Bracken McLeod (Books of the Dead Press)
It’s a simple premise, beautiful in its perfection. Welcome to Mountain Home.
An isolated roadside diner.
Brimming with customers.
And a crazed sniper, wronged by the world at every turn.
Bracken McLeod’s debut novel opens with guns blazing as heads explode and bullets fly from the first chapter and doesn’t let up as the finger is paused on the trigger throughout. Mixed in with the action are shocking flashbacks that perfectly flesh out the main characters without sacrificing pacing even bringing a sense of pathos for the antagonist, in sense creating an anti-villain that you find yourself siding with despite the destruction, mayhem and murder they’ve caused. Whist the deaths aren’t justified, McLeod lets you sympathise with what our “villain” is going through as attempts to rationalise what needs to be done to bring change in the world are shown to us in black, white and red. A message is been portrayed here that those berated by life shouldn’t be pushed around or abused further, as evil isn’t born, it’s created. People snap and they’ll always be consequences. The notion is played with once a path has been chosen, that this is the only answer, no matter how hard you try and turn back.
The story is divided equally, first the tale of sniper and how they came to be armed with a high powered rifle with a god like vengeful trigger finger. The rest of the book gives the pressure cooker microcosm within the diner digesting itself as tempers fray and allegiances are forged over what action should be taken and who should lead. It seems no answer is the right answer.
Mountain Home shines a filmic quality throughout, without sacrificing heart, balls or imagination. One thing: Charlize Theron as Joanie. That is all. (Nathan Robinson)
John Boden (Shock Totem)
This is… the end.
I’ve long been in awe of John Boden’s ability to distill profound dread into a single propulsive line of prose. With sentences that take your breath away like amplified drumbeats in a dirty nightclub, his chapbook, Dominoes, is punk fucking rock. In the same way ‘70s punk took the energy of 1950s hot rod greaser rock and made it the soundtrack of smashing bottles and spraypaint vandalism, Dominoes takes the beloved Little Golden Books’ from your childhood and shoves an M80 explosive right up the Poky Little Puppy’s ass.
Yannick Bouchard’s cover, inspired by the chapter, Each of These, My Darlings…, says all you need to know about what awaits within. A quartet of beatific children stand in a row–the first in line, taking a tentative step off the edge. But squint your eyes and look closer; you’ll see the subtle monofilament line wrapped around their skinny little necks. Wherever that girl at the end of the line is going, she’s taking the rest of those kids with her… and you too. Boden lays a funeral slab over the scene of pre-school cluster sacrifice with the words,
“Finally enough darkness to brighten the big black backward. So black it is blinding–God in the palm of a leather-gloved hand.”
The microflash chapters in Dominoes straddle lines between poetry and bizarro, social criticism and apocalyptic horror. But at the core, what Boden does best is what I mentioned above: he concentrates horror with an economy of language, imbuing every single word with terrible power that hits like a lead sap. John Boden cracks skulls open.
From scenes of corpses suspended like pick-up sticks in the roof timbers above, to the black things that scuttle away from the inky ejaculate at your feet, he invokes images of beautiful perversion and poetic derangement on every page. The most hopeful scene is one in which a grandmother sits waiting for a visitor to finally come “blow her fucking brains all over the wall.”
This is a world where, as the author puts it, “God does not exist but Hell surely does.”
Boden’s beautifully brutal prose is accentuated by Bouchard’s grisly interior illustrations. Placed often in the middle of the page, they confront the reader again and again with a realization of Boden’s most salient imagery as the eye moves over every single line.Dominoes is an atrocity exhibition.
Reading this book is like watching someone who has not only pulled back the veil separating our world from the nightmares, but burned it, stomped out the embers, and pissed on the ashes. If I ever had a piece of advice to give to people who like their horror safe and quiet, it would be, “Don’t let John Boden into your head.” But if you like your horror like you like short, brutal songs screeching with feedback and plenty of screaming, this is the book for you.
Dominoes is Punk! Fucking! Rock! (Bracken MacLeod)
J.F. Gonzalez and Wrath James White (Sinister Grin Press)
In the horror genre, few collaborations pack the same punch as J.F. Gonzalez and Wrath James White. The Killings, published by Sinister Grin Press, is proof of that. The narrative takes place in Atlanta in 1911. There is a serial killer terrorizing the African American community. Young bi-racial women are his target and bodies start showing up with their throats slashed and their bodies horrendously mutilated. Despite the police’s efforts, the killer is never found. Seventy years later, in the 1980s, more than twenty African American boys are murdered in Atlanta. Finally, in 2011, the killings start once again. Carmen Mendoza, an investigative reporter for Atlanta’s oldest newspaper, thinks there’s a link between all the murders and sets out to prove it. If she cracks the case, she has a chance of ending the curse that has gripped Atlanta for a century.
