Tag Archives: Horror Fiction Review

Highwayman – Craig Saunders

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I admit it. When it comes to my reading, I’m a completionist. For better or for worse, I finish what I start. I can’t remember the last time that my little idiosyncrasy has bitten me in the butt as hard as it did when I read Craig Saunder’s Highwayman. So many times I wanted to quit this mismashed bore of a story. But no. I trudged on through the mud of staccato bursts of sentences, multiple points of view storytelling that seemed to lead to nowhere, and a hazy plot that was about as entertaining as watching metal rust. Was it all bad? Not totally, but close. There were, indeed, parts where he’d get the ball rolling and I’d start to get into it only to come to a screeching halt and a new chapter of mundane happenings would be in front of me. I’m sure there’s a decent story somewhere in Highwayman. Maybe I don’t get what Saunders was trying to create. But, what I read a tedious lesson in patience with no payout for my troubles. Sorry, but I can’t recommend Highwayman to anyone.

2 Talking Deer out of 5
This ARC was provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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The Lost – Jack Ketchum

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Right off the bat, The Lost starts with a bang (pardon the pun). Ray was a nutcase when he was a teenager and blew two girls away that were camping. His two friends, Tim and Jennifer, were sheep when they watched him do it and just stood there with their mouths open. They didn’t turn him in. They didn’t try to stop him. Nothing. Why did he do it? Just to see how it felt. Four years later, Ray is still just as big of a nutcase. The only difference is that he hasn’t killed anyone in those four years since. Tim and Jennifer are still the loyal sheep that follow Ray’s every move without question. The police were unable to pin the murders on Ray, but the officers on duty, Charlie and Ed, knew damn well that Ray did it. However, they didn’t have the proof the bust him. So, for 4 years, he walked a free man. But four years is a long time and Ray has never had anyone push his buttons to see what he would really do if his temper reached critical mass…until now.

The Lost is a fantastic tale told in Ketchum’s patented straight-forward way. He captures small town America. The characters are amazingly realistic and feel like you know someone exactly like them. When I say Ray is a nutcase, I mean it. On the surface, to the people that don’t really know him, he only seems like a harmless hood. But his evil is constantly simmering under a lid that is barely on and just waiting to go flying off. Those are the scariest kind of monsters. Realistic and unassuming until one day…BLAM! Ketchum does an amazing job ratcheting up the dread until the final act. If you haven’t read Ketchum yet, this one isn’t a bad one to start off with. Pick it up. You won’t be disappointed.

 

4 1/2 Bullets through the Eye out of 5
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Savages – Greg Gifune

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Greg Gifune has outdone himself yet again. He has established himself firmly as one of the finest horror authors out there and anyone that has read my reviews knows that he’s definitely one of my favorites. Simply put, I have yet to read anything mediocre by him. If he has a clunker in his catalog, it hasn’t passed my eyes yet. And that brings me to Savages which, in my opinion, is an absolute masterpiece.

A group go sailing in the remote South Pacific when a storm sinks the boat they were on. Drifting for days, one of the crew dead, a passenger missing, and the captain along with another passenger badly injured, they fight dehydration, the scorching sun, and hungry sharks to finally drift onto an uninhabited and uncharted island that no one even knew existed. With no supplies, no tools, no food, and barely any clothing on, the harsh reality of their bleak situation hits home like a ton of bricks. Just when they thought that things couldn’t get any worse, they discover that their deserted island isn’t so deserted and it’s inhabitant isn’t happy to see them.

The strength in Ginfune’s tale is it’s realistic characters and the way he ratchets up the dread as the story goes along. I’m not joking. You could literally cut the tension in this book with a knife. He also adds some fantastic top secret WWII setting in here. Damn this was so good. I’m going to stop drooling all over this one and give it to you straight – quit reading reading reviews trying to decide what book you want to buy next. Your search is now officially over. Immediately grab this one and start reading!

5 Hidden Tunnels out of 5
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Resurrection – Tim Curran

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The rain kept falling and falling and falling…and like the rain, the story kept going and going and…well, you get the idea. This one ran the gamut with me, good and bad. Resurrection is listed as a Zombie Epic and you better believe it when they say epic. The problem was that it was too epic. You may wonder, “is that even possible?”and the answer is yes. Resurrection needed editing in the worst way. It suffers from a bloated mass of verbiage. If an editor had come along and slashed a good 300 pages from this tome, the story would’ve been a much tighter and fun read. Now, don’t get me wrong. There is some really good stuff in Resurrection, but the reader was constantly assaulted by the same descriptions of the constant rain falling and the smell of the zombies. I bet the reference to something being “putrid” was used at least 50 times. After a while, it begins to feel like you’ve read it before and you want to scream “I get it! They fucking stunk to high heaven. Now get on with the damn story!!” The other thing that kept becoming a sore spot with Resurrection was all of the grammatical errors. Usually, I’m pretty forgiving for a misspelled word here and awkward sentence structure there. If you’ve ever read any of my reviews, I can be a little light on the proofreading at times. But, this was so often that it became quite distracting. So, yes, an editor was sorely needed for Resurrection.

