Sunday, February 28, 2010
The Girl in the Woods By David Jack Bell
339 pages $16.95
Summer 2008 I read and reviewed David Jack Bell's debut novel The Condemned. I liked it a lot, I said it was like “a highly literate take on an Italian Post Apocalypse movie.” That to me is very high praise. I loved The condemned and thought that it was like an engine firing on all it's pistons. Very effective novel that transcended the tropes it was built upon. More than just a post-apoc novel, more than a zombie novel, while still being firmly in both those genres.
So when I read that Bell's sophomore effort was a traditional gothic horror novel I was sold. GITW tells the story of a small Ohio town that has many dark secrets. Diana Greene has never been the same since her sister disappeared. She has strange visions of clearing in the woods. She believes the answer is there but she can never find it.
The novel's darkest and most terrifying moments come from the the other story-line following Roger – a serial abductor who is driven by voices he hears calling to him from a seemingly haunted clearing in the woods on his vast property. Roger does want to commit murder or necrophilia for that matter but the clearing calls to him.
Is this the most original concept for a horror novel? Maybe not but it's traditional elements are like power cords in a ramones or AC DC song. If your looking for the kind of traditional horror novel that flew off the shelf in the 80's look no further. I think the average horror reader will love this book, my main problems with GITW come from my knowledge as horror writer myself.
It's hard for me to divorce my critical eye from a few of the simple mistakes along the way I think Bell made. Events in this novel seem to fall into place on behalf of the plot. The introduction of one character, a professor who studies local mythology happens with a information dump that seems to come out of no where. The character plays a strong role later in the novel, but his introduction is a bit goofy. Reminds me of a scene in the Wes Craven made for TV movie Summer of Fear, when Linda Blair is introduced to the “neighborhood occult expert” just in time to explain what is happening.
Bell did a great job with the dread and suspense through the majority of this novel, and that is why I found it jarring and hard to take when he missed obvious moments of suspense. There are chapters written in Roger's point of view after he has kidnapped a college student, that should have been written from the student's POV. From her perspective there was more fear and emotion for the reader to live through. The chapter where she is abducted is from her point of view and that was the right choice.
My biggest problem with the GITW is that bell induced a fascinating concept in the cult behind the clearing, with it there was potential to explore the deep seated and patriarchal roots of the murder of and domination of the women in the novel. This concept was hinted at but not explored.
Without a spoiler let me point out, that there are several moments and chapters (like twenty-five) that are very effective, I don't want to be to hard on this novel, just honest. David Jack Bell is an exciting writer, what I like is his willingness to play the power cords in the horror genre and give them his own unique touch. It is creepy and disturbing, horror devotees do not want to miss this. I am excited to see what he has next for us!
Friday, February 19, 2010
By now you should know that I think Cody Goodfellow is the best new horror writer of our(well my) generation. Swallowdown is set to release this week (you can already order it) A Perfect Union, his first solo novel to be released in 7 years. Buy, read and enjoy. my review coming very soon.
in the mean time he has a new novella online in the Dark Recesses magazine...
Cursed by Jeremy C. Shipp
214 pages Trade paperback and hardcover
Raw Dog Screaming press
It's really hard to to this review without
1).making a list.
2).resorting to praise.
3).saying shit, because I promised I wouldn't make a list.
Cursed is the second novel and third fiction release of Jeremy C. Shipp who is quickly making a name for himself in two fields of dark medicine. A word surgeon with skills that cut like a knife across the genres of horror and bizarro. A first rate surrealist who is assured enough in his craft to throw out the rules completely. It takes amazing skill to weave a horror tale the way he has without the benefit of a standard structure. That structure became standard because it works, but this is dark bizarro after all.
The story follows Nick and Cicely whose grow to become friends after they realize that each has been cursed. Nick can't make threw a day without getting slapped. He can't fake either asking his friends to slap doesn't count. At some point somebody is gonna be mad at him and give him a smack.
Nick and Cicely set out to find the person or thing that has cursed them. Along the way you might think that Shipp is writing by the seat of his pants but I don't think he was. Cursed while written with an experimental structure, mostly in Elmore Leonard worthy dialogue with action done mostly in lists it works. Lots of little details fly by and most of them pay-off. Probably all of them pay off I'm just not sure I caught all of them.
Shipp is my favorite Bizarro writer, this book is surreal, horrific, edgy, weird, funny and unlike most Bizarro books sentimental at times. A short entertaining read, Shipp is doing some great stuff I hope you reward him for his efforts. Read this book!
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
The Bleeding Edge Edited by William F Nolan and Jason V. Brock
Cycatrix Press and Dark Discoveries Publications
It only takes a short conversation with this book's editing team Jason V. Brock(of Dark Discoveries magazine) and William F. Nolan (Logan's Run and Dark Universe) to know they put a ton of work into this anthology. It's been a long time since an anthology had such a treasure trove of authors involved. Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson(Both father and son), Joe R. Lansdale, Dan O' Bannon, and Gary Braunbeck to name a few. More importantly for me personal favorites John Shirley, Lisa Morton and Cody Goodfellow. In the horror underground rumors of well known authors in the field being turned down and rigorous editing cuts only helped to create a buzz for this release.
