SEPARATING YOU: A SELF-HELP BOOK FOR THE LOST, LONELY, AND PSYCHOTICALLY OBSESSEDBY DR. JASON CARSON
Many thanks to “author” Dr. Jason Carson for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!
I can’t remember where I heard about this book, but it was from a book review site. I was
almost giddy when reading about the book - and even more pleased when the author offered to send me a copy to read. I am fascinated by serial killers in many regards - their complex psychology being one of them - so to read a book as-told-by a serial killer was fun. (Note: The author is not a serial killer and does not condone violence to self or to others) I’ve not read any books by actual serial killers so I can’t speak to how accurately this reflects the thoughts of a true serial killer. The book is very entertaining, nonetheless.
This book is told in first-person POV, as though written by Dr. Jason Carson (Dr. Carson is a fictional author, but he even has his own Twitter account which is fun to follow!). In this instructional book, Dr. Carson walks you through some the mental processes needed to commit murder. He details how one would compartmentalize things so that it’s easier to manipulate, or how to normalize the darkest of inspirations which “normal” people would frown upon.
While this book is truly satirical, I will admit I wrote down some sentences that really resonated with me or inspired me. Not “inspire” in the sense that it made me want to hurt people; it’s more like I’ve been given a few mantras that I should carry around in my head for when I need a little boost. When framed in a “positive” or “socially acceptable” construct, then Dr. Carson gives some really sage advice.
“Fear is only fear whenever we are too weak to face what scares us…” page 29.
“What it takes is positive thought, forceful thought.” page 40. (I’m going to phrase “forceful” in the sense that the positive vibes force themselves into a situation, thus knocking down the bad ones!)
“Why aren’t you trekking up the mountain of adversity to achieve your own version of happiness…?” page 62.
Those seem like good quotes to be printed on a “Hang in There!” poster.
Another thing about this book is that it shows how very arbitrary many things in life can be.
Most of us would agree that to hurt or kill another person is “bad” because it impedes on their right to life or happiness. But on the other hand, by preventing someone from hurting or killing someone - isn’t that impeding on their happiness? It’s just interesting to think about people out there who do not fit easily into a culture’s definition of moral thinking and behaving, and have extreme inspiration to inflict fear, pain and death on people - for no reason. Or, for a reason where other people would find a more positive way of dealing with rejection, humiliation, abuse, etc.
The ending was a lot different than I thought it would be, but it’s a good one. Like the ending, there were some really trippy parts of the book that creeped me out. Dr. Carson seemed like a “rational” person for the most part, but sometimes he’d get in these delicious little tangents where it’s like he’s seeing life as though he’s in a real trippy dream.
The pace is great, and it doesn’t lag anywhere. The book kept my interest start to finish, and I read through it quickly. Dr. Carson thought differently than what I would have expected a serial killer to think like, but even though I read a fair amount about serial killers, I am definitely no expert. I had hoped it would be a bit darker, but the author’s note in the beginning stated this was not written to be the darkest in the genre, but his own exploration into the mind of a serial killer, and I appreciate that. Overall, a very enjoyable read.
Separating You is a great read for anyone who wonders about what makes a serial killer do what he/she does. This book certainly does what it is set out to do - it explores the psyche of a serial killer, without the author being a murderer himself.
Dr. Carson Twitter: @DrJayToday
"Do you hurt? Do you hate? Do you want?
If you have ever felt like your entire existence is meaningless, full of random potholes, endless lectures, and constant heartache, then this book is for you!
Won't you join me? Won't you challenge your inner essence to dig up some grain of joy in this hell we call day to day "life"? Follow me...buy this book, and follow me.
— Dr. Jason Carson"
If you’re looking for an exciting and well-written thriller series, the Tom Nolan books provide just that. Plus, you may need him to protect you, too, because there are an awful lot of bad types out there….
For those of you who missed it, Yorkshire writer Craig Wallwork’s Bad People, was a fantastic and unexpected welcome to the thriller genre at the beginning of the year. Not one to rest on his laurels, Labyrinth of Dolls takes the horrors of the first book, ramps them up a few gears and means that you’ve never looked at dolls the same way since you saw Child’s Play.
LOTD picks up following Bad People, lots of the same characters return and while you can probably get by not knowing the full backstory, you’d be doing a disservice to yourself and this novel by doing so. Tom Nolan returns, the aging detective who rather than relishes his previous successes, carries the scars and the trauma from what he’s seen across his career. It’s one of the strengths of the novel, that Nolan is relatable, like a hero returning from war. He’s brilliant in his deductions, always slightly ahead of the reader but never in a way that feels forced, or that he’s some Sherlock Holmes who can figure it all out before it starts. He is equally flawed and relies on other people in the force, intellectually and emotionally – which also means that side characters and love interests are more developed, more relatable and not just relegated for romance and exposition.
The novel ramps up the gore, even when you know a death is coming, you’ll be quick to bite your lip or have to put the novel down. The deaths are detailed and bloody, making you wonder if Wallwork is on some sort of watch list. They don’t let up either, the blood spills and the twists keep turning till the end of the novel. By the final chapter you’ll not be sure who to trust, who is good, who is safe.
