Freaks and Con-Artists – William Lindsay Gresham’s Nightmare Alley

Nightmare Alley – William Lindsay Gresham
Rinehart and Company – 1946

Most of the books I’ve read over the past few years have been horror novels. I generally read 1 non-horror book every month, but I don’t discuss those here. When I started reading Nightmare Alley, I didn’t intend on reviewing it, but after finishing it, I needed to set some thoughts down. This is now one of my favourite novels

In most horror novels, there is good and evil. Sometimes the evil is triumphant, but the books are about vampires or slime creatures, and the reader knows that these don’t exist, so it’s easy to put the books down and not let them interfere with how you see the real world.

Nightmare Alley doesn’t feature vampires or slime creatures, but every page of it screams that human beings are deeply flawed creatures. Everyone is out for themselves. There are no bonds between people that are sacred or permanent. Existence is a competitive, futile nightmare.

This is a novel about Stanton Carlisle. He’s a magician in a carnival freak show. Throughout the novel, he manipulates whoever he can to get ahead. After a while, he becomes a succesful spiritualist and runs his own Church. The freaks and the occulty stuff Stanton peddles are probably enough to warrant this book’s inclusion on this site, but the bleak outlook guaranteed it.

“In a patch of silver the Rev. Carlisle stopped and raised his face to the full moon, where it hung desolately, agonizingly bright – a dead thing watching the dying earth.”

The opening chapter is a conversation between the protagonist and the leader of the freak show about where to find a geek. (A geek, for those who don’t know, is a man who bites the head off chickens.) The boss explains that geeks aren’t found. They’re made. The explanation he provides is brutal and poignant.

I’m sure that countless edgy writers of bizarro and horror fiction have set stories in freakshows. (Remember that classic X-Files episode?) A freakshow presents so many opportunities for weirdness, but Gresham never cashes in on this. The freaks here are real people, and they’re just as willing to walk all over others as anyone else in the novel, maybe even moreso due to their experiences. There wasn’t a single moment in the book that wasn’t entirely believable.

This was a great one. Most of the stuff I review on this blog is shit compared to this book. There’s a new movie version coming out later this year, but don’t wait for that. Read this book now.

Children of the Black Sabbath – Anne Hébert

Children of the Black Sabbath – Anne Hébert
Crown Publishers – 1977
(Originally published as Les Enfants du Sabbat in 1975)

This book is about a daughter of Satan who becomes a nun and wreaks havoc in her convent. The title sounds like a heavy metal tribute act. Anne Hébert is a respected author, but she wrote in French, and there’s very few reviews of the English translation of this book. Also, it was recently reissued by Centipede Press, one of the coolest publishers