Haunted Legends

•September 19, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Edited by Ellen Datlow and Nick Mamatas
Tor Books
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2301-9
September, 2010; $15.99 Trade Paperback

Out just in time for Halloween is a new anthology by the queen of editors, Ellen Datlow. Assisting her this time is former award-winning Clarksworld magazine editor Nick Mamatas. Haunted Legends focuses on the urban legends from the various contributors stomping grounds.

Richard Bowes kicks it off by transporting Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow to a modern NY pub and focuses on a group of office workers haunted by a decidedly different ghost. It’s a strong opener and sets the tone for a varied collection. More conventionally, Stephen Pirie riffs on old Springheel Jack and Catlin Kiernan tackles H.P. Lovecraft’s stomping grounds of Providence, Rhode Island and an ages-old vampire legend. Ekaterina Sedia confronts the ghost of Russian communism in the form of a sinister black limousine housing Stalin’s legendary “butcher”. Lily Hoang explores the legend of the fox-girls of Vietnam and the myths surrounding young girls disappearances over the years; Laird Barron contributes a local Olympia, Washington legend of a haunted lake and four women on the cusp of life changes; and in my own neck of the woods, (Portland, Oregon) M.K. Hobson writes about the ghost of a local amusement park. Gary A. Braunbeck rounds it out with “Return to Mariabronn”, an interesting take on the ghostly hitchhiker legend.

More unconventional are “Chucky Comes to Liverpool”, Ramsey Campbell’s blend of a modern horror movie serial killer icon and the longtime “video nasty” outcry in England; and the closing tale from Joe Lansdale, “The Folding Man”. This is a very original premise and easily one of Joe’s creepiest tales since “The God of the Razor”. There are also strong offerings by Jeffrey Ford, Pat Cadigan, Kit Reed, Erzet Yellow Boy, Carrie Laben and others.

This collection features a good mix of newer and established writers with some unique takes on well-known legends, as well as more unconventional myths. Overall, Haunted Legends is a very solid collection.

Highly recommended!

- Reviewed by James R. Beach

Medusa Press 3-Pack

•September 19, 2010 • Leave a Comment

BUT FIRST THE DARK
By Frank Chigas
Medusa Press
ISBN: 978-0-9725324-3-3
2010; $40.00

STRANGE CORRIDORS
By Frank Chigas
Medusa Press
ISBN: 978-0-9725324-2-6
2010; $40.00

MANDRAKE
By Oliver Sherry
Medusa Press
ISBN: 978-0-97253324-4-0
2010; $40.00

Way back in late 2004/early 2005, Dark Discoveries reviewed Medusa Press‘s first publication, The Damp Chamber and Other Dark Places by Frank Chigas. This was a nicely made hardcover with a textured paper dust jacket and artwork reminiscent of old Arkham House books (and artwork with the influence of Lee Brown Coye). It was an impressive debut collection and Medusa followed it with another solid short story collection – by British author John Gordon – a year or so later. Then they seemed to disappear.

Then out of the blue this year, I got an email from the publisher that they had three titles on the way for review consideration. The first two are story collections by Frank Chigas again, and the third is a resurrected novel by a long forgotten Irish horror writer named Oliver Sherry (aka: George Edmund Lobo). As before, the books are nicely made hard covers with AH inspired art and design. This time the Chigas collections come either separate or together signed in a special slipcase.

Scholar and archivist Richard Dalby introduces the Sherry novel and sets the tone for it. Much like John Pelan and Ash Tree Press have done recently, Medusa Press has picked a strong story from almost a century ago to bring back to modern readers. A tale of an occult detective (somewhat along the lines of Derleth’s Solar Pons – which came much later) facing an evil count, this has the marked influence of Stoker’s Dracula, but this villain is a sorcerer who dabbles in the black arts instead. The story is well-written and holds up to the test of time. Both the Baron and his familiar, the “Mandrake” demon are quite memorable and creepy as well.

The two Frank Chigas collections continue where his first book left off with more strong entries. He builds a solid plot and develops strong atmosphere and imagery for each of the entries. Standout tales would include “A Cloaking Glass”, “The Other Flat”, “Mephisto’s Clay”, “The Blayne House”, “The Pocket Watch”, “The Singular Sufferings of One Arthur Shelby”, “Strange Companion” and “The Visitation”. A lot of the stories remind me style-wise of some of the older masters like Lovecraft, M.R. James, Algernon Blackwood, Arthur Machen and so on, but Chigas definitely has his own voice.

It’s nice to see Medusa Press is still around and that they are helping to carry on the strong tradition of Arkham House. Here’s hoping it will be much sooner that we see a new book from them!

