Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

BOOK INFO

Length: 279 Pages

Publisher: Sinister Grin Press

Release Date: March 15, 2017

Review copy provided in exchange for an honest review as part of the Exorcist Falls Blog Tour

Exorcist Falls is the sequel to Janz’s novella Exorcist Road, which was originally released through Samhain Horror and appears in print again in this Sinister Grin edition. Exorcist Falls kicks off with the original novella, which is great for people like me that missed Exorcist Road the first time around or those who wish to re-read it to experience the story as a whole. Exorcist Falls draws inspiration from the towering classics that started America’s fascination with possession stories William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist and Legion and starts with a quote from The Exorcist. 

Exorcist Falls opens with a priest detailing the history of a heinous killer known as the Sweet Sixteen Killer. He was never captured, but his murders were legendary, the damage inflicted on his victims indicated someone who possessed a lot of strength. The killer’s brutality and the fact that he is still prowling the streets has plunged the city into chaos. The priest almost seems to be unburdening himself of a terrible trauma and tells his story confessional style. He is Jason Crowder, a 29-year-old priest who is worried about people discovering that he is a coward. He became a priest not because of a great calling from God or to seek redemption for past sins, but because he was afraid of the world. He mentions he fell in love with a married woman named Liz, but first he must tell readers about a storm-swept night, when officer Danny Hartman showed up on his doorstep and asked for his help with a situation that proved to be the greatest test of both of their careers.

He tells Father Crowder to bring a Bible and anything else he may use in an emergency, which gives him pause. The emergency takes place on Rosemary Road, one of the most affluent neighborhoods in Chicago. As they are driving to the scene, it becomes clear to Crowder that something is greatly upsetting office Hartman. He learns the emergency is at his brother Ron’s house and that they had to lock up their 14-year-old son Casey in his room. He is one of the nicest kids you will meet, but there is something off about him. He attacked his own family, all of them looking beat up and sporting injuries that seem out of proportion for a young teenagers strength. He learns that his mentor Peter Sutherland has also been summoned to the home, which puts Crowder on edge. Danny’s partner Jack thinks that Casey is the Sweet Sixteen killer. Casey seems to have intimate knowledge of the Sweet Sixteen Killer’s crimes, but how could someone so young and seemingly innocent have this kind of first hand knowledge? While Crowder and Sutherland try to figure out a way to save Casey, they also contend with the mystery of the Sweet Sixteen Killer and are plunged into a horrific scenario that will test their faith.

By far the best scenes in this novel occur when Crowder and Sutherland are trying to exorcise the demon from Casey. Janz crafts vivid scenes that place readers right in the room and it isn’t a stretch to imagine the horrors that Crowder and Sutherland had to deal with. I could literally quote entire pages of these scenes to illustrate how great they are, but here’s a short one that describes Casey’s appearance: “The bones as malleable as a serpent’s. Black ichor has begun to seep from the thing’s mouth. It’s rapier teeth grin savagely through the viscous liquid, which reeks like boiling sewage.”  The demonic presence in this story is pretty damn frightening and even when it appears to have been subdued, it is able to slowly turn the characters against one another and attempts to use intimate knowledge it gleans from each of them to try to divide their ranks. While they went in as a united force, it doesn’t take long for cracks to appear and those scenes offer a change for Janz’s characters to stand out.

Exorcist Falls definitely puts a unique and new spin on the possession story genre, particularly in the second half. The way Janz chooses to continue the story is something I haven’t really seen done before. There is also a tense scene early on in this portion of the story that could have easily boxed the story into a corner, but Janz finds a clever way to continue the narrative and also somehow up the stakes of the last novel. Janz creates a cast of believable characters and does a great job especially with his portrayal of Ron. Right away, Ron comes across as arrogant, egotistical, and not very likable. Janz does a great job of conveying that through numerous scenes and that is where his character work shines. You can’t help but feel this guy’s arrogance ooze from the pages. Sutherland comes across as very authoritative and it is clear why Crowder is so impressed by him. Danny is an excellent character and without giving a lot away, he was the one I was the most impressed with. Janz does an incredible job making this character well-rounded and more than meets the eye. Janz also does a stellar job with Crowder’s character and throughout the course of these two novellas, he is put through the wringer but he never gives up. He struggles with doubts and his own abilities, but in the face of unimaginable horror and overwhelming odds, he is able to remain strong. However he does undergo a drastic change in Exorcist Falls, one that he struggles to reconcile with his personal beliefs.

While possession stories are a staple of the horror genre and have woven themselves into the fabric of society, I was never big on them. Sure, I can appreciate The Exorcist and other great stories that have used possession as a focal point of their plot, but they never really scared me or left any sort of lasting impression. However, that has changed with Janz’s Exorcist Falls. As a whole, it is a very strong work. While Exorcist Falls does have a few minor issues, I believe that Exorcist Road is a stone cold horror classic, worthy of stacking up among many of the greats. I remember when I first sat down to read Exorcist Falls and multiple times once the action really started picking up, I found myself stopping where I was and shaking my head because I couldn’t  believe the diabolical evil that Janz was able to conjure up. I kept telling my wife she needed to read it and knowing she probably wouldn’t get around to it, couldn’t help but describe the scenes I was reading. This is a book that I still can’t stop talking about and recommending to people, months after I first read it.

I don’t think it’s a spoiler to mention that the demon occupying Casey Hartman’s body is beyond evil and Janz does not hold back in the slightest with his portrayal of the demon that has taken up residence inside the boy. He says some truly vile things to rile up those present, and I honestly didn’t see that level of savagery coming. The highest compliment I can give this book considering my lukewarm reaction to most possession stories is that it provided me with enough nightmare fuel to last ten lifetimes. I am relatively new to Janz’s work and I’m still working my way through his back catalog, so I could be way off base, but in my opinion this is his most brutal work to date. I usually don’t comment on endings in my reviews, but this is one that needs to be read to be believed, I was left stunned!

Exorcist Falls is definitely one of my favorite works from Janz and in my opinion is an essential addition to your horror library. This story is packed with plenty of horrifying scenes, deliberate character work and a relentless pace that doesn’t let up until the last sentence. Exorcist Falls is another brilliant work from Janz, who is hands down one of my favorite horror authors and there is no doubt in my mind this will be near the top of my year-end list.

Rating: 5/5

LINKS

Jonathan Janz’s Official Website

Sinister Grin Press Official Website

Purchase Exorcist Falls: Amazon, Barnes & Noble,  or grab a copy from your favorite bookstore!

Use these hashtags to help spread the word about Exorcist Falls! – #ExorcistFalls #ExorcistRoad #SweetSixteenKiller
#JonathanJanz #SinisterGrinPress

Exorcist Falls Synopsis

Chicago is gripped by terror. The Sweet Sixteen Killer is brutally murdering young women, and the authorities are baffled.

When the police are called to an affluent home in the middle of the night, they learn that a seemingly normal fourteen-year-old boy has attacked his family. The boy exhibits signs of demonic possession, and even more troublingly, he knows too much about the Sweet Sixteen killings. Father Jason Crowder, a young priest assigned to the case, must marshal his courage in order to save the boy and the entire city from the forces of evil.

But this is a darkness mankind has never encountered before. It craves more than blood. And it won’t rest until it possesses Father Crowder’s soul.

Jonathan Janz’s brand new release brings the original novella that started it all—Exorcist Road—and a brand-new full-length novel (Exorcist Falls) together for a shattering experience in supernatural terror.

Praise for Jonathan Janz

“A perfect choice for those missing old-school Stephen King.”The Library Journal on Children of the Dark

“A horror storyteller on the rise.” —Booklist

“One of the best writers in modern horror to come along in the last decade. Janz is one of my new favorites.” —Brian Keene

“Jonathan Janz is one of the rare horror novelists who can touch your heart while chilling your spine. His work offers incisive characters, sharp dialogue, and more scares than a deserted graveyard after midnight. If you haven’t read his fiction, you’re missing out on one the best new voices in the genre.” –Tim Waggoner, multi-published author

“Fans of old-school splatterpunk horror–Janz cites Richard Laymon as an influence, and it shows–will find much to relish.” – Publishers Weekly on Savage Species

About Jonathan Janz

Jonathan Janz grew up between a dark forest and a graveyard, which explains everything. Brian Keene named his debut novel The Sorrows “the best horror novel of 2012.” The Library Journal deemed his follow-up, House of Skin, “reminiscent of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and Peter Straub’s Ghost Story.”

Since then Jonathan’s work has been lauded by writers like Jack Ketchum, Brian Keene, Edward Lee, Tim Waggoner, Ronald Kelly, and Bryan Smith; additionally, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and The Library Journal have sung his praises. Novels like The Nightmare Girl, Wolf Land, Savage Species, and Dust Devils prompted Thunderstorm Books to sign Jonathan to an eleven-book deal and to give him his own imprint, “Jonathan Janz’s Shadow Side.”

His most recent novel, Children of the Dark, received a starred review in Booklist and was chosen by their board as one of the “Top Ten Horror Books of the Year” (September 2015-August 2016). Children of the Dark will soon be translated into German.

Jonathan’s primary interests are his wonderful wife and his three amazing children, and though he realizes that every author’s wife and children are wonderful and amazing, in this case the cliché happens to be true.

You can learn more about Jonathan at www.jonathanjanz.comYou can learn more about Jonathan at www.jonathanjanz.com. You can also find him on Facebook, via @jonathanjanz on Twitter, or on his Goodreads and Amazon author pages.

Want to Feature?

If you’d like to feature Jonathan Janz or review Exorcist Falls, contact Erin Al-Mehairi, publicist, at hookofabook@hotmail.com.

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BOOK INFO

Length: 325 Pages

Publisher: Villipede Publications

Release Date: October 31, 2016

Review copy provided by author in exchange for an honest review

I have been a fan of J. Daniel Stone’s ever since I discovered his work through his short stories “Wormhole” (Dark Visions – Volume Two) and “Metamorphosis” (Ominous Realities) from Grey Matter Press’ stellar collection of anthologies. While I enjoyed those stories a lot, it was Stone’s contribution to last year’s I Can Taste the Blood that sticks with me the most and made me a fan for life. The story focuses on Bok and Jared, lovers who meet a mysterious filmmaker known as Laurenz and are quickly tangled up in his web of secrets and depravity. The story takes some truly dark and violent turns, and Stone makes some truly bold choices that pushes his contribution into extreme horror territory. Why do I bring up this story? Besides the fact that I think it is a brilliant novella, I feel like it shares similar ideas with Stone’s sophomore novel, Blood Kiss. If you haven’t already grabbed a copy of I Can Taste the Blood, I urge you to head on over to Amazon and order a copy along with Blood Kiss so you can get the full experience of this brilliant story.

