Father William: Part 1 by Shaun McLaren – Book Review

fwilliamFather William: Part 1 by Shaun McLaren – Book Review

Inevitably, when you put a priest in a horror story, there comes that question of trust. Do we trust that Father Merrin is able to beat evil in The Exorcist, seeing as he’s a last resort? Why should the Thorns trust the ramblings of Father Brennan in The Omen? There’s a healthy lack of trust in religion throughout many macabre tales, but the church is generally seen as a force of good.

Not so in Shaun McLaren’s Father William (Part one). Right from the off, you can tell the titular Father’s a wrong ‘un. That side is well hidden from the townspeople, until young girls start going missing. Suspicion grows as their disappearances are linked to offers of redemption by wicked old William. And just who are those weird masked figures hefting around wriggling sacks in the night?

The story has the rough, pulpy feel of a Guy N Smith novel, with the same kind of melodrama, mixed with overly floral descriptions of locations evocative of the time period. There are also constant reminders that men are men and women are women. Though where Smith added plenty of gore and nastiness to his B-movie shenanigans, there’s little here to make your spine feel chilly or guts feel like a faulty Indesit. The horrors are swift and brutal, but with a nasty edge that feels unpleasant more than unsettling.

Father William is definitely a rotter, but by the end he comes across more cartoony than scary, all sat on a throne waving a fist, Cobra Commander style. The story presents a more serious tone until then, with William coming across as a sneakily manipulative character. So seeing him literally tossing lackeys around really diminishes what went before. The same goes for the other characters, who flit and sit around without having much impact on anything, or each other. Sure, this is part one of a series, but as a starter, it leaves you more than a bit peckish for something meatier.

One final sin the book commits is coming to a screeching halt. No cliffhanger, no compelling reason to pick up the next part. Just a full stop, right as things seem like they might be getting interesting, and it’s a full stop that seems to answer the only question you might have. Maybe with room to grow, future instalments of Father William’s saga will be more compelling. I don’t trust I’ll be there to see them though.

Score: 4/10

Pick up a copy of Father William here:

Amazon UK: www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1521544034
Amazon US: www.amazon.com/dp/1521544034

Florida Gothic by Mitzi Szereto – Book Review

florida gothicFlorida Gothic – Book Review
Written by Mitzi Szereto

UK Amazon Link https://www.amazon.co.uk/Florida-Gothic-Book-1-ebook/dp/B06ZZ6QCXN/

A hit-and-run driver leaves Ernesto Martinez to die by a Miami canal. Then an alligator comes along to finish the job. Being dead gives Ernesto plenty of time to think. He thinks about his wife, taken from him too soon by illness. He thinks about his daughter, the victim of a drunk driver. He thinks about his death as he watches his body slowly decompose. Most of all, he thinks about injustice.”

Full disclosure before I begin: I’ve known Mitzi Szereto for more than a decade. Not only is she an author I respect and admire, and someone with whom I’ve collaborated in the past, but she’s also a good friend. So, if you’re thinking this review is going to be biased in her favour: you’re absolutely right.

Florida Gothic is a well-crafted story with a strong focus on character. Written in the present tense, which gives all events a powerful sense of immediacy, the story shifts chapter-by-chapter into the lives of various characters who develop as they insouciantly propel the story’s plot. Cleverly, because Szereto has dropped a lot of Spanish vocabulary into the text, the sense of place is as vivid as the sense of character. Occasionally this vocabulary lesson can be a little distracting, but it is a constant reminder of the story’s well-rendered, exotic location that helps to keep the reader immersed in the physicality of the story.

One of the things that makes this story particularly compelling is the unlikability of the characters in the story. It’s easy to desire justice when you’re reading about people who seem deserving of punishment. And Szereto makes sure the journey to justice is thoroughly enjoyable.