As I opened the beautifully laid out and packaged limited edition book I was worried it could not live up to the hype.The sheer presence of Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson rose eyebrows, these are not re-prints so the excitement level is justified. One of the ways they achieved this high stature of names, was by not limiting the collection to prose. This book included screenplays(An excerpt from O'Bannon's Omnivore),plays(The Matheson's Madri-Gall),teleplays (George Clayton Johnson and Norman Cowin) and an essay (Frank M. Robinson). The diversity in form is interesting and I enjoyed it. Not sure
I'll be honest with you the Bradbury story is to me the weakest story in the book. I know how hard it is to believe, but this story may be unpublished, but is not exactly a new story. It's a politically charged piece that he wrote in the 50's."Some of My Best Friends are Martians," about inter-racial dating. At this point the story's only value is as relic showing how far we have come. I know Bradbury is one the world's greatest living legends in the field but as opener it didn't do much for me.
Luckily the story after "Just a Suggestion" by John Shirley (author of Demons and Bleak History) is a fantastic ghost story about a haunting at a costco. Anyone reading my blog knows JS is my favorite author and it is no surprise that his story is at the top of my list. Next behind it for best of the collection would be Joe R. Lansdale's short but effective "The Boy who Became Invisible" which is both disturbing and evocative in only a few pages. Some of the shortest stories are the most effective, case in point co-editor William F. Nolan's short but touching piece.
There are many stories I consider highlights, ironically these are written less by the living legends but by the younger voices. Nancy Kilpatrick's Goth erotica tale "Hope and the maiden", Lisa Morton's "Silk City" and Cody Goodfellow's super bizarro "At the riding school." were among my favorites.
The Bleeding Edge lives up to it's hype, not only that but it's soy inked and wind power produced and edited by two ethical vegetarians. This book is a green horror classic in the making. The kind of high quality that doesn't happen every day in our field. It presents a cross section of styles and forms, but best of all it's authors stretch through several generations of horror. Packaged with beautiful art and laid-out with a reader friendly system of pictures and bios at the end of the stories this book is not to be missed. Great job by Brock and Nolan I can't wait for the follow-up, best part is they have already promised it will come.
The Deluxe Edition includes 75 signed/numbered hardcovers with individual author pages and five illustrations by Kris Kuksi. ($175.00 — Get $20 off the full retail of $195.00 for pre-orders, shipping will be a flat $15 in the US for Priority Airmail with Insurance and Delivery confirmation. More for overseas.)
There will also be a Trade hardcover retailing for $65 ($55 with pre-reserve). This will be an unnumbered print run of only 400 copies, signed by the editors William F. Nolan and Jason V Brock.
Monday, February 8, 2010
The Damnation Game By Clive Barker
433 pages, Berkley
There are several reasons I choose to re-read this novel. This debut novel by Clive Barker appeared on the horror scene after he established himself as the next “big thing” After Stephen King. Due in part to an introduction by Ramsey Campbell ,and more importantly the prediction by Stephen King that the future of horror itself was Clive Barker. What a burden this praise put on Barker who is less of a horror writer than an author of Dark Fantasy.
Funny, after that King never really had much nice to say about Barker. I think like many people King thought Barker was a great short story author but not as good at the novels. Lets get something clear I like Barker’s novels, (with a few exceptions like Gaillee which I find unreadable) I like almost everything I have read by the man. There was a time when he was my favorite author.
When Damnation game came out Barker had a mountain climb. The six volumes of the books of blood were ground breaking to say the least. He was already considered by many to be a young master of the macabre. How would this translate into his first full length novel.
When it was released I was already a horror and Barker reader. I was in 8th grade so Lets be clear I didn’t get a lot of the subtext. I read the Damnation Game and honestly I didn’t get it. Oh after begging to get the $20 hardcover for my birthday, I wasn’t about to quit. And yes I thought I liked it.
Recently I decided to re-read it. Not only as an adult who could grasp what happened in it, but as an author myself. Would I still see Barker as the genius I believed he was when I was young? Some have suggested that this is CB’s only novel length horror tale. I disagree as Coldheart Canyon and Sacrament are both prime examples of Barker style horror. They have a Tinge of fantasy but so did the books of blood. Sacrament to me is an underrated masterpiece and the best of Barker's later novels. Coldheart Canyon is Barker's most straight forward Horror tale, better than most give it credit for, but it is still 100 pages to long in this reader's opinion.
So Damnation Game, the structure of the novel holds up well. It has been often noted the opening is brilliant. A thief wondering in the ruins of world war II Poland seeks out a card game with a gambler that is legendary for never losing. Puzzles and games often are gateways to the fantastic in Barker’s universe and here the card game and the gamblers spirit lead on a path to darkness.
After winning the Card game the thief assumes the Card player's luck but even after sixty years the thief cannot escape the devil's due.
The novel has strong characters in Moumalion the last European, Breer the razor eater and of course the Hero ex-con Marty Strauss.
Not as excessively wordy as some of Barker’s novel, but it is a bit long, still I was in it the whole time. The story is dark and disturbing, the characters sympathetic when they should be and fascinating when they are evil.
Is it Barker’s best work? Not sure, it is my favorite. What makes Barker special as a story-teller is that no one else could create these novels. From the first to the last page Barker has a style and skill that cannot be imitated. Many have tried, Tone maybe but Barker's art and imaginary worlds are unique. Consider the art, films, plays and prose of this man. He is gifted with an intense imagination. This may not be his best novel but it’s his darkest and tightest novel. If you haven't read it you have missed a horror classic.
If you search for it I also did a long review of Barker's last book Mister B.Gone. Next review up is the Bleeding Edge Anthology edited by William F Nolan and Jason V. Brock.