The whole novel is kept secure by how strong of a writer Wallwork is. His prose is always tight, nothing feels unnecessary and the descriptions and general tone he gives the novel is so confident that it feels like you’re watching it all unfold in front of you, rather than ever feeling like you’re doing the heavy lifting filling in the blanks. This is further cemented by how unpredictable the novel is, but never at the expense of feeling cheap or cheated, instead it just shows that the author is always thinking ahead, and that the detective may be better than we previously thought.
Readers will have to suspend disbelief, especially part way through LOTD, not that it ever feels outlandish but that Yorkshire seems to have the highest rate of creative serial killers around. The novel does address this, and it wouldn’t be as exciting a novel if it wasn’t out there, but there is the element that you think the criminal conspiracy that unfolds would be bigger news.
Labyrinth of the Dolls proves that the excitement and brilliance of Bad People wasn’t a one off. Though it’s hard to rank them so close to reading them together, no matter which one wins, the other isn’t trailing far behind. If you’re looking for an exciting and well-written thriller series, the Tom Nolan books provide just that. Plus, you may need him to protect you, too, because there are an awful lot of bad types out there….
EVIL HAS A NEW FACE
It's been one year since the horrific murders of Stormer Hill, and the events of that time continue to resonate with Detective Constable Tom Nolan. In an attempt to find the second killer, known only as the Ragman, Nolan joins West Yorkshire's Murder Investigation Team.
Partnered with Jennifer Morrison, a straight-talking detective with her eye on promotion, the two officers are assigned to track down a new killer whose victims are all found dressed like human dolls. As the investigation progresses, Nolan becomes an intricate piece in the killer's grand vision that puts his life in danger.
But with the body count rising daily and the pressure to find who the media is labelling the Doll Maker increasing, Nolan discovers more than just a series of grisly murders...
Within the human dolls, the answers he has sought for nearly a year may finally be found.
Body horror is a sub-genre of horror that is often overlooked, and when it isn't far too much of what is published in it, is substandard, poorly written stories where any attempt at a coherent story is cast aside to allow the author to shock the reader with their descriptions of the gross, nasty and devolution of the body.
I'll be honest it is a genre that I am not a massive fan of, and a lot of it stems from my dislike of the body, I long for the day were we are all just floating orbs of pure energy. But we can dream, can't we?
Enter Mark Cassell, he's an author who has been skirting the periphery of Ginger Nuts of Horror for many years, but for one reason or another, we have never properly covered his work. No idea why it's one of those strange things that never seemed to happen.
After reading this twin story novella, I have to ask myself, why the hell did it take so long to connect and read his work.
Monster Double Feature, as is the title suggests is a duo of alluring tales featuring grotesque body horror and gruesome monsters. "River of Nine Tails" kicks off this novella, with the adventure-seeking tourist Elliot, deciding that going down the Mekong Delta in a tiny boat is a good idea. What a silly man, for when an encounter with something that is so alien to him, he soon wishes that Elliot can phone home, and a massive finger would be the least of his worries.
Cassell has created a tense, and claustrophobic story, that reeks of the hot, sweaty hell of the jungle nightmare that Elliot has to endure. The narrative of the story hits the ground running leaving no space for unnecessary exposition or character development, which is perfect for this type of story, where the horrors that we witness are made all the more terrifying for us not knowing anything about the protagonist.
The mashup of Alien, The Legacy of Heriot and even Deliverance, provides the genre junkies with lots of queues and easter eggs. Still, Cassell binds it together with enough originality and stylistic charisma, to ensure that it doesn't slip into just another creature feature body horror mashup. And he confirms my suspicions that travel is only for the somewhat silly of us.
The second story Reanimation Channel is a very different beast and my favourite of the two here. When a parcel collection between neighbours goes south of the border, a strange and brutal creature is unleashed, and all hell breaks loose, a nightmare that threatens to destroy all of humanity.
Reanimation Channel is a gloriously over the top creature feature, mixing body horror, eco-horror (fight me it's there I see it), with dark, dark humour this is an expansive short story that will raise as many smiles as gasps of horror. I loved how this went from being a tight domestic horror to something much more. Cassell's ability to keep the escalation of events logical and believable, well as plausible as they can be in a story of this nature, shows an author with an assured and gifted sense of storytelling.
While the story itself is entirely self-contained, I'd love to read more about the dark web villains and their reanimation company.
Those of you looking for a quick sampler to Cassell's writing should be queuing up to this book, the two stories presented here are a fantastic representation of his writing, pacy delivery, tight lean writing and expansive ideas all make for a highly enjoyable read.
My only gripe is I wish the two stories had been printed with the second one reversed and upside down. I can't be the only person to remember the classic spilt novels of yesteryear
From the author of the Shadow Fabric mythos comes this 78-page chapbook featuring two stories.
