Irish public librarian makes a splash with impressive YA horror debut
“An insidiously disquieting tale, flavourfully told. What begins as a dark comedy of book collecting gradually accumulates a profound sense of occult dread, which lingers long after the book is finished. It’s a real addition to the literature of the uncanny and an impressive debut for its uncompromising author.” RAMSEY CAMPBELL, author of the Brichester Mythos trilogy
Pulped fiction just got a whole lot scarier…
Few books are treasured. Most linger in the dusty purgatory of the bookshelf, the attic, the charity shop, their sallow pages filled with superfluous knowledge. And with stories. Darker than ink, paler than paper, something is rustling through their pages.
Harris loves to collect the unloved. And in helping people. Or so he says. He wonders if you have anything to donate. To his ‘children’. Used books are his game. Neat is sweet; battered is better. Tears, stains, broken spines – ugly doesn’t matter. Not a jot. And if you’ve left a little of yourself between the pages – a receipt or ticket, a mislaid letter, a scrawled note or number — that’s just perfect. He might call back.
Hangover Square meets Naked Lunch through the lens of a classic M. R. James ghost story. To hell and back again (and again) via Whitby, Scarborough and the Yorkshire Moors. Enjoy your Mobius-trip.
If you read this outstanding novella, you will NEVER EVER catch the wrong bus again!
James R Grabinski's “Edge of the Known Bus Line” was an unexpected joy which I wholeheartedly recommend to those of you wishing to discover a longish novella which is a genuine 100% one-off. I can also just about guarantee you will love this off-beat tale as much as myself! Initially though, I cursed Grabinski and his publisher for sending a PDF instead of a MOBI, but not letting that dampen my spirits I was quickly absorbed by the sass and spirit of the nameless female narrator who unwittingly and unluckily gets stuck in a shanty town which is impossible to escape from.
I would not necessarily call this horror, more a weird mix of (almost) dystopia, black comedy, Ray Bradbury, and a large sprinkling of JG Ballard. The latter because the most obvious comparison and point of reference to this highly original work I could think of was Ballard’s “The Concrete Island” about a guy who gets stuck in the middle of a massive traffic island. This book was way funnier than the Ballard though and really deserves to find an audience.
It’s quite difficult to explain what it’s about, but I’ll try my best… The unnamed female narrator works in a deli and is on her daily bus to work. This is the same bus she gets every day, sharing it with familar other daily commuters. One day she notices the bus has a different sign on it with “Out of Service” written on the front, presuming this is a mistake she unwisely ignores it. After a while the bus takes a slightly different route and when there are only a few passengers remaining on board it goes through a tunnel and everyone realises they have no idea where they are. The bus driver then, at gun point, dumps the passengers in the middle of this remote shanty town, “End of the Line” says the driver. One passenger tries to re-enter the bus and is shot and killed by the driver. We soon find out this dump of a location is called “End of the Line”.
Once they are off the bus the narrator looks around and is horrified by what she sees. Most people are starving, the kids are naked, and in no time at all her fellow passengers are robbed of all their belongings and most of their clothes. She is soon told that to survive she’ll have to join a gang and quickly realises there is no way of leaving this shanty town. She gives permanent nicknames to all the characters featured, including “Tarp Woman” and “Condom Eye” who give her some hints and tips on how to survive in the soul-destroying place. Ultimately this very funny novella is about the narrator trying to escape the shanty town, whilst at the same time trying to figure out how to survive in it. She also made me think of the Patrick McGoohan character in the 1960s cult series “The Prisoner” who spends every episode of the show plotting to escape, and who is also nameless.
As luck would have it her real job working in a deli saves her, as she is skilled with a knife and gets a job working for one of the bigger gangs skinning rats, which is the most consistent feature of their diet. I loved the way she named everyone, a few included “Newspaper Guy” “Napping Woman” “Ass Staring Guy” and we never found out their real names. As she tries to escape and tries to get her head around the impossible bus system, “Bus Driver” “Other Driver” and Another Driver” are humorously added into the mix.
I don’t want to say too much more about what goes on except for the fact it is blackly funny with the author creates this weird world with all sorts of crazy rules people follow to survive. Expect routine cannibalism, a prophet who sits on a toilet seat for a throne, hallucinogenic spiders, worshipping of baseball memorabilia, and the dream of the “miracle bus” with Chicago the ultimate destination.
Combine the unique voice of the narrator and a brilliant setting the final product is a genuinely original piece of fiction which impressed me greatly. What was our narrator’s major strength? HOPE!!!! She never gave up trying to survive or escape…. Amusingly, she saw her bra as her final sign of humanity and did everything possible to hold onto it when all her other personal belongings had been pilfered.
