Sixty-Five Stirrup Iron Road by Edward Lee, Jack Ketchum, Brian Keene, Bryan Smith, J. F. Gonzalez, Wrath James White, Nate Southard, Ryan Harding, and Shane McKenzie

Sixty-Five Stirrup Iron Road
Sixty-Five Stirrup Iron Road

 This is a good book written for a great cause; to help fund the medical bills of writer Tom Piccirilli. Pic’s colleagues in hardcore horror decided to pitch-in on a round robin novel to help support their friend. For that reason alone the book is worth buying.

Sixty-Five Stirrup Iron Road is written by, and in collaboration with, Brian KeeneJack KetchumEdward LeeJ.F. GonzalezBryan SmithWrath James WhiteNate SouthardRyan Harding, and Shane McKenzie. All gentlemen are heavy hitters in the world of gore-and-sex horror stories, and they all bring the Grand Guignol goods here.

Things start out fine, with a sex-demon prologue preceding new residents Chuck and Arrianne moving into the titular house, the scene of creepy and kinky crimes. Of course, nothing ever dies (when it should) in horror (or elsewhere), which is bad news for Chuck and Arrianne.

Each chapter of Sixty-Five Stirrup Iron Road is written by a different author or combination of authors. Through a series of violent and sexual scenes, a story of erotic obsession and possession emerges.

But by the third act everything derails. The authors get caught up in a gross-out contest rather than plot or character development, and a sharp detour into meta-fiction near the novel’s end feels like a convenient way to wrap things up rather a serious literary effort.

The funniest lines are delivered by Nate Southard (as himself), who laments the state of the horror genre while acknowledging the novel’s gratuitous nature.

“I can’t believe I wrote that dog bowl shit. You think Laird Barron would do that? Or Lee Thomas? Or Sarah?”

“Which Sarah? Langan or Pinborough?” asks equally-guilty author J.F. Gonzalez.

“Either,” Southard says, but quickly reconsiders. “Okay, well maybe Pinborough would, but you get my point.”

Sixty-Five Stirrup Iron Road ends up poking fun at horror in general and splatterpunk in particular. The authors clearly have fun with the material even as the story falls to pieces around them. But that’s not important; pick this one up to help out Tom Piccirilli.

Then do both yourself and Tom Piccirilli a favor, and buy as many Tom Piccirilli books as you can find. My favorites are Pic’s noir-flavored The Midnight Road and November Mourns, along with supernatural mystery, The Night Class. Piccirilli is a master of the written word leaving deep footprints on the landscape of mystery, suspense, and terror, and deep impressions on readers touched by his work.

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The Woman by Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee

The Woman by Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee
The Woman by Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee

Remember the fine young cannibals? Not the band that sang, “She Drives Me Crazy” and “Good Thing.” The band of cannibals that ate tourists along the coast of Maine in Jack Ketchum‘s classic novels, Off Season and Offspring. (Know by fans as Ketchum’s Dead River Series.)

The Woman is back in all her feral glory, and authors Ketchum and Lucky McKee put her through the paces in The Woman. The last surviving member of her cave-dwelling, people-eating clan, the Woman is captured by a country lawyer / mad man who locks her up in his basement. Creepy Christopher Cleek, Esq. kicks it up a notch by getting his wife and kids involved in the fiendish torture, which gives The Woman some of the same sadistic feel that permeated Ketchum’s landmark novel, The Girl Next Door.

Cannibal girl isn’t the only one suffering at hands of Cleek (and his growing-up-creepy son, Brian). Father and son feed a corpse to a pack of wild dogs (and another, far more disturbing animal that shares the pen), and then sit back to soak in the soothing truth of extreme violence.
There are bits of her scattered everywhere.
“Doesn’t even look real anymore,” Brian says, “does it, dad.”
He’s every bit as engaged as Cleek is.
“Does to me,” he says. He doesn’t know particularly what he means by that but it has the ring of truth so he says it again. “Does to me.”
Cleek’s wife, daughters, and secretary are all victims of his manipulation. His teenage daughter wonders if the cycle of abuse can ever be broken.
Would she inherit this?  And gradually melt into the ghost of some unknown man’s desires?
And later she considers the deepest scars of all.
When you’re young pain can take a long time to go away.  And leave its residue forever.”
But the women in The Woman are all fighters and survivors, with the Woman representing raw feminine power at its most primal. Even as the Woman is brutalized, Ketchum and McKee celebrate her power, survival skills, and cunning. She is the true hero here and it’s a blast when she finally breaks free and kicks ass. Ketchum and McKee know revenge is a dish best served cold … and bloody. The Woman leaves readers wickedly satisfied.
Besides, there are worse things than being a cannibal cavegirl. At least The Woman has a moral compass and a sense of family. Peel back the onionskin veneer of small-town lawyer Christopher Cleek and you’ll find the true heart of darkness.
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I’m Not Sam by Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee

I'm Not Sam by Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee.
I’m Not Sam by Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee.

What if you awoke one morning to find your wife — your soulmate, the love of your life, the person you know better than anyone else — is no longer herself? Instead, she insists she’s a seven-year-old named Lily.

This is the simple-yet-effective premise that drives I’m Not Sam by Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee.

Narrator Patrick Burke (a nod to fellow novelist Kealan Patrick Burke) wakes after a night of passionate lovemaking to find his wife, Sam, is gone, and Lily has apparently taken over her body. What do you do when your wife breaks from reality and insists she’s a little girl? Take her to a doctor … then take her toy shopping!

The horror of caring for a loved one who is “gone, yet still here” lies at the heart of I’m Not Sam. The relationships we cherish most in life are frail, and without warning a loved one can suddenly become a stranger. Don’t think so? Talk to anyone who loves a person with mental illness or Alzheimer’s disease.

Patrick is able to “cure” his wife using a chilling and disturbing brand of therapy. Unfortunately the cure may cost them their marriage, and will forever change Patrick and Sam’s perceptions of one another.

The novella’s close, told from Sam’s point of view, feels a bit forced, but Ketchum and McKee deliver with the meat of the story, and its haunting look at the inherent frailty of our most cherished personal relationships.

BOBBY’S BOTTOM LINE: This terse thriller will leave you wanting to hug your loved ones!

Book Review: I’m Not Sam by Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee

I'm Not Sam review
Check out my review of Ketchum and McKee’s I’m Not Sam.

I’m Not Sam by Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee

What if you awoke one morning to find your wife — your soulmate, the love of your life, the person you know better than anyone else — is no longer herself? Instead, she insists she’s a seven-year-old named Lily.

This is the simple-yet-effective premise that drivesI’m Not Sam by Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee. (read full review …)