A British traveller desperate to escape his past finds himself at the heart of a Vietnamese legend, and learns why the Mekong Delta is known as "River of Nine Tails." And a regular parcel collection from a neighbour becomes a descent into terror through the online game, "Reanimation Channel."
RIVER OF NINE TAILS (originally published in In Darkness, Delight: Creatures of the Night anthology by Corpus Press, 2019)
"I got a BAD case of the heebie jeebies from this one."
- Char's Corner
"Vietnamese river setting, world travellers, a little DiCaprio The Beach feel for me, river monsters, ritual sacrifice, and evolutionary themes."
- Well Read Beard
"This was an adventure tale filled with some gory fun and there were even some tentacles! You can’t ever go wrong with added tentacles if you ask me."
- Bark Reviews
The general tone of the book made my heart ache, and I mean that as high praise. There was a melancholy to it that came out of a very strongly represented notion of ‘otherness’. I want to feel for the characters when I read, especially when I read horror, and I felt for every one of the characters living in these pages
Black Cranes: A Tale of Unquiet Women is a horror anthology of stories written by ten different Asian people, about Asian women. It is edited by Lee Murray and Geneve Flynn, who both also contributed stories, and will be released in September 2020 by Omnium Gatherum (the small press, not the metal band from Finland – though this anthology and that band’s songs have an edge of brutality in common!).
It has taken me ages to figure out how to write this review, because I simply didn’t know where to start talking about it. Black Cranes gives you a lot to think about, so I slept on it, thinking that I’d wake up with a more clear idea of how to go about discussing it. I was wrong! I woke up with twice as many things swirling around my head as there were before.
This is a collection that doesn’t preach to the reader but it will teach you things. In the foreword, written by the wonderful Alma Katsu (The Hunger), she asks:
“What does it mean to be an Asian woman? The whole world thinks it already knows what we are about. We are usually reduced to one of two stereotypes.”
And she is absolutely right. Asian women are mostly perceived as stereotypes in the western world as either Geishas or Dragon Ladies (so says Alma). I like to think I’m a liberal and non-judgmental person but I sat there thinking ‘oh no… I pictured the stereotypes before she even mentioned them’. She goes on to talk about the expectations put upon Asian women, the familial obligations, the tremendous sacrifice to the self they have to make in order to be subservient to the men in their societies. They are dehumanized, negated as individuals, and often fetishized. I sat there questioning my ignorant perception of the eastern world and its people and beliefs and folklore, alarmed and ashamed in my realisation that really, just like Jon Snow, I know nothing.
My ignorance of the many eastern cultures has never been intentional, but the extent of my ignorance became apparent to me for the first time in my life in reading Alma’s words. I wondered how much of what I thought I knew to be true was formed by growing up in a generally insensitive and apathetic Western society that, as whole, doesn’t tend to take the time to learn or teach its children about people who are from other places that are deemed to be exotic.
Why have I never taken the time to learn more? Why is it that despite my incredible love of “all” things horror, I am mostly familiar with western folklore and superstition? There’s an entire other side of the world with different tales and traditions and all I know of them came to me through American remakes of Japanese and Korean works. What exactly are the pressures that Asian women face, and how do they differ from country to country, and how are they unique in the plights they face? Where do their fears and their strengths come from? How is this translated through story telling? I knew this anthology was something special as I turned those first few pages because if a foreword can make you think that much, then imagine what the stories can do.
If I were to write about each individual story, I fear this review would never end, so I’m just going to talk briefly about a few in particular that stayed with me. This is not, by any means, a slight on the stories that I don’t mention. Every writer in this anthology is of a remarkable calibre, each with significant professional and creative achievements that include numerous prestigious literary award nominations and wins. The writing is top-notch all around and I honestly can’t criticise that aspect of the book in any capacity.
Angela Yuriko Smith, for me, is something special. She contributed two stories, Skin Dowdy and Vanilla Rice, both of which explored themes of the aesthetic values placed on women, with a touch of self-loathing thrown in. It is perhaps disturbing that I empathised with these women so much and I found myself engrossed in their sad, horrific situations. My only criticism is that I wanted more! Both stories ended exactly where they should have, but it was a great disappointment to find myself on the last page each time. Most definitely a writer I will be seeking out in the immediate future.
The Ninth Tale by Rena Mason opened my eyes to a whole new world of magic and intrigue that I was completely unaware of. I had never heard of a fox spirit before, though I read elsewhere afterwards that they are common in eastern folklore. This story was fascinating, intriguing, and wonderfully told.
Rites of Passage by Gabriela Lee had me squirming in my seat. I was engrossed from the first page and the sense of dread and horror I felt intensified with each page I turned. I don’t think it quite falls into the body horror category, but in some respects, it’s not far off. This one, I feel, is particularly horrifying to those of us who already find the idea of pregnancy terrifying.
Lastly, I couldn’t possibly end this review without mentioning Phoenix Claws by Lee Murray. I swear, it gave me anxiety. I was enthralled, disgusted, and on the edge of my seat. I felt so stressed for the protagonist, but you know, in the good way that you hope for when you’re reading a horror story.
