I’ve been (very) slowly working my way through Adam Cesare’s back catalog, ever since I read his short story So Bad in Splatterpunk #5 (a near-perfect short horror story, incidentally). So far he hasn’t disappointed, and - spoilers - he doesn’t here either.
In fact, I’d say Video Night is pretty much a Cesare classic.
Set in 1988, Video Night is an Invasion Of The Body-Snatchers meets Species creature feature. Like other novels in the Cesare cannon, it certainly wears it’s 80’s horror movie influences proudly on its sleeve - Jason Takes Manhattan is namechecked on the first page - but at the same time, it’s genre aware enough to play somewhat with the format, without either showing distian for the source material (VIdeo Night is, in part, a love letter to the 80’s ‘video nasty’ roster of movies) or feeling like a simple retread - no simple nostalgia porn for the Stranger Things generation, here.
Some of that’s down to the core characters - Billy, Tom, Darcey, and Rachel. They are, in many important respects, stock teenage horror movie characters - Billy, the ever-problematic ‘nice guy’, with Rachel the distant object of his affections, Tom, Billy’s friend from the poor part of town, an obnoxious braggart with obvious insecurities and a certain charm - enough that as a reader you find him obnoxious, but can understand why Billy hangs out with him - and Tom’s girlfriend Darcey.
But Cesare draws them so damn well that they transcend their stock character origins and become well realised, sympathetic characters. Cesare has a brilliant ear for believable dialog, which helps, but more, he really understands the odd push/pull dynamics of this kind of relationship, and he brings it to the page with real poise.
Elsewhere, the creatures are magnificent - a nice mix of gory body horror and possession- and the chapters taking their POV are inspired. There’s also a great sense of escalation and tension as the narrative unfolds, it part because the creature chapters give us information the main characters don’t have. There’s also some superb confrontation scenes as the tale progresses; one in particular, featuring an ‘infected’ school bully was a particular highlight.
Overall, I have a great time with Video Night, and it has further cemented Cesare’s reputation with me as a reliable author of top draw pulp horror with heart, guts and brains.
BY TONY JONES
“Through the Eyes of Douglas” was a book I began with no particular expectations, and although it took a bit of time setting the scene, I found it exceptionally good company and whizzed through this multifaceted story in a few days. It’s a complicated book, with a lot going on which is as much psychological mystery as horror. Keeping bending and twisting to the end, it really was great dark fun. Also, if you think you’re good at predicting where a book is going to finish up, think again, with this one you’ve got no chance.
The novel opens in 1995 with the main character Douglas Duffy being released from prison after a number of years, his crime is soon revealed. Flicking forward to 2005 where the majority of the novel is set, Douglas works for a specialist travel agent, but is haunted by his past, the finer details of which are revealed very slowly. Before long Douglas gets a surprise visit from his childhood sweetheart who tells him his grandmother Lacey has died, with this shock much baggage from the past resurfaces. Returning for the funeral, with his best friend JJ, the remainder of the novel is set in the small Suffolk town of Little Gannmere. Douglas’s family have lived there for generations, and have serious history, a lot of which is seen with suspicion by the very unfriendly locals. A deathbed letter from Grandmother Jodi to Douglas is the catalyst which brings him back to a town which only holds bad and painful memories, but perhaps also an opportunity to clear his name?
Much of the novel deals with the strange relationship between Douglas and his dead grandmother, which was unconventional and even abusive, with Douglas slowly opening up to his two friends. As a boy she forced her grandson to drink gin three times a day calling it his “medicine”, why does she do this? Why is Douglas’s memory so fractured? Especially around the murderous incident that sent him to prison of which he has no memory? All good questions, with no obvious answers.
A particular strength of the novel revolves around Douglas’s guilt or innocence. For the majority of the novel you really don’t know which it is, but the reveal when the reader finds out the truth is terrific writing with no cop-out from the author.
For significant periods of the novel the author also cleverly treads a 50/50 line on whether the supernatural is involved at all and this ambiguity works exceptionally well. When Douglas and JJ move into the house, and are supported by neighbour Jodi, they immediately have problems with the local yob teenagers and clash over how to deal with them. But the banter between the three friends is convincing and lots of other emotive issues are thrown into the mix including alcoholism and self-harming.
Douglas is a damaged character, with a lot of baggage. His loyal friend JJ is not much better, but they are fiercely protective of each other and easily draw the reader into their world. As the two begin to clean up and strip the house, they find weird drawings under the wallpaper, a door in the cellar which will not open, and Douglas has strange visions of a character he calls “Big H” an entity which may have been a figment of his childhood imagination. Or perhaps he was real? When they discover old video films of characters who must have been dead over a hundred years it gets even more perplexing. Then there is another death….
I really enjoyed this book which was incredibly imaginative, quirky, fresh and well plotted piece of fiction. It even had me heading to Google to see if the town of Little Gannmere really existed! If you do give it a whirl make sure you give it a decent chance, as the plot takes several turns before genuinely settling on its main direction. The characters are engaging, they may be damaged and/or murderers, but you’ll feel their pain. If you enjoy horror novels which lead you up the garden path, which rely heavily upon twists, atmosphere and characters which are psychological damaged goods then give “Through the Eyes of Douglas” a spin.
Also available on Amazon Kindle Unlimited.
The genre mash-up has become a popular and competitive field in recent years, from the occult detective novels of Ben Aaronovitch to the cold war supernatural thrillers such as Rasputin's Bastards by David Nickle. When genre mashups are done correctly, the blurring of the genre lines can be hugely entertaining, but it is a blurring that can go wrong very quickly. Sometimes you are left with not just a pig's ear and no silk purse, you are also left with a complete pig's dinner of a novel.
