STRANDED by Bracken MacLeod (Book Review)

STRANDED by Bracken MacLeod (Tor Books)

Wow, what can I say about Bracken MacLeod? He’s a writer rapidly rising to the top of the game. With his debut MOUNTAIN HOME Bracken established himself within the genre, now with STRANDED he has crested the peak. STRANDED is an accomplished novel about a crew of Maritimers delivering cargo to an offshore rig in the Arctic. Bracken sets the scene and things take a turn for the worse when they pass through a wicked storm, leaving the ship lost in a bank of fog, with all instruments and communication unresponsive. STRANDED has a sinister feel, not just the situation the crew of the Arctic Promise find themselves in, but also the animosity aimed at the main character, Noah Cabot, by certain members of the crew. As you read the book you quickly start asking yourself questions. What has caused the electrical failures on the ship, what was causing the mysterious illness and, as the crew realise the ship was stuck in the ice, how would they deal with the situation? You sense that things could get a bit crazy. Even if they someone managed to get free from the ice would Cabot escape the deadly intentions of his crew mates? And then there’s that strange shape stuck in the ice! STRANDED is a beautiful novel, exceptionally written. The future is bright for Bracken MacLeod. Buy his books and follow his journey. You won’t be disappointed. (Jack Bantry)

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BAD LUCK CITY by Matt Phillips (Book Review)

BAD LUCK CITY by Matt Phillips (Near to the Knuckle)

Sim Palmer is the son of a deceased small time criminal who works as a journalist for the local Vegas bi-weekly newspaper. Life is slow. He’s an insomniac, single and lives in a shitty apartment, then, one day, a mysterious man named Mathis turns up in a bar and buys Sim a drink. Mathis has a proposition: find a missing girl and get a story to get back in the big time. Surely Sim can’t resist. Of course he can’t! BAD LUCK CITY is the story in a man down on his luck, propelled into the story of a lifetime, but things aren’t what they seem. Who is Mathis and why does he want Sim to find the missing girl? From the author of the excellent THREE KINDS OF FOOL, BAD LUCK CITY is true noir grit that you won’t be able to put down. Matt Phillips is a rising star in the gritty world of crime fiction. I love this kind of stuff and I want more! (Jack Bantry)

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THE FURY OF BLACKY JAGUAR by Angel Luis Colon (Book Review)

THE FURY OF BLACKY JAGUAR by Angel Luis Colon (Shotgun Honey)

THE FURY OF BLACKY JAGUAR is a short novella about a badass crazy criminal who, while on the run, has his pride and joy, a ’59 Plymouth Fury, stolen by some local NY hoodlums. If you steal from Blacky Jaguar he will fuck you up! And that’s just what happens as Blacky leaves a trail of broken bodies from Staten Island to the South Bronx. Blacky is a cliche pint-swilling Irishman, (ex-IRA and all round nutcase!), who doesn’t shy from a scrap. Things take a turn for the worse when Blacky gets knocked unconscious and kidnapped by the local crime lord who has “Polly”, the Plymouth Fury. On the trail of Blacky is his old flame, Chen, who just happens to be FBI. THE FURY OF BLACKY JAGUAR is hardboiled violence mix with black humour. There’s bullets, fist fights and a bit of love. It’s an addictive read that I flicked through in no time. Hats off to Angel Luis Colon, great stuff. (Jack Bantry).

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IMPERIAL VALLEY by Johnny Shaw (Book Review)

IMPERIAL VALLEY by Johnny Shaw (Thomas & Mercer)

Third instalment in the excellent Jimmy Veeder Fiasco series. I’m not going to go into the history of the series. If you haven’t read anything by Johnny Shaw start with DOVE SEASON and go from there. Seriously, Johnny Shaw is awesome and you won’t be disappointed. 

Jimmy and his trusted sidekick Bobby Maves, along with their better halves go over the border into Mexico in search of Jimmy’s “adopted” son’s grandfather, who lives in a remote village. It’s sure to be another fiasco, or a Mavescapade as Bobby like to call them, and they’re in Mexico so you know you’re gonna be in for a shitshow. Jimmy and the gang soon find themselves being shot at and chased through the Mexican wilderness by a drugs cartel. And that’s just for starters!