With endorsements from esteemed figures in the horror world such as Peter Straub and Nancy Kilpatrick, Florida Gothic is an intelligent dip into the supernatural that bodes well as the starting title in the series. I’m sure I’m not alone in looking forward to the next title. 9/10.

The Eyrie by Thom Burgess – Graphic Novel Review

rsz_theerrieThe Eyrie (Graphic Novel) Review

Written by Thom Burgess
Illustrated by Barney Bodoano

Available here – http://theeyrie.bigcartel.com

What’s It All About?

From the writer of Malevolents ‘Click Click’ and illustrated by the talents of Barney Bodoano comes a whole new haunting tale of terror.
‘After accepting a last minute job request from an old client, New York based photographer, Rebecca finds herself alone in one the remote parts of Britain’s South Coast. Amidst the mist swept fields and superstitious townsfolk, Rebecca will soon find out that there are worst threats than simply not finishing her job on time….’

Is it good?

I’ll be honest, I don’t read many graphic novels, in fact the last one I did read was Burgess’s Malevolents: Click Click. However, due to the quality of ‘Click Click’ I was looking forward to seeing what he would produce next. ‘Click Click’ had an old fashioned horror vibe about it, the story moved at a good pace and all in all was a very satisfying read. No pressure here then, Thom!

Fortunately, it turns out that Thom Burgess is no flash in the pan and he has again given us a story that moves along briskly and smartly, throwing in characters that wouldn’t be out of place in a seventies horror movie. We get a cool, isolated, old town setting and a heroine who is out of place. All could have collapsed into cliche, but the writing keeps it fresh, lively and interesting with Bodoano’s illustrations lending to the atmosphere. The story pulls you in and races off coming to a neat conclusion giving us some nicely crafted characters and menacing supernatural villains along the way.

Burgess is compiling a cool series of stories, all feeling grounded and all compelling. I know he has a number of projects in the works and based on his last two works I’m very much looking forward to seeing what he comes up with next.

By the way, ‘The Eyrie’ has a foreword penned by Reece Shearsmith. Not a bad feather to have in the cap.

A good 4/5!

ICE (A Tale Of Horror) by Frank Pickering – Book Review

ice1Frank Pickering’s ICE hopes to chill your spine with a tale of tragedy on a mountain leading into a series of haunting encounters with a weird mountain guardian and the odd bit of snowy suspense.

Mountain and arctic environments are rich territories for horror. There’s a threat built in right there, the same as setting your story in space, or in the ocean. Vast, threatening, sometimes unknowable spaces. Places where the everyday person may not go, with risks all around. You can seed fear in reader’s minds just by using an isolated setting, and from that, you can layer on all kinds of thrills.

But you have to have characters you care about. ICE doesn’t present you with any. Killing off a few cringeworthy teenage characters early on barely has any impact. The tragic hero who returns to the mountains an indeterminate amount of time after his partner is killed just gets on with things, so his link to previous events feels pointless. There’s more love here for skiing than the cheeky authorial glee of leading you into a place of terror. It feels less like a journey of fear and more like a description of events, flatly journalistic at times, and never creepy.

That’s a shame, because there’s definitely a love of language in this book, but the sometimes poetic descriptions distract from the mood they’re trying to create. Right from the first line, where personification of a valley doesn’t quite work, reading this novel felt like an uphill struggle towards tension which never pulls taut enough.

There’s no real climax either, no escalation of the threat laying in wait under the mountain. It’s kind of like visiting a museum to see a specific exhibit, finding it replaced with a sign reading this item will be returning soon, shrugging your shoulders and then going home. You may get a faint glimmer of interest, but it’s not going to be handed to you.

There are books out there which handle the combination of icy conditions and creeping dread far better – Thin Air by Michelle Paver, and Ararat by Christopher Golden spring to mind. If you’re looking for chilly thrills, look there, not here.