Did I say her name was never revealed? Ah well, make sure you hang in to the end, I might be lying….
Highly recommended. The spirit of Ballard lives on and we’re all the better for it. I loved it. If Ginger Nuts of Horror rated books this gets 6/5.
A woman's daily commute takes an abrupt turn when she's dropped off in a grotesque shantytown in Edge of the Known Bus Line. The townsfolk live in huts and tents scavenged from broken trinkets. They eat dead rats and human flesh. They've developed cult-like religions about miracle bus routes that will someday set them free. The narrator searches for a way out of this surreal hellscape while dredging up a few nightmares of her own.
BY MATT BRANDENBURG
We are introduced to Sebastian(Seb), Tommy, and Regan, three school kids that have made plans to check out the urban legend of Old Man Jack. Apparently, if you go into the creepy house in the middle of the woods, light some candles and tell scary stories you’ll entice Old Man Jack out of his hiding place. It’s a rite of passage for the kids in town, usually bringing back some junk from the place to prove you actually did it. All of the rumors about the house and Old Man Jack stemmed from Tommy and Seb, yet the two have never been there. So when their friend Regan points out this fact and guilts them into going, they have no excuses. This is a perfect setup for a wraparound story to showcase some short stories.
Tommy and Seb are decent characters to follow into the house. They are both all talk when it comes to sneaking in, doing their best to hide their fear from the others, especially a girl. Which leads us to shady Regan. She could be an awesome character, but instead she comes off like a child doing a terrible job hiding a secret. I’m all for having a character with ulterior motives, but either have the other characters notice this or give us something unexpected. It takes away a bit of the suspense when you know that Regan is not going to be a good person.
I think each of the three stories has their moments. Out of the three, Regan’s is probably the best. Seb’s story is about an old man that discovers he can gain his youth back by drinking the blood of children. Tommy’s story is about an app that not only allows you to order delivery, it also has a function that allows you to order prostitutes. I like the twist on vampirism involving old people, and the app story is cool concept. It’s definitely the most gory of the three, which can be fun, but stays away from the more interesting aspect of story: the company that is behind the app. I’d like to see a longer version exploring how the company started, kidnapped people, and is able to get away with it. Regan’s story is about a mother and son that move to a town where the children are being brainwashed and controlled by a demon running a Sunday school. It feels like Regan’s story is Robertson’s favorite, the detail and pace of the story is well thought out and executed.
The thing that I should point out is that these stories are not tied to the central plot of the book. There are no clues or messages that’ll lead you to a deeper understanding of Regan, Seb, or Tommy. I don’t know if tying the stories to the town or the characters would have improved the book, but I’m sure it would have connected us to them more. And it’s always fun looking at the story within the story for any hints at what might be happening in the real world(of the book).
After they tell their stories we get a somewhat hurried explanation of the truth behind Old Man Jack. It’s nothing you haven’t really heard before, and since we already know Regan has a secret, the reveal isn’t that shocking. I’m sure the ending would have had more of an impact if I was invested in the characters, but since I felt like I barely knew them, I wasn’t upset when the inevitable happens.
Overall, I didn’t exactly hate this book. The concept is strong, it’d be a fun book to read around Halloween. But, it’s a mixed bag of what to focus on, the wrap-around and the stories compete with each other leaving you indifferent. It’s a quick read, which might be part of the reason why I feel the way I do. There isn’t a lot to distract you from the sections that didn’t work. I know some books feel like they have too much filler, but this is one that might have improved with more to flesh out the characters and the legend.
Old Man Jack is a myth, a legend that school kids use to scare one another. He was once a man who kept his life private, until events unfolded that didn't go in his favour.
His house is seen as a challenge by the kids; a place of eeriness, menace and excitement, a chance to prove their courage to their peers - "Mess about in there and Old Man Jack will get you," they say. Some children have explored the building and come back with elaborate stories of the supernatural to spread around the playground. Some haven't come back at all, or so the tales go. No story is the same, so which one do you believe?
Sebastian, Tommy and Regan have heard all the talk, but are still eager to earn themselves legendary status.
They are about to find out exactly what happens in the house that Jack built.
Rats! The prolific Hunter Shea takes a rodent size bite out of the Big Appl
Like the majority of his output “Rattus New York” is undemanding fun, with sketchily drawn characters, and moves at such a lick you’re never going to get bored. It’s a quick read and so so easy to enjoy you will have to stop yourself from finishing it in one sitting (I read it in two). When it’s loaded with ridiculous scenes of scared and angry mums stomping masses of giant rats trying to chomp on their babies you’ll just keep on reading and before you know it the novella will be finished.