Johnny Shaw’s writing is just so addictive to read and I just couldn’t put the book down. The humorous banter between the two main characters and their partners, plus the fucked up situations they keep finding themselves in. And the locations. I love the locations. The dodgy Mexican border, the bars they drink in (no hipsters in sight) and the Mexican food. Do yourself a favour, go and buy some Johnny Shaw. (Jack Bantry)

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DETRITUS IN LOVE by Mercedes M. Yardley & John Boden

DETRITUS IN LOVE by Mercedes M Yardley & John Boden (Omnium Gatherum)

Detritus or Det to his friends, is an odd child. His best friend is a ghost, killed after a fancy dress party where he went as a Nazi officer. His girlfriend is also dead, but doesn’t know it, and his mother and her lowlife boyfriend are meth-heads. Like I said, life was odd for Det and it was going to get even weirder!

Mercedes Yardley and John Boden have put together a compelling novelette about a young man who can see dead people. Okay, you’re already thinking of THE SIXTH SENSE or ODD THOMAS, but DETRITUS IN LOVE is an original take on the supernatural phenomenon, about a child who has no other friends except for the dead boy and girl. He has no one else, even his mother doesn’t want him. Getting pregnant ruined her life and she longs for Det to be replaced by his unborn twin, an entity known as “The Opposite”.

DETRITUS IN LOVE is wonderfully written. The prose will suck you in. Mercedes and John bring Det’s sad existence to life, but he manages to find love and friendship in the most unlikely of places. It’s only a short book but you will soon feel for the character. It’s dark, but delightful! (Jack Bantry)

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FLANAGAN by James H. Longmore (Book Review)

FLANAGAN by James H. Longmore (Sinister Grin Press)

Chris and Helen are a young–though not as young as they try to behave–married couple. Being teachers, they are ecstatic that spring break is upon them and they have plans for a great and relaxing vacation filled with all of their favorite activities. They’ve been married for a decade and hope to reconnect with one another, if you catch my drift.

They stop off in the small town of Flanagan on their way to their destination. They visit a local flea market and get a first hand sampling of the quaint and bizarre denizens of Flanagan. A stop at the local convenience store ups the ante on the scary redneck meter. Then they hit the hotel, which is kind of gross and cheap but it’ll work. The owner/clerk is a greasy redneck in a death metal t-shirt. After ignoring the myriad of warning signs things spiral into a whirlpool of violence and sex. What starts as a rednecks-gone-wild-on-the -city-folk’s story steamrolling into a twisted and not-quite-what-you think tale that leaves you feeling unsettled and gross.

I’ll be honest, I’m not much for the extreme horror these days. I mean, I’m not a prude and not easily offended but I tend to prefer quieter things, weirder things. That said, I enjoyed this one, mainly for the thick veins of dark humor that marble it. The violence is there and usually used a catalyst for the pitch black relationship satire at work. James H. Longmore is a solid writer and if very dark and brutal comedic horror is your thing, then this is for you. If you are weak of heart and easily embarrassed, then stay far away. Aw hell, read it anyway. (John Boden)

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MY NIGHT AS A ZOMBIE by Nathan Robinson (Non-fiction)

MY NIGHT AS A ZOMBIE by Nathan Robinson

Recently, I was offered the opportunity to attend Zombie Uprising in Chesterfield. It’s a claustrophobic, real world shoot-em-up with air-soft weapons, where you complete missions in a derelict factory with the threat of zombies (just humans dressed as zombies; don’t worry) around every corner. It’s great fun and a bargain at the cost/exhilaration ratio, as it’s run with professional precision by a marvellous group of actors.

Then I heard they were hiring zombies. I had the chance to view the other side of the business, immersing myself in the other side of the ultimate zombie experience.

Time: 1630 hours.

