Length: 290 Pages
Publisher: Grey Matter Press
Release Date: August 23, 2016
Review copy provided as part of the I Can Taste the Blood Blog Tour
I vaguely remember when I first heard about this project. John F.D. Taff announced he was working on a shared title anthology, and even with minimal details, it rocketed to the top of my most anticipated books list. I have been a huge fan of Taff’s for years now, and I knew that if he was assembling the authors for this anthology, it was guaranteed to be good. Taff got his inspiration for the story after stumbling across the phrase “I Can Taste the Blood” scrawled at eye level in a dive bar bathroom. Taff even includes a picture of the original graffiti that inspired this collection, a nice touch that shows readers the beginnings of the project. That little detail alone made this an intriguing read for me. How would five authors with very distinct styles approach a similar title? The result is a unique and mind-bending novella collection that will appeal to dark fiction fanatics of all types.
Vision I – Josh Malerman
The lead off story – which are referred to as “Visions” – comes from acclaimed author Josh Malerman, the author of Bird Box. I remember reading that novel and being blown away by the concept of eliminating one of the key five senses. Ever since reading Bird Box, I have been a huge fan and look forward to checking out anything Malerman writes. Vision I opens with an introduction to Madmannah and his family. They were used to living in poverty, nomadic in nature and traveling the brutal heat of the dusty desert until their fortunes changed rapidly from a quick thinking lie on Madmannah’s part. They were used to meeting all sorts of outcasts on their travels. Madmannah and his family are finally able to enjoy the safety they always craved and sought after, but they still look back and remember how they used to do whatever it took to get by. Madmannah is sitting around the table with his family, celebrating his good fortunes when a mysterious traveler named Rab shows up, pounding on the door asking for refuge from a depraved man/demon he has met along the road and overcome with fear and panic.
They are unsure of whether or not to let this man, but their sense of goodwill as they were vagabonds and travelers once and a curiosity convince them to let the man in. Rab proceeds to tell them a story of the mysterious and dangerous man he met out on the desert. As Rab tells them his story, it sets them on edge and makes them question their safety and deeply unsettles them. Though they are on edge, they urge him to press on and are captivated by his story.
This story from Malerman crackles with energy and the whole time you’re wondering if Rab’s story is for real. There are plenty of moments when the secret start swirling and the reader is held captive by the narrative much like the other characters in the story. At every moment where you think you have the story figured out, you are thrown a curveball and it helps keep your fear elevated. There are some truly dark scenes in this story that I didn’t expect and they are deeply unsettling, some particularly cringe worthy.The art of storytelling drives this novella and is another stellar offering from Malerman. I don’t want to give too much about this one away, but I love that there are key details littered throughout this story that once you reach the end, finally click into place.
Vision II – J. Daniel Stone
Stone’s story opens with a man named Bok waking from a nightmare. His nightmares are so debilitating that he often wakes up tasting blood, screaming in his sleep so forcefully it tears up his throat. Bok gets a call from a mysterious man with a German accent. All he wants to do is to say no to him, but with jobs hard to come by and the fact that the German man has paid him well before, Bok takes the call. Bok lives in an apartment that is a mess as Bok misses his boyfriend who is gone and never coming back. He catches a glimpse of his reflection in the mirror and is shocked by its skeletal appearance.
Bok’s boyfriend Jared is a film buff with a wide variety of interests from Italian splatter giallo and science fiction to the most experimental films. It is through Jared and his love of film that Bok is introduced to the mysterious Laurenz, a purveyor of the darkest and most experimental films on the market. Bok believes this man drove Jared insane. They get tangled up in his web of influence and the darkness calls out to them both as they attempt to capture the magic they so desperately crave. Laurenz is mysterious and it is obvious that he holds his own dark and warped secrets. The two characters descend into madness as they are drawn deeper into Laurenz’s dark world.