The plot is a simple one of nature biting back at mankind. A scientist, Dr Randolph Finch, releases a new rodenticide, Degenesis which is supposed to sterilise rats and prevent them from breeding, making them easier to kill. Of course, something goes wrong with the formulae and the rats get bigger, harder to kill, and more dangerously, more intelligent. Some of these rats were so clever I thought one of the blasted critters was going to start playing the piano! The scientist Finch is actually just a supporting character in the novella, the main characters being a pair of city exterminators, the soon-to-be divorced Chris and Benita Jackson. This pair were top-notch leads and the comedy banter between them was great.
“Rattus New York” is seen from the point of view of exterminator Chris, who is still in love with his soon-to-be ex-wife. When out on a couple of local jobs they notice that groups of rats are both more aggressive and intelligent. Having been in the game for twenty years, they are startled to see rats using incredible guile to avoid traps and attack humans in packs. Before long a massive lair is discovered under Grand Central Station where millions of rats are hiding. And plotting! Quickly, the authorities realise what has happened to all the homeless people…. The fun is just about to start and Hunter Shea begins to move swiftly through the gears.
Chris and Benita were entertaining lead characters, with Chris reminding me slightly of the exterminator Vasiliy Fet in Chuck Hogan and Guillermo del Toro’s “Strain” trilogy and they really find their legs once the action heats up. The novella is littered with fast moving action sequences, mass attacks, blood baths, but never loses its sense of humour. It’s not deep or fancy and if you fancy switching your brain into neutral for some shlock horror look no further.
However, I did wonder whether Hunter Shea missed an opportunity to come up with something meatier than this final 112-page novella? I felt there could have more substantial set pieces and more battles and with the rat invasion taking place over a longer period. The potential of this story was so great I felt that a chance was missed to create something less formulaic. I really liked the way the novella closed, but again there could have been much more detail in the lead up to this conclusion which was a bit rushed. Perhaps more characters could have been involved resulting in a more challenging and involved work? Small quibbles. Either way, I’m also fine with this readably trashy horror which was good company for a couple of hours.
“Rattus New York” is the second instalment of a trilogy called “One Size Eats All”. The first book, “Jurassic Florida” came out earlier in the year and “The Devil’s Fingers” concludes the trilogy in October.
Deep in the sewers of New York City, the rat population is growing. Dr. Randolph Finch is determined to break the cycle. His new rodenticide, Degenesis, doesn’t kill rats. It sterilizes them from reproducing. But nothing adapts faster than a New York rat . . .
City exterminators and soon-to-be divorced Chris and Benita Jackson think they know how these rats think. They know how rats breed. And they fear that Degenesis has only made these rats stronger. More aggressive. More intelligent. And more ravenous than ever . . .
TONIGHT’S DINNER SPECIAL: US
After a noticeable surge in rat den activity, the Jacksons witness something strange. Without warning, the rats disappear—only to reassemble in a massive lair beneath Grand Central Station. Millions upon millions of them. Working together. Operating as a hive mind. Feasting on the flesh of the homeless below—and planning their all-out attack on the unsuspecting humans above . . .
BY JOHN BODEN
I have yet to read anything from him that is anything but brilliant. Always brimming with rich characters and wonderful settings, great premises and wonderful dialogue. Often times a simmering cauldron of the dark fantastical with some historical sprinklings and more than enough creepiness. This book is no exception.
Ahab's Return, is a wonderfully paced novel wherein we meet George Harrow, a writer who toils for a rag known as The Gorgon's Mirror. He doesn't get to break the big stories or even write the want ads, he dreams up fallacy and legend and splices them together around tidbits of truth. He's like the Weekly World News of the mid-1800's.
Harrow's world is turned upside down with the arrival of Ahab. The very captain from the famed novel, Moby Dick. You see, Ishmael wrote that work as fiction but it was in fact mostly true, before he quit his journalist job to become an addict. Ahab survived his written demise and has spent many years fighting his way back to find the wife and son who moved on after thinking him dead. Now with that strict purpose of finding his long lost son and repairing a lifetime of damage wrought, he tries to integrate himself to these different times and attitudes. With the help of Harrow and former crew members, Ahab fights for the soul of his son and himself in a world blacker than any he has known before. The belly of a whale was most likely brighter.