- Reviewed by James R. Beach

Little Things

•September 19, 2010 • 2 Comments

By John R. Little
Bad Moon Books
ISBN: 978-0-9844601-6-8
2010; $20.00

John Little is a little bit of an anomaly in the fiction world. He started getting published in the early 1980’s in prestigious publications such as Cavalier, Weird Tales and Twilight Zone magazine. He built up a decent head of steam and then seemed to disappear. Seems he retired from writing and got on with a regular teaching job. Flash forward a decade or so and John’s come out of his self imposed exile. That’s where I came in…

Most of you Dark Discoveries regulars with recognize the name John R. Little as I’ve published no less than 4 of his stories (2 in the magazine, and one each in a chapbook and the newsletter respectively – 3 of which appear in this new collection from Bad Moon). I’m not the first one to publish something from John in his comeback (Kealan Patrick Burke lays claim to that one), but John came along pretty early in the life of DD. It’s nice to see him not only getting back into the saddle with writing, and getting a lot of new things published, but also receiving accolades and awards as well. And finally, a much overdue story collection to boot.

The aptly titled Little Things, kicks off with fittingly enough John’s first published short story, “Volunteers Needed”. Stephen King’s influence can definitely be felt on this one, but John establishes his own voice and style in this ironic tale. The collection is bookended by the excellent novella, “Placeholders” (originally published as a stand-alone chapbook by Necessary Evil Press that sold out in like a day), which is easily one of John’s best. This complex tale centers around a man who finds himself waking up in other people’s bodies right before they die.

In between these two stories are a number of standout tales. “Tommy’s Christmas” (a twisted little take on the holidays) and “Growing Up” (a story which figures into a theme John continues to mine in his work – aging and trying to hold onto one’s youth) are next. Followed by “Those Little Cameras” (taking it too far with reality shows); “Welcome to Inferno” (Hell as a theme park); and “A Slow Haunting” (a creepy dead brother story that John breathes new life into). Other strong stories are: “Doing Daddy”, “Climbing Mount Turnpike”, “My Little Jillian”, “Following Marla” and “Sammy”.

John’s main themes – the ones that show up repeatedly – are love and loss. Loss in the form of one’s life, youth, freedom, loved one, etc. – and the love that drives us, motivates. His characters are well-developed and you come to care about them. We can feel the depth of their loss as they are haunted by the specters of their lives – both real and imagined. That’s the strength of a good writer – to pull you into the story and make you care about it and the people populating it.

So go check out this collection of “Little” stories and I imagine you’ll be seeing John in much “Bigger” things not long from now.

- Reviewed by James R. Beach

A Rhapsody for the Eternal

•September 19, 2010 • Leave a Comment

By Darren Speegle
Raw Dog Screaming Press
ISBN: 978-1-933293-77-6
2009; $14.95 Trade Paperback

Dark Discoveries reviewed Darren Speegle’s collection A Dirge for the Temporal way back in early 2005. It was a solid collection, and he was very much a promising new writer that looked to be headed on to much bigger things in the future. Since then, he’s been rapidly gaining ground and finding his way into higher profile publications such as Postscripts, Clarkesworld, Cemetery Dance and the Subterranean Press anthology Tales of Dark Fantasy. His stories are exotic blends of horror, fantasy and science fiction – fitting in nicely with what has been termed “The New Weird”.

In his new collection, he kicks it off with the “Lunatic Miss Teak”, a creepy tale about a doll with echoes of Ramsey Campbell and Thomas Ligotti. “Elephant Speak” follows and is more of a science fiction piece, but he imbues it with a bit of the paranormal as well. “Transtexting Pose” continues along that path, touching upon addiction in a unique way. “Glitzing with the Big Delicious” examines hero-worship and martyrdom. “Waltz with the Shadows” is a novella that deals with the protagonist’s search for his origins and also touches on cloning. “The Tiptoeing Monk” looks at spiritualism in the distant past and how legends are made and their basis in fact. There are also the strong tales “The collection closes out with “Night Watch” – a story of a couple and their pilgrimage to an ancient museum, where it is the catalyst for them to release their inner and outer demons and ghosts – and the haunting poem fittingly called “A Last Word”.

It’s hard to break down the stories into simple synopses as they are all rich and complex. Darren ties together the ancient past with the distant future and weaves intriguing stories.

Highly recommended!

- Reviewed by James R. Beach

Blockade Billy

•August 6, 2010 • Leave a Comment

By Stephen King
Cemetery Dance Pub.
ISBN: 1-978-1-58767-228-6
May, 2010; $25.00

A bit of a surprise is a new novella from Stephen King – just in time for Baseball season. A new book from King always is an attention grabber, and a brand new one from any small press publisher is even more of one. Cemetery Dance, a mid-level publisher known for limited editions and for publishing a few of King’s book in the signed/limited edition form, as well as a few nonfiction books on the man, is the lucky winner of this prize.

Stephen King has made no secret of his love for the sport, with most notably his novel The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, his New Yorker essay “Head Down” (later reprinted in Nightmares and Dreamscapes ), and his non-fiction collaboration with Stewart O’Nan, Faithful. So not too much of a surprise there. More of a surprise was that there was virtually no press about this until one month before its release when pre-orders started being taken.

The story itself is somewhat brief – all of a little over 100 pages of larger type. It tells the tale of one William Blakely, who is called up by the New Jersey Titans – a team that is virtually unknown by this day – to fill in as the catcher for this pro club. As it turns out, Billy is not only a good hitter, but an unmovable object as a catcher protecting home base (thus the nickname Blockade) . But something is slightly off about Billy, as more is soon revealed.