OK. Let’s get on with the review. In the river valley of a small Wisconsin town, it begins to rain endlessly for days on end. Within this rainy period, there comes a few mysterious showers that are yellow and anyone that gets caught in the dreaded yellow rains gets eaten away and dissolved as if it was pure hydrochloride acid. With the endless torrential rains, the river breaks its banks and the town is flooded. So much so, that the local graveyard, located on a hill, is washed away like a sand castle during high tide. And wouldn’t you know it, there’s something about the rain that makes all of those people, that have been laid to rest, get up and start coming after the town folks that haven’t evacuated the flooded city. Enter our likable heroes, Mitch and Tommy. A couple of regular Joes that you instantly feel like you know. Mitch is looking for his daughter, Chrissy, who went off to the mall and hasn’t come home yet. As you can imagine, the shit hits the fan and the zombies start doing what zombies do. But Curran’s zombies are a little bit different. There are some that are mindless killers, while others seem to have some intelligence (and speed). Another trait that I liked was that bullets to the head didn’t take these guys out, but they discover that salt does. Kinda cool. It also seems that our heroes figure that the explosion at the nearby military base is responsible for all the mayhem. Now it’s up to Mitch and Tommy to save the town.

Resurrection has some great ideas inside it. Curran knows how to develop realistic characters that are easily identifiable. Along the way, Resurrection felt quite a bit like the bastard child of Stephen King’s It and The Stand. The biological weapon gone wrong and threatening to destroy mankind. Also, the main antagonist was an evil clown that I couldn’t help but compare with Pennywise. How could you not? One more thing – the salt. Our heros discover that salt is the key to killing the walking dead, not guns. So, you’d think they’d be smart and use what works. Nope. They kept shooting and blasting away throughout the story even though they knew that guns were pretty much ineffective. Again, I had a hard time not screaming at the pages when I would read this. Use the damn salt, you dumbasses!

So, to paraphrase Dickens, It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. And that’s pretty much Resurrection in a nutshell. There’s some really good stuff, but oh what it could’ve been if only there was an editor.

3 putrid corpses out of 5
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In Perpetuity – Tim Lebbon

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The latest from Tim Lebbon, In Perpetuity, is a murky fantasy tale cloaked with shades of horror. A father and his son, Sammy, enter a strange store that they’ve never seen before. Inside, Sammy is taken away by a man that goes by the moniker, The Keeper, and demands that the father go out and find him proof of love, if he ever wants his son back. The Keeper has a strange collection in his mysterious store – a saber-toothed tiger pacing in a cage, Kennedy’s smashed skull, Hitler’s testicle, etc – and he want to add to it by forcing people to go out and bring him whatever rare oddity he desires.

In what sounds like a promising premise, is anything but. In a feigned attempt at trying to create a profound story about how a father’s love knows no boundaries when it comes to saving his son, Lebbon delivers a half-baked fantasy tale that comes across as muddy, unclear, and hard to swallow. On top of it all, this one needs some serious editing because there are grammatical errors all over the place. I’ve enjoyed other Lebbon stories. Unfortunately, I can’t put In Perpetuity among them.

2 Green Men out of 5
* I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review
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The Covenant – John Everson

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A covenant is an agreement between two parties to either do or not do something. If the word covenant sounds old and slightly sinister, you’re starting to get a feel of where the story is going.

Joe is a young newspaper reporter that is escaping heartbreak and loss from the mean streets of Chicago and moves to the small coastal hamlet of Terrel. For a reporter, Terrel is pretty mundane and boring. There are no real stories to sink your teeth into. So when he gets wind that a local teenager took a swan dive from the top of the cliff overlooking the ocean, Joe is all about finding out what happened. When he discovers that people have been offing themselves from this spot since there was lighthouse perched up there a 100 years ago, Joe smells a story that gets his juices flowing. The problem is no one is talking. The sheriff and his editor want him to leave the story alone. Not one of the victim’s parents will say a word and treat him like he’s a disease. What is going on here?