Blood Kiss is a unique novel where Stone takes readers on a voyage into the world of art and the processes that drive it. Not to say that every artist is driven by darkness or trauma, but this novel feels like a love letter to the art of creating and those who pursue their passions at any cost. I have said it before in previous reviews of Stone’s work, but he really is a master of setting, which is an underrated quality of authors in my opinion. Stone’s depiction of New York City leaps off the page and he infuses the city with life with views from someone who lives there and allows his readers to experience the city first hand. It’s not the sanitized version we get from movies and TV shows, but the gritty and vibrant reality. I could literally quote section after section of Blood Kiss to illustrate this point, but trust me, you will want to read them for yourself.

Blood Kiss is an enthralling work of art that honestly left me as mesmerized as some of the people who witnessed Tyria and Dorian’s art, though with much less serious consequences. It’s a haunting and lyrical book that makes you question the reality of the events that unfold throughout the course of the story. It is full of lust, darkness, art, shadows and figures outside the realm of reality.

Stone’s Blood Kiss opens from Dorian Wilde’s point of view. He is an artist that specializes in the contrast of beauty and darkness, creating visceral works of art. His upbringing was rough as his parents never showed him any sort of affection, but he was able to accept this and it fueled him to become the man we meet in the book. While he was angry growing up when he reached his teens he channeled his anger into his creative endeavors. He is attracted to solitude and fell completely into the world of art and literature. He was constantly searching for his own path and growing up he frequently received beatings and insults from his father for being different. The day after his father caught him wearing his mothers underwear, he found a suitcase by the door with some money in it, effectively being kicked out of his own home.

It was shortly after being kicked out of his childhood home that Dorian began to notice things change. He saw his first sketch move, actually brought to life by the passion in which Dorian distilled into it. He has a boyfriend named Leland, an art dealer who is also a notorious party-boy. When he paints, Dorian loses control himself to the images that are fighting to break free, he compares it to an out-of-body experience. There is something more unique to Dorian’s artwork than just the dark images that spring forth, but even the tools he utilizes set him apart and show his dedication to his craft. He makes his own paint with blood and other bodily fluids, breathing his own living essence into the forms that spill from his imagination. Is Dorian’s work capable of coming to life? That is only one of the many questions that pops up throughout Blood Kiss.

Stone does an amazing job bringing Dorian’s dark, surreal works to life and they conjure up dark images that are extremely creative and original. Take this description from one of Dorian’s works, “A bony paunch balances on chitinous legs; carrion arms spread as if inviting a passerby to sit within its darkly beaded depths; a slack-jaw skull screams with no voice; xylophone ribs glow like the most intricate spider webs under moonlight; a hand curled into a fist has no arm to support it.” Despite the nature of Dorian’s art and the fact that it very well may be alive, he makes a pretty comfortable living selling his art at fancy galleries.

The other major character of Blood Kiss is Tyria Vane, a spoken word poet whose prose is incredibly powerful. Despite her writing talent, she struggles with emotions and trying to use her art to convey those feelings that most will never feel in the same way. Tyria has an obsession with words and language, stockpiling books in a way most other bibliophiles can immediately relate to. She has a self-published collection that sits on her shelf and she sees it as a failure, but it also serves as an affirmation of her art and fuels her drive to improve her craft. She has a partner named Adelaide, a drug dealer who is friends with Leland from years ago. Their relationship is one of co-dependence, Adelaide is perfect for her because she believes in Tyria’s talent and always has and that coupled with her listening abilities are what bonds them despite them being polar opposites in almost every way. Tyria’s relationship with Adelaide also fuels her use of cocaine because it is easy to come by thanks to Adelaide’s connections. She went through many phases to cope with her loneliness, but cocaine is the one that stuck because it makes her feel powerful. Tyria channels all of her rage and trauma from throughout her brutal upbringing and uses them in her performances, using her voice and delivery style as a weapon. Changes in pitch and unfiltered emotion drive her performances and leave anyone who witnesses her work changed. Her performances have an almost magical quality about them.

The moment Dorian and Tyria meet each other at an art gallery for one of Dorian’s exhibitions, their lives will be changed forever. They were brought together by their respective lovers, but I have a feeling neither Adelaide or Leland knew the consequences of this fateful meeting. Dorian gets a hold of Tyria’s personal notebook and it doesn’t take long for him to be consumed by the thought of her. It goes far beyond sexuality, the obsession and pull they feel is tied to the art and their similar backgrounds. It isn’t long before they are drawn together to combine their artistic gifts in the hopes that they can create something truly mesmerizing. They begin to gather a rather rabid local following and soon the power of their two creative energies will unleash something that defies logical explanation.

The character work in Blood Kiss is brilliant, as each one comes to life and feels like a living breathing person, complete with their own fears, desires, and past mistakes. Even the secondary characters are vibrant and help elevate the story. I also like that most of Blood Kiss focuses on alternative culture and art. I was never very artistic, but punk and alternative music was a huge part of my life and some of my best memories were going to those shows and Stone captures the feeling of those shows perfectly throughout Blood Kiss. It’s a small touch, but I loved the musical touchstones Stone sprinkles throughout the novel. I feel like we both are into the same sort of music as I loved all the references and nearly shouted with glee when I saw a Glassjaw mentioned (if you don’t know who they are, look them up. It’s worth it).

To be honest, I had a difficult time summing up Blood Kiss when I sat down to write this review. Not because it’s confusing, but because it is intricately layered and there are so many revelations that it is difficult to avoid spoilers. One thing that is for certain is that J. Daniel Stone has a unique voice and is stunningly talented. His stories are daring and original,  and there is no doubt in my mind that he is a special talent in the dark fiction field. Each time I read one of his works, I am totally enthralled in his story and blown away by the sheer talent on display. Had I read this one sooner, there is no doubt in my mind it would have been near the top of my best of the year list for 2006. Blood Kiss is a towering achievement and the scary thing is, Stone is just getting started. Do yourself a favor and grab a copy of this book, you won’t regret it.

Rating: 5/5

LINKS

J. Daniel Stone’s Amazon Page

J. Daniel Stone on Twitter

Villipede Publications Official Website

Purchase Blood Kiss: Amazon, Barnes & Noble,  or grab a copy from your favorite bookstore!

About J. Daniel Stone

J. Daniel Stone is the pseudonym for a hotheaded Italian kid from NYC. He has been a menace to society since 1987 and continues to terrorize local book stores, art galleries and dive bars. When he is not causing mischief he 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.

BOOK INFO

Length: 284 Pages

Publisher: Red Adept Publishing

Release Date: May 23, 2017

Review copy provided as part of A Life Removed Blog Tour by Confessions Publicity

I first discovered Jason Parent’s work after he contacted me to review a copy of his then latest novel Seeing Evil. I remember hearing nothing but great things about his writing, so I jumped at the chance to feature him on The Horror Bookshelf. After I finished Seeing Evil, I knew I was going to be a long time fan. The story centered around Michael Turcotte, a teenager who has been in foster care since his parents death when he was just an infant. He has a close bond with Major Crimes Detective Samantha Reilly who was on the scene and rescued him after his parents murder-suicide. Despite the trauma of his past, Michael is your average kid trying to make it through the trials of high school. He is a target for bullies and tries to keep to himself, but he is viciously attacked one day and the attack changes his life forever. After the attack Michael has a vision. It seems like a random dream brought on by the aftermath of his savage attack, but it feels all to real to Michael. Although Samantha doesn’t believe Michael’s visions are real initially, once they come true, she has no choice but to believe him. Michael’s visions eventually lead him and Sam into a dangerous quest for answers that brings them face to face with a ruthless killer. In Seeing Evil, Parent created a terrifying antagonist that still sticks out in my mind years after reading it and holding nothing back as he takes readers on an action-packed journey.

I also loved reading Unseemly and his recent collection Wrathbone, with the novella of the same name being one of my favorite in recent years. Parent shows a lot of versatility as an author, dabbling in many different genres and often blending them together to create something entertaining and unique. That sort of genre-bending is also found on display with A Life Removed, a thriller that has smatterings of horror woven into its DNA.

A Life Removed focuses on a city being held hostage by a killer who leaves a path of brutal destruction in their wake and sets all of the residents on edge. Sure, the town can be a little rough, but no one expected this level of brutality to take over their small community. Detectives Bruce Marklin and Jocelyn Beaudette feel the pressure to bring this crazed killer to justice, but they are left with little to go on as the killer’s ritualistic killings have claimed victims from all walks of life, which makes the killer increasingly difficult to catch. While they are the lead investigators on the case, Officer Aaron Pimental is thrust into the center of the investigation as well after stumbling across one of the killer’s early victims. His personal life is in turmoil and he never viewed himself as much of a cop, so his sudden elevation to a key figure on the task force places a lot of strain on him and makes him question what type of person he really is. As the clues start to fall into place, Aaron realizes that he has a very important choice to make and he along with Marklin and Beaudette are racing against time to put an end to these horrific murders.

Parent wastes no time hooking the reader as the novel kicks off with a scene of what happened to one of the first victims. Readers are introduced to Eliza, a woman who once had a bright future, but had all of her dreams stripped away by an addiction to cocaine that led her to a life of prostitution. As she is walking the streets she hears a man calling to her from a van that idled up to the curb. Eliza sees him as an easy mark, someone who reminds her of a 1950s-era crooner, good-looking and seemingly harmless. His charming demeanor sets off warning alarms in her mind, but she is fixed on her next hit so she buries her reservations deep inside. She gets in the van and that is when her nightmare starts and we get our first glimpse of the bloodthirsty killer that has decided to set up shop in Fall River. I liked the fact that Parent started the novel off from the victim’s perspective because it places the reader right in the middle of the action and sets the tone for the rest of the novel. Parent utilizes this approach a few times throughout the A Life Removed and each time it ratchets up the tension and makes for some memorable and engaging scenes.

The character work is excellent and Parent does a good job of bringing these characters to life not just through their appearance but also by revealing anecdotes about them and their mannerisms. Aaron isn’t what you would expect, he has a lot of demons in his past that start to come back to haunt him after he stumbles across the first victim. I don’t want to get into his past too much, but the scenes about Aaron’s life that are sprinkled throughout the course of the novel help generate a bit of mystery and make him an interesting character. Parent does some interesting things with Aaron’s story throughout the course of the book which takes him from being just a good character to a great one.