That alone would be premise enough but being this is Ford novel, we get much more. We get a cult of street urchins working under a barely human sorcerer to cleanse the city in horrific ways. We find mountains of Opium and we follow zombies and ghosts, hallucinations and mythical creatures and on top of it all, we have truths and lies bent to a point where they become mirror twins. And all of it written in such a way that it's fun. The historical and fictional mashing was truly inspired.
I greatly enjoyed it and cannot recommend it enough.
Ahab's Return is available from William Morrow Books, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishing.
A bold and intriguing fabulist novel that reimagines two of the most legendary characters in American literature—Captain Ahab and Ishmael of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick—from the critically acclaimed Edgar and World Fantasy award-winning author of The Girl in the Glass and The Shadow Year.
At the end of a long journey, Captain Ahab returns to the mainland to confront the true author of the novel Moby-Dick, his former shipmate, Ishmael. For Ahab was not pulled into the ocean’s depths by a harpoon line, and the greatly exaggerated rumors of his untimely death have caused him grievous harm—after hearing about Ahab’s demise, his wife and child left Nantucket for New York, and now Ahab is on a desperate quest to find them.
by JOE X YOUNG
Sheila Shedd’s debut novel has the heights without the wuthering.
There are occasions when the brave amongst us try on different hats. Sheila Shedd is a brave freelance editor with a strong reputation, this is partly why I chose to read and review her debut novel Heart of Jet, I say partly because many years ago I reached a conclusion that editors must in some way be able to create better novels and short stories than the average writer on account of their particular skills. Since reaching that conclusion I have read several works written by editors which were for one reason or another totally disappointing. I’m happy to say that is not the case here, as although there is one issue I would consider a big negative the rest of Heart of Jet makes for an impressive debut.
Another reason I chose to read it is that it is an unusual mishmash, to my way of thinking at least, of Gothic supernatural/romance/historical adventure, all three genres sitting outside of my usual reading material and the Gothic supernatural aspect in particular is of interest to me. There have been quite a few supernatural stories doing the rounds which I found to be somewhat lacking, relying more on a horror component than more subtle machinations of supernatural occurrences. There is a very slight underplayed horror component at work here too, but one which is for the most part necessary as without it the basic story would have a much fluffier nature.
What I haven’t discussed yet is the elephant in the room, which is the big negative, so here goes:
The story concerns two young ladies at the turn of the last century, American socialites Caroline and Charlotte Grant, sisters whom upon receiving the last request of their Grandmother, travel from America to their ancestral home in Scotland, so far so good. The first port of call in England doesn’t exactly go according to plan, largely down to their naiveté of being strangers in a strange land. The basic idea is a good one, and so well-constructed as to be plausible, however this is where my first criticism begins, as the language used by the English people with whom the young ladies come into contact reminded me somewhat of Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins. This criticism continues when the ladies reach Scotland as Sheila Shedd has given every Scots character an accent as thick as Scots Porridge Oats and equally salty, which, as with salty porridge, is an acquired taste. Whilst I can absolutely appreciate the desire for linguistic authenticity I found this to be more of a parody of the vernacular to the point of ridicule. I will point out for the sake of clarity that I have some Scots ancestry as my Mother was a descendant of the Clan Stewart, so although I’m English I had when younger been in the company of enough Scots to know that not all of them sound like Robert Burns addressing a haggis. It’s all somewhat jarring, but I persevered and was glad that I did.
Now, we go onward to the many positives of the story.
The underlying story is beautifully crafted, with very distinct personalities driving story forward along with the occasional idiosyncratic interjections of an omniscient narrator whose nature is somewhat inviting and gossipy. It’s a bold move which could quite easily have backfired but instead lends itself beautifully to the quirkiness of the tale. Caroline is the elder sister, slightly stern but still open to what she considers an adventure and an assertion of her independence. Charlotte is more of a free spirit and the two complement one-another perfectly as both believable and endearing characters.
As with just about everything in fiction, especially that with a strong historical vibe, there are stereotypes, but the two main characters have a much more progressive outlook than many of their contemporaries, which fits well with the new century setting. Upon their arrival in Scotland we do get the stereotypical matriarchal housekeeper, gruff groundsman and strapping young sons, all of whom have key parts to play. There’s a lot of lead-up with the introduction of characters and settings which at first I thought to be non-essential filler, but the bigger picture at the end of the novel gives a much wider sense of importance to all of the previous events, as even the small details such as Caroline’s behaviour in a public house only serve to strengthen the credibility of the supernatural aspects.
Speaking of which, once the young ladies have spent (very little) time in their ancestral home, Caroline gets a visit from a rather unpleasant looking spectral form who guides her to find the eponymous Heart of Jet, which from its discovery onward has a marked effect on Caroline who takes it upon herself to put right a dreadful injustice from generations before.