Overall, this anthology is outstanding. There were stories I preferred over others, but none that I didn’t enjoy. I was introduced to a new world of monsters and creatures, and not only were the writers of these tales skilled enough to bring them to life in the most beautiful/horrific ways, but they made me want to delve deeper into Asian folklores and mythologies.
The general tone of the book made my heart ache, and I mean that as high praise. There was a melancholy to it that came out of a very strongly represented notion of ‘otherness’. I want to feel for the characters when I read, especially when I read horror, and I felt for every one of the characters living in these pages. The unique anxieties experienced by Asian women were so masterfully penned here that reading it really was an eye-opening experience. The themes were seamlessly woven in to the narratives in a way that both tugged at my heartstrings and filled me with dread.
I would recommend this anthology to everyone – there’s a huge range of narrative styles with every writer sounding entirely different from the last, and there’s also a range of sub-genres to enjoy. Sci-fi, fantasy, mystery… there is nothing ‘samey’ as you go from story to story in this anthology.
This is a 4 out of 5 stars for me, only losing that one star because some of the stories leaned much more into fantasy, for example, than horror, and this is a horror anthology after all. I don’t have to feel scared every time, but I need to feel at least tense, or a sense of foreboding, or dread, and some just didn’t get there for me. But that really is my only criticism.
The phrase, ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ is defunct in this case – the cover (by Greg Chapman) is magnificent and a perfect reflection of what you’ll find inside. Go ahead and order it – you won’t be disappointed.
I never know how to end a review so.
Over the past three days we have been running an excellent article series from lee Murray and the authors who haunt the pages of this excellent anthology, you can check it out by clicking on the links below
Almond-eyed celestial, the filial daughter, the perfect wife. Quiet, submissive, demure. In Black Cranes, Southeast Asian writers of horror both embrace and reject these traditional roles in a unique collection of stories which dissect their experiences of ‘otherness’, be it in the colour of their skin, the angle of their cheekbones, the things they dare to write, or the places they have made for themselves in the world.
Black Cranes is a dark and intimate exploration of what it is to be a perpetual outsider.
Not many authors could pull off a novel as ridiculous as ‘Clowns Vs Spiders’
Jeff Strand is one of those authors I feel does not garner as much coverage or reviews as his crazy and often off-the-wall fiction deserves. He is also incredibly prolific, and although I have read a mere smattering of his books he rarely disappoints and I would happily recommend Blister, My Pretties and Cyclops Road (my favourite thus far) and others. Have I already said he was prolific? Although Clowns Vs Spiders is only a few months old, he already has another newer release, Allison. He is a hard author to keep up with. Although his fiction varies in content dramatically, one thing is guaranteed, it will invariably be a strange cross between oddball and quirky. The brilliantly named Clowns Vs Spiders is both. With bells on. Forget the bells, use red noses and big floppy shoes instead….
The million-dollar question is a big one: does Clowns Vs Spiders deliver what is promises on its label (or book jacket)? You bet it does. With arguably the stupidest plot in many a year, a group of circus clowns battle thousands of huge, 12-inch long, deadly spiders which invade a small town. It is neither complex nor deep. Think Killer Klowns from Outer Space, except that in this story the clowns are the good guys. It is the Jeff Strand brand of quirkiness which makes this very silly book totally readable, as the five main characters (the clowns) are only ever known as their stage names – their real personas are never revealed and we only ever see them as clowns and for the most part they never abandon these characters even when they are being attacked by the incredibly aggressive and fast moving arachnids.
Stephen King has a bizarre part to play in this great novel as after seventeen years working in the circus Jaunty the Clown, Guffaw, Wagon, Reginald the Pleasant Clown and Bluebeard are fired as their boss informs them that nobody likes clowns anymore. What is the reason you may ask? Because of Pennywise from IT most people see now clowns as ‘scary’ and even though the five have spent years entertaining kids their career is cut painfully short. On several occasions characters say: “I f*****g hate clowns” and the team go on the hunt for new jobs whilst living on macaroni and cheese.
As Halloween is approaching, they are hired to appear in a hugely successful haunted house attraction, the Mountain of Terror, where to their dismay they appear as ‘scary’ clowns, becoming zombies, demons scary doll clowns. They are distraught by this development, but need the cash, and to make things worse their new boss is a kid who knows nothing about ‘proper’ old time clowning and making children smile. Of course, during opening night, the spider invasion begins.
Stephen King has a lot to answer for and there were some really funny scenes, including Jaunty the Clown rescuing a kid from the killer spiders, but whilst he is doing so, the kid is STILL more scared of the clown that the real spiders and is kicking and biting poor Jaunty whilst being rescued. Some kids have no gratitude.