Detective Marklin seems like an arrogant jerk by almost every person he works with, aside from his own partner. However, there are a few scenes that show there is more to him than just being the department jerk, but that he deeply cares about people and protecting the community. While he is a pretty well-rounded character, there was potential to dive a little deeper into his past that I think may have made him stronger. Detective Beaudette is a great detective too who worked her way up rather quickly and while she can handle the rigors of the job, working homicide does take its toll on her. She reflects often that she is called to the scene after the bodies are already dead and just once she would like to save someone when they are still alive. Both her and Marklin both care about the communities they are sworn to protect, but their lives are different. Jocelyn still clings to some of her optimism and has a family to go home to whereas Marklin is more cynical and a bit of a loner. Their differences in personality and the way they use that to interact with each other when going over evidence makes them a highly effective team and also makes their chemistry realistic.

Considering this is a thriller based on a ritualistic serial killer, I think it goes without saying that A Life Removed is pretty dark. The descriptions of the attacks that occur throughout the story are brutal and Parent doesn’t hold anything back in these scenes. Without venturing into spoiler territory, there are a few scenes that are definitely not for the squeamish and will make you cringe. Parent creates a memorable antagonist in A Life Removed, because the thing that makes him the most dangerous has nothing to do with violence, but rather his charisma. That trait plays a large role in the events of the novel and the scariest part about it is something that has played out in the real world time and time again.

A Life Removed is an engaging thriller that will undoubtedly appeal to a wide readership. There is an intriguing mystery, a great cast of characters and some great plot twists. At first, A Life Removed reads like a standard thriller, but there comes a point where Parent shifts gears and takes things in a totally unexpected direction which helps it stand out. For horror fans, there is a bit of the “weird” sprinkled throughout that adds another interesting element to the story. I also enjoyed that this novel loosely ties into the Seeing Evil, as a familiar name makes a cameo appearance at one point in the novel and is set in the same fictional town of Fall River, Massachusetts. Parent has a lot of great books in his catalog, but I think that A Life Removed may be his best yet. Highly Recommended!

Rating: 4/5

LINKS

Jason Parent’s Official Website

Red Adept Publishing’s Official Website

Purchase A Life Removed: Amazon, Barnes & Noble,  Red Adept Publishing or grab a copy from your favorite bookstore!

A Life Removed Synopsis

Detectives Bruce Marklin and Jocelyn Beaudette have put plenty of criminals behind bars. But a new terror is stalking their city. The killer’s violent crimes are ritualistic but seemingly indiscriminate. As the death toll rises, the detectives must track a murderer without motive. The next kill could be anyone… maybe even one of their own.

Officer Aaron Pimental sees no hope for himself or humanity. His girlfriend is pulling away, and his best friend has found religion. When Aaron is thrust into the heart of the investigation, he must choose who he will become, the hero or the villain.

If Aaron doesn’t decide soon, the choice will be made for him.

About Jason Parent

In his head, Jason Parent lives in many places, but in the real world, he calls New England his home. The region offers an abundance of settings for his writing and many wonderful places in which to write them. He currently resides in Southeastern Massachusetts with his cuddly corgi named Calypso.

In a prior life, Jason spent most of his time in front of a judge . . . as a civil litigator. When he finally tired of Latin phrases no one knew how to pronounce and explaining to people that real lawsuits are not started, tried and finalized within the 60-minute timeframe they see on TV (it’s harassing the witness; no one throws vicious woodland creatures at them), he traded in his cheap suits for flip flops and designer stubble. The flops got repossessed the next day, and he’s back in the legal field . . . sorta. But that’s another story.

When he’s not working, Jason likes to kayak, catch a movie, travel any place that will let him enter, and play just about any sport (except that ball tied to the pole thing where you basically just whack the ball until it twists in a knot or takes somebody’s head off – he misses the appeal). And read and write, of course. He does that too sometimes.

Please visit the author on Facebook at , on Twitter, or at his website for information regarding upcoming events or releases, or if you have any questions or comments for him.

 

BOOK INFO

Length: 416 Pages

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Release Date: June 27, 2017

Review copy provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review

Back when I first started The Horror Bookshelf I remember reading a novel of J.D. Barker’s called Forsaken, which totally blew me away. It was one of the books I received through a direct author request and I remember reading the synopsis and feeling intrigued at the premise of a famous novelist that slowly loses his grip on reality as he works on his novel Rise of the Witch, which was inspired by an antique journal that is hundreds of years old. Once I finished Forsaken, it was even better than I could have imagined, striking the perfect balance between full-blown horror and a more tense, atmospheric approach. I was totally mesmerized by that novel, which was one of the scariest I had read in some time. So when the opportunity came around to review his latest novel The Fourth Monkey, I jumped at the opportunity.

The Fourth Monkey is more of a psychological thriller, but it mines the same dark depths of the human psyche for inspiration that Forsaken did, making it a must read for fans of both genres. The Fourth Monkey opens with Detective Sam Porter receiving an early morning text from his partner Nash about an accident downtown that he swears Porter is going to want to see for himself. When he arrives on the scene, he realizes the reason Nash was so anxious for him to visit the crime scene is that the man appears to be the infamous Four Monkey Killer. The Four Monkey Killer was a vicious serial killer who terrorized the city of Chicago for over five years, brutally torturing his victims before he killed them. While investigating the crime scene, Porter and his partners realize that the killer was on his way to mail one of his signature packages – a white box tied with a black string – when he was hit by the bus. This means that the Four Monkey Killer had one final victim who may or may not still be alive somewhere in the city.  The man only had harmless, every day items in his possession including a dry cleaner receipt, a pocket watch and .75 cents in change. However, closer inspection revealed he was also carrying a diary, one that details his story in his own words. Detective Porter finds himself drawn into the mind of this psychopath, hoping it will provide some insight into the Four Monkey Killer’s motive and help them locate his final victim before it’s too late.

The characterization of this novel is stellar. Early in the novel when Porter realizes his wife Heather went out to run errands, he dials her number and reaches her voicemail which paints a vivid picture of her as a carefree woman who has an excellent sense of humor and probably helps keep Sam grounded. It is these minor moments, that when placed in the context of the entire novel, really make these characters shine. While there are a number of people who make up the Four Monkey Killer task force, Porter is the clear-cut leader and primary character of the novel. Early on Barker hints that there is more to Porter than meets the eye as many of the characters keep asking him how he is holding up, indicating something has happened to Porter that puts his mental state into question. While The Four Monkey Killer always seems to be one step ahead and is extremely intelligent, Porter is possibly the killer’s closest equal. There is a scene that highlights this perfectly. The task force stumbles on a crime scene where Porter mentions the man was probably alive for two days before his death. His coworkers ask how he could possibly know that, and he states the man was well-groomed and probably shaved once or twice a day, yet he has a few days of beard stubble. It is small moments like that where it becomes clear that Porter is a special investigator. For all of his skill as a detective, it is clear he is a bit old school when he doesn’t know what Twitter is.

There is also great chemistry between Porter and Nash and it is evident they have been partners a long time considering the ease in which they bust on each other throughout the novel. Nash seems to be a bit more reckless and quick with jokes, but Porter is able to hold his own in their verbal sparring matches.

Then there is The Four Monkey Killer, an antagonist whose presence looms over the entire novel. What makes him such an interesting character is that he is like a ghost, never leaving behind any clues other than the ones he wanted the police to find, like the boxes that he mailed to taunt his victims. He was highly intelligent and skilled as evidenced by the fact that he was able to toy with the cops for over 5 years without them even remotely coming close to capturing him. Most of his character development comes from the diary portions of the novel. It seems he is playing a game with whoever is reading it, taunting them to listen to his story and agenda. His opening entries seem to portray a normal home life and you almost begin to connect with him until he hints at a depravity that demonstrates he was unhinged from an early age. Just like Porter, reader’s are thrust into the personal thoughts of a psychopath who details exactly how he transformed into the figure everyone refers to as the Four Monkey Killer.

I thought it was an interesting choice to have the Four Monkey Killer’s story largely play out through the scenes from his personal diary. Often with stories that focus on serial killers, whether they take place in novels or film, the events unfold after the person has already made the choice to unleash their darkness and violence on society. The Fourth Monkey takes a different approach and focuses largely on the events that shaped what could have been an ordinary kid into a savage killer. I don’t want to spoil any of the details, but let’s just say that the Four Monkey Killer’s formative years were anything but normal and it’s no surprise he turned out the way he did.

I also thought it was interesting to have the book pick up with the death of the Four Monkey Killer, which isn’t a spoiler considering it is part of the back copy. A lot of times thrillers work with the killer still on the loose and the cops slowly gathering clues and going through a variety of suspects before finally arriving to a final showdown of sorts. This story sort of works in reverse of that, the novel instead picks up with the killer already dead and the police trying to unravel his motives and get into his mind to try to save his final victim. That isn’t to say there aren’t plenty of twists and turns involved in this novel, as Barker has plenty of surprises up his sleeve for readers. Just when you think you know where the story is going, Barker throws you a curve ball.

There are a lot of things to love about The Fourth Monkey, but one thing that stands out is something that also stood out with his debut novel Forsaken. Throughout the course of the novel, Barker shifts between chapters (mainly from Sam’s point of view, but sometimes other detectives) focusing on the police investigation and that of The Four Monkey Killer’s diary. A lot of times this can cause the entire pacing of a novel to fall apart if not done correctly, but Barker avoids these pitfalls by placing them at strategic points of the narrative and also by making each story line compelling in its own way. It’s almost like you get two novels for the price of one and honestly, the diary portions of the story could have made for a compelling novel in their own right. The result is perfect pacing that keeps the novel from hitting any lulls. Another minor yet highly effective structural choice is that near the end of the novel, Barker utilizes short, punchy chapters to help ratchet up the tension which snares the reader in a web of excitement.

Although it is only a small detail, I loved the casual mention of Thad McAlister from Forsaken throughout the novel. It could just be a casual nod to fans of his work, but a part of me wants to believe that it’s part of something larger at work, that perhaps the two stories take place in the same fictional universe.