J Daniel Stone has a lush, evocative writing style that I absolutely love and the way he captures the dark, gritty aspects of this novella will definitely captivate readers. I loved the way he portrayed the relationship between Bok and Jared. They have a passionate relationship and Stone weaves readers through that passion while also showing how they were swallowed up by the darkness of addiction and the desire to be a part of something unique and horrific. Laurenz Althaus is also a very interesting character. The less I say about him the better, only that I found it interesting that he isn’t physically imposing in the least bit, but his charisma looms over the characters and his eye for people’s inner darkness and secrets make him a formidable force.
Stone also does an excellent job in transporting readers into his settings. I have never been to New York City, but reading this novella definitely helped me envision what it must be like. I really can’t stress enough how much I enjoy Stone’s writing. Just take a look at this line: “This part of town was interesting because no matter the weather or time of day, it was always balmy and dark with smog. Great plumes of steam shot up from the sewers, and exhaust spit out of the countless delivery trucks. Nobody wanted to live here, no gentrification robots or big business tycoons. Not yet anyway.”
There is a scene where Bok first starts to discover the sort of films that Laurenz is into and that is where the story first starts to descend into some truly dark and violent territory. I don’t want to get too much into what they see there, but it is pretty wicked and not for the faint of heart. Stone isn’t afraid to shine a light on the violence and depravity of this story. and the final scenes of this story are definitely extreme horror. This is one of my favorite pieces of Stone’s work.
Vision III – Joe Schwartz
Two small-time criminals, Joe and Sam, are out a stake out waiting for a woman who has somehow crossed their boss, The Caretaker. She is their latest mark in a slew of jobs that have found them navigating the seedy underbelly of the city they live in. Sam and Joe seem to work well enough together, but it seems more out of necessity than anything else. Joe is a massive imposing figure with a penchant for letting little slights blow up into a personal affront. This garners him a violent reputation as he supposedly killed a guy who ignored his request for help loading boxes. He’s crude and doesn’t care if he offends anyone because the way he sees it, no one could possibly have the balls to stand up to him. Rumor or not, Sam says that the job they do is not for the weak or the brave, but the dregs of society who have nothing to lose. Joe also has a passion for the job, lighting up with glee when it was time to grab their target whereas Sam just views it as a job and safer than his old job transporting drugs across state lines.
Readers are shown flashbacks of Sam’s life of crime, living on the fringes, and dumpy motels that drove him into a career as a criminal. All of those moments throughout Sam’s life led him to this moment, a job that will forever alter the course of his life.
What really makes this story standout to me is all the little details Schwartz utilizes in this tale about the criminal life. Schwartz mentions cars with fictitious registrations where anything could be in the trunk from drugs to a body. Even when he talks about the blind luck involved and how guys could do runs for years without getting busted and others get busted on their first delivery. They are relatively small details, but stitched together throughout the story, they add authenticity to Sam’s story.
Schwartz’s characterization of both Joe and Sam is top-notch. Sam actually seems to have a good heart, all things considered. He is only 5’9 but has a mean streak that keeps him safe. He also isn’t ashamed to admit that he takes more beatings than he gives. He has limits to what he will do and views the pain he inflicts as being earned. Pain inflicted on grown men who should have known better and now serve as an example for the rest of the degenerates that operate in his world. Joe seems to enjoy his work a little too much and that friction with Sam leads to some great moments. The one thing they both have in common though is their reputations for getting things done. Undesirable things that only people with warped morals or desperation would dare dream of carrying out.
This was my first exposure to Schwartz’s work and I am kicking myself for not finding out about him sooner. This is awesome stuff! Schwartz’s tale stands out as being the one that doesn’t really contain any elements of the weird or supernatural. Instead, it is a straight-up crime story that hits like a freight train. I was drawn into this story from the opening scene. Brilliant characterization and larger-than-life characters that leap off the page, tons of action, there isn’t a single lull in this story. I don’t know how I have missed hearing about his work until now, but these stories are incredible and I need to go out and grab all of his books and give them a read!