Both White and Gonzalez are masters of gore, but The Killings is packed with much more. For starters, the amount of research that went into the novel, which is based in real murders that took place in Atlanta a long time ago, shines through and gives the narrative an aura of veracity that’s hard to shake. Also, much like almost every White novel, this story is a vehicle that allows the authors to explore the impact of extreme violence in a city’s population and, perhaps more importantly, the history of racism and prejudice in the United States. (Gabino Iglesias)
Nate Southard (Sinister Grin Press)
In 1992, following a sold out concert in Austin, Texas, the members of Frequency Brothers, a popular band, board a plane headed for New York, where they will be shooting a video. The band, the manager, pilot, co-pilot, and a Rolling Stone writer are all on board when the plane goes down in the middle of the night. The survivors find themselves stranded in the woods. Some are relatively unscathed, a few are dead, and the rest are seriously injured. To make things worse, they soon learn there is a large creature in the woods that seems to want to make them disappear one by one. They find themselves fighting for survival and wondering if rescue is on the way. As they try to look for help, they realize the woods hold sinister secrets. In the end, whatever is out there might just be a small portion of something much bigger and infinitely more menacing.
Down is an interesting read because it morphs into something unexpected. During the first third, the story is a classic storyline: a group of survivors are lost in the woods and a beast is attacking/scaring them. However, Southard puts a few spins on that formula. When the survivors find a strange hole in the ground with blood and bones covering the bottom, the creature starts to become secondary and the weirdness goes up a few notches. Later, strange markings in the trees kick off a spooky supernatural twist that carries the story all the way to its disturbing conclusion. (Gabino Iglesias)
The Venus Complex
Barbie Wilde (Comet Press)
The Venus Complex is a serial killer novel by Barbie Wilde, who played the female cenobite in Clive Barker’s Hellraiser 2. Should she have stuck to acting? Hell no, Barbie should write more!
The Venus Complex is a really satisfying novel, one of the best serial killer novels I can remember reading. It’s not a crime/thriller serial killer story either, but explicit horror centring round university lecturer, Michael Friday, who finds out his wife’s having an affair with a close friend, so he kills her making it look like a car accident. She also just happens to be rich, allowing Friday to live comfortably during his recuperation from the same accident. Friday then spots psychology professor, Dr Elena Sheppard, and decides he has to have her, but they have never met, so Friday comes up with a plan for them to meet. A plan which involves Friday becoming a serial killer, because in the past Sheppard has worked with the police on certain cases, and if Friday can stage the deaths to resemble historical art – his speciality – he might also be invited on to the case to help the police with the investigation. What a way to set up a date you might say? It sure is! The story is executed skilfully in the form of a diary with Friday laying out his feelings as he chooses his prey and goes about becoming a serial killer.
Gripping stuff, I was enthralled from the beginning. The diary format works perfectly because you effortlessly slip into the mind of the killer, someone who seems to live the life of a normal man, but transforms into a sick, sexual killer. Friday picks up the women with the promise of a one night stand and kills them in the throes of ecstasy. It really does make great reading. What’s more, Wilde knows what excites a male reader, drawing you on as Friday goes about his cunning plan. I can’t praise this book too highly. Please, Barbie, write some more! (Jack Bantry)
The Haunted Halls
Glenn Rolfe (James Ward Kirk Publishing)
The halls of the Bruton Inn are haunted by a cold spectre, the result of an atrocity from the past. The workers and residents of the hotel soon find themselves caught up in the cruel games. I loved the kids who worked at the hotel, and the music references. Add into the mix a fake psychic who turns out to be the real deal and you’ve got the ingredients for a great debut novel. Like King’s classic The Shining, The Haunted Halls is set in Maine, but that’s not the only comparison. I found myself thinking of The Shining often throughout the read. (Jack Bantry)
Down Highways in the Dark…By Demons Driven
Dan Henk (Permuted Press)
I adore Dan Henk’s art. It’s pulpy and gross and reminds of old horror comics from my youth that I shouldn’t have been reading at my age. That’s how I know of Dan Henk, but now, apparently, he writes, so I dove into his short story collection with glee.
I expected him to write like a punk; short punchy sentences that grab you by the balls and push you against a wall. But no, Henk is quite eloquent when it comes to his prose, describing the most gruesome deaths with a flair for bloody exposition. If anything his words come as the opposite of what I expected, ornate even.
From what I know, Henk has had a hard life, getting his fair share of shitty deals that I won’t go into here, and it shows in his writing. There’s a sense of prevailing doom throughout, characters are often misanthropic and there’s an under lying Lovecraftian theme that simmers beneath the surface of each story, bringing despair and desperation to the heart of the characters. Dimensions are crossed, airports are found abandoned in aLangoliers like fashion, some-thing lurks beneath Loch Ness that ain’t no dinosaur. There’s even a Christmas themed story at the end to give a holiday special feel to proceedings. There’s a good mix here, entertaining more so, as you can hear the author’s voice throughout each piece. If I was given some samples by different writers, I think I could identify which one was the Henk piece.
Overall, I enjoyed this collection, it was different, as I’ve not read anything like it before. But new is good. We need original voices to challenge the norm, and Henk is clearly one of those. But I still like his art better… (Nathan Robinson)
The Art of Horrible People
John Skipp (Lazy Fascist Press)
The title for this book is great. The Art Of Horrible People. Say it aloud. Think about it for a minute. Art is subjective. It’s not always something beautiful, but something that the artist creates with blood and passion. John Skipp has been at it for many a year and with his latest Lazy Fascist Press release he brings us something special in a collection of works from the past decade, a round-up of stories that are grim, humorous, thoughtful, violent and even touching.