Not as strong as some of King’s earlier novellas like “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption”, “The Body”, or “Secret Doors, Secret Windows” – but a fun, quick read nevertheless. This one’s selling out very fast in a limited 10,000 copy run with a special, collectible “William Blakely” baseball card. So grab one while you still can! (The word is that Scribner’s is now coming out with a mass-market version soon without the card and adding the extra story “Mortality”, but chances are still good that the CD version will be pretty collectible down the road – especially if you save the card!). There was a signed/limited edition of a very small number offered for a much higher price by publisher affiliate Lonely Road Books, but that sold out in the blink of an eye!

- Trever Nordgren

Jade

•July 6, 2010 • Leave a Comment

By Gene O’Neill
Bad Moon Books
ISBN: 978-0-9844601-2-0
2010; $19.95

From Bad Moon Books comes a new novella by Gene O’Neill, Jade. Another entry into his Cal Wild tales, (the first of which was his The Burden of Indigo a number of years back) it features a touching heroine of the title namesake who is a beautiful young girl marred by a hunchback due to the fallout from a nuclear war in the future. Jade gets along fine though and has a special knack for connecting with animals and other smaller creatures.

Though more of a fantasy set in a dystopian setting, Jade does have some darker moments. O’Neill draws you in and makes you care about the characters – especially Jade. This is a welcome addition to this futuristic world he’s been developing and I’m looking forward to more tales centered in it. Well-written and moving from an author who is finally getting some much-deserved notice. He’s been around since the days of Twilight Zone magazine, but many people think he’s a newer writer due to his recent output in anthologies like New Dark Voices.

This comes in a signed and numbered limited edition of just 150 trade paperbacks (and 26 lettered hardcovers which were sold out prior to publication) so don’t miss out on grabbing this one while you can. Cover and interior art by Steven Gilberts. Available from Horrormall.

Highly recommended!

- Reviewed by James R. Beach

Friday Night At Beast House

•July 6, 2010 • Leave a Comment

By Richard Laymon
Leisure Books
ISBN: 978-0-8439-6142-3
March 2010; $7.99

I have long been a fan of Mr. Laymon’s workmanlike style of telling very nasty, bloody horror stories. He doesn’t muss about, he’s got a tale to tell and he cuts to the chase like a scalpel through flesh. That doesn’t mean he skimps on the characterization, on the contrary, the people that populate Laymon’s books are some of the most memorable in fiction. However as much as I am a fan of that style, his latest, and last “novel” before his untimely death moves way too fast, tries to cover too much ground with too little, and really seems like a book left unfinished by the much missed author.

FRIDAY NIGHT starts off well with a lovesick teen named Mark finally mustering up the courage to ask the girl of his dreams out on a date. To his delighted surprise she says yes, but with one stipulation, she wants him to sneak them into Beast House. That titular house has been the setting for many of Laymon’s bloody romps (THE CELLAR, THE BEAST HOUSE and THE MIDNIGHT TOUR) and the series as a whole has been quite entertaining and one of my favorites. This time around, Beast House has become a tourist trap and the first 3/4th of this story is just about Mark sneaking into the house, trying to find a hiding space so that he can open the place up after it closes, and having sexual fantasies about any woman he sees. Mark’s date doesn’t arrive until just about 40 pages left in the story and the always lovable beast doesn’t pop up until nearly the very end. What that amounts to is a whole lot of foreplay, which is good and fun I will admit, but very little payoff or action at the climax.

Now if you were a clever reader you may have noticed in the first paragraph of this review my use of ironic quotation marks around the word novel. That is because this book is anything but that. First, let’s just look at it by the numbers. It is only 141 pages long, but with 21 chapters there are lots of blank chapter breaks eating away at that already meager page count. In a further attempt to pad out the size and justify this novella as a full fledged novel, the publisher chose to use a huge, almost large print style, font. Now as a bonus I guess, or perhaps just another ploy to have this book appear larger than it really is, BEAST HOUSE comes packaged with another Laymon novella called THE WILDS. That story is good in its own right and I enjoyed it, moreso then the story the book is named after, but damn it for a book with “Beast House” on its cover I wanted more Beast House in its pages.

My biggest gripe about BEAST HOUSE was just how unsatisfying it all was. It reads as if it was meant to be a longer tale but was left unfinished by Laymon’s passing and hurriedly wrapped up by some unseen hand to some sort of conclusion so that it could be published. While the first half of the story is good fun and classic Laymon, the last part feels rushed and incomplete. I almost would rather not to have read this book then to have this truncated tale be my final memories of both Richard Laymon and his very fun Beast House series. So you know what, I’m going to pretend my best that I never read FRIDAY NIGHT IN BEAST HOUSE and instead remember all the other wonderful books and stories Richard left us with. As such, and as sad as it is for me to say, I cannot recommend this book.

- Reviewed by Brian M. Sammons

 
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