This very fine b-movie style horror is set mostly over one long evening as the clown’s battle for survival and along the way try to save as many people as possible and through a few mishaps even cause a few casualties of their own. Although Jaunty is the main man the action also jumps to other characters, entertaining kill scenes (including children), and features funny discussions about whether they are genuinely living in an apocalypse. The dialogue is also incredibly sharp, particularly when they are trapped in a car which stops and starts, as spiders keep getting clogged in its engine and they discuss who might sacrifice themselves first. A lot of the violence and gore is very stupid, and I also loved the detour into a public library where they encountered a gun-ho librarian who resents her book stock being used to squash the beasts.
If you buy Spiders Vs Clowns and do not dig it, there is no point complaining to me. You have been warned: it is dumb, stupid, violent, and very funny. It is lean, mean and the absolute perfect length for something so unashamedly trashy. Spiders Vs Clowns delivers what is promises and there relatively few authors out there who could pull something like this off, Hunter Shea might be another. You will be squashing the horrible little bastards in your dreams, make that nightmares. Jaunty the Clown you are my hero.
"In the tradition of the great Robert Bloch, Strand delivers wry humor and gut-wrenching horror and tension with equal effectiveness, seamlessly evoking fear and laughs, often within the very same sentence." -- Mystery Scene magazine
Jaunty the Clown just wants to entertain families with lighthearted slapstick antics, but people think of clowns as terrifying, nightmarish creatures who hide in closets or under beds. When Jaunty, along with his fellow performers Guffaw, Wagon, Reginald The Pleasant Clown, and Bluehead are fired from the circus, they're told that the world just doesn't like clowns anymore.
Still, clowns have to eat. And since these clowns don't eat children, to make ends meet they're eventually forced to take a job in a popular haunted attraction, the Mountain of Terror. Instead of charming entertainers, they're now scary clowns. A zombie clown. A demon clown. A creepy doll clown.
But the town is about to discover something more frightening than clowns. Because on opening night, millions of oversized spiders emerge from a cave and begin their deadly invasion...
From Bram Stoker Award-nominated author Jeff Strand comes an insane mix of shameless silliness and grisly creepy-crawly horror. Clowns Vs. Spiders. Who will win?
“Beware... Strigoi... the White Tower... and the one-eyed man”,
In the 123 years since the publication of Stoker’s Dracula, vampires have endured more ups and downs in terms of popularity than probably any other iconic horror monster.
The werewolf and the mummy have always played second fiddle to Vampires and Zombies. However, the popularity of zombies has, for the most part, remained pretty stable, and yet Vampires, the noblest and in my humble opinion the greatest of all horror monsters. Have fallen in and out of fashion more times than stonewashed jeans and backcombed hair.
Ever since Dracula first creeped out of the shadows, we have seen every alteration of him possible, from the untamed monsters of 30 Days of Night to the abomination of the sparkly vampire, we all have our favourite version of the vampire, but no matter what which one it is they all owe an unpayable debt to Dracula and Stoker’s visionary vampire novel.
So why would an author 123 years later, think that the best way to write their version of a vampire novel, not just use the concepts and themes created by Stoker but write a direct sequel to it? (If you are reading this review, Mr Barnes I would love to hear your thoughts on this.)
Well, that is what J.S. Barnes has done with Dracula’s Child, I suppose the clue was in the title. Be warned though before reading any further, if you were not a fan of the source material, then this book might not be for you. Barnes has crafted and presents Dracula’s Child, using the same narrative style as Stoker’s original. So if you are looking for a straightforward narrative journey from A-Z, you are going to be in for a shock. Barnes uses the same concept of using letters, press cuttings and diary entries to drip feed the story to the reader in a spectacular and highly convincing patchwork of viewpoints and exposition.
You can tell straight away that the author has a deep reverence for Stoker, as well as a deep understanding and encyclopaedic knowledge of the book, as Dracula’s Children reads as though it could have been written by Stoker’sStoker’s hand. Now, this isn’t in any way a complaint or a comment on Barne’s literary skill, far from it. While Barnes continues the story like some possessed psychic medium, compelled to continue Stoker’s novel, he brings more than enough of his style and personality to the narrative to prevent it from becoming a pastiche.
At times Barne’s modern sensibility and use of language breaks through, but this is rare and doesn’t bring the reader out of the story in any way.
“Beware... Strigoi... the White Tower... and the one-eyed man”,
that’s the doom-laden warning that Professor Van Helsing delivers before falling ill after a part to celebrate the birthday of Quincy, Jonathan and Mina Harker’s young son. Realising that Helsing’s warning alludes to the return of the caped one, the Harkers once again take up arms against the ultimate evil.
One of the strengths of this novel is the aforementioned choice of narrative style, it puts the reader right into the heart of the story, with its oppressive style, and as it happens sense of pace, allowing Barnes to induce a deep-rooted sense of dread and fear, thanks to the reader never being able to read between the lines so to speak. Nothing is telegraphed, there are no long passages of graphic violence to bring on the goosebumps, but you will be gripped by it. You will feel that sense of dread that exists in movies during the lead up to the jump scare, even though there are none of those here due to the structure of the story.