The Fourth Monkey is being described as Se7en meets The Silence of the Lambs and that is a pretty accurate comparison. The novel doesn’t necessarily borrow heavily from either of those works, but there are some similarities that fans of those works will appreciate. Make no mistake about it, there is some truly dark and disturbing moments in The Fourth Monkey. Without getting into spoiler territory, I will just mention that there are a few scenes featuring rats that may make your skin crawl. The Fourth Monkey is a chilling thriller that is compulsively readable and offers up plenty of twists and turns that make it an essential addition to your summer reading list.

Rating: 5/5

LINKS

J.D. Barker’s Official Website

Find J.D. Barker on: Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads

Purchase Garden of Fiends: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or grab a copy from your favorite bookstore!

Contests

To celebrate the release of The Fourth Monkey, J.D. Barker is holding two pretty cool contests for people who purchase a copy of the novel. The first is the chance to win one of three draft copies, featuring handwritten notes and different story elements from the finished novel. Here is the link to the contest which will give you the full details on what you need to do to win! Enter to win one of three draft copies of The Fourth Monkey!

The next is a chance to appear as a character in J.D. Barker’s next novel. Here is a link with details on how to enter that contest.

About J.D. Barker

J.D. Barker (Jonathan Dylan Barker) is an international bestselling American author who’s work has been broadly described as suspense thrillers, often incorporating elements of horror, crime, mystery, science fiction, and the supernatural. Barker splits his time between Englewood, FL, and Pittsburgh, PA, with his wife, Dayna.

BOOK INFO

Length: 210 Pages

Publisher: Wicked Run Books

Release Date: April 12, 2017

Review copy provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review

Garden of Fiends opens with a pretty eye-opening introduction from Mark Matthews’, who put together this collection that details the horrors of addictions. There are numerous lines in this introduction that could some up this collection, but the one that stands out to me the most deals with the definition of horror itself. “Horror is just the volume of life turned up so high the reality breaks through the confines of normal everyday limits and explodes in a bloody mess.” That is a powerful and apt description of both what horror means and the stories that make up Garden of Fiends. What makes this introduction and collection as a whole stand apart – aside from the stellar writing found in the stories contained within – is that Matthews’ has seen these horrors first hand. Not only as someone who has battled addiction, but also through his work as a substance abuse therapist. He sees these horrors every day, up close and personal. I remember when I first heard about this project, which was when Matthews’ sent out the submission call. Just based on the premise alone, I was excited to read Garden of Fiends. A horror anthology that focuses on tales of addiction? I was hooked. Part of the reason was that it was a topic I could relate to. I may not have had to battle addiction directly, but it is something that has affected my family and something I have lived with for a large portion of my life. So did Garden of Fiends live up to the hype? You bet.

The first story is Kealan Patrick Burke’s “A Wicked Thirst”, a tale of a man who needs alcohol as a social lubricant, but quickly finds it consumes his life. Burke doesn’t waste any time hooking the reader as his story opens with a scene of the narrator drowning in a puddle with the only thought running through his mind is, “I am going to die“. The story quickly flashes back to a time when the narrator is on a date, before he ends up battling a nemesis that is determined to witness his demise. His addiction has robbed him of his smile, but he seems to accept it and the situation he finds himself in. Burke nails the extent of this man’s addiction through anecdotes and internal monologues that reveal the reason for his addiction and the ways it has impacted his life. While the mystery of who is attacking the narrator is creepy and ramps up the tension, this story shines due to the detail Burke gives to the narrator’s addiction and the things that it had cost him. This story details the loneliness and the depths addiction will bring you. Structurally, I liked how Burke alternates between scenes of the narrator recalling his date and fighting back against the person intent on breaking him until the story lines merge.

Jessica McHugh’s “The One in the Middle” is a tale that follows the life of Perry, a man who is addicted to atlys, a drug that is similar to heroin. Perry lives in an abandoned high school with other atlys users and is left only with the memories of a lost lover and the desire to score atlys, whatever the cost. This story differs a little from the others in that it takes place in a futuristic society, but the core of the story is the same and the horrors are all too real. Throughout “The One in the Middle”, readers experience the lengths people who have addictions will go to in order to try to satisfy the need that has taken over their bodies. I won’t get into it too much, but let’s just say most of the residents of the city who can’t afford atlys on their own resort to a practice known as “potsticking” to get their fix. It is something that will make your stomach churn, but is the perfect vehicle to demonstrate the desperation people with addiction go through. McHugh’s contribution works well as a standalone story, but is taken from a novel called  The Green Kangaroos. After reading this story and being impressed by the rich characterization and extensive world-building, I need to grab a copy of that novel!

Max Booth III’s “Everywhere You’ve Bled and Everywhere You Will” follows a recovering heroin addict named Jeremy. He seems to have his life back on track, but quickly finds himself in a situation that fractures his mind and puts his sobriety in jeopardy. The less I say about this story the better because it really is one you need to read to believe and any type of summary I attempt to come up with will spoil the experience. I will say that it is likely to be a divisive story in this collection that readers will either love or hate, I don’t think there will be too much middle ground on this one. I love that Booth holds nothing back in this story and I am not ashamed to say this story made me cringe more than once. There are scenes in this story that seem like hallucinogenic nightmares and though they will make you squirm, it’s hard to tear your eyes away from the page. This is the first time I have read Booth’s work but considering the dark, twisted images that will be seared into my brain for a long, long time, I have a feeling it won’t be my last!

While many of the stories in Garden of Fiends are longer, Johann Thorsson offers up a chilling flash fiction piece called “First, Bite Just a Finger”. It follows a woman named Julia, who is invited to a peculiar party where she ties something for the first time that quickly consumes her every thought. Not only does this flash fiction piece accurately portray what addiction is and the hold it takes on those who have faced it, the core of the story also represents what addiction can do to a person both physically and mentally.

“Last Call” by John F.D. Taff is the only story I was familiar with prior to reading Garden of Fiends and is one that stuck with me because it raises questions that I could relate to personally. This story follows a man named Ted, who is an alcoholic that has been through many AA groups, but can’t seem to shake the addiction that has taken over his life. However, at one particular meeting, right when Ted thinks he may have to move on yet again, his sponsor offers him a way out. It is a last-ditch effort from someone who truly cares about Ted, but he offers him up a warning – this is your last chance. This is an entertaining story with a twist that I truly didn’t see coming until it was too late. Even when you figure out where Taff is leading you, the ending still leaves a lasting emotional impact. Taff is one of my favorite writers and I never fail to be impressed with his mastery of the short story format.

“Torment of the Fallen” by Glen Krisch is an entertaining and chilling story that follows Maggie, a girl who has been on the run for most of her life due to her unique gift. She has no real connections in the real world, but finds solace in the persona she has created online. It is through her online network that she finds information about her estranged father, tied to a story about paranormal phenomena. She leaves in search of answers, but what she uncovers is something she never could have prepared to face. I loved this story and my only real complaint is that I wish there was more!

Mark Matthews’ “Garden of Fiends” is an intriguing story that follows the life of Tara Snyder and her family. Matthews story has a gritty, realistic feel and not only offers the perspective of Tara and her struggles with addiction, but the perspective of her father who would do anything to save her. I loved this story and it really brings home the pain that addiction causes to anyone unlucky enough to be snared in its path. I also enjoyed the surprise Matthews’ had in store for those who were already fans of his work. I remember the first time I read Matthews’ work and I knew I was going to be a fan for life. He adds a level of realism to his work that amplifies the horrors that he unleashes because you feel like they could happen to you, even if aspects of the story defy explanation. If you have yet to experience Matthews’ brand of fiction, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of Lily’s Tale: The Milk-Blood Trilogy. You won’t be disappointed.

The collection wraps up with Jack Ketchum’s “Returns”. The narrator witnesses his wife Jill as her life begins spiraling out of control due to her drinking and she begins neglecting every aspect of their life, including caring for their cat Zoey. Unfortunately for him, he is powerless to stop her despite his best efforts. “Returns” may be a little short, but it’s a powerful story that is sure to tug on your heartstrings.

Addiction has impacted the lives of so many people, and I think this collection will really resonate with readers. I loved the variety of stories and there is something for every horror fan whether your tastes run more toward the extreme or the subtle end of the spectrum. A brilliant and original concept, Garden of Fiends captures the struggles of addiction and the horrors they inflict on those affected by it. Yes, it is dark and visceral, but with moments of hope throughout that make this a memorable collection of stories. Matthews’ has put together something truly special with Garden of Fiends, and there is no doubt in my mind that this will end up as one of my favorite collections of the year.

Rating: 5/5

LINKS

Wicked Run Press /Mark Matthews Official Website

Purchase Garden of Fiends: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or grab a copy from your favorite bookstore!

BOOK INFO

Length: 384 Pages

Publisher: Gallery Books

Release Date: February 7, 2017

Review copy provided by author in exchange for an honest review

Ania Ahlborn is one of my favorite horror authors today and she is one of the few writers that I would order a book from sight unseen. I forget how I first happened upon her smash hit debut Seed, which started off as a self-published work, but after reading it I was hooked. It was brutal and terrifying and Ahlborn unleashed some truly wicked twists and turns that cemented me as a fan for life. I have followed her career ever since and devouring every new release as soon as I get my hands on them. There is no denying her talent and there is something about her writing that just grabs my attention and refuses to let go until I finish whatever story it is I happen to be reading.

The Devil Crept In opens with 12-year-old Jude Brighton missing and his younger cousin Stevie and the residents of Deer Valley combing the woods searching for him. He disappeared that Sunday after spending the day with Stevie collecting broken two-by-fours to complete their fort in the woods. Despite the large manhunt, hope is dwindling as no one has found a trace of Jude. Making matters worse is the town’s dark history that looms over the search. Years ago, another child named Max Larsen was missing until his mutilated body was discovered not far from the woods. Deer Valley residents feared that a killer was on the loose in their sleepy town and the fact that no one was ever charged with the murder put the town on edge and they tried to scrub it from existence by never speaking of the murder ever again.

Stevie fears that his cousin’s reputation around Deer Valley means the adults will not give the investigation the attention it deserves. He decides that he is his cousin’s only hope, armed with his knowledge from the cop shows he loves so much and his notebook. He hits the streets determined to find the truth about his cousin. While searching for Jude in the woods, Stevie can’t help but fear the worst and his thoughts keep drifting back to the dilapidated and eerie house that sits secluded in the woods not far from their fort. Is there a connection? However, his search for his cousin leads him to truths that are far more terrifying than he could ever imagine. Something isn’t quite right in Deer Valley and just what did happen to all of the town’s pets?

