Blood & Sawdust by Jason Ridler

Jason Ridler takes a bite out of the vampire genre with his action-packed, fast-paced novel, Blood and Sawdust.

blood & sawdust, Jason Ridler
Blood & Sawdust by Jason Ridler

B&S reads like a backroom MMA bout with vampires, or Fight Club with a supernatural twist. B&S has its origins in movies like Bloodsport and Street Fighter as much as it does the novels of Raymond Chandler and Jim Thompson. There’s a noir feel to B&S. Damsels in distress, double crossing gangsters, bone-breaking goons — its all here, along with genuinely snappy dialogue and strong pacing which elevates this novel.

Milkwood and Malcolm are lovable losers, and Ridler does a fine job revealing backstory while keeping the tale moving forward. Malcolm is a 13-year-old hustler, living in the shadow of an abusive brother. Malcolm wants to avenge his mother’s murder. Milkwood is a vampire who wants to avenge his late father’s reputation as a “jobber” — the perpetual loser in the professional wrestling ring. Both find what they’re looking for on the fringe fight circuit, where brutal death-matches are held in clandestine locations, away from the eyes of police and regulatory commissions.

Ridler’s fight scenes are savage and engaging, inviting readers into the poetry of violence. There are a couple of groan-worthy twists and turns in Blood and Sawdust, but overall Ridler keeps it humming along nicely, building toward a satisfying conclusion.

I look forward to more tales of Milkwood and Malcolm!

A fast-paced, neo noir mix of MMA, vampires, ancient evil, and gangsters!

Little Deaths by John F.D. Taff

Little Deaths by John F.D. Taff
Little Deaths by John F.D. Taff

 Little Deaths by John F.D. Taff is a strong collection of creepy tales, served up in a variety of literary styles. Taff experiments with different storytelling techniques, sometimes cribbing prose styles and themes from grand masters of the genre. In lesser hands this work would be hack, but Taff puts his own unique spin these horror genre tropes.

Taff summons a cool Lovecraft vibe in “The Closed Eye Of A Dead World,” and plays with Poe’s prose in “But For a Moment … Motionless.” “Helping Hands” is Taff’s self-admitted attempt at a moody “ye olde Englande” piece.

Other references are more contemporary. “Child of Dirt” pays homage to the 1970s cult horror film, It’s Alive. “The Mellified Man” riffs on a couple of lines from Peter Straub’s Ghost Story.

“Here” is a touching —and, at times, terrifying — goodbye to a faithful friend. “Snapback” is an excellent example of a modern epistolary tale. In Mary Shelly’s day, epistolary novels were told as an exchange of letters. Taff uses email exchanges to illustrate this time-bending tale of Armageddon.

Speaking of Shelly, the best tale in this collection — “Bolts” — pays homage to Frankenstein. Taff’s take on codependent relationships and self denial is chilling and sharp.

Little Deaths showcases Taff’s writing skill and knowledge of the horror genre. No matter how dark things get, Taff has fun with these tales, and that feeling comes across as you read them.

Afraid by Jack Kilborn

Afraid by Jack Kilborn, $4.99 Kindle edition.

Joe Konrath (aka Jack Kilborn, aka J.A. Konrath) is a kind of folk hero to struggling authors everywhere. His blog, A Newbie’s Guide To Publishing, outlines his success as a self-published novelist, and encourages others to follow a similar path. He makes a compelling argument for DIY book publishing, and the demise of the industry’s traditional New York publishing houses. Your mileage may vary, of course, when it comes to self-publishing (in fact, your mileage will likely be that of a Hummer with low tire pressure and the AC blasting) but Konrath gives self-pubbed authors hope. If he can do it, well, so can you!

Well, you won’t unless you can write with Konrath’s skill and precision. Afraid is a taut, tight thriller, packed with harrowing scenes of genuine suspense and terror. His nefarious Red Ops, a band of killers turned soldiers via brain implants, are a fearsome bunch, indeed. Afraid begins with a sequence of terrifying scenes, and ends as a tale about family bonds and redemption for past sins. It’s a damn fine novel, which is what all writers—self-pubbed or not—need to create in order to succeed.

Monsters: A Halloween Short Story by Stewart O’Nan

Monsters: A Halloween Short Story by Stewart O’Nan
$.99 ebook, Cemetery Dance Publications.

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.

Island Ghosts: A Will Castleton Adventure by David Bain

Island Ghosts: A Will Castleton Adventure by David Bain
free short story for Amazon Kindle

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.

A Little Halloween Talk by Joe Lansdale

A Little Halloween Talk by Joe Lansdale
$.99 single, Cemetery Dance Publications

‘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!

Scratch by Brian Keene

Scratch by Brian Keene
$2.99 ebook

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.

The Quest For Sex, Truth & Reality by Edward Lee

The Quest for Sex, Truth & Reality by Edward Lee, $2.49 ebook.

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.

Throttle by Joe Hill & Stephen King

Throttle by Joe Hill and Stephen King.
$.99 Kindle Single

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.