Score: 3/10

Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/dp/1782011994
Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1782011994

Garden of Fiends: Tales of Addiction Horror – Book Review

gofGarden of Fiends: Tales of Addiction Horror – Book Review

Garden of Fiends pulls together eight tales of addiction blended with horror. Now you might think that addiction is horrid enough on its own, and you’re right. Only in this collection, editor Mark Matthews has selected stories which draw on real life, but don’t rely on it for the horror elements. There are tales of demons and ghosts here, all bound to the struggles addictions bring with them.

Opening with A Wicked Thirst by Kealan Patrick Burke, you’re immediately thrown into a world of panic, where a date is juxtaposed with a brutal drowning. This reads like the returning memories of a blacked-out drunk, with events gradually falling into place as the harrowing story goes on. I had to take a break by the end of this one, it’s a hell of an opener.

The One in the Middle by Jessica McHugh is a hard-to-stomach tale of addicts at their lowest point, forced to sell flesh to a cannabalistic high society. There’s a hint of Burroughs about this one, with sci-fi elements meeting the down & dirty everyday horror, in a city trying not to repeat its own mistakes.

Everywhere You’ve Bled and Everywhere You Will by Max Booth III involves a bleeding body part and a horrific tragedy involving shared illness. This goes past the point of horror into mind-fucking insanity. A skilful blend of many horrors.

First, Just Bite a Finger by Johann Thorsson is a flash fiction piece about being addicted to cannibalism, and it’s a short-sharp shock of a metaphor, feeding into the worries that peer pressure brings.

Last Call by John FD Taff features an ex-alcoholic coasting through life without respecting his journey to quick sobriety. The horror here comes right at the end, less brutal and more tragic.

Torment of the Fallen by Glen Krisch involves a daughter trying to reconnect with her estranged father. You’ll definitely feel the pain of finding a loved one devastated by drugs here, only there’s demonic forces at work too, which hopefully you’ll never feel. Unless you like the idea of being eaten alive by rats?

Garden of Fiends by Mark Matthews is quite simply, a heartbreaker. Here, a father tries to pull his daughter away from an addictive relationship, drifting too close to her world for his own good. The horror and despair conjured by this novella-length offering has tinges of the supernatural to accentuate the horror of loss.

The collection ends with Returns by Jack Ketchum, a ghost story less about addiction than the others, but listen, it’s Ketchum. You know you’re not coming out the other side of this one with a smile. It’ll move you before the midway point, and if you’re a cat person, it might just ruin you.

That rare themed anthology that offers a great selection of stories with no duds, I would fully recommend Garden of Fiends to any horror fan. None of the stories here are frivolous, they all respect addiction for what it is, and that means you’re not in for an easy read. That said, it’s still an essential purchase for the short story aficionado.

Score: 10/10

Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B06X9X1WYS
Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B06X9X1WYS

And you can follow Wicked Run Press @WickedRunPress

Palette of the Improbable: Tales of Horror & Darkness by Steve Vasquez – Book Review

rsz_51tshpgfpulPalette of the Improbable: Tales of Horror & Darkness by Steve Vasquez – Book Review

Available HERE

Totalling seven stories, Palette of the Improbable (PotI) plays host to a number of (as you may have guessed) improbable stories and scenarios. These range from deals with The Devil, paranormal hauntings and time travel. It really is a mixed bag where we end up with varying degrees of success. The overarching theme that binds it all together is the improbability that these stories might take place in the real world, and that is very much the case for the most part. However, in blatant contradiction to what I just said; three of the total seven stories I could very well imagine may have happened at some point in time, in some guise, somewhere in the world. But this only adds to both the horror and tragedy conveyed in these particular stories (“God Works in Mysterious Ways”, “Good Night, Sleep Tight” and “A Hand Is a Terrible Thing to Waste”).