Location: Kirton Lindsey RAF Barracks.

After the base was decommissioned a few years ago, RAF Kirton lay in a state of limbo. It’s too big to do anything with. The people of the town don’t want anything done with it, so as to not crowd their picturesque setting in the heart of the Lincolnshire Wolds. It’s a large sprawling site, larger than the village it’s named after. Numerous buildings are dotted about, all left to ruin, the grass is overgrown, windows are broken, rubbish is strewn about. To say it looks apocalyptic is an understatement.

It’s perfect.

The staff are divided into two groups. ZEUS, who are decked out in army fatigues and SWAT team paraphernalia, looking every bit like a paramilitary force ready to stage a coup; and the zombies, who are ushered into a staff room and told to pick and well-worn overall that fits and grab a mask and goggles if you don’t want to lose an eye.

I was a “trial”, one of several new zombies brought in to fill the voids on this massive site with something roughly zombie shaped. You can never have enough zombies, I am told.

I wouldn’t call it hazing as such, but the “trials” are ordered to line up, facing away, ready for a pain test as we’re all shot in the back with different weapons of varying force. The biggest, the staff gun on rapid fire, hurts like ten bee stings at once. But the pain soon fades and I’m thankful for the smelly overall dampening the blows.

We have a meeting about the evenings event in an abandoned cinema, going over the order of the organised insanity which is to follow. With all the military persona, backchatting banter and anticipation of adrenaline, it feels like the colonial marines briefing scene in “ALIENS”.

The Kirton site is vastly different from the Chesterfield one I’d previously experienced. It’s more spread out, so the missions take a little longer to get going as the customers are ferried from building to building, so there’s a little waiting around between the arrival of the “fresh meat”. But later I’m thankful for the breather.

The first group arrives. I’m located in the “Morgue”, a former health care centre set on two floors, with a central stair case and numerous rooms leading off. I close all the doors to help contain the mystery of what might be lurking behind. I channel my inner zombie, develop a slight limp and test my roaring growl.

I chose the upstairs, hiding in the reception area because it means I can cover two doorways at once. What follows next is essentially a prolonged version of BOO! In which my fellow zombies and I stalk behind doorways and jump out at people. The shock on the punters faces is real. Being a horror author I’m used to scaring people from afar (sometimes I put fake spiders in books I sell, because I’m evil), so this is different. I love scaring people, so the malicious part of me delights in this. I roar at people. We all roar and the punters scream back. The real fake fear starts to bleed out of their foreheads as they begin to perspire. It’s not real, they’re telling themselves. But it is real, because it’s reality and someone is trying to get them. I see eyes gape in fear. I hear real screams of fear. The men crying out just as much as the women.

I hide behind doorways. I trap people in rooms as my fellow zombies stream in from another door. I set booby traps behind doors so objects fall to the floor, creating noise and distraction whilst we creep elsewhere. It’s fun frightening people, and I took to it like a natural.

By the time we reach the end of the final mission, it’s dark and all the customers have to light their way with a sparse number of torches and the dull lights of a couple of beaten up pick-up trucks. The finale is a well-orchestrated scene in which all of the zombies are brought together en masse in a terrifying spectacular worthy of any zombie film. It’s chaos, and it’s beautiful.

After a meet and greet and photo ops with the weirdly grateful customers, the zombies remove sweat filled masks and goggles. We get a bottle of water, a chocolate bar and a wage for our troubles. The new starters get a pat on the back and I’m invited back after proving a job well done. I hoarsely reply my thanks. My voice has gone from all of the screaming. It takes a full day before the croak fades and I get my dulcet tones back.

It’s gone 11pm by the time I get home. I have a whiskey and head for bed without having a shower.

I sleep well. I dream of zombies.

Zombie Uprising is an exhilarating night out, whether you’re paying customer or happy to be a zombie for the night. There’s numerous sites in the North of England, and I can’t wait to visit another one. I suggest you do the same, because it sells out very quickly.

Check availability and for the opportunity of being a zombie at www.zombieuprising.co.uk

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