Vision IV – Erik T. Johnson
The story introduces readers to a man named Canny, who is prone to long-recurring nightmares. Every night he meets with a hooded figure and Johnson takes us into the surreal mindscape of Canny’s mind.
Canny lives at home and has for his entire life. His mother is the only person he talks to, but their interactions with each other get less and less as the years drag on. She threatens to kick him out on the street if he even makes one friend. He doesn’t mind though as he never really cared for people. He’s allowed to do whatever he wants, but must remain in isolation. She has a tendency to wear a black bathrobe, which is similar to the hooded figure in his dreams. She also wears a miner’s helmet that is equipped with a blinding lamp to prevent Canny from looking at her directly in the face. Why is she hiding her face? What secrets lie there? As you read, you will find out. If that isn’t weird enough, Canny doesn’t know his family history, birthday or who his father was. It’s like he has no personal history at all. After introducing readers to Canny, Johnson takes readers on a journey through a world that is filled with bizarre creatures responsible for delirium-inducing nightmares.
My favorite part of Johnson’s novella was his creation of the town, Episode Lake. It is a dark, seedy town full of dangerous and deranged people. There are rumors of people like Mister Sunday, The Man Who Doesn’t Knock. He is a supposed escaped mental patient living in an abandoned institution built beneath a rubber factory. He creeps out to steal children from their homes. Then there is the Whore-Bug Witch who haunts nondescript locations like discount stores or nail salons or a duo who give a whole new meaning to the saying never take candy from a stranger. Each of these creatures/people have their own rhymes, that I could only imagine sounding like the unsettling song from the Freddy movies (you know the one).
I will be honest right off the bat and say that I am only about 30% sure I understand what was going on in Erik T. Johnson’s tale (why 30%? I don’t know it seemed like a good number). That being said, I appreciated this mind melting novella which featured some really bizarre monsters. Vision IV seems to be a mashup of a variety of styles and it is easily the most divisive story in the collection. If you prefer more linear types of storytelling, this one may not be your cup of tea. However, if you are open to experimental writing styles, you will find a lot to appreciate in Johnson’s story.
Vision V – John F.D. Taff
Taff’s story opens with a cold open, a person scrunched up inside of a water tower. The man is someone who has worked with his hands his whole life and knows every mark on them and his fingerprints. Right off the bat, John hooks you with an opening that gives you just enough details to be drawn in and build a sense of dread, especially when you hear the sounds Click-clack. Trust me, you will know why that noise sends shivers down my spine as soon as you read this story!
We are introduced a man named Merle, a 50-year-old man who lives in the dying small town of Norton. His life is falling apart around him, starting with the failure of his marriage. They were a typical married couple and there was no violence or anything else, they simply drifted apart after seven years. Now, Merle doesn’t have much going on in his life aside from drinking with his childhood buddy James Derringer aka “Gun” at the Rest- Ezee. It is one night over a few beers that Merle begins to get an inkling that something isn’t quite right in Norton. He has a strange wound on his arm that he can’t recall how it got there and isn’t it strange how many blood drives have been popping up all over town? Later that night, Merle feels a bit off and sees something that not only scares him, but sets in motion a chain of events that alters his life and makes him question his own sanity. All small towns have their own secrets!
I absolutely loved Taff’s offering in I Can Taste the Blood. His novella is full of realistic characters and captures small-town Americana perfectly. Taff excels at crafting stories that truly immerse readers in the world he has created. I can’t talk to much about the plot of this one without spoiling it, but even after Taff unleashes some truly crazy stuff, you are still able to suspend your disbelief. It still feels like you know these characters and that you know Norton like the back of your hand, just like Merle does. Taff’s utilization of little details like that breath life into the story and that is what has always drawn me to his work since I first discovered The Bell Witch. His description of the bar Rest – Ezee is top-notch too. From the Christmas lights behind the bar to the cigarette smoke hanging in the air, I would swear Taff was writing about my neighborhood bar. While Vision V is a terrifying and unsettling story, there is still humor at times. There is a particular line about the children’s magazine Highlights that had me laughing my ass off.