Where Dracula touched upon the themes of sexual power and abuse from the nature of the vampire, Barnes extends this to a brutal and scathing attack on the strength of both the media and social media and their desire to control the hearts, souls and minds of all of us.
The parallels to the seductive nature of vampires and mass control of us are handled with an assured hand, never straying into the heavy-handed territory that many discourses of this nature can fall foul of.
But what about the vampires? I hear you ask, well don’t worry these aren’t rose-tinted spectacles wearing top-hatted sparkly, neutered and frankly pointless vampires. The one inhabiting the pages of this novel are, without a doubt, evil, nasty, and downright dirty in their actions. Concerns were going into this novel that we would be subjected to watered-down version of the children of the night, and it is with a massive sigh of relief that we can report that this is not the case.
If you had asked me a year ago, if we needed a direct sequel to and in the style of Dracula, I would have laughed in your face, and probably uttered a few profanities for effect. However, after turning the final page of Dracula’s Child, I have to hold my hands up and say I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I would go as far as to say that this is a modern Gothic masterpiece, and one of the finest vampire novels of recent years. A perfect companion piece to one of the most pivotal novels ever written.
Evil never truly dies... and some legends live forever. In Dracula's Child, the dark heart of Bram Stoker's classic is reborn. Capturing the voice, tone, style and characters of the original yet with a modern sensibility this novel is perfect for fans of Dracula and contemporary horror.
It has been some years since Jonathan and Mina Harker survived their ordeal in Transylvania and, vanquishing Count Dracula, returned to England to try and live ordinary lives.
But shadows linger long in this world of blood feud and superstition - and, the older their son Quincey gets, the deeper the shadows that lengthen at the heart of the Harkers' marriage. Jonathan has turned back to drink; Mina finds herself isolated inside the confines of her own family; Quincey himself struggles to live up to a family of such high renown.
And when a gathering of old friends leads to unexpected tragedy, the very particular wounds in the heart of the Harkers' marriage are about to be exposed...
There is darkness both within the marriage and without - for new evil is arising on the Continent. A naturalist is bringing a new species of bat back to London; two English gentlemen, on their separate tours of the continent, find a strange quixotic love for each other, and stumble into a calamity far worse than either has imagined; and the vestiges of something forgotten long ago is finally beginning to stir...
Sadly, too many readers who are new to the genre believe Splatterpunk is formed of little else than a body of work designed to be offensive and outrageous. This collection shows that not to be the case.
The world of Splatterpunk intrigues me. Established as a sub-genre of horror in the 1980s, its creations verged on the extreme, often including high levels of gore, violence and abuse, along with a liberal sprinkling of counter-culture themes. Often the gore and violence were accompanied by eroticism verging on dark porn, abuse of drugs and drink, unhinged characters and a healthy nod towards the darkest traits found within the human species.
In the mid-1990s, interest in Splatterpunk seemed to be on the decline, and a number of the leading creators in the genre drifted more into the mainstream. It could be argued that they actually stayed where they were and readers became more accepting of extreme themes, so the mainstream actually encompassed Splatterpunk, to the point where it no longer required its own term as a differentiator. Either way, it was a less prominent genre.
Fast-forward to today, and Splatterpunk is enjoying something of a revival, albeit with a small but selective audience. The genre itself has also expanded, and readers of Splatterpunk are accepting of a wide range of themes alongside extreme horror. These include – but are not limited to – bizarro fiction, erotic horror, weird westerns and fucked-up dystopian scifi. Basically, if it’s extreme and has something splattery, it’s of interest.
Personally, I have an interest in the wider world of modern Splatterpunk. It’s a genre I read a lot, and it’s a genre I write in. That might make me a harsher critic, or a more sympathetic one; I’ve yet to decide which way the axe falls. One thing I do know is in my opinion, Splatterpunk isn’t best served as a barrage of shock, a graphic and unrelenting chronology of extreme actions serving no other purpose than to offend or upset the sensibilities.
Good Splatterpunk needs a balance, a counter to the extreme. It needs a well-constructed story, or moments of humour, or some degree of cerebral intensity to work alongside the extreme elements. Without that, it sometimes feels too over the top, almost fake.
So what about Welcome to the Splatter Club? This anthology is probably best considered as a sampler of today’s more evolved Splatterpunk generation. A collection of 13 stories, it features work which comes from the extreme horror roots of the genre, along with some splinters of bizarro fiction, a few erotic horror tales and a smear of strange scifi.
For those who are new to Splatterpunk, there’s nothing too extreme in the collection. I say that, but my tastes might be dubious compared to pure horror fans with a more purist approach. As an example, I still think The Exorcist is one of the finest comedy films I’ve ever seen!
As with any collections, there are ups and there are downs, but I dare say these will change for many readers based upon where their interests lie.