Ahlborn has some outstanding setting work in this novel, particularly the scenes of the woods. After the loss of his cousin, the forest went from being a source of wonder to a source of dread for Stevie. “But now, standing at the gaping maw of what suddenly felt like a forbidden land, all he could do was coil his arms around himself and stare into the green-glowing gloom”.Nondescript scenery like ferns and moss are given ominous descriptions that make them seem dripping with malice. Then there is the description of the abandoned house. Ahlborn paints a vivid picture of the house and if I could, I would include the whole section here because it captures the eeriness of the house and cultivates a tension that there is something not right with that house. The descriptions work because many, if not all, of us have had those moments as kids. That abandoned house or section of woods where rumors swirl and imaginations conjure up the scariest and darkest possibilities imaginable.

What makes The Devil Crept In such an engaging read is the originality of the premise. Throughout the novel, Ahlborn makes readers question just what exactly is happening in the woods of Deer Valley. There are hints scattered throughout this seemingly sleepy small town that something isn’t right, but you can’t quite place your finger on it. That nagging sense of mystery is part of the fun of this novel. Reviewing this book is near impossible because of the potential for spoilers. I will say that of all the crazy ideas that ran through my head, cobbled together from years of reading horror novels and watching horror films, the truth behind what happened to Jude never crossed my mind.

Ahlborn’s characters are fantastic and I normally can’t get into novels that function primarily around young protagonists. However, Ahlborn does a wonderful job with Stevie and Jude. Stevie is an outcast who is constantly teased at school due to his stuttering problem and the hallucinations that plague him every day of his life. He has no friends except for Jude, so when Jude goes missing he feels it is his responsibility to save his only friend. He has a love of true crime shows and that obsession fuels his search for Jude. While Stevie is a sympathetic character, Jude is borderline obnoxious, but it plays wonderfully in the context of the story. Jude is seen as a menace around town, someone who is always causing trouble and drawing extra scrutiny from the adults around town. When he goes missing, Stevie and consequently the reader, wonder if maybe the town isn’t so concerned with bringing him back home. That maybe, just maybe, everyone’s lives would be a little bit better if he just stayed missing. What keeps Jude from reaching full-blown annoying territory is the fact that he suffered a great tragedy that may have helped shape the world view and attitude that makes him the pariah of Deer Valley.

I have seen in interviews for The Devil Crept In that Ahlborn’s where she mentions that the novel takes a look at the differences between the worlds of adults and kids. That theme is hammered home throughout the novel and it is one that I think is very interesting. I remember when I was growing up, and I am sure anyone else reading this can as well, being absolutely convinced that there was something large and terrifying hiding under the bed or peeking out of a slightly open closet door. Part of it is the darkness and shadows playing tricks on you, but you are convinced that something is in there. Inevitably, you scream for your parents and when they come in they explain to you that monsters aren’t real. The older we get, we largely outgrow those experiences. But why do we have them? What if there really was something strange going on? That is largely highlighted to a degree by Stevie and the way he is portrayed throughout the novel. His biggest struggle is trying to get someone, anyone to listen to him. But they shrug him off or look at him funny because he is a 10-year-old boy, which would be hard enough for him to deal with. But Stevie also has a mental illness, one that his family tends to overlook. This all combines to make it damn near impossible for him to get anyone to believe him.

While as of this writing The Bird Eater still reigns supreme as my favorite of her books, The Devil Crept In is another stellar offering from a gifted storyteller. An original premise, vivid characters and a great sense of atmosphere (not to mention some truly unnerving scenes) all mesh together to create a thrilling reading experience. If you haven’t read any of Ahlborn’s work yet, I highly recommend grabbing at least one of her books. I have a feeling once you read one, you’ll be hooked, just like I was!

Rating: 4.5/5

LINKS

Ania Ahlborn Official Website

Gallery Books’ Official Website

Purchase The Devil Crept In: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Gallery Books, or grab a copy from your favorite bookstore!

About Ania Ahlborn

Ania Ahlborn is the bestselling author of the horror thrillers Brother, Within These Walls, The Bird Eater, The Shuddering, The Neighbors, and Seed, and the novella The Pretty Ones. Born in Ciechanow, Poland, she lives in South Carolina with her husband and their dog. Visit AniaAhlborn.com or follow the author on Facebook and Twitter @AniaAhlbornAuthor.

BOOK INFO

Length: 102 Pages

Publisher: Sinister Grin Press

Release Date: April 22, 2017

Review copy provided as part of Cut Corners Vol.3  Blog Tour

Since starting up The Horror Bookshelf, I have been lucky enough to discover a ton of quality small presses that are releasing quality horror and helping to keep the genre alive and well. I have a host of favorites, but one press that has been catching my attention as of late has been Sinister Grin Press out of Austin, Texas. I think the first time I discovered them was through reviewing Jonathan Janz’s stellar Children of the Dark . They host an impressive roster of authors – many of whom I consider among my personal favorites – and are one of those types of presses where I know I will love anything they release.

Cut Corners Vol. 3 is the latest installment in Sinister Grin Press’ Cut Corners series. Cut Corners is a collection of three stories from some of the biggest names in horror and this is my first journey into the collection.  I haven’t read any of the other volumes (yet!), but what I enjoyed about this volume is that it centers around timely topics in society. Whether it is our addiction to our technological devices or fascination with celebrity culture, there is an eerie amount of things that readers can recognize in the world around them.

Cut Corners Vol. 3 kicks off with a new one from Kealan Patrick Burke called “Andromeda”.  This story follows a girl named Hannah, who is glued to her cell phone almost constantly and seems to be more at ease finds within the virtual world than the one around her. She has a strained relationship with her mom, who doesn’t get her daughter’s attachment to her virtual life and tries her hardest to get Hannah to interact with her friends at school and experience her idea of a “normal” life. While arguing with her mom, she stumbles across an article that mentions something weird occurring in the Baltic Sea. She has an interest in weird phenomena, so she files the story away to read that night. It isn’t much later that she gets a bizarre text that she writes off due to having a number that used to belong to someone else. While hanging out with her friend Fiona, they begin to notice strange things happening around them, but find every reason to write them off as normal. However, it doesn’t take long for Hannah and Fiona that something is really off in their town and it will test the very boundaries of their sanity.

While all three of the stories in Cut Corners Vol. 3 are real treats for horror fans, “Andromeda” is easily my favorite. This is a tough one to talk about without spoiling some of the events that occur within, but there are a few stories that this reminded me of as I was reading it. There is nothing overly terrifying or bloody in “Andromeda”, but that doesn’t keep Burke from crafting some chilling moments that stick with you long after reading. What makes this story such a blast to read is the small, unsettling moments that Burke sprinkles throughout the story to indicate just what sort of danger Hannah and Fiona finds themselves in. Although there are some truly disturbing and creepy moments that readers are able to see, what makes “Andromeda” stand out is the use of dialogue (the message from Hannah’s mother…yikes!)  and ordinary situations being warped into something strange. I love stories like that. It builds a sense of dread and confusion as you try to piece together the mystery unfolding on the page. Burke conjures up a foreboding atmosphere that permeates every page of “Andromeda” and kept me glued to this story until the very end!

Bryan Smith’s “The Barrel” is another story that utilizes an intriguing mystery to snare readers, and “The Barrel” starts with some strangeness right off the bat. Martin Sanchez is a recently divorced man whose life is now in shambles, with nothing eventful happening in his life since the divorce. That is until he wakes up one morning to find a mysterious black barrel in his back yard when he lets his dogs out. The barrel is seemingly ordinary, but when his dogs notice it, they are in full-on attack mode and growl at it. Martin’s imagination runs wild at what could be contained in the barrel and he struggles with how to handle his bizarre new discovery.

I love how Smith ties The Barrel’s arrival into social media with the use of #blackbarrel, the pull of a social media game almost impossible to resist. Also, I can’t tell you how many times I have encountered something strange and used the internet to figure out what the hell it is. Though if a mysterious black barrel showed up in my yard, I don’t think that would be my first reaction! While the subject matter of the two are wildly different, I couldn’t help but think of the final scene from Seven while reading this story. What makes this story interesting is that for a bulk of it, the reader’s imagination is the focal point of the story. There could be literally anything in that barrel, and being a horror story, I’m sure readers will conjure up all sorts of wild and imaginative scenarios. While this is the strength of the story in my opinion, it is also part of the minor issue I had with the story. After conjuring up all sorts of wild scenarios, the reveal was a bit of a let down. Don’t get me wrong, Smith still does some original things after the reveal, but I was hoping for something a little different. That being said, “The Barrel” is still an enjoyable story.

The final story in the collection comes from Ray Garton, the only author to appear in every installment of Cut Corners. “Afterparty” follows the life and career of Jarrett Baffometti, the biggest pop star in the world. Cy Weintraub is his manager and gained wealth through working with some of the biggest stars in the entertainment business. Jarrett’s career has been going off the rails as of late, racking up D.U.I’s and other arrests and falling down a rabbit hole of drugs. Cy knows that things are bad and has seen it with other young stars he has managed, but he feels that something is different with Jarrett’s situation. When he arrives at Jarrett’s mansion, he discovers a surreal scene that proves his suspicions were correct. Garton then takes readers back five years to show how Jarrett’s career really launched after attending a mysterious cocktail party at the request of his manager who promises that if he just does what the hosts say and makes a good impression, he will be set for life. Sounds easy enough, and Jarrett is no stranger to partying. However, when he shows up at the mansion, he realizes that nothing could have prepared him for that night.

Cy is an interesting character, possibly even more so than the mysterious group that has such an interest in Jarrett’s career. Without getting too much into the plot, let’s just say it’s hard to pinpoint his exact allegiances. I wasn’t quite sure how I would feel about this story going in, but by the end, I was blown away. Garton throws a little bit of everything into this story and yet it all works to make for a delightfully strange and creepy story. Garton’s story is a little more extreme than the others and is filled with drugs, sex, violence and the allure of fame. I loved the little twists added within the story. While the group’s motivations and goals seem fairly straightforward, there is an aspect of their plans that I didn’t anticipate. “Afterparty” works extremely well as a short story, but I can’t help but think of the potential it has as a novel. I would love to learn more about this mysterious group and the process behind their agenda.

While I will always love losing myself in horror novels, I am finding myself being drawn to shorter horror fiction lately, whether it be short stories or novellas. This probably has to do with my new schedule, but there is also something to be said for a shorter format for horror. While I love expansive world-building and watching the terror of these stories slowly unfold, there is something visceral about the immediate impact of the short story. Cut Corners Vol. 3 is an excellent collection that is a perfect introduction for readers who are new to horror or for die-hard horror fans looking for a quick read from some of the best writers in the genre!

