MONGRELS BY STEPHEN GRAHAM JONES 320 pages Harper Voyager (10 May 2016)
Stephen Graham Jones' newest novel, Mongrels, is one of those works of fiction that, when you finish it, you have to take some time and compose your thoughts before writing about it. It's extraordinarily well written, which isn't surprising coming from Jones, and it has all the elements of a great story, also not surprising given the source, but those aren't the things that give you pause when talking about it. What makes it remarkable is that in a genre saturated with werewolves, vampires, and zombies, Stephen Graham Jones still manages to come up with a story that's never been told, and to tell it in a way that no one else has. He's taken on the monster tropes before in his short fiction and shown himself to contain a bottomless well of imagination, but never has he dug so deep, never pulled out a story so poignantly dark and moving as he has with the phenomenon that is Mongrels.
The first night that I decided to jump into ‘The Invasion’ by Brett McBean I read around 20% of it on my Kindle. I liked what I read. The book was set in my home country of Australia and had an interesting way in which it was written; each chapter takes place inside of a different room within a house. We are introduced to the characters inside of the house and before you know it they have some unwelcome visitors. That is pretty much the synopsis. The next night I started reading again, couldn’t put it down and finished it.
The story caught my off guard a little. It is quite long (300+ pages) and things take shape very early on. When the intruders entered the story so soon I thought the author had made a terrible mistake. How could this invasion keep me engaged for another 200+ pages? Isn’t it going to run out of ideas? Will it run out of steam?
PEEL BACK THE SKIN GREY MATTER PRESS; 1 EDITION (6 JUN. 2016)
For all the largesse of independent horror markets; the embarrassment of riches (not to mention the sewage one has to trawl through to find them), certain forms of horror are still somewhat difficult to come by. This is largely by dint of their nature; subjects which necessarily alienate, which will only ever appeal to a small but eternally hungering demographic, are always going to be somewhat endangered species; made more for the love of their art and subject than any more commercial ambition.
All writers are liars; we do it openly, shamelessly and with the serious intent of manipulating our reader’s emotions. We make you laugh, we make you cry, and we make you shudder or leave the lights on when you go to bed. The majority of us keep the bullshit on the page, but there are some who apply the same inventiveness and manipulation to our real lives, with varying success but always with consequences. Roald Dahl unleashed upon the world a somewhat acute horror, I am not talking ‘The Witches’ here or indeed ‘Tales of the Unexpected’ (with the likes of ‘William and Mary’ and ‘Skin’), or indeed ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’, which has all kinds of creepy undertones and a rather high mortality rate for the children in the book. The acute horror I am referring to is Roald’s own personal history, which he deftly manipulated over decades, toying with people in positions of power and presenting a fake persona Walter Mitty would have been proud of. This is the same horror tempered with an understanding of what it is like to be a child living with the social awareness that comes with isolation. It is the horror of seeing the true nature of people as an outsider. It is the horror of never growing up and addressing adult responsibility and culpability.
The Soul Standard is a very bleak and often quite brutal novel. Sure, it's technically an anthology, a grouping of four novellas by four different authors. All of them se tin the same city, different districts. All of them rife with criminal activity, unscrupulous rule and a bevy of unlikeable people. It's dystopian and unsettling. Caleb Ross opens with Financial District: Four Corners. His is a story of a morally unstable banker, who is promoted to the job of keeping his boss happy at all times, at any cost. It is a story ripe with organharvesting, the past careening headlong into the present and the fact that sins are not as easy to remove as say a jacket. It's an unpredicatble and seedy ride.
Red Light District: Punhos Sagrados is the second offering. Written by Nik Korpon, it is the tragedy-laden tale of a boxer. He is one the down slope of his career but committed to getting the big one under his belt, making enough money to get his mentally ill wife the care she needs and hopefully, set them on the path to a normal life. That's the plan, until he meets Carissa, the lounge singer with the organ-picking side line, who stirs feelings in him that threaten the derail his entire train.
Richard Thomas delivers a bleak saga drenched in sadness (it's what he does, man) entitled The Outskirts: Golden Geese. A criminal with an illness has to come to terms with the life he has lived, the consequences of his actions and how to slap a thick enough bandage on the keep the future from bleeding out. Chillingly honest and despairingly sad.
We cloe out with Axel Taiari's Ghost Town: Jamais Vu. A burdened man's quest to find his missing child is complicated by the fact he cannot recognize faces, to give away more than that would be criminal. Raw and brittle like the bones of the hand, this one is one that will stick with you.
Shared universe shit is hard to pull of. I've never been one who cared for it, but when it's done and done well, it can be a great thing. This one succeeds. The writers involved while not all possessing the same style or vision have somehow alligned their talents into a lumbering monster that steps heavily from the exam table, pulls the cables from its neckbolts and shambles into the night of your brain. You'll play on the events of this book for some time. The Soul Standard is available from Dzanc Books.
Hot on the heels of novel ‘The Final Cut’, Jasper Bark and Crystal Lake publishing are also publishing ‘Run To Ground’, a novella backed up by ‘How The Dark Bleeds’ from ‘Stuck On You and other Prime Cuts’, and a supporting essay further exploring the underlying mythology called ‘The Qu’rm Saddic Heresy’. Run To Ground is, at it’s heart, a story about fear - fear of responsibility, fear of commitment. Graveyard groundskeeper Jim Mcleod (and I mean, what kind of a name is that?) has a severe commitment phobia and a kink that would test the tolerance of the most open-minded fetishist (and it’s probably not what you think).
The story is in many ways vintage Bark - twisted humor, challenging adult content, gleeful splatterpunk, and lurking underneath it all, a genuinely original and disturbing mythology. As with ‘The Final Cut’, there’s a ton of elements at work, and the story swings between those different elements with pace, Bark’s characteristically wry, readable prose propelling the reader along. It’s a story that doesn’t compromise on either the comedy or horror elements, refusing to ‘pick a side’, and that tension creates some genuinely unsettling moments, especially as the narrative develops and the connection to the underlying mythos becomes apparent.
Overall I enjoyed my time with ‘Run To Ground’ - Bark has a dark, twisted, intelligent imagination, and Run To Ground is as good a jumping on point as any to see what all the fuss is about.
The backup story is was one of my favourites from ‘Stuck On You’ - a jet-black journey into the fractured mind of a very disturbed individual, with a heavy, no-holds-barred, Books Of Blood era Barker vibe. The academic essay at the end was also a lovely touch, showcasing Bark’s versatility and putting a little more meat on the bones of the mysterious Heresy that haunts these tales.
Run To Ground is a funny, but also surprisingly serious splatter-horror romp. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
As a Stephen King fan of more than thirty years I still look forward to seeing what this continually inventive author will come up with next. This last few novels has seen King hit another very rich run of form with “Joyland”, “Revival” and the surprise sequel to “The Shining”, “Doctor Sleep” amongst my favourites. Apart from his long running fantasy sequence “The Dark Tower” King isn’t much into sequels and so this trilogy which began in 2014 with “Mr Mercedes” took King’s many fans and the publishing world by surprise. Officially known as “The Bill Hodges Trilogy” (although I don’t know anyone who calls it that) King announced very early on that it was three books to be published a year apart. “Mr Mercedes” became one of his biggest recent hits and was a very successful crossover into crime fiction which won the author the prestigious ‘Edgar Awards Best Novel’ and a ‘Dagger Awards’ nomination. Not bad for a horror writer.