Taff’s story was one of my favorites not just because I am a huge fan of his work, but because it marked him trying something a little bit different. A lot of the stories I have read from Taff seem to be geared more towards emotional horror which helped him get the nickname “The King of Pain”, but Vision V is a more straightforward horror tale. It is a violent body horror piece that features more gore than any of his other stories and that sort of unexpected twist makes this one a knockout piece.
Thoughts on the collection
Overall, I Can Taste the Blood more than lives up to the hype that has been surrounding it. I had already read three of the authors previously – Malerman, Stone, and Taff – so getting to read new stories from them was something that I was obviously looking forward to and the main selling point for me in regards to checking out this book. However, I was also able to discover two new writers who I really enjoyed. I honestly haven’t read anything like Johnson’s entry before and while I don’t know if I will ever fully grasp the meaning of that story, it was a fun journey. As for Schwartz, his story made me want to run out and read everything he has ever written. I mean he is that good.
This is another stellar entry into the Grey Matter Press catalog and is an essential addition to any dark fiction fans library with its variety of styles and unique vision. While there is no denying Taff’s talent as an author and storyteller, I Can Taste the Blood also shows that he is one hell of an editor and I hope this isn’t the last project he assembles (though I would hate for it to impact his writing output!). I Can Taste the Blood is a brilliant collection and a really fun read. I really can’t recommend this one enough!
Use these hashtags to help spread the word about I Can Taste the Blood! – #ICanTastetheBlood #5uniquevoices #horroranthologies #OneNightmare
I Can Taste the Blood Synopsis
Five Unique Voices.
From international bestselling author of BIRD BOX and Bram Stoker Award-nominee Josh Malerman — the newly minted master of modern horror — and Bram Stoker Award-nominated author of THE END IN ALL BEGINNINGS, John F.D. Taff; to the mind-bending surrealism of Erik T. Johnson; the darkly poetic prose of J. Daniel Stone and the transgressive mania of Joe Schwartz, I CAN TASTE THE BLOOD offers up five novellas from five unique authors whose work consistently expands the boundaries of conventional fiction.
Five Disturbing Visions.
I CAN TASTE THE BLOOD opens the doors to a movie theater of the damned; travels the dusty, sin-drenched desert with an almost Biblical mysterious stranger; recounts the phantasmagoric story of birth, death and rebirth; contracts a hit that’s not at all what it seems; and exposes the disturbing possibilities of what might be killing Smalltown, U.S.A.
As diverse as they are, in voice and vision, the work of the five celebrated authors assembled in this stunning volume of terror share one common theme, one hideous and terrifying nightmare that can only be contained within the pages ofI CAN TASTE THE BLOOD.
Praise for I Can Taste the Blood
“Only a group of psychopaths would assemble a book such as this. Bloody brilliant, and beautifully executed. Taste this.” – Michael Bailey, Bram Stoker Award-winning editor of THE LIBRARY OF THE DEAD
“I CAN TASTE THE BLOOD is a tour de force for Grey Matter Press and for the five outstanding dark fiction authors gathered here. If you’ve read their work before, then you’ll know what we’re talking about, and if you haven’t, you won’t find a better place to start than right here.” – Shane Douglas Keene, THIS IS HORROR
“Very unique and the stories are very very different. A powerful, unexpected collection. A real page turner.” – Robb Olson, BOOKED PODCAST
“It is the slow burn, the creeping doubt, the inherent violence, the lore made real. Through exotic locations, where the wind blows from within; flashing across the silver screen, violence echoing into the night; pulled from the trunk of a car, dark deeds that deserve retribution; a monster lying in wait, one more city down every road. Haunting and disturbing, even now, I CAN TASTE THE BLOOD” – Richard Thomas, author of BREAKER and TRIBULATIONS