For me, the highlights mainly fell at the end of the collection. The last two stories – The Woman in the Ditch by Joshua Rex and Cheese by KJ Moore – were the stand-out works, for very different reasons. The Woman in the Ditch has a folk-horror vibe, but carries with it a haunting feel which moves it from being a horror story into a comforting but confrontational tale about circumstance. It’s the story which I find myself thinking about most when I look back at the collection. Cheese, on the other hand, is very much a straight-laced story with a significantly well delivered ‘what the fuck’ moment at the end. It’s impact lies very much in its understatement, which is a rare thing in the world of Splatterpunk.
On a sheer grin-factor level, Sometimes the Penguin Eats You by Brian Asman takes a step over the Bizarro line, and delivers a story which will keep a grin on your face as the plot is revealed. It’s dark, but smiley dark if you catch my drift.
Other stories which jumped out from the crowd included The Big Bad Boy by Patrick Winters. It’s Splatterpunk but with a sense of irony, a confectionary-based horror tale and you don’t get to say that often enough! I Hang My Hat and There’s No Blood by Robert Essig is a clever tale, combining its Splatter with a smart story line which I didn’t see coming. 23 to 46 by Paul Stansfield is an unusual tale, driving the narrative from a direction I don’t remember ever reading before. The ending is a little predictable, but the different approach to the plot more than makes up for it.
All in all, most readers will find a good selection of tales they enjoy in Welcome to the Splatter Club. It covers a range of stories with differing styles, and thankfully lacks the sort of work which delivers a one-dimensional catalogue of abuse and violence. Sadly, too many readers who are new to the genre believe Splatterpunk is formed of little else than a body of work designed to be offensive and outrageous. This collection shows that not to be the case.
Review by Peter Caffrey
Splatter (adj.) - characterized by extreme or excessive gore or violence
Punk (adj.) - often referring to a musical genre of short, fast-paced songs with hard-edged melodies and singing styles, stripped-down instrumentation, and often containing subversive lyrics and social and political commentary.
Welcome to the Splatter Club is thirteen stories of hyperintensive horror with no limits!
Editor K. Trap Jones guides this initiation into our favorite genre of dark fiction: Splatterpunk
The ceremony includes black magick curses, encounters of the fourth kind, and bizarre office politics. Story settings range from a dystopic United Kingdom down to the a convenience store stocking a very malicious product.
Praise for the editor and authors:
"There's a new generation of horror writers bursting onto the scene, and K. Trap Jones is one of the leaders of the pack." ~ Edward Lee, author of Header
Fantastically warped and wonderfully twisted, John McNee is a writer with a towering imagination, and he knows how to use it."
~Victor Gischler, Edgar Award-nominated author of Gun Moneys and Deadpool: Merc with a Mouth.
"Nikki Noir is a sultry new voice in erotic horror, one you should watch as closely as a black widow in your bed sheets." ~ Kristopher Triana, Splatterpunk award-winning author
Peter Caffrey is a writer of tales with an absurdist bent. A born and bred Londoner, he currently lives in the middle of nowhere with nothing but the North Sea and fog for company. Introduced to horror as a small child by a Mother who was too scared to watch films on her own, he has a fondness for demonic possession, crucifixion and impalements. His novels, The Devil’s Hairball and Whores Versus Sex Robots are available from Amazon. He drinks too much, exercise too little and is unlikely to change.
Pivot is the first book in the Jack Harper Trilogy, as the front cover will tell you. I intentionally avoided reading anything about Pivot before I started it because I prefer to go into a book blind, so I’ll keep this part brief.
Jack Harper is a cute little girl who is ‘adopted’ by a mysterious man named Cyrus and she lives in a rich, lavish home, and is taught the usual things; Maths, English, Science, Murder…. You know, that old chestnut. It quickly becomes apparent that (murder aside), this is no ordinary house and Cyrus is no ordinary man. When the birth parents are away, the supernatural comes out to play. The book takes us on Jack’s journey through ages 7 to 17.
Right off the bat, I have to tell you I have some criticisms, but bear with me. As a rule, I will not put out an overall negative review of a book, especially if said book is the author’s debut. If I read something I dislike, I might rant to Nick – my poor, suffering partner who just sits there minding his own business until I burst in with something like ‘well you won’t believe this bullshit!’ – but I won’t take to the Internet with my worst opinions. Not anymore. I have been told by basically everyone in my life that I am overly critical of things I read and watch, that I nit-pick, that I get too invested in my exaggerated and usually unjustifiable hatred of things, and that I just go on and on in my ranty attempts to convert everyone else to my way of thinking.
Personally, I don’t know what they’re all talking about. Take any of the live-action Stars Wars films outside of the original trilogy and Rogue One, for example. I don’t like them, but I hardly said a thing. Only that George Lucas fluffed what could have been an epic Darth Vader origin story…. And the relationship between Padme and Anakin went from weird and creepy to entirely unconvincing… goddamn Jar Jar Binks… midichlorians (are you kidding me, George?!)… Oh look, The Force Awakens seems to be a soft reboot of A New Hope… IS THAT WHAT YOU’RE DOING TO LUKE SKYWALKER’S CHARACTER OH MY GOD I’M SO ANGRY….
Ten years later….