If we can define “palette” as the range of colours available to an artist. Here we must transform colours to words. If words, like colours, are combined to create the finished product; we are left with a narrow range. To this collections fault it contains one too many cliches which take away from the occasional brilliance that lurks just beneath the surface. Before we go any further, let me just say, if you’re looking for a quick read with smatterings of horror and darker themes, PotI is worth picking up. Let me make that clear. However, the execution of some of the stories leaves a lot to be desired. I think it is also worth mentioning, there also seemed to be a trend of suspicion towards women. This is particularly evident in some of the earlier stories we are presented with. Whether this was intentional or not, is not known to me at this point in time, but it did jump out at me and I’m not exactly a chest thumping feminist.

I found myself on the fence for the most part while reading these stories. There were a few glimmers of great writing only to become dull again when the next cliche rolled around. “Through the Wormhole Darkly” for example, contained some great detail and background knowledge in some areas but then contained some anachronisms which undercut some great moments. Maybe some greater care is needed to tidy up these small issues for future stories from Vasquez, which I strongly encourage him to continue. The variety of stories was great, you never knew where the next one would take you and that shows a versatility from Vasquez to his credit. There was a familiarity to the stories, but then again there is to most stories in this day and age.

Maybe feeling more like a pulp novel than anything else. I would still recommend PotI for a quick read (under an hour in total). Being overall a bit rough around the edges, there is certainly room for improvement and some of these stories could definitely be fleshed out a bit more (I’m looking at you “Good Night, Sleep Tight”). There is a creepy opener and a light hearted close. I wanted to keep this review brief as I don’t want to ruin any of this compelling little stories.

The take home message is give this short story collection a chance, despite its flaws.

6/10

At The Cemetery Gates: Year One – Book review

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There’s something simple and evocative about the words cemetery gates, isn’t there? A pair of rusted, wrought iron doorways, ready to creak open and welcome you into a world of death. Or maybe you’re a Pantera fan like me and you’re thinking of Dimebag’s noodling giving way to that crushing riff.

At The Cemetery Gates Year One has that same kind of promise in its title, bringing to mind a person on the verge of some creepy discovery, and the cover is similarly creepy, with a Stephen Gammell kind of vibe to it. But a good cover & title isn’t everything, as I found once I stepped inside the world of John Brhel and Joe Sullivan.

The collection kicks off with A Dark and Desolate Recurrence, featuring a couple trapped in their car during a blizzard, saved by a mysterious figure. This turns into a bewildering “who owns this house?” story, culminating in a clumsily-delivered ghost encounter. This suffers from don’t go upstairs syndrome where all logic is thrown out and you end up yelling at the characters for making bad decisions. The couple hear murderous noises upstairs…so decide to look for something to eat. That kind of thing. It’s a weird choice of opener, seeing as there are far stronger stories in the collection.

Only problem is, those strong stories take a good long while to materialise. With 14 stories to pick through, I found myself nitpicking more than enjoying the variety of tales on offer. Many of the stories share a fascination with time loops which gets wearying after a while, and the more varied stories veer from a sub-par Psycho imitations to a subversion of teen slasher tropes which still feels like it’s been done before.

And so it continues, with characters sharing uninteresting, everyday conversations before anything happens, over-explaining of ideas or feelings, and a general lack of scares or chills. I was ready to give up entirely but I’m not a quitter. I don’t walk out of movies and I always finish a book no matter how much I don’t want to.

Good thing I did, because some of the later stories are actually pretty good. There’s a blast of dark comedy in New Year’s Eve, What A Gas!, some Evil Dead style schlock in the fun-but-flawed The Call is Coming From Inside the House, more pitch-black humour in An Epistle From the Dead. It’s just a shame that the final story falls back into the same ponderous over-explaining of the twist that the earlier stories were guilty of.

This is a shaggy haircut of a book, desperately in need of a good trim, a bit of pampering to make it shine. As is, it’s too flat and dull to recommend, with only a few decent stories in the bunch, but this is year one. Styles change, and maybe after a few seasons have passed, there’ll be something more vibrant coming from these two author’s heads.