“While this quintet of authors may taste the blood, we readers will feel the frightof their nightmare visions, sense the dread, the thrills, the awe of their standout voices. MALERMAN, STONE, SCHWARTZ, JOHNSON, and TAFF: The five points of a brilliant star that herald short horror mastery.” – Eric J. Guignard, fictionist, winner of the Bram Stoker Award and finalist for the International Thriller Writers Award
“Grey Matter Press has managed to establish itself as one of the premiere purveyors of horror fiction currently in existence via both a series of killer anthologies —SPLATTERLANDS, OMINOUS REALITIES, EQUILIBRIUM OVERTURNED — and John F.D. Taff’s harrowing novella collection THE END IN ALL BEGINNINGS.” – FANGORIA
“The dark, all-encompassing theme seems to be the trademark of Grey Matter Press. When asked for a referral I often state without hesitation to the very press that has enchanted my reading attention.” – Dave Gammon, HORROR NEWS
Josh Malerman is the author of Bird Box and Ghastle and Yule and some forty other novels and stories that he wishes he could release all in one day… and he just might do that! He lives in Michigan with his fiancee Allison Laakko and their two cats Dewey and Frankie. Used to be three cats, but Dandy died on Halloween, begging the question: will the color orange always make Josh sad? Or will he see Dandy amongst the pumpkins, deliriously, happily, for the rest of his days…
J. Daniel Stone
Daniel Stone is the pseudonym for a hotheaded Italian kid from New York City. He has been a menace to society since 1987 and continues to terrorize local bookstores, art galleries and dive bars.
When he is not causing mischief, Stone reads, writes and attends as many rock shows as possible. He is the intermittently proud father of two bastard children: The Absence of Light (2013) and Blood Kiss (2016). Somewhere, out there in the dark, one can find more of his illegitimate spawns telling imaginative stories. Find him on Twitter @SolitarySpiral.
In 2008, Joe’s Black T-Shirt: Short Stories About St. Louis was published as a personal favor for friends of Joe Schwartz. The idea that people outside of Schwartz’s limited Midwestern world could find these dark, and occasionally personal, stories entertaining was as exciting as it was mysterious for the first-time author. Since then, he has written two more collections of short stories as well as the novels A Season Without Rain and Adam Wolf and The Cook Brothers – A Tale of Sex, Drugs and Rock&Roll. The kind of stories he tells have been described as “a sharp punch to the gut” and disarming “like a sunny day in Hell.”
Erik T. Johnson
Erik T. Johnson doesn’t believe in order or boxes. He became a writer because he can’t make a straight line to save his life—since stories consist of terrifically asymmetrical, random sequences of random shapes. Also because of what Georges Bataille meant by: “I write the way a child cries: a child slowly relinquishes the reasons he has for being in tears.”
Johnson is a Written Backwards DARWA Voice Award-winner whose fiction appears in renowned places, such as Space & Time Magazine, Tales of the Unanticipated, Qualia Nous, and all three volumes of the award-winning Chiral Mad series.
Erik is certain unreliable narrators don’t exist—only unreliable authors. He will prove his uncompromising reliability when his first book of short stories is published in 2016.
Visit Erik at http://www.eriktjohnson.net.
Stalk him on Twitter @YES_TRESPASSING.
Curse him at your own risk, do other stuff when it suits you.
John F.D. Taff
John F.D. Taff has been writing for about 25 years now, with more than eighty short stories and four novels in print. Six of his stories have been awarded honorable mention in Ellen Datlow’s Year’s Best Horror & Fantasy.
His collection Little Deaths was named the best horror fiction collection of 2012 by HorrorTalk. His 2014 collection of novellas, The End in All Beginnings, was published by Grey Matter Press. Jack Ketchum called it “the best novella collection I’ve read in years,” and it was a finalist for a Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection.
Taff’s work also appears in Single Slices, Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories andThe Beauty of Death.
He lives in the wilds of Illinois with a wife, a cat and three pugs.
Like to Feature?
If you are a professional blogger or media outlet, please contact Erin Al-Mehairi at firstname.lastname@example.org about a review copy or to schedule an interview or feature with any of the authors.