While Garton and Lansdale bring lighthearted EC-style chills to their Halloween tales, Stewart O’Nan takes it to a deeper and darker place in his coming-of-age tale, Monsters. O’Nan gives us some meat to chew on in this short tale—the lost of innocence, the power of guilt, the purpose and function of religion and prayer, and the aftermath of random tragedy. All that and The Creature From The Black Lagoon! Stewart O’Nan has crafted a tale both poignant and creepy in Monsters.
Will Castleton is US Marshall with psychic abilities, and David Bain is the community college English professor who created him. Both seem like interesting characters; Castleton with his sometimes-too-late “visions” of crime victims, and Bain with his ability to carve out a niche for himself in the self-pubbed crime fiction genre. Island Ghosts is a fast, fun Castleton adventure, and certainly a cut above the usual independent author offerings, and an excellent read for a freebie. Island Ghosts doesn’t have the most original characters or concepts, (there’s a ’80s television crime drama vibe running through this story that’s both cheesy and endearing) and the prose gets a bit purple at times, but Bain’s hardboiled style makes it work.
‘Tis the season for Halloween tales, and Cemetery Dance Publications has got you covered with its 13 Days of Halloween: Halloween singles collection. CD will release a different $.99 short story each day until Halloween.
Joe Lansdale’s A Little Halloween Talk is a short tale told in the first person, present tense. Lansdale’s prose goes down as smooth as hot apple cider following a haunted hayride. He doesn’t do anything complicated or sophisticated here, but what he does, he does well, and he makes it look easy, the sign of a true master mojo storyteller.
I plan to review other Halloween Singles. Stewart O’Nan’s Monsters and Ray Garton’s Invitation Only are up next. If A Little Halloween Talk is any indication of the quality of the other Halloween Singles, this is going to be a fun collection!
One gripe — the covers of all the Halloween Singles look the same; an orange jack-o-lantern on a black background with only the author and title changed. This makes it hard to differentiate one title from another, and fails to give each story a unique look and feel. Put a little more effort into cover design next Halloween, CD!
Brian Keene fans have seen these characters and situations before—a blue-collar family struggling to survive in the face of a monstrous supernatural presence. Those elements, combined with Keene’s patented action-packed pacing, and B horror movie thrills, blend pleasantly in Scratch. This is a brief but engaging novella, similar in style and theme to Keene’s The Conqueror Worms. If you have a fear of snakes, Scratch will get ya!
Equally engaging is the included short story, “Halves,” which, if you’ve ever had a pet cat bring you a half-eaten “gift,” you’ll find darkly amusing and eerily familiar.
I love Edward Lee’s work. His extreme horror fiction is a little “wet” for some readers, but when Lee gets too “dry” and academic that’s when the trouble starts.
Unfortunately the first tale in The Quest for Sex, Truth & Reality, “The Goddess of the New Dark Age ,” falls into Lee’s bone dry category. It’s reminiscent of some of Lee’s work in The Ushers, a collection of philosophical musings about the afterlife and the netherworld, rather than the character-driven tales of terror and suspense which are Lee’s specialty.
Things get slightly more interesting in the second story, “The Seeker,” which combines allegorical prose with B-horror movie gross outs.
The final tale, “Pay Me,” is described by Lee in the afterward as “socio-philosophical pornography,” which is as apt a description as any for this strange story. Things get extreme here–way out there–but it somehow doesn’t pack the emotional or visceral punch of Lee’s other hardcore tales, like The Bighead or his Micah Hayes stories.
The Quest for Sex, Truth & Reality isn’t Lee’s best work, but true fans will surely find some fun here, and for a price of $2.49 you don’t feel ripped off.
I’m always the last one at the party when it comes to hot trends. I don’t jump on the bandwagon—I follow well worn ruts down a deserted highway.
So when I found a battered copy of Stieg Larrson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo on vacation this summer, I decided to see what all the fuss was about. This bulky international bestseller seemed like a perfect beach read.
GWTDT wasn’t what I expected. I was anticipating something edgy and raw. (Wasn’t this book made into a movie directed by David Fincher, with music by Trent Reznor?) What I got was a quaint murder mystery that has more in common with Old English Agatha Christie and Ruth Rendell whodunnits than “Seven” or “Head Like A Hole.”
There’s a dated feel to this book that belies its copyright. Were girls with tattoos and piercings cutting-edge even a decade ago when Larrson wrote this novel? Today the malls and college campuses are filled with Lisbeth Salander look-a-likes. I think a girl with a dragon tattoo took my application for a bank loan the other day.
An alternate title for this book could be The Editor With The Magnetic Hard-On, based on the way protagonist Mikael Blomkvist attracts the ladies. Indeed, Larrson, a magazine editor and investigative journalist himself (well, before he died in 2004, before his books ever saw print—damn, that’s a bitch!), romanticizes the field of journalism to an embarrassing degree. Blomkvist has the superhuman idealism and incorruptible moral center that make Ayn Rand’s characters so annoying.
There is dark, murderous, incestuous, wickedness here, (though nothing that hasn’t been covered before in the classic noir of James M. Cain or Jim Thompson) but Larrson keeps it carefully hidden for 500 pages. It’s a long wait at times.
Still, there’s a sleepy charm to Larrson’s writing that draws you in and keeps you there. The chilly backdrop of Sweden and remote Hedeby Island is perhaps the most interesting character in this book. Larrson adds complexity layer by layer, and the mystery of Harriet Vanger’s disappearance (you need a scorecard to keep track of all the different Vangers in this book!) builds with clever twists and turns. This is also a tale of white collar crime and corporate greed, themes close the public heart in 2008, when this novel topped the bestseller lists.
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo IS a great beach read—though it took me two months to chip away at this 600-page monster! It’s not the dragon tattoo that makes Lisbeth Salander so fascinating. It’s her survival instinct, troubled past, and sullen, kick-ass attitude that makes this slow climb through the Vanger family tree so compelling.
Throttle is two master storytellers (King 2 and King 1) cutting loose and going balls-out, the way the father and son motorcycle team do in the story. Available as a Kindle single for $.99, Throttle is inspired by Richard Matheson’s classic screenplay, “Duel,” but its style owes a lot to Elmore Leonard’s fast-paced westerns.
The “throttle” here is not only the mechanism that delivers fuel to an engine, but the way parents sometimes feel when their kids screw up — you want to throttle ’em! This is a lean tale, but there’s still some meat; father/son relations, lives shaped by major disappointments and tiny triumphs, and the ever-stretchy bonds of love. But all of that is secondary to the action. Throttle is a thrill ride that King and Hill keep as fun and punchy as a punk rock anthem.