Rating: 4/5

LINKS

Sinister Grin Press’ Official Website

Purchase Cut Corners Vol. 3: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Sinister Grin Press, or grab a copy from your favorite bookstore!

Use these hashtags to help spread the word about Cut Corners, Volume 3! – #CutCorners3 #horrorshorts #SinisterGrinPress

Cut Corners, Volume 3 Synopsis

Late, dark nights are perfect for reading surreal and terrifying tales from some of the best story tellers in the horror business. Grit your teeth, sit by the fire pit, and be prepared to possibly not return from underneath the spell of their writing prowess, but if you do, we’re certain you’ll have a sinister smile to share. All these modern stories have an element of thought-provoking surprise and style.

“Andromeda” –Kealan Patrick Burke

A  grim story of a teen girl hooked to her cell phone that will make you think outside of your comfort level.  Kealan Patrick Burke is a hauntingly lyrical and original writer of horror that will leave you breathless.

“The Barrell” – Bryan Smith

When a surprise barrel shows up out of nowhere on the back stoop, and the dogs start to bark at it uncontrollably, Martin becomes very suspicious and intrigued.  Bryan Smith is a versatile and horrifying author who will leave you squeamish and chuckling.

“Afterparty” –   Ray Garton

Jarrett is getting famous on the entertainment scene, but what will he have to do to remain in the industry?  Brought to you by Ray Garton, a master of explicit detail and tense horror that entrances readers and doesn’t let them go.

About The Authors

Kealan Patrick Burke

Born and raised in a small harbor town in the south of Ireland, Kealan Patrick Burke knew from an early age that he was going to be a writer. The combination of an ancient locale, a horror-loving mother, and a family of storytellers, made it inevitable that he would end up telling stories for a living. Since those formative years, he has written five novels, over a hundred short stories, six collections, and edited four acclaimed anthologies. In 2004, he was honored with the Bram Stoker Award for his novella The Turtle Boy.

Kealan has worked as a waiter, a drama teacher, a mapmaker, a security guard, an assembly-line worker, a salesman (for a day), a bartender, landscape gardener, vocalist in a grunge band, curriculum content editor, fiction editor at Gothic.net, and, most recently, a fraud investigator.

When not writing, Kealan designs book covers through his company Elderlemon Design.

A number of his books have been optioned for film. You can find him at http://www.kealanpatrickburke.com.

Bryan Smith

Bryan Smith is the author of numerous novels and novellas, including Depraved, Slowly We Rot, The Killing Kind, and 68 KILL. The film adaptation of 68 KILL recently won the Midnighters audience award at SXSW. Bryan lives in TN with his wife Jenn and numerous animals. Visit his home on the web at thehorrorofbryansmith.blogspot.com and find him on his author fan page on Facebook.

Ray Garton

Ray Garton is the author of the classic vampire bestseller Live Girls, as well as Scissors, Sex and Violence in Hollywood, Ravenous, and dozens of other novels, novellas, tie-ins, and story collections. His new Moffet & Keoph investigation Vortex, the novella Crawlers, and his collection Wailing and Gnashing of Teeth are available for Kindle. He has been writing in the horror and suspense genres for more than 30 years and was the recipient of the Grand Master of Horror Award in 2006.  He lives in northern California with his wife Dawn where he is at work on a new novel.

Want to Feature?

If you’d like to review Cut Corners, Volume 3 by Burke, Garton, or Smith, please contact Erin Al-Mehairi, Sinister Grin publicist, at hookofabook@hotmail.com.

BOOK INFO

Length: 356 Pages

Publisher: Midgard Books

Release Date: January 7, 2017

Review copy provided as part of Jackals Blog Tour by Confessions Publicity

Jackals is Stuart R Brogan’s debut novel and focuses on a shadowy group of killers known as Jackals who descend on the small town of Wells, an affluent city known for being a hotbed of Masonic activity. One of their own has been captured and they enter the station driven by bloodlust and a singular mission preached by their bosses: embrace the Primitive. The aftermath of their arrival finds an entire police force brutally murdered and chaos brewing in the city. The group is careful to leave no evidence at the crime scene with the exception of a mysterious sigil painted on the wall in blood.

Detective Inspector Lewis Class is a cop nearing the end of his career and to put it bluntly – his life is a mess. He’s totally alone with no family or any real close friends and things aren’t much better at work. He basically goes through the motions, knowing that he isn’t that great of a cop and looking forward to the day he doesn’t have to worry about the responsibility the only things he really enjoys are drinking and the occasional hit of cocaine. Class is the last person you would expect to tackle the brutal slayings of the officers in the police station, but that is what he is tasked to do. If you had to conjure up an image of him in your mind, he would be a polar opposite of what you would expect an action hero to be like. He realizes quickly that this case is above his head and he had little chance to solve it, his only real leads being the sigil and a suburban couple whose car was found not far from the massacre.

Earlier on readers are introduced to Jesse Reid and her husband Damien. They have been married for 16 years and are an average married couple. They love each other but each have their own faults and occasional rough patches. Damien loves his wife with everything he has, but he has jealousy issues and is easily intimidated. Jesse suffers from severe depression that seems to stem from a strained relationship with her father and other dark events buried in her past. While out celebrating their anniversary and an ordinary evening until they have a fateful meeting with a mysterious woman who will change the course of their lives forever and kickstarts a deadly cat and mouse game that serves as the driving factor of Jackals.

Brogan’s main strength in Jackals is that he does a good job of establishing tension and has a keen sense of pacing. Jackals starts off a little slow at first, but within a few pages it’s off to the races and Brogan injects a sense of urgency that permeates almost every page of Jackals. These days reading time seems harder to come by, so for me to be invested in a story, the author needs to grab me. That doesn’t mean it has to be nonstop action on every page, but whether it is through action-packed scenes, strong character development or just an intriguing premise, I need a reason to keep turning the page. Jackals definitely delivers on all of those areas. When I first started it, I would read in quick bursts whenever I had a spare minute before putting it down for the night. However, it took less than a few chapters before it became harder and harder to tear myself away from Brogan’s world full of ruthless killers and shadowy secret societies.

Brogan also does a good job of building up the mystery behind the Jackals, who work for a mysterious known only as “The Order”. While the name may not strike fear in the hearts of those who encounter it, they are a diabolical group. Jackals is an accurate name for the people they employ –  Bloodthirsty killers who will stop at nothing to achieve their goals of achieving the “Primitive”. These people are clearly deranged, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t smart or sloppy in their work. They are like ghosts in that they aren’t in the system and are able to blend into society fairly well. They also put a lot of planning into their attacks and account for every possible contingency, making them a pretty formidable group of antagonists.

I won’t get too much into the history of the group because that would ruin the suspense, but they are an interesting group that stands out a little bit from your typical cult that you see in most stories. They have a pretty warped view of the world that drives their goals and share some similarities with other groups that pop up frequently in the horror and thriller genres, but what is interesting and helps set them apart is the set of rules they follow. I also loved the way Brogan created a hierarchy within The Order which also adds originality to the novel. I wish we got more scenes showing the inner workings of the different groups, like how the Jackals are selected from the general public or what Internal Security has done to secure their deadly reputation. This isn’t a negative toward the novel because leaving some of these things a mystery makes The Order and their factions even more interesting, but just wishful thinking on my part.

Brogan’s excellent characterization doesn’t just apply to The Order (though that is what will initially grab the reader’s interest), but to the other characters as well.  My personal favorite is Jesse Reid, easily one of the strongest and most interesting characters in the novel. Despite all of the demons in her past and the self-doubt that appears early in the novel, she is incredibly resourceful and brave. When the Jackals deliver their ultimatum to her, it would have been easy for her to run and hide (I know I would have!), but she jumps into full on survival mode. She gathers supplies and starts formulating a plan that if I’m being honest, I would have been too paranoid and scared to think of if faced with a similar situation. I thought it was brilliant how readers get to see her evolve over the course of the novel and she is a badass in every sense of the word!

Jesse and Class make for an odd pairing, but they have a remarkable amount of chemistry. Despite coming from two different backgrounds, they open up to each other and share some of their darkest secrets with one another. There isn’t anything romantic there, they just forge an incredibly close bond while facing chaos and a group that would love nothing more than to see them both dead.

While there is a lot to enjoy about Jackals, there were a few parts of the story that didn’t quite work for me. Early on, when two detectives are interrogating a mysterious stranger described simply as “Gaunt Man”, Brogan reveals the man’s true intentions a little early, which kind of ruins the suspense cultivated at the beginning of that scene. That is a minor complaint though considering later scenes do a much better job of keeping things vague. Also there are a lot of times early on where the book is too heavy with the DC/PC stuff when talking about the different officers. A mention here and there may be important to establish the characters, but it kind of jumbles up some of the early scenes.

Jackals is a pulse-pounding thriller that is bursting with blood-soaked scenes, great characters, and plenty of plot twists that will keep you guessing all the way to the final page of the novel. I have never read Brogan’s work before, but Jackals is a very impressive debut and I will definitely be looking forward to his future work. If you enjoy thrillers or real-life horror, don’t let this gem slip under your radar!

Rating: 4/5

LINKS

Stuart R Brogan’s author Facebook page

Purchase Jackals: Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Jackals Synopsis

From the aftermath of a brutal massacre at a rural police station, two survivors leave behind a swathe of bodies and a cryptic sigil painted on the wall, in blood.

A disgraced Detective Inspector begrudgingly starts to investigate the crime scene but as the facts begin to emerge the trail appears to lead into the highest echelons of power, making the policeman himself the next target.

As the conspiracy spirals ever deeper and with no-one to trust, both prime suspect and policeman are forced into an unlikely alliance to prove, not only their innocence, but the existence of a force so ingrained into our society, it could rewrite the very fabric of human nature.

About Stuart R Brogan

 Stuart R Brogan is a former nightclub bouncer and unwaveringly proud Heathen who loves nothing more than expanding people’s minds with Pagan related Non-Fiction or blowing people’s brains out with fast paced, gut wrenching, thrilling horrors.