Nick Setchfield's The War in the Dark, is the latest genre mash-up to hit the bookshelves. Mixing James Bond espionage and Lovecraftian nightmares with a Cold war Background, The War in The Dark is a satisfying read that thankfully more silk purse than Pig's ear.
Christopher Winter is a British Intelligence Agent, when what should have been a standard assassination of a traitor goes horribly wrong Winter is thrown into a world that he just does not understand, where eldritch forces and dark horrors beyond imagination are fighting for the pages of a book that could not only put an end to the Cold War but life as we know it on this small insignificant planet. On the run from both sides of the war with the mysterious Karina Lazarova as his only ally can Winter, can he survive this world of treachery, blood and magic and bring salvation to this plane of existence?
The War in the Dark can best be described as a rocket-fuelled rip-roaring read if you are looking for intrigue and high adventure then this is the book for you. Setchfield knows his genre roots, cherry picking the juiciest elements from each of the genres present in the book to deliver a story that is equally thrilling as it is chilling.
His sense of place is exceptional, The War in the Dark never suffers from feeling out of place with regards to its setting, as the sights, sounds and smells of the Cold War era are captured perfectly. His descriptions of this world could almost have been lifted straight out of a James Bond novel; such is their authenticity.
Setchfield also keeps the level of characterisation and insights into the characters themselves at just the right level, we end up not knowing everything about how or why the characters have become who they are, but we know enough about them to become invested in their story while not bogging the fast-paced narrative pace down with too much exposition. I'm sure we will get more insights into them with future volumes in this series, but for this novel, this area of the story works well.
This is Winters story when we are first introduced to the character he is a suave, confident man who is apparently in complete control of his world, but when his life is turned upside down, he quickly loses much of this confidence and becomes like a fish out of water. It's Karina Lazarova who becomes more like your typical adventure hero, with Winter almost taking up the role of the sidekick. This is perhaps one of the most enjoyable elements of the book, Setchfield turns the tables on practically every other book written about or written in that era with regards to the super cool secret agent. Having Karina as the driving force is a refreshing change to typical damsel in distress or eye candy love interest role that some many female characters are resigned to in these types of books.
The mix of supernatural menace and high adventure spy story is nicely balanced and will appeal to fans of both genres. Setchfield has some excellent concepts and creatures on display in this story, which ensures that the story is kept fresh and doesn't feel like we have read this all before, or have become jaded with coming face to face with the same old denizens of the netherworlds.
The War in Dark may sound like your typical genre clash novel, but Setchfields crisp writing and fresh takes on some genre stable tropes lifts this book above the many others of its Ilk, a thrilling rollercoaster of a novel that is just screaming out for a big screen adaptation.
Benedict J Jones made a massive splash with his novella Slaughter Beach from Dark Minds Press a few years back. With his latest novella Hell Ship from the ever reliable Sinister Horror Company, he returns to similar territory with another World War Two themed story.
Set in 1944 nine survivors from the torpedoed Empire Carew ship find themselves cast adrift in a lifeboat with minimum supplies, as tensions rise as their situation worsens all seems lost. Then like a gift from the gods they come across an abandoned Japanese boat they think that salvation is at hand, little do they know that salvation is something that they can only pray for.
Hell Ship is a gutsy steamroller of a novella, Jones kicks off with a deeply disturbing prologue, usually I'm not a fan of prologues, in a lot of cases a prologue just feels like the author doesn't know how to start the main thrust of the story, however with hell Ship Jones has created one that perfectly sets the tone for the rest of story. He captures the claustrophobic horrific plight of the captured allied soldiers perfectly, with a strong sense of narrative speed and the excellent way in which he underplays the level of blood and guts. I wouldn't describe it as psychological horror, more a case of hint at rather than show and tell. The cold and calculated treatment of the prisoners by the Japanese is as sharp and unrelenting as the steel of the Samurai sword used by the ships executioner.
Jones ramps up the sense of claustrophobia to the max in the next section of the story, as he depicts the plight of the survivors from the Empire Carew stuck in the lifeboat. Using this section to introduce us to the main characters of the book, Jones keeps the balance between character exposition and the need to drive the narrative forward on a nice even keel. Each character is given enough space in the story to establish themselves into roles that we will care about. There is some fantastic interplay between a couple of the characters that allows for a great sense of tension to be developed. It is just a very small pity that the conflict between two of the characters is resolved a little bit too quickly once they board the Japanese warship. Jones had created what could have a been a brilliant focal point for the latter sections of the story with the potentially explosive butting of heads between two of the characters only to have it brushed aside in an almost off-handed way. However, despite this minor quibble, the setting up of the characters and the plot for the riotously frenzied final act of the story is still handled with great skill.
One of the strongest elements of this section and one that feeds into the rest of the book is the use of authentic sounding dialogue. If there is one thing that can throw a reader out of the story is corny and cheesy dialogue, especial when the author uses regional accents and patterns of speech, thankfully Jones has a good ear for this and the dialogue sounds authentic for the time period. Rest assured there are no Dick Van Dyke mockney accents residing in the pages of this novella.
Once our plucky band of survivors board the Japanese ship, all hell literally breaks loose in an exciting, thrilling and brutal butcherfest trip through an aquatic nightmare. Riffing on Event Horizon, Hellraiser Silent Hill, and Ghost Ship, Hell Ship isn't afraid to wear its influences like medals of honour, but Jones injects more than enough of his style and ideas to lift hell Ship from being merely an excellent homage into being a superior and memorable story in its own right.
Hell Ship is a fast-paced self-contained story that delivers on all counts, great characters, a brilliantly nasty villain, and a story that doesn't ration the scares, they say worse things happen at sea, but if they are half as much fun as this book, you should gladly take a punt on this.
“On the Baltic Sea nobody can hear you scream”