At the risk of sounding somewhat sexist I believe I am not the intended audience for this book, as with the lengthy costuming descriptions and bodice ripping passion displayed herein I can only assume this would appeal wholeheartedly to ladies who like their romance intimate, dark and brooding. This is not to say that it got in the way of what was overall a chilling supernatural drama, if anything it made the whole experience richer as it gave much clearer understanding of the personalities involved.
The mishmash of Gothic supernatural, rather descriptive romance and adventure is a strange enough combination. Adding an almost comic undertone via author intrusion may seem to be over egging the pudding but it isn’t the case, as in all honesty I enjoyed Heart of Jet and I’m assuming that although the ending wasn’t as I expected, there could someday be a sequel as this is Sheila’s debut and with the start as good as this it would be a shame were she to be a one hit wonder. She is clearly a woman in love with language and knows how to use it to great effect.
The book is available on Amazon:
Sheila Shedd can be contacted here for her creative/editorial services:
This book is a perfect example of why I need to rectify the blind spot that has largely existed in my reading habits when it comes to crime novels. It’s a genre I’ve always felt drawn to but for some reason don’t actually come to as often. I think one of the strengths of narratives of this type (and this book in particular) is how much the human condition can come through and how the depth of the characters is put so emotionally on display.
As a parent, I responded deeply to this story, the tragedy of a young child killed (Alice), her best friend (Paige) bearing witness and the main character of the book (Tom), left to care for his granddaughter, protect her from elements of the town that would do her harm as well as what he can to help her heal. It’s a situation that has great potential for conflict and it’s all used to perfection.
The emotional conquests against Paige seem to come on multiple fronts as, in addition to the expected trauma, she becomes of greater interest to Alice’s parents. For whatever reason, they have concluded that Paige knows more than she has been telling and will go to any lengths to get her cooperation. What I liked about this point was how, on one hand their behavior comes off as unreasonable and hostile, you also feel a touch of sympathy for them. They have lost a child, after all. This, I think is an essential element of all great fiction. You don’t necessarily have characters that are absolutely good and absolutely evil. All we have are characters doing the best they can to live through the struggles which have been thrust upon them.
And as the story progresses, the escalation of situations that Tom keeps getting pulled in to serves wonderfully to heighten the tension of the story. It reminded me a bit of Scott Smith’s A Simple Plan in how, despite all efforts to correct his situation, things just keep getting worse and worse.
And it all builds up to an ending that, while it isn’t something we haven’t seen before necessarily, Triana executes it in a way that is effective, without taking it so far over the top that it seems gimmicky.
If I had any criticism, it would be that while Tom himself is a deep and interesting character, early in the book there are a number of points where he reflects on his disdain for the world today. Of his lack of understanding of the younger generation and their technology and phones and so forth. It isn’t a point of view that I’m necessarily unsympathetic to, it’s just that it’s a narrative I’ve become more and more tired of seeing. It’s the kind of thing I can get pretty much every day on Facebook or Twitter and as it doesn’t really add anything to the plot of the book, I found it to be a bit distracting.
You could make the argument that this disdain for the modern world serves to further isolate Tom as a character from the rest of his life. But I think that the circumstances of the story already accomplish this effectively enough without having to use any kind of enhancing device.
Also, as we find out early, Paige is living with Tom because her parents passed away, leaving her in her grandfather’s care. This puts Tom in the awkward position of having to act as a parent, an older man trying to figure out the unsteady ground of raising a young girl. This in my opinion would be a more effective way of highlighting Tom’s sense of aloneness. It’s germane to the story, incredibly emotional and personal and doesn’t have quite so much the feel of pop-culture-speak.
And just putting all cards fairly on the table, there are a number of typos in this that were a bit glaring. That being said however, I didn’t feel like these took away from the impact of the story or the beauty of the prose. I never felt like turning away but they were there. I just think the story could have stood for another editing pass.
In all, it’s an incredibly rich and entertaining book, one I read multiple times. It’s a quick journey and if you’re looking for a vivid distraction, an emotional and human story, look not further than right here.
Vermont winters harden more than the land.
After the sudden death of his daughter. Rancher Tom Hardgrave is given sole custody of his granddaughter—ten-year-old Paige. He desperately wants to be a good guardian, but the personal hardships keep coming for him and the child.
When an unknown assailant takes the life of Paige’s best friend, the police are baffled and the small town of Middlebury grows fearful and suspicious.
A murdered child, a missing murder weapon, a shattered community, family secrets, and second chances forge a twisted path through Kristopher Triana’s latest dark thriller.