Harley lover, extreme metal drummer and avid movie nerd, Stuart has never followed the crowd but instead carved his own path and danced to his own tune. Since his early years, Stuart found escapism in both the written word and the silver screen. A huge fan of 80’s Action / Horror movies such as The Thing, Aliens, Predator & Die Hard and literary heroes such as Shaun Hutson, Clive Barker, Richard Layman and Brian Lumley, Stuart endeavours to bring an unapologetic cinematic eye to his fiction in the hopes of rekindling his childhood sense of wonder, all whilst blowing through vast amounts of ammunition down his local shooting range.

Stuart currently resides in Glastonbury, UK with his long-suffering wife and man eating Shih-Poo dog “Poppy” where he co-owns a kick ass Viking / Asatru shop, fiercely named “Shield Maiden”.

BOOK INFO

Length: 378

Publisher: Pinnacle

Release Date: August 30, 2016

Review copy provided as part of The Jersey Devil Blog Tour

It’s no secret that Hunter Shea is one of my favorite horror writers working today. I have raved about all of his books and I think part of what draws me to them is the fact that Hunter is also a huge fan of the genre. He is a lover of all things horror and has a fascination with cryptids that rivals my own. Every time I read one of his books – whether they be about cryptids, ghosts, or anything else really – I am reminded of why I love horror and I get the same feeling of excitement I got when I first started getting into horror and the weird world of the unexplained. This time around Shea tackles a cryptid that is near and dear to my heart, The Jersey Devil. I didn’t live in New Jersey, but growing up I lived close enough that The Jersey Devil legend was one of the first I discovered right after the big two – Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster.

The short version of the legend basically goes that a Pine Barrens resident named Momma Leeds gave birth to 12 children and when she was found out she was pregnant for the 13th time, cursed the child and said it would be the Devil. When the child was born, it transformed into a bizarre creature that varies in appearance depending on who you hear the story from. The Jersey Devil is a well-known folklore story that has ingrained itself in the fabric of the state and community that spawned it and was one that always fascinated me.

The Jersey Devil starts off with a bang as readers are introduced to Jane Moreland, a women whose husband has just died and she is frantically trying to get rid of the body. Her husband Henry was abusive and after putting up with years of torment and fantasizing about all of the ways she could kill him and be free of him for good. That’s all they were though were fantasies, so she was beyond shocked when a drunken accident and Henry’s own temper proved to be his demise.  Unable to call the cops – all of whom were friends with Henry – her only choice is to try and dispose of his body in the Pine Barrens. Worrying about how she will be able to deal with the aftermath of Henry’s accident, she hears a blood-curdling screech rip through the Barrens. Something is growling, stalking her in the inky darkness of the night. Whatever it is swoops down and carries the 200 lb Henry off into the trees. Jane barely escapes with her life after partially burying herself. Moments from freedom, Jane realizes there really was something horrible hiding in the Barrens.

Present Day

Sam Willet  – known to his family as Boompa – is 80-years-old and tough as nails. Despite his age, he is a formidably imposing figure and has the strength and stamina of a man half his age. He lost his wife tragically ten years ago and her death fueled his vendetta against the creature known as The Jersey Devil. Boompa has been chasing the elusive beast for years, but he knows that with every passing year, his time is running out. The monster has plagued the Willet family for 3 generations, though it has kept a low profile for decades. However, there have been a massive increase in sightings and disappearances that cause the family to get excited. After years of training and an all consuming desire for revenge, The Willet family team up with cryptozoologist Norm Cranston and march into the desolate Pine Barrens armed to the teeth in search of a monster that defies the laws of nature.

Shea does an excellent job juggling a large cast of characters by giving them all very distinct personalities and back stories.  Boompa is hands down one of my favorite of the Willet clan. While Boompa is old enough to be considered by many as elderly, he is still an imposing figure who is bursting with vitality and a determination that is almost infectious. After suffering numerous tragedies and coming face to face with something that defies all logic, he is chomping at the bit to confront an evil that would send most normal people running for the hills. While Boompa is tough as nails, there are some great interactions with his grandson Daryl early in the novel that are indicative of his sense of humor and shows how close he is with his family.

Norm Cranston is another key figure in The Jersey Devil. He’s 42-years-old and a world famous cryptozoologist, who just got back from tracking a Bigfoot-esque beast in Ohio known as the Grassman. Despite gaining a level of notoriety and popularity from being featured on countless cable shows, he lives modestly and alone with his cat Salem. He has been friends with Sam Willet for years after a chance encounter after filming an episode about big cats in New York and is aware of his story involving the Jersey Devil. After stumbling across two sightings in as many weeks, Norm knows he has to get in touch with Sam as there is something brewing in the Pine Barrens that could be huge for both of them.

Shea does a great job portraying Norm’s introduction into the field after his dad shared his own personal account of a Bigfoot encounter while he went hunting. This caused a young Norm to dive headfirst into the world of cryptids, reading every book he could get his hands on from the library. I absolutely loved Norm’s character because it kind of reminds me of myself. Growing up I had the same sort of wonder over cryptids and would read every book that I could find from my local library. That sense of wonder and fascination of the unknown that Norm displays in the novel is the same I felt growing up, so I was instantly drawn to his character.

The way Shea portrays the locals talking about the Jersey Devil in the novel is realistic and kind of representative of communities that have their own unique legends. When two minor characters who are looking to cash in on the legend to run camping tours ask locals for some key spots pertaining to the legend, they get the sense that everyone buys in to the legend. Some even go as far as begging them to stop searching for the hideous creature that calls the Pine Barrens its home. While not everyone may actually believe there is an evil creature hiding out in the Pine Barrens, it is important to note that many people take pride in local tradition. Even if they don’t believe it’s true, a part of them likes to keep the story alive.

One of the things that helps bring this novel to life is Shea’s excellent description of the Pine Barrens. I have never seen them myself, but Shea makes them come to life and gives them an eerie, unsettling power that helps fuel the tension of the novel and amplify the terror of the creature that could be lurking in the dense trees. Sparsely populated, dark and vast, they are the perfect setting for something to hide and for people to leave bodies. Shea even dedicates a short chapter to making the Barrens seem alive, vines and vegetation growing rapidly to hide the vehicles of some poor victims that fell prey to the mythical beast that calls the Barrens home.

I love the way Shea handles the big reveal of the Jersey Devil in his book. He doesn’t let readers get a real good look at the creature early in the book, but instead utilizes small fleeting moments that build up the anticipation and make the big reveal that much of a better pay off. It starts with sounds – growls, shrieks, and flapping of wings – then slowly builds as the attacks escalate due to the Jersey Devil getting more brazen. What started off as a few hit and run style attacks become more frequent and the Jersey Devil starts allowing itself  to be seen, which is a drastic change from its original behavior, along with its taste for blood.

I love that Hunter sticks with the traditional look of this famous cryptid. The Jersey Devil is portrayed as being about the size of a grown man with an appearance that looks like a hybrid of a horse and goat with a whip-like tail and large leathery wings. Honestly, if you were to look up a sketch of what The Jersey Devil looks like based on eyewitness testimony, you would be tempted to laugh. Hell, I almost did the first time I did. The Jersey Devil is a creature with larger than life name and reputation that brings to mind some kind of hulking beast, but the reality is, it looks almost cartoonish. However, there is nothing funny about Shea’s Jersey Devil. While it borrows from the traditional look, Shea manages to warp this creature into something truly frightening and capable of unimaginable chaos and carnage. It also isn’t just some mindless monster, it possesses an intelligence that far surpasses anything they thought it was capable.

What makes The Jersey Devil such a great novel is the care Shea shows in the research behind the legend. Well, that and tons of gruesome, frightening scenes that are guaranteed to keep your adrenaline pumping for almost the entire novel. While Shea has shown quite a bit of range in his writing and has tackled numerous different subjects, I have always thought he was at his best when tackling cryptids. He has already tackled The Montauk Monster, skunk apes, and The Dover Demon just to name a few. Just like with all of those books, they would be fantastic reads for lovers of the bizarre and unknown, but Shea always adds his own touches that make the story that much better. I don’t want to get too much into how Shea differentiates his version of the Jersey Devil mythos because I feel that would ruin a portion of the story, but he manages to take the traditional legend and amplify it to terrifying heights.

This was one of my most anticipated books of last year and it ended up being one of my favorite reads of the year as well. Shea is an excellent storyteller who manages to draw readers in almost instantly and never let go throughout the entire journey. Every time I pick up one of Hunter Shea’s works , I know I am in for a wild thrill-ride. I have read just about everything Hunter has released and one thing I can say is that I am never bored. He knows how to keep readers wanting more and has mastered the art of pacing and The Jersey Devil is no exception. There is plenty of action, bone-chilling scenes and horrific beasts throughout. If you are a fan of cryptids or prefer monsters with your horror, you can’t go wrong with this one!

If you are a Hunter fan, stay tuned in the coming weeks as I will have reviews coming for Loch Ness Revenge and We Are Always Watching! I have a ton of other reviews in the works as well and then I look forward to tackling Shea’s latest Savage Jungle.

Rating: 5/5

LINKS

Hunter Shea’s Official Website

Kensington/Pinnacle Official Website

Purchase The Jersey Devil: Amazon, Barnes & Noble,or grab a copy from your favorite bookstore!  

The Jersey Devil Synopsis

THE LEGEND LIVES

Everyone knows the legend of the Jersey Devil. Some believe it is an abomination of nature, a hybrid winged beast from hell that stalks the Pine Barrens of southern New Jersey searching for prey. Others believe it is a hoax, a campfire story designed to scare children. But one man knows the truth…

THE DEVIL AWAKES

Sixty years ago, Boompa Willet came face to face with the Devil—and lived to tell the tale. Now, the creature’s stomping grounds are alive once again with strange sightings, disappearances, and worse. After all these years, Boompa must return to the Barrens, not to prove the legend is real but to wipe it off the face of the earth…

THE BEAST MUST DIE

It’ll take more than just courage to defeat the Devil. It will take four generations of the Willet clan, a lifetime of survivalist training, and all the firepower they can carry. But timing is critical. A summer music festival has attracted crowds of teenagers. The woods are filled with tender young prey. But this time, the Devil is not alone. The evil has grown into an unholy horde of mutant monstrosities. And hell has come home to New Jersey…

Praise for Hunter Shea

“Shea delivers a tense and intriguing work of escalating tension splattered with a clever, extensive cast of bystanders turned victims…An otherwise excellent, tightly delivered plot…Fans of cryptid creatures are likely to revel in this love letter to a legendary menace.”– Publishers Weekly

“Bloody good read!  This guy knows his monsters!”- Eric S Brown, author of Bigfoot War and Boggy Creek: The Legend is True, on Swamp Monster Massacre

“Hunter Shea is a great writer, highly entertaining, and definitely in the upper echelon in the current horror scene. Many other writers mention either loving his work and/or having the man influence their own, and for just cause. His writing suits anyone with a taste for the dark and terrifying!” –Zakk at The Eyes of Madness/The Mouth of Madness Podcast

About Hunter Shea

Hunter Shea is the product of a childhood weaned on The Night Stalker, The Twilight Zone and In Search Of. He doesn’t just write about the paranormal – he actively seeks out the things that scare the hell out of people and experiences them for himself.

Publishers Weekly named The Montauk Monster one of the best reads of the summer in 2014, and his follow up novel, Hell Hole, was named best horror novel of the year on several prestigious horror sites. Cemetery Dance had this to say about his apocalyptic thriller, Tortures of the Damned – “A terrifying read that left me wanting more. I absolutely devoured this book!”

Hunter is an amateur cryptozoologist, having written wild, fictional tales about Bigfoot, The Montauk Monster, The Dover Demon and many new creatures to come. Copies of his books, The Montauk Monster and The Dover Demon, are currently on display in the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, ME.

He wrote his first novel with the express desire to work only with editor Don D’Auria at Dorchester (Leisure Horror). He submitted his novel to Don and only Don, unagented, placed on the slush pile. He is proof that dedicated writers can be rescued from no man’s land. He now works with Don, along with several other agents and publishers, having published over ten books in just four years.

Hunter is proud to be be one half of the Monster Men video podcast, along with his partner in crime, Jack Campisi. It is one of the most watched horror video podcasts in the world. Monster Men is a light-hearted approach to dark subjects. Hunter and Jack explore real life hauntings, monsters, movies, books and everything under the horror sun. They often interview authors, crytid and ghost hunters, directors and anyone else living in the horror lane.

Living with his wonderful family and two cats, he’s happy to be close enough to New York City to get Gray’s Papaya hot dogs when the craving hits. His daughters have also gotten the horror bug, assisting him with research, story ideas and illustrations that can be seen in magazines such as Dark Dossier.

You can follow his travails at http://www.huntershea.com, sign-up for his newsletter, or follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

cover_misterwhite_front_600x916

BOOK INFO

Publisher: Grey Matter Press

Length: 278 Pages

Release Date: March 17, 2016

Review copy provided by publisher 

Longtime readers of The Horror Bookshelf know that I am a huge fan of Grey Matter Press and the stellar anthologies they have released over the years. So when I heard that they were branching out into novels and other formats, I was ecstatic! The first novel to be released under the Grey Matter Press banner is John C. Foster’s Mister White, a continuation of his short story that was featured in Dark Visions – Volume 2. When I came across the short story version of Mister White, I was hooked. I am pleased to write that the novel version amplifies the power of the original short story and adds even more mystery to the legend of Mister White.

Foster’s story opens with the line “Who is Mister White?” which is the last thing Abel hears on a static-filled phone conversation that leaves him shaken. Later that evening, Abel is on his way to a clandestine meeting in a graveyard—seriously, how creepy is that?!—when he hears the same question over and over again: “Abel? Sin sie das?” It sets his hair on edge and when he arrives at the meeting place, what he sees sets in motion a series of events that will fracture his sanity and place everyone around him in danger.

Russia

Lewis is watching a video of his fellow operative Abel torturing himself in order to survive a bizarre and hellish prison. Abel is forced to inflict this punishment on himself by an entity known only as “The Voice”. The commands are very bizarre and this is just one of the many scenes that stood out while reading Mister White. The psychological torture employed here is bizarre and frightening because you don’t know what to expect next. Not only does this scene unnerve readers, it also causes Lewis extreme paranoia while he is holed up in his study miles away, checking his security footage. As he watches this unfold, he gets a call from Bierce, the leader of all the agents and tells him about the disturbing footage. Once he mentions there was a name – Mister White – Bierce tells him he is beyond sanction and to get out of there right now. Lewis realizes he has made a grave error and initiates a protocol to help ensure his family’s safety as he is now left all alone with no resources to make it back to his family to protect them from the hell that is unleashed.

The truth is, I really struggled with the review for this novel, which is unlike anything I have ever read. How many times can you say something is brilliant? Because make no mistake about it, that’s what Mister White is. The creation of Mister White the character is the sort of thing I would imagine a horror writer would kill for – the chance to create an iconic monster. What makes Mister White so terrifying is the fact that we don’t really know for certain exactly who or what he is. He is mentioned in hushed tones and never by name due to his reputation. What readers will find out much like I did when I read it, is speaking his name is a very bad idea and if you ever cross his path, you’ll regret it. He is a legendary figure, someone who strikes fear into the hearts of operatives who deal with deadly situations on a daily basis in a career that calls for nerves of steel.

Not only does Foster do an excellent job breathing life into one of the scariest supernatural forces I have ever encountered, he builds an incredibly fascinating mythology and history around Mister White. There are a few scenes that seem to indicate one of the characters in this novel have at least some knowledge of Mister White’s origins. I don’t want to get too much into the details of that as it is part of the fun of the novel, but it leaves ample room for more stories. I am the type of reader who is often torn between wanting to know every detail about a book and having some mystery left behind, and Foster does a great job of leaving just enough mystery to keep readers intrigued. My imagination ran wild thinking about where Mister White came from, what his goals are, how he got mixed up in the world of espionage and a variety of other questions that popped up while reading. Mister White does a great job blending the occult with tinges of bizarre real-life programs in the intelligence world. One of the few things that is known about Mister White, is that he feeds off the fear of those he chooses to hunt down. Not only does it sustain him, but he derives enjoyment from it and will often toy with his victims. He is able to listen for his name and travel to anyone who mentions his name to attack them. Besides the mysteriousness of his origins, what makes Mister White such a great character is his unpredictability. With a lot of horror novels, you know what to expect whether it is a sadistic killer on the loose, a monster, or some other evil unleashed on the world. With Mister White, his motivations are a mystery. Foster does a masterful job building tension in this novel and when Mister White finally makes his grand entrance it is incredible.

Foster’s characterization is excellent and this cast of flawed characters leap off the page. Each character has a complex history and it’s clear early in the story that this isn’t your stereotypical squeaky clean family, they have secrets from each other. When we first meet Lewis, he is an operative who has been out of the game for quite some time. A family man who went from doing field work to more schmoozing with delegates and other members of the Russian elite that are of interest to the CIA. However, after years of not being in the field, his old training springs to the forefront of his mind and his only goal is survival once he realizes he is in danger. The tactics and logistics are fresh in his mind, but it takes a little while for his body to get used to the exhaustion of being on the run. His family is vaguely aware of his career, but they do not know the full extent of his past. His wife Cat has an affair to help push away the loneliness of constantly being separated from her husband and the distance and career choices that makes him appear to be preoccupied. There is a great section that talks about Cat’s life and how she got to where she was. Lewis is once again overseas without her and their only child, Hedde, is in high school. Her relationship with Hedde is now guarded when it used to be open. The loneliness she feels drives her to consult from home instead of going into the office and she has even taken up day drinking to help numb the pain.

Hedde is an interesting character and one of my favorites. She is a bit of an outcast and described by classmates as being addicted to drugs or “Most Likely To Become A Serial Killer”. She wears outdated clothes and while classmates tease her by calling her “Wednesday Addams” and “Lizzie Borden”, that doesn’t keep them from asking her to use witchcraft to solve their problems. Without giving too much away about Hedde, there are hints throughout the novel that she is far from your average teenager. I give Hedde credit, she is a hell of a lot braver than I would be if I were facing a supernatural entity hellbent on destroying my family. She does show fear, but she pushes through that in an effort to combat the sinister Mister White. Bierce is a fascinating character as well and I honestly thought for a while that he could be Mister White based on his description. He is completely hairless and has such a pale complexion that he seems white.  As you read Mister White, readers will learn that Bierce has a very interesting connection to Mister White and his shadowy involvement with the government.

There is a sense of isolation that not only amplifies the more terrifying scenes of this novel, but informs the characters personalities as well. It seems like each member of the family has adapted the sort of intelligence credo of distancing yourself from others and severing emotional ties to protect themselves from potential traumas. It is interesting to see a group of people who deal with the very real threat of danger on a daily basis try to use their training and protocols against a force that simply cannot be stopped. Lewis instituted a protocol list for his family years ago, which shows he was prepared for something like this to happen as soon as he started a family with Cat. They are a fractured family coming apart at the seams, but this event forces them to try to band together even though they are separated from each other with multiple continents between them.

Foster manages to craft a dark atmosphere that highlights the suspense and dread that lurks on every page. There is no cheap jump scares here, each scene is well thought out and deliberate. One of my favorite scenes was  the discovery of a bizarre coffin connected to Mister White and a creepy candlestick phone. The scene with these objects is absolutely brilliant. It takes a lot to truly unnerve me and something about these scenes, though devoid of any supernatural presence or violence, really rattled me. Foster manages to catch that darkness and distill it into potent blasts of fear that make for a truly frightening read.

Foster uses razor-sharp prose to draw readers in and can amaze with even a single line, like this one that describes an accident early in the novel “A two-by-four had crashed through the windshield like a spear, impaling the driver through his mouth and penetrating out the back of his skull, exploding like a brain, blood and bone grenade, until the wood lodged itself in the rear window”. While Mister White isn’t overly gory, there are a few blood-soaked scenes that he uses sparingly and effectively with sentences similar to this one.

It’s really hard to talk about Mister White without spoiling the novel and its many twists and turns that frankly are what make this such a standout novel. Foster weaves in so many bizarre and frightening moments that it’s jarring to the senses, but in the best possible way. Mister White is a truly exceptional novel that is a breath of fresh air for the horror genre and honestly, one of the best novels I have read this year. I honestly think Mister White is worth of being classified as a modern classic and I am sure this novel will have a lasting legacy. It blurs the lines between numerous genres and is a novel that I could honestly see myself re-reading multiple times. If you are a fan of any type of dark fiction, do yourself a favor and snag a copy of this immediately. The last 40 or so pages rocket by and reach a stunning conclusion unlike anything I have ever read. I loved this novel and I can’t wait to read what Foster has in store for us all next!

Rating: 5/5

LINKS

John C. Foster Official Website 

Grey Matter Press Official Website

Purchase Mister White: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Grey Matter Press, or grab a copy from your favorite bookstore!