Oh. Profuse apologies, what were we talking about? The book, Pivot! Let’s get into it. I will discuss some small details but this review will mostly be spoiler free.
The opening line hooked me right away. I read it and thought, ‘well I better get comfortable’. Cyrus is teaching 7 year-old Jack how to do a murder. It’s such an interesting start to the story, and the fact that’s it’s written in the first-person (Jack’s perspective) heightened the tension. And then, as early as the first chapter, it took an unexpected but very welcome and intriguing turn (which is why I recommend avoiding the official synopsis).
A problem for me that kept coming to mind as I went on was that although I was interested in what was happening, I wasn’t invested in the characters. Cyrus, for example, is a cult leader who we’re told is very charming and very loved, and we’re given a couple of examples about how he recruits people, which worked well. However, recruiting and keeping people in such an environment are two different things, and I really would have liked to read some interactions with his followers that showcased his duplicity and their enthrallment with him. Jack appears to see through his mask even though she’s an indoctrinated child, and it made me question how and why all these others stayed so hooked. I think the ‘show, don’t tell’ idea is particularly important with these types of characters, and so rather than being told that Cyrus is a master manipulator, I would have preferred a couple of short scenes showing me instead. You know, just casual, day-to-day interactions. That being said, I’m a very character-centric reader and quite often, if I enjoy the characters, I don’t even care about the plot, so perhaps this criticism just comes out of Barlow not reading my mind and adhering to my personal preferences (how dare you).
My other gripe was with the dialogue. Don’t get me wrong, it was fine, but I didn’t get much sense of a character’s personality out of anything they said. Even towards the end, if I turned the page onto dialogue before knowing who was speaking, I couldn’t guess who it was. I would have loved to learn more about who the characters are rather than just what they do. I should mention that this is a gripe that I have with around 70% of the books I read, and most of the time the books are great.
However, the prose is absolutely wonderful and reads like a writer with many years experience penned it, which is a credit to Barlow because she’s new to the publishing novels. There was poetry to it, the kind that makes you bookmark the pages of phrases you particularly liked so you can find them again later.
‘Magic was in the air, like a funeral slowly being replaced by Christmas.’
‘I didn’t understand how hell could feel so fresh when so much of it was old.’
Those are two of my favourites, but I could carry on adding examples for ages. The strength of the prose far outweighs my complaints, as it was such a pleasure to read. The story itself is good, and though I thought there was a slight pacing issue at times, it flowed and was well structured. Something I think Barlow did particularly well was set-up and payoff. Too often, I read books that feed in threads that go nowhere, or are pointless and frustrating diversionary tactics. Even more common is little to no set-up at all and then everything just conveniently coming out near the end to justify whatever’s about to happen. I absolutely hate that, it’s so lazy. I read Pivot making notes on small details as I went along, wondering how many of them would lead nowhere, and as it turned out, Barlow followed through on everything. Not only that, but there was nothing that wasn’t set up – everything that happened in the conclusion was clearly pre-conceived and thought out, as opposed to just being bunged in on a whim. It was tight, son.
Overall, I would give Pivot 3.5/4 out of 5 stars. (3 stars, for me, is I liked it and would recommend it) I think that it’s a good book for people who enjoy dark mysteries and action in their stories. It’s a promising debut from a writer who has started well and can only go up from here, and I’m excited to read more from her.
‘What you are makes up for what you’re not.’ – had to leave you with one more, it is my very favourite.
I never know how to end reviews, so bye.
“Beyond good and evil, Pivot juggles archetypes until you’re not sure which ball is airborne and which is still in the author’s hand. A story about cracking free of your intended role in life, as plot and depth travel at the same exceptional speed.” ―Josh Malerman, author of Bird Box
"Suspenseful and delightfully disturbing (...) This is a promising beginning to the Jack Harper trilogy." ―Booklist
“Impressive and arresting prose drives this vivid debut. (...) Barlow’s gorgeous writing will easily propel readers through the rest of the series.” ―Publishers Weekly
From the age of seven, Jack Harper is raised by the leader of a mystical cult, Cyrus Harper. Through Cyrus, Jack receives a full education in all usual subjects―economics, literature, mathematics, history―as well as one unique skill useful to a person in Cyrus's position: assassination. With the help of Roland James, a man incapable of dying, Cyrus hones Jack into the perfect weapon to use against all who oppose him.
It is not long, however, before Jack discovers that Cyrus and Roland are not the only ones living in Cyrus’s mansion. There, too, exists a mysterious creature in the depths of the house with supposed immortal magic. According to Roland, this creature is responsible for all the miraculous things Jack has witnessed throughout her childhood, including Roland’s resurrection. The creature, potent and powerful, only weakens in the presence of Cyrus’s red velvet box―a dark, enchanted tool that grants Cyrus his invincibility and ensures his reign.
Lonely and terrified by her life in the cult, under Cyrus's neverending watch, Jack desperately pursues the mysterious being. When they finally meet, her world is turned upside down, as he offers her more than she could have ever expected―the possibility of escape and her own secret, magical power.