Covenant won a Bram Stoker Award for First Novel for Everson and you can see shades of why. At times, the writing and story reminds me somewhat of Charles L. Grant. That’s a good thing. But there are times when the marriage between old school eerieness and splatterpunk rape scenes don’t seem to mesh all that well. Why many of the characters let themselves get into the covenant, in the first place, isn’t entirely convincing. And you’ll want to scream at the top of your lungs when it appears Joe has all the answers in the book he eventually holds in his hands and then acts as if he can’t be bothered to read it. So yes, there are some warts. But, overall, Covenant is a pretty good offering by Everson that shows tell-tale signs that it is his first novel.

3 1/2 horny demons out of 5
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Gods & Monsters – Gord Rollo

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Let’s get right into this one:

Divine Intervention – A priest has lost his faith and is looking for a sign. Be careful what you wish for. Not really my bag. It didn’t do much for me.

2 1/2 stars out of 5
Chamber of the Gods – Lovecraftian-influenced tale about a commercial pilot that is starting to crack up. His co-pilot friend talks him into using an isolation chamber to relieve his body of stress and try to get his old self back. Instead of his old self, he finds something else in that chamber.

4 out of 5 stars
Chopper’s Hands – A psychotic reverend gets busted when it’s discovered that he’s murdered 30 people while claiming to be on a mission from God. He was locked up in an insane asylum where he began preaching his demented gospel to the inmates and causing trouble. After a strange suicide where his hands were chopped off and never found, an inmate swears that he’s being pursued by “Chopper’s Hands”. A fun story that reminds me of old EC Comics.

5 out of 5 stars
Love; In Pieces – Set in Edward Lee’s Infernal Hell series as a backdrop, Nick will do anything to save his beloved wife who has been captured by Satan. Love; In Pieces has an obvious comic book feel, but also harbors an effective love story too.

4 out of 5 stars
Breath of an Angel/Touch of the Devil – Equal parts hard-boiled crime story, serial killer horror, and dark fantasy. A detective that is harboring a mountain of guilt for bust that went bad and cost a young boy his life. Him and his partner are investigating a serial murder that happens to take place every 28 days and all of the victims have something in common, especially with his partner. A well written story that Rollo co-wrote with Gene O’Neill.

4 out of 5 stars
The Last Straw – In 1936, while the drought had turned the central states into a dust bowl, for Miller’s Grove, Iowa, the cornfields were remarkably strong. To add insult to injury, an unknown killer was abducting young girls. With tensions high, Reverend Joshua Miller’s sermons are reaching a fever pitch. One day, the Reverend claims that God has spoken to him and told him that the town’s mentally handicapped boy was responsible for the murders and the town is afraid to stop him from being the judge, jury and executioner. Is the Reverend right or has he lost his mind? A great story that is actually a prelude to Rollo’s excellent Valley of the Scarecrow.

5 out of 5 stars
Moving Pictures – When small-time mafia thug, Ronnie, is on his “collection” route, he notices a new tattoo parlor opening up in his neighborhood. Trying to win favor with his boss by shaking down the Chinese owner, Ronnie is offered a free tattoo in exchange for more time to come up with his extortion money. But this isn’t any ‘ol tattoo artist. No this Chinese gentleman knows a rare and secret art. A kick ass story with great characters and visuals.

5 out of 5 stars
The face of an Unlikely God – In 1963, Professor Leonard Harris can’t believe his good fortune as he becomes the first white man to be allowed to research and observe the Huaorani tribe that live in the remote Amazon jungle. He learns that they worship the Great Jaguar as their deity. The nearby tribe, the Quatuani, whom they’ve been warring with for hundreds of years worships the pirahna as their deity. When professor Harris finds himself involved in a sacred ritual of the Huaorani, the tribe believes they have unlocked Harris’s destiny.

Rollo has packed so much into so few pages, there is no way you can resist not finishing The Face Of An Unlikely God in one sitting. It simply pulls you into the story with its mesmerizing qualities with images so vivid, you’d swear you were there.

5 out of 5 stars
Rollo is an outstanding author that I’ve always felt never got enough credit. His writing is so visual and his characters are so lifelike. The only story in this whole lot that I wasn’t a fan of was Divine Intervention and it was’t because it was a bad story. The subject matter simply didn’t interest me. That’s it. It may work for you. As for the rest of them, way too much good stuff to ignore. Pick it up now.
Overall – 4 1/2 Deities out of 5
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