One of the profound themes throughout these stories is human nature, and not only that of the horrible people among us, as the title alludes to, though the hilarious opening story, “Art is the Devil,” is chock full of miserable sods. The many shades of humanity are shown in such stories as “Depresso the Clown”—my personal favorite—which takes an entirely new angle on why clowns frighten people, to “Skipp’s Hollywood Alphabet Soup of Horror,” an A to Z look at the sad reality of the motion picture apex of the world, oh how too many of these humorous vignettes ring true.
The collection ends with a story called “Food Fight.” This one is straight up crazy and a lot of fun. It’s an unconventional, experimental way to tell a story, which only adds another layer to this bad-ass book dark tales. The Art Of Horrible People is a sample of John Skipp’s literary art, a roadmap of his creativity. As an appreciation for those who have created their own art and influenced Skipp, thus allowing him to return the favor by bringing forth his own artistic offerings, he has compiled quite an impressive list of over a thousand artists from many decades and many fields. You might even find your own name in there.
The Art Of Horrible People is like John Skipp’s 31 flavors of gut-punching story telling. You never know what’s around the next corner, what artistic vision of humanity or lack there-of maestro Skipp is presenting, but when you devour his prose you fucking like it. You want more. Do yourself a favor and buy this book. NOW! (Robert Essig)
Nathan Robinson (Severed Press)
Midway is the latest offering from the ever-impressive Nathan Robinson, author ofStarers, Ketchup On Everything and the collection, Devil Let Me Go.
Sam Berlitz is part of a British swimming team racing across the Atlantic Ocean. One day, while he’s doing his leg: about half way across, his team on the boat behind, suddenly disappear, leaving Sam stranded, treading water, with nothing else in sight. He has nothing. No food or water and no means to communicate for help. The only thing he does have in his favour, sown into his High-Tec swim suit, is an anti-shark device, but it has limited power.
As a reader I could easily imagine the horror of being stranded in the middle of the ocean. Not being able to touch the bottom or hold on to anything. Not knowing what else swam in the water nearby. He wouldn’t be able to swim his way out of it (the distance was too great), and his only hope would be someone else sailing by.
The heaviness of Sam’s legs would be unbearable and if he didn’t drown from fatigue, a shark could devour him when his High-Tec device’s battery ran out.
And just imagine if Sam wasn’t alone after all. What if something else lurked beneath the waves?
Nathan Robinson’s Midway is gripping pulp horror. Do yourself a favour and get a copy. (Jack Bantry)
Edited by Geoff Brown and Amanda J Spedding (Cohesion Press)
I’m a huge fan of anthologies, though I’m always a bit apprehensive about the themed variety. Too often the stories are one-note and feel forced. SNAFU, the first installment of military themed horror anthologies from Cohesion Press, has, for the most part, avoided this kind of literary tragedy.
I’m no military buff, but I’m a life-ling horror fan and though many of the stories in this anthology were a bit much for me concerning the heavy immersion into combat and war, I found SNAFU to be enjoyable.
These 16 stories give us a twisted view of military life spanning histories and wars, mixing the already horrific elements of combat with Lovecraftian monsters, giant arachnids, maniacal creatures, the macabre, and much more. I particularly enjoyed Christine Morgan’s Civil War era ghost story “Little Johnny Jump-Up”. Her attention to detail is astonishing. Weston Ochse’s “Cold War Gothic” is a refreshing detour from the many combat tales. Through a behind-the-scenes look into the bizarre world of the cold war we’re introduced to the Box Man. You won’t forget him.
If you’re a military enthusiast and you enjoy a good horror story then why you don’t already own a copy of SNAFU? It’s right up your alley. There are a lot of great stories here and there are others that fell flat, which is pretty typical for any collection. If you’re going to grab a copy of this book be prepared for an ample amount of battle and special ops accompanying the horror. (Robert Essig)
Kit Power (Sinister Horror Company)
Is God real? That is the question, and, if he doesn’t come forth soon some terrible things are going to happen.
Godbomb! is the debut novel by Kit Power, author of the novella Lifeline, and published by Sinister Horror Company.
Lifeline was an excellent story, about a man randomly kidnapped and held hostage in a basement, so the kidnapper would know what it felt like to kill someone. I was excited about Godbomb!, because it had a lot to live up to. It’s a brave story is set at a born-again revival meeting, involving a mixture of characters trodden by society, thrust into a terrifying situation, where everyone could easily die at the hands of an atheist suicide bomber.
Kit focused on about 6 or 8 of the congregation, giving us a brief insight into their lives and why they have sought refuge in God. Will they have the courage to save themselves or are they too broken?
And then there’s the suicide bomber…
If you’ve read Lifeline already then I won’t need to sell you Godbomb!, and if you’re new to Kit Power, once you’ll consume everything else. (Jack Bantry)