Score: 3/10

Book links:

Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01MFZXHJJ/
Amazon US: http://www.amazon.comk/dp/B01MFZXHJJ/

I Have The Sight by Rick Wood – Book Review

Dead girl. Halloween theme.

Dead girl. Halloween theme.

I Have The Sight by Rick Wood – Book Review by Ben Walker

For many, the most chilling thing about a possession story is lack of control, whether it’s a malevolent demon taking over someone you love, or the idea that your own mind may be pushed out by forces unknown.

An important thing in a possession story then, is to touch on this theme of control. Not to harp on about it, but The Exorcist does this masterfully, as Chris’ life rapidly goes from happy to hellish, Regan becomes a vessel of hatred and chaos, and both Karras and Merrin realise their faith is no protection from fate.

In I Have The Sight, Rick Wood plays off this core concept of control, with titular sight-haver Edward (Eddie) King showing his confident demonologist side before walking us down the road he trod to get there. And as it turns out, it’s a long hard road out of…you know where.

I’ve realised recently that The Exorcist may have spoiled me in terms of expectations for this kind of story. Judging …Sight on its own merits, it’s a perfectly serviceable story. But compared to the grandparent of all exorcism tales, this is a less weighty take on the genre.

Reason being, the opening chapter sets up a demonic showdown, then weaves back & forth between past & present to reveal that Eddie is really the one in need of of help. So there’s your lack of control. Even though Eddie seems helpless for the majority of the story, he’s still introduced as a hero type. So when the demonic threat emerges, it never comes off as threatening as it could’ve, because by page thirteen, it’s already clear that Eddie has control. Taking us back through a shaky past doesn’t change that, so the tension never really builds enough to make you worry for him.

Along the way, there are some knockabout exorcism/demon battle scenes, which end up favouring physicality (hands beating back demonic flames, slashing claws, force powers etc) over mental games, which didn’t really do it for me. I can appreciate the visuals, but they felt like acrobatic fight scenes from a movie (which would make sense given the author’s background in screenwriting), rather than complelling narrative nightmares.

Taken as a standalone story, …Sight works fine as a one-off read. However, it’s the start of a series, and I’m not convinced that I want to follow Eddie’s journey any further. Most questions about his past are answered throughout, so there’s no itch in my brain for more, even with the final question the story lazily throws out. Check it out if you’d like a novel spin on the standard girl in peril exorcism trope, just don’t expect pea soup and terror.

Score: 5/10

Book links:

Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01MFDCMYT/
Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01MFDCMYT/

And you can follow Rick Wood on twitter @rickwoodwriter

Dark Teardrops by Catherine Tramell – Book Review

rsz_546375522Dark Teardrops by Catherine Tramell – Book Review

Catherine Tramell takes a lofty stab at greatness with Dark Teardrops, comparing it to The Exorcist in her back cover blurb, taking a shot at the reams of poor imitations which followed William Peter Blatty’s (RIP) influential possession horror.

Dark Teardrops, the blurb claims, is aimed directly at fans of Blatty’s novel. Now, I’m a big Exorcist fan. It’s one of the horror stories I come back to yearly, whether it’s movie, screenplay or novel. I defend the film passionately to anyone who criticises it (rightly or wrongly). So okay, I thought, reading the author’s promise. Let’s see if you can live up to it.

Sadly, by page five, the promise was broken. Dark Teardrops has aspirations of greatness, but like tears themselves, those aspirations dry up quickly. Jim and his daughter Brisia are no Chris and Regan, and this story favours eventual gore over the slow build of dread.

Overloaded with huge paragraphs, some more than half a page long, there’s no drive to the drama. By page five of The Exorcist you’ve met three key players, and realise that ancient evil is lurking in the shadows. All Dark Teardrops can offer by then is an old woman looking at photos, talking to herself.

Still, horror does eventually come into play, and things become more graphic, but it’s too sudden a shift in tone. With no build-up, the gore and rote “little girl swearing” possession stuff feels a bit out of place. One day it’s family breakfasts and fond looks, the next day it’s dogs being beaten to death with baseball bats. And even though the viscera flies in some imaginative, shocking ways, there’s a slightly B-movie feel to the prose; more shock value than spine-tingling.

And then there’s the onomatopoeia. So much onomatopoeia. Ring ring! goes a phone, peep! goes a bird, beep beep! goes an ECG…and on it goes. These sound effects are mostly used as scene breaks, which completely ruined any tension or scares beforehand. I can’t take a brutal assault seriously if the next line afterwards is ding dong! – that’s like blowing a slide whistle at the end of Sleepaway Camp.

Despite all these faults, it’s clear that the author is in love with language, and with writing. There’s a great scene in which the possessed Brisia humiliates a teacher with a sharp literary analysis of Don Quixote. This really stood out for me, thanks to its clear & genuine passion. If the rest of the story were as well-written as that single outburst, there’d be a higher number at the end of this review.

The final chapter does go some way to redeeming the story, with a powerful confrontation between demon and family, but it’s a foghorn of a showdown, too blaring and noisy to really resonate emotionally.

Overall, Dark Teardrops was too much like a poorly edited half-novel to recommend as a good read. Though it did make me want to go back to The Exorcist, so it’s not all bad.

Score: 2/10

Book links:

Amazon UK: www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B017BE3EGO
Amazon US: www.amazon.com/dp/B017BE3EGO

The Last Testament of Thomas Griffith by Martin Adil-Smith – Book Review

tgThe Last Testament of Thomas Griffith – A Review

The Last Testament of Thomas Griffith (TLTOTG) is a short story set in the universe of The Spirals of Danu by Martin Adil-Smith.

Following the Small’s Lighthouse incident of 1801, as the title suggests this is the last testament of Thomas Griffith to his wife before his descent into madness. For those of you unfamiliar with this story, two lighthouse keepers on St David’s Peninsula, Wales , Thomas Griffith and Thomas Howell. Curiously however, Howell was a love rival for Griffith’s wife. During a terrible storm, when no relief could reach them, in a freak accident Thomas Howell managed to fall, hit his head and die (so the story goes). After Howell’s untimely death Griffith maintained it was an accident with no mal intent. Normal protocol was if someone had died in the lighthouse to throw the body overboard lest you wanted to cosy up to a bloated rotting corpse in the pale moonlight.

Griffith for whatever reason, be it out of guilt or the beginnings of his madness, tied Howell’s body up outside so that maybe he could be examined to determine he wasn’t murdered once the relief team could reach them. It was the worst storm in a number of years, supplies were plenty but morale was low.

Adil-Smith’s take on this tale takes us down a darker more sinister road altogether. He attempts to fill in the gaps between when Howell’s died and the days leading up to the relief crew’s arrival. They, finding Griffith as a bumbling wreck. Written as a diary entry; a last will and testament. Brief in its presentation, yet chilling all the same. If ever there was a piece to give you a taste of the wider universe of The Spirals of Danu it’s TLTOTG. The story teased me just enough to want more, to uncover the secrets of the world. That is a testament (pun intended) to Adil-Smith’s wordcraft. Luckily for me there is a series already out there for me to sink my teeth into. If you’re into dark fantasy, the strange and the occult you may enjoy this short story. I look forward to picking up the rest of The Spirals of Danu to see if the quality continues!
If you’d like to hear myself and Martin discuss this short (among other things) follow the link below to listen to my conversation with him.

Verdict: 8/10

Find Martin below:

To Buy “The Last Testament of Thomas Griffith” –
a-fwd.com/asin=B01M9C67PK
Website – spiralsofdanu.com/
Facebook – www.facebook.com/SpiralsOfDanu/
Twitter – twitter.com/SpiralsOfDanu