.

3 out of 5 stars

Wet Work – Philip Nutman

Soldiers are clearing out a school during the zombie apocalypse. These soldiers aren’t doing what you think they are. Nice little twist.

4 out of 5 stars

A Sad Last Love at the Diner of the Damned – Edward Bryant

The small town of Fort Durham, Colorado is experiencing the days after the dead turned. Martha is a waitress at the local diner and the focus of many of the male residents lustful attention. But, pretty Martha only has eyes for the young deputy sheriff, Bobby Mack, and the other men don’t like this. They don’t like it at all. And when things go to hell, they come to take what they want.

5 out of 5 stars
Bodies and Heads – Steve Rasnic Tem

Either I completely missed the point of this story or it’s a mess. Elaine is the nurse in a hospital where they have patients that rapidly shake their heads back and forth (as if they’re saying no, no, no) and they have to restrain them from shaking as they try to feed them. But, they don’t eat or attack them and then the one rips his own head off at the end. Hey, if you “get” this story, please explain it to my dumb ass.

1 out of 5 stars
Choices – Glen Vasey

Dawson writes his thoughts down in a spiral notebook as he’s going through the trials and tribulations of the zombie apocalypse. It was little more than a boring set of philosophical ramblings. A slight twist at the end that was too little too late to turn this yawn-fest around. An absolute chore to get through.

1 out of 5 stars

The Good Parts – Les Daniels

Zombie sex. Who would’ve thought? Pretty ridiculous even for a zombie story. But it had an interesting hypothesis on what happened to the zombies over time.

2 out of 5 stars

Less Than Zombie – Douglas Winter

A twisted spoof of Less Than Zero, zombie style. Totally rad. Totally.

3 out of 5 stars

Like Pavlov’s Dog – Steven R. Boyett

An assault on an Ecosphere project in the Arizona desert with trained zombies. Nice writing style and character development.

4 out of 5 stars

Saxophone – Nicholas Royle

The zombie apocalypse was started as a result of a war breaking out between old communist block Europe and the Allies (you have to remember this book was written in the late 1980s) when the Allies retaliated with chemical weapons. The zombies can think and begin to wage their own war. Lots of interesting ideas in a story of irony about a zombie who was previously a jazz saxophonist. Good stuff.

5 out of 5 stars

On the Far Side of the Cadillac Desert with Dead Folks – Joe R. Lansdale

A bounty hunter is bringing his fugitive across the desert when they run into a whacked out cult leader who also happened to have caused the zombie apocalypse. I Loved Lansdale’s writing and it actually made me LOL at least a half dozen times.

5 out of 5 stars
Dead Giveaway – Brian Hodge

Even zombies enjoy game shows, but it’s all about the ratings, baby.

4 out of 5 stars
Jerry’s Kids Meet Wormboy – David J. Schow

The morbidly obese kid that was the butt of all the jokes in high school squares off against a television evangelist and his army of disciple zombies. A piss-your-pants hilarious story.

5 out of 5 stars

Eat Me – Robert McCammon

Two zombies find love in a singles bar. Warped fun.

4 out of 5 stars
(less)

Mr. Mercedes – Stephen King

image

I was excited for the release of Mr Mercedes as soon as I saw the premise on King’s website last year. When the book came out in June, I was in the middle of reading 2 other books. Then, I started reading the review on here and they were all over the place. This caused me to hesitate and read something else hoping that there would be a more clear consensus after some more time. No such luck. The reviews spanned both ends of the spectrum. It’s great. It’s terrible. It’s only ok. Ugh. Finally, I got tired of listening to all the noise and decided to read it and decide for myself.

What I found was a great detective story with shades of the Dead Zone, Carrie and Psycho. Now, before those of you that have already read Mr. Mercedes start getting your pitchforks and torches ready to storm my house while shouting at the top of your lungs about blasphemy, let me explain. The story is a straight up detective story. If you’re waiting for something supernatural or Twilight Zone-esque to happen, you’re going to grow cobwebs waiting for it. But that shouldn’t deter you from enjoying the story. It still has the interesting characters that King can do so well. Bill is the retired detective not enjoying his retirement and stews over the murder he never solved. When a letter comes through his mail slot from the killer gloating about Bill not catching him and that he should just kill himself, this is the spark that Bill needs to get “back on the case”. Trying to solve the mystery of the unknown killer that happens to “live among us” is where it evoked a little déjà vu of The Dead Zone (minus the supernatural). The sheltered “weird” girl with the overbearing mother reminds me of Carrie (again, minus the supernatural). And, the relationship of the killer with his mother is very reminiscent of Psycho. Even the killer himself feels like someone we all know. The whole time while reading Mr. Mercedes, I had the feeling that I’ve met people like the killer and that he could truly be “among us”. Is the story original? No. Do I care? No. It was an entertaining story with good characters and plot that made you turn the pages and I enjoyed every bit of it. Now does it rank up at the top of King’s best work? I don’t know. If you’re the type of person that whines that everything King puts out these days is not The Stand or The Shining, then you’ll probably find a reason to bitch about Mr. Mercedes. If you’re simply looking for a good story told with King’s flair, pick it up and decide for yourself.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars

Red – Jack Ketchum

image

Avery is a 67 year old veteran of the Korean War and a widow. Red is his dog and faithful companion. His wife bought him when he was a puppy for Avery and is one of the last links to his deceased wife. While fishing in a rural Maine stream one afternoon, he’s confronted by three spoiled punk teenagers with a shotgun. In an attempt to rob Avery, they are enraged to learn he only has a few dollars in his wallet all the way back in his parked truck. They then turn the shotgun on the dog instead. As they walk away laughing for murdering his dog, Avery is distraught at this senseless act of violence. He seeks out redemption. What he finds is that no one is able to help him. Not the police. Not his lawyer. Not the press. A dog is considered property, not a life, and Avery is on his own. In a story of revenge that pits the good old boy with good old fashioned values against a rich, shameless father that protects his spoiled punk kids with his bank account and connections in high places, you really feel for Avery. His losses from the past and present provide a very sympathetic underdog that is only trying to get the family to own up to what they’ve done and make things right. Your heart bleeds as you see how the deck is continually stacked against him.

This was my first Ketchum story and it’s hard not to think of Stephen King’s work when you’re reading a macabre story set in rural Maine. Ketchum, however, has his own style of delivery that is descriptive while not attempting to be a carbon copy of Maine’s more famous horror author. There were a couple of instances in the story where descriptions were muddled, but it wasn’t enough to make the tale less enjoyable. Anyone that has soft heart for a loyal canine will have their blood pressure rise 40 points after the first chapter.

4 out of 5 stars

The Houngan – J.N. Williamson

image

A houngan is a male Voodoo priest. Van Cerf is a divorced father of a twelve-year old boy and unemployed. Van is an advertising writer who has struggled finding satisfaction in his work environment from the various employers he’s had through the years. As a result, he finds himself with bills mounting and his confidence at ever finding a job that’s fulfilling, emotionally and financially, dwindling. In a last ditch effort, Van calls upon an ex co-worker, who has taken a job with the DeSilvier Corporation, and discovers that she loves working there, but she tells him that they have so little turnover that they rarely ever are hiring. Undeterred, he drops in an attempt at securing an interview. In what seems to be a twist of fate, he’s able to meet with one of the Vice Presidents, Doyle Munro. After answering some unorthodox questions, Van is hired. He soon learns that the president of the corporation is Horace DeSilvier, a charismatic houngan that prides himself that his company has so little turnover due to their employee-friendly “family” environment. The question is, is that really why the turnover is low or is there something more sinister involved? Is voodoo the peaceful religion that DeSilvier portrays and has introduced to Van or is there more than meets the eye?

Williamson’s writing is very reminiscent of Charles L. Grant, another prolific writer from the 1980s. The Houngan is a slow burn for the first 2/3 of the story as it sets everything in place for the final 1/3. The character development is solid and you’re invested in Van’s plight as he attempts to discover what is really going on at DeSilvier. The ending is just ok. But, The Houngan is a solid read.

3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Exorcist Road – Jonathan Janz

image

Jonathan Janz has always been a good writer. With Exorcist Road, Janz has shown that he has evolved into a great writer. Up until now, my favorite story of 2014 was Gord Rollo’s The Jigsaw Man which was absolutely amazing. Well, Mr. Rollo, you now have some company. Exorcist Road is an expertly written scare fest that will cause you to stay up all night. Half of the night will be spent reading the tale. The rest of the night will be spent trying to sleep with one eye open because Exorcist Road will scare the bejeezus out of you.

Danny Hartman, a Chicago police officer, wakes up his 29-year-old priest, Father Crowder, with a rap on the door in the middle of the night. He explains to Father Crowder that his partner and him were summoned to Danny’s brother’s house and fears that his nephew is possessed. His partner, Jack, also thinks that his nephew is the Sweet Sixteen killer that has been terrorizing the area. What the priest finds handcuffed to the bed in that affluent suburban Chicago home is not of this earth. Is it also responsible for killing 16-year old girls in the area?

Exorcist Road is full of twists and turns and new revelations around every corner, every page turned, and the gripping story refuses to be put down. You’ll cringe and your skin will crawl as the events are slowly revealed in teasing fashion. Janz pulls out all the stops and satisfies. There’s blood. There’s scares. There’s eerie creepiness all packed in what becomes a “who dunnit” mystery that delivers a punch to the midsection. Jonathan Janz has pulled up a chair to the big boy table and I don’t think he’ll be done eating for quite some time. Do yourself a favor and get acquainted with the new face of horror. He just delivered one of the best reads of 2014.

5 out of 5 stars

NOS4A2 – Joe Hill

image

I finished NOS4A2 just in time for the holidays and Joe Hill gave me a wonderful Xmas present. Hill’s strong suit has always been flawed characters that can carry a story into the world of fantastic and NOS4A2 continues on with that tradition.

The tale starts out by introducing us to an 8-year-old Vic (Victoria) McQueen, aka The Brat who discovers a unique talent she has while running away from her fighting parents. It seems that young Vic can summon a dilapidated covered bridge to appear while she is under great stress and riding her bike as fast as she can. This bridge can take her to other places across the country as her mind sees fit. She uses this bridge to find lost items by simply thinking about the item. The bridge does the rest. After her journeys, Vic comes out with the lost item, a very vague recollection of what happened and a doozy of a fever and headache. This goes on for a few years and all is well and good until her bridge leads her to Charlie Manx. You see. Charlie has his own special gift. It’s a 1938 Rolls Royce and the ability to kidnap children to take to Christmasland.

While reading NOS4A2, the lines between reality and delusion are wonderfully murky as the story unfolds. Hill’s characters are rich and vibrant, the dialogue crisp and witty, and the story itself is a blend of The Twilight Zone, his father’s earlier works and maybe even a dash of Clive Barker’s fantasy. It’s a tale that’ll keep you thinking and the last 1/3 is impossible not to devour at a breakneck pace.

4 out of 5 stars.