Lake Lurkers is a super-fun creature feature nestled in the bizarro/splatterpunk genre. Starring Tess, a hard working business woman who has finally secured her dream lakefront property (her castle, as she thinks of it) only to have her paradise threatened when the lake itself turns out to contain a number of (really superbly realised) hungry creatures with an insatiable taste for flesh.
So sure, it’s pulp - glorious, unabashed pulp. There’s a series of chapters where the creatures claim victims just off camera, building the bodycount and stoking curiosity, and when they finally arrive in full view, they do not disappoint. This is is some ways a very cinematic novel, and this is one of the ways it achieves that - you can almost picture the camera angles the director would use to tease the creatures, and in the later bigger setpieces, the action is brilliantly and economically described.
So the titular Lurkers are a big part of what made this novel so fun to read, but the other part of it that really worked well for me were the characters. They are broad, but never characters - even the clueless, hyper-suspicious cops manage to fall on just the right side of believability, somehow - and they are funny - not in a ‘gags-per-second’ kind of way, but in their personalities, and the way they interact.
Chief of these is our lead character, Tess.
Tess is a wonderful creation - she’s unapologetically materialistic, and basically just plain doesn’t like other people that much - she doesn’t hate them, or anything, she’s not a mean person in that way - she just genuinely prefers her own company. Her relationship with randall, her sweet but vaguely clueless boyfriend is especially well drawn, painting a funny, but also oddly touching portrait of a vaguely dysfunctional but still oddly sweet couple.
Tess’s interactions with her neighbours are similarly gleefully funny, and her reactions once she realises what’s really going on are brilliantly layered, as she wrestles with both her emotions and the practicality of survival. Her closing line in the novel is kind of an exemplar of this, as it serves as both a sitcom punchline and also a genuine signifier of her journey.
One of the things I’m increasingly coming to realise is that the genre of pulp comes with a lot of negative baggage. I think a lot of people immediately associate it with cliched characters and situations, stock plots, and schlocky violence.
This isn’t that. The characters are funny, yes, but also functional, the pacing is sublime (I ripped though the book in 3 or 4 days), the action is well realised and vivid, and there’s a lot of very smart things going on under the hood.
At the same time, those smart things never get in the way of telling a fast paced horror story in the grand tradition of the creature feature. If that sounds like your kind of thing, I’d give Lake Lurkers a spin, because honestly, I feel like it’s kind of an exemplar of the form.
by John Boden
This book, the second in John Foster's Libros De Inferno series and let me tell, being a fan of the first one--this one blows that one clear out of the water. Foster takes the nightmare seeds sewn in the first volume and waters them with tear and blood and spurs the to grow hideous fruit. Scarred and tumorous things that prowl the night in pitch-black cars and wear slit-backed suits.
The Priest is once again trying to call up the dead, in the form of his own personal "Four Horsemen."
Alice, the mad Englishman and his gruesome partner The Ghoul, unspeaking and unfathomably terrifying. The rogue, Kismet who is part preacher, part philosopher and one-hundred percent psychotic, even undead. All of them converging on John Smith, the man made of scars and muscle. The only one who seems to possess the power to punch back the hell their creating. His strength seems destined to be magnified when he meets up with Hoodoo Girl, a child with a lifetime of powers in her bag of tricks.
This book has some of the most visceral and gruelingly horrible images I've read since I first encountered Clive Barker's Books Of Blood. I mean, the witches (and you'll know what I mean when you read it) Christ on a cracker they gave me nightmares. The church meeting. So many horror-hemorrhaging scenes of butchery and dark doings. I cannot wait until the next book comes out. I was already a fan of Foster's work but this book took that existing fandom, gave it a wedgie and kicked it crying to the ground and then told it it had no idea what it was in for. I'm excited about this prospect.
Night Roads is available from Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing.
Visions From The Void carries within its pages 12 black and white art pieces, each one an abstract image hypnotizing you into seeing good and evil, a hidden piece of yourself, or a gateway to the void. The editor of this collection, Jonathan Butcher, took his father’s drawings, handed them to 12 authors and asked them to create haunting, unsettling, or bizarre stories. And the amazing thing is that the authors took these abstract pieces and molded wonderfully unique tales.
At the beginning of each story you’ll find the selected art piece, giving you a chance to take it in and maybe guess what the author saw. But, I’m pretty sure all of us will see something different. That is what’s so great about this collection, the ability to imagine what type of story the author is going to build around it. After you go through the roller coaster ride, an author’s afterword gives us a peek behind the curtain to find out what they saw and obsessed over. If Butcher wanted to, he could hand these pieces to 12 other authors and come up with a whole new collection.
I’m going to highlight a few of the stories I especially enjoyed. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy them all, because I devoured this book and loved every minute of it. I just want to give you a taste of what you might find within these pages.
Shut Up and Dance by Kayleigh Marie Edwards kicks off the collection. Two sisters are at a big outdoor concert, the older of the two not really enjoying it while the younger is having a grand ol’ time. When the older one hears music coming from the woods around the concert, she decides to investigate. Her sister follows her into the woods and the two find a large tent with a never-ending party. It’s really unnerving witnessing the people trying to have fun, afraid of what might happen if they stop. Edwards etches the pain on their every move, every face twitch, every frantic glance. She took the image in, found people trapped, gave them some devastating decisions to make, and set them to dance forever.
The art for Adam Millard story was a warped checkerboard, so he wrote Checkmate. It’s about a time travelling serial killer and the detective that’s hellbent on catching him. I love the mind games the killer plays while they sit at a chessboard in a park. We only get small bits of what the killer has done, but know it is truly horrendous. Millard takes us right up to the edge but never paints the full picture, leaving that for us to do. Then there is the ending, which is brilliant and totally unexpected. I loved it.
There are two music based stories in this collection, both very different, but interesting considering the artwork doesn’t have any musicnotes or instruments in them.
The first is Uncommon Time by John Mcney. It’s a bizarre story about a group of older women who used to be in a band. Only one of them has kept up being a musician and after years of being seperated she is finally calling them all for one last thing. When they get to her house they find that it is done up in stark black and white: the furniture, walls, floors, everything. At the center of the house is a black cube that has a special meaning regarding a missing member, plus there is a promise to live forever. As we roll to the ending, Mcney delivers a fun and creepy story, leaving you wondering who can you trust, and what does their band sound like?
The other musically focused story is The Jazziverse, written by the editor himself, Jonathan Butcher. Butcher weaves a magical story with some slight of hand, intertwining his life with fiction(I hope) to give us a story about a son and father that happens to create very similar black and white art pieces. However, the focus is not on the art but on jazz. The father loves it, describing how it is beautiful and experimental, almost making me want to listen to jazz. Butcher explores the idea that musicians can live forever through their music, how we can visit them anytime we want just by listening to their music. It’s a beautiful ode to music and fathers and sons. Oh, there happens to be Jazz demons in this too.
Finally, the story that is probably my favorite in the bunch, is Paula D. Ashe’s Exile in Extremis. There’s a creepy building, people pretending to be dead, a woman eating cat entrails, and is told through email and a chat client. I love the concept of viewing this through these programs, it creates a sense of immediacy, building a mystery that leaves you jumping to the next message hoping to discover what happens next. The story itself is about a journalist and his mystery source as they investigate missing girls. This leads to an exploration into a very creepy abandoned building. Ashe’s descriptions of the building are vivid and haunting. The pace of the story is perfect, leading you through their desperate discussion until you smack up against a shocking ending.
This is just a small look at what you’ll find here. I do believe there is something for everyone in here, no matter what your taste is. I found a real magic in this collection, enjoying the trip through the void created by these 12 pieces of art.
One of the downsides to being a reviewer is the fact that there is always a cycle to reading for review, your ride high on some great books, then out of nowhere, you start to get jaded and bored of the genre. It's not that what you are reading is inherently bad; you get as the title of this book suggest Broken on the Inside. You end up getting unmotivated, and after a while a little down when nothing comes along that sparks your passion.
However, when that special book comes along, a book that encapsulates everything that makes the horror genre so great, you end up riding a wave of renewed vim and vigour and start devouring books with the passion that first got you into the reviewing game.
Phil Sloman's Broken on the Inside is one such book. This collection of five short stories is both a perfect introduction to one of my favourite writers and an ideal introduction to what makes horror such an essential and thrilling genre.
The five stories on show here all share the similar theme of mental anguish, and Sloman handles each tale with a deeply sympathetic ear, even when the subject matter is somewhat lighthearted, Sloman manages to balance the humour with a thoughtful and honest look at the pressures and effects that suffering from mental health can present.
In Broken on the Inside, Kira Jones is suffering from a debilitating condition that leaves her in chronic pain and feeling lethargy, conventional medicine and numerous specialists have been unable to find the cause of her suffering let alone offer her a solution. When she is offered the chance to take part in a clinical trial for a new nanotechnology-based therapy, she jumps at the chance. Initially, the treatment seems to work, hooked up to a sort of neural network with her version of a Google Assistant, her chronic pain, and sense of lethargy have vanished. However, when her "Google Assistant" suddenly develops a severe case of the Hal 2000 syndrome things take a decidedly dark turn. What follows is an alarming and harrowing account of a person going through a complete and total mental breakdown.
Sloman's account of Kira's breakdown is chilling and more importantly believable. Kira's journey is heartbreaking, and just when we think we can see where the story is going Sloman delivers a massive double gut punch to your psyche and heart. The skill involved here in, for want of better a word, hoodwinking the reader is the mark of a first-class author. But what makes this story so special is not just this excellent twist, that wouldn't be out of place on the best of The Twilight Zone, and it's the sheer humanity and heart of Sloman's writing. Horror works best when the reader becomes captivated with the characters and their story, the best horror has a heart buried in the centre of the narrative and Broken on the Inside has a strong and powerful heart beating right through it, so much so that when the reality sinks in you cannot help but feel emotionally shattered.
Discomfort Food has a decidedly different tone, played slightly for laughs it sees a disgruntled employee doing what so many of us have only dreamed about doing. Laying its cards on the table form the start with a scene involving talking burgers and onions rings Discomfort Food is taking a more lighthearted approach, that's not to say that this isn't both a somewhat upsetting read or another profoundly sympathetic look at mental health. There is a small plot hole that might get under the skin of some readers with regards to what happens when the truth of the situation is revealed, but this a very minor point in what is another excellent story, with a final paragraph that will send a cold shiver down the spine of even the most hardened horror reader.
Any smiles or wry smirks that may be clinging on to you will quickly be rubbed away by the next story, The Man Who Fed The Foxes, is a powerful, angry depiction of the mental deterioration of a man broken by the actions of his unfaithful wife. This dark tale takes the imply rather than show approach to delivering an extraordinarily off-putting and harrowing story and with another Sloamntastic killer final act The Man Who Fed The Foxes must go down as one of the best short stories ever published.
There Was An Old Man, takes its cue from that somewhat disturbing children's poem, and ramps up the disturbing levels to the max. We all have our personal fears, hell I have a crippling fear of nuns, but for the protagonist of this tale his fear is flies, and when he thinks he has done the unthinkable and actually swallowed one, he begins a never ending downward spiral of desperation to get the offending fly out of his system. With a similar comedic tone to Discomfort Food, this story expertly manages to balance dark humour with some disconcerting imagery. What makes this story so special, is once you look past the dark humour and the horror layers, what you are left with an affecting look at the extremes that people go through once they have become trapped within their own version mental hell. Sloman's sympathetic handling of the core issues of this story marks him as a writer with a great deal of heart.
The final story Virtually Famous is a nihilistic sci-fi horror mind-bender of a story, told from multiple viewpoints and multiple timelines, this unrelenting look at the self-destructive nature of mental health issues and how those who are afflicted by them cannot, despite knowing they are in bother break the cycle of repeating their actions. Brutal as hell, with a deliberately perplexing narrative, and a wonderful open ended finale, Virtually Famous will leave you messed up inside.
Broken on the Inside, is a magnificent collection of stories, writing about mental health issues is never easy, it can result in some clumsy, heavy-handed writing that does nothing to address the issues that the writer is trying to address, but to attempt this within a genre story, that demands the inclusion of certain aspects and themes makes this task even more daunting. Sloman has more than risen to the challenge, all of the five stories transcend the trappings of the genre to deliver a set of intelligent, heartfelt, and haunting incursions into the broken minds that so many of us suffer from. If this book doesn't win awards this year then there is something seriously wrong with the world.
if YOU WOULD LIKE TO KNOW MORE ABOUT PHIL, AND GET SOME INSIGHTS INTO THE INSPIRATION behind THIS collection THEN CLICK HERE FOR OUR INTERVIEW WITH Phil.
Tony Knighton is a fellow Pennsylvanian. He's a man with a resume that is even more impressive than his writing and that says something. I've been a fan since he sent me his collection last year, or maybe the year before that--I'm at the point in my age where time is a thing that scurries faster than mice from a burning barn.
His latest novel/novella, hell, I never know anymore--Three Hours Past Midnight, is a tightly gripping crime story. With wonderfully rendered characters and all the smell and textures of the big city. Warts and all. Our narrator and his partner in this crime, George set out to steal a safe. It belongs to a rich and enigmatic politician. They manage to pull off their caper but then things go sour. When our man goes to meet up with George and find out what was in the safe upon cracking, he finds a dead George and no safe. The story takes off from there. Through car chases and grimy alleys, stinking ditches and runs into nasty bitches. There are shoot-outs and fistfights and all of it points to a darker crime than stealing a damn safe.
Knighton writes a wonderful thriller here. Pulse-racing pacing (say that a few times fast) and just amazingly believable characters. It unfolds in your mind like a late night movie, one that ought to star Dennis Farina or Harvey Keitel. It oozes grit and swagger and leaves blood all over your hands. I highly recommend this and the other works this man delivers.
Three Hours Past Midnight is available from Crime Wave Press
Something lurks in the pond in the deep forest where locals fear to go. Something ancient. A god worshipped for generations. And it demands sacrifice.
“The Thing in the Woods” is about a 17-year old boy named James Daly who’s desperate to get out of Edington, Georgia, but can’t. His dad moved the family there for a job that fell apart soon after they arrived. Now, upside down in their mortgage, they’re stuck, and James works a crappy retail job to help keep the family afloat while dreaming of getting away. And, to make matters worse, there is a group of bullies who harass James every chance they get.
While James tries to ignore the dirty looks and snide comments, the main bully, Bill, pushes him to the breaking point. Bill challenges James to an ATV race — in the deep woods where the locals fear to go.
During the race, the ancient beast comes out of the pond, and the bullies and his shitty job are suddenly the least of James’ concerns.
“The Thing in the Woods” is like an exploitation flick in book form, which isn’t a bad thing; I love exploitation flicks.
And like any good exploitation flick, Quinn doesn’t waste any time getting to the good stuff. We get a glimpse of the creature and a general idea of its place in the community right off the bat, and then we’re off to the races. Quinn’s pacing, while not breakneck, moves along well, giving you just enough time to catch your breath between action set pieces before launching you into the next.
And, what kind of monster story would it be if there wasn’t any blood? A boring one. But thankfully that’s not the case here as Quinn turns on the tap with no regard for the bill.
Speaking of monsters, the creature here is straight out of Lovecraft with its many tentacles and god-like status — a true “Old One.”
With an ending that I didn’t see coming, I finished the book very satisfied at the story I’d read. It’s not breaking any new ground, but what it does, it does well.
Part pulp, part Lovecraftian horror, and part splatter: “The Thing in the Woods by Matthew W. Quinn is an enjoyable read if you like a good old fashioned monster story.
by lauara mauro
The sea is terrifying. I mean that sincerely. The ocean covers 70% of our planet, and, as editor Ellen Datlow points out, 95% of it is as yet unexplored. That means there exists an unfathomably vast amount of very deep, very dark water about which we know very little. In which anything might lurk.
Sharing this thematic starting point are fifteen original stories from a variety of authors which diverge and drift off in very different directions. For some, the sea is mostly a backdrop, or a plot device upon which a wider story rests: Simon Bestwick’s ‘Deadwater’ begins with the motif of a drowned drifter, and unfurls into an effective and authentic portrait of a damaged young woman seeking retribution; Bestwick has a unique knack for creating characters who are both highly complex and genuinely sympathetic.
Terry Dowling’s unsettling ‘The Tryal Attract’ places a haunted skull centre stage, while Bradley Denton’s ‘A Ship of the South Wind’ takes place miles from any large body of water, and yet the mythology of the sea still pervades the narrative (you’ll also be hard pressed to find a cooler ship than the one in this story!) I confess I struggled a little with Michael Marshall Smith’s ‘Shit Happens’ – though not because it’s a bad story. It’s Stephen Volk’s ‘The Arse-Licker’ levels of gross, albeit with a well-developed sense of humour. Stephen Graham Jones’ ‘Broken Record’ is another humorous tale, a fun (and occasionally poignant) take on the ‘stranded on a desert island’ trope.
Other stories take the oceanic theme and run with it. Lee Thomas’ ‘Fodders Jig’ invokes a Lovecraftian sea-beast in service of a genuinely unsettling disease narrative – a terrifying hybrid of neurodegenerative illness and possession, beneath which runs a genuinely touching love story between two older men. Ray Cluley’s ‘The Whaler’s Song’ is deeply eerie; a tale of stranded whalers on a remote Arctic island, this wonderfully written story evokes a paranoid tension comparable to Michelle Paver’s excellent ‘Dark Matter’, though it remains emphatically its own story. John Langan’s ‘The Deep Sea Swell’ is a Dramamine-induced nightmare, a claustrophobic tale set aboard a storm-hit ferry, upon which there is no escape from the vengeful creature stalking the corridors. And ‘Haunt’ by Siobhan Carroll is something completely different: a piece of short historical fiction, part ghost story, part Ancient Mariner-esque tale of cursed sailors slowly dying aboard a becalmed ship. It’s an effective and visceral tale, informed by real-life historical horrors – the irreparable injustices of the slave trade. (I was excited to note that the author is a tall ship sailor, and trained on board a ship called the Kalmar Nyckel, which I was previous familiar with – her authentic knowledge of tall ship sailing really lends flavour to the narrative.) ‘He Sings of Salt and Wormwood’ by Brian Hodge brings us back to the modern age; a surfer, who discovers a strange wreck while freedriving, and his wife, to whom the sea gives strange and unnerving gifts. And Steve Rasnic Tem’s ‘Saudade’ is a heartfelt exploration of loss, and moving on, more wistful than creepy, but no less of a story for it.
Still others play with oceanic mythology. Christopher Golden’s ‘The Curious Allure of the Sea’ explores the mysterious effects of a strange symbol, a living metaphor for the calming influence of the sea which, when tattooed onto the body, invokes an obsessive need in those who encounter it. Alyssa Wong’s ‘What My Mother Left Me’ is a variant on the Selkie myth, making disturbingly effective use of the Selkie’s abandoned caul (I still have the occasional waking nightmare about empty, animated skin). Seanan McGuire invents a whole new mythology in ‘Sister, Dearest Sister, Let Me Show To You The Sea’, which starts off with teenage sibling antipathy taken to the extreme. The story takes a Little Mermaid-esque twist with the introduction of some sinister, but helpful eels, to whom the protagonist unwittingly trades her voice in return for resurrection. And perhaps the highlight of the anthology, A.C. Wise’s ‘A Moment Before Breaking’, which treads similar ground to Oscar-winning film ‘The Shape of Water’; a richly described mythology forms the backbone of a breathtaking story, which touches on several of my favourite themes: found family, and freeing oneself from the constraints of the past. I would gladly have continued reading had it not ended where it did; as it is, it’s a perfect snapshot of a much bigger world, with much bigger potential. A truly wonderful story.
Datlow has chosen a diverse selection of tales, from authors with varying styles and voices, and it’s one of the anthology’s strengths that no theme or setting repeats itself; fifteen unique and interesting takes on a very simple brief is no mean feat, and there are no truly weak stories to be found here – favourites and least favourites are likely to be chosen on the basis of personal taste rather than quality. “The Devil and the Deep” manages to be of broad appeal, while still clearly written with fans of horror and the weird in mind.
by tony jones
This haunted house tale has it all, from demonology, dodgy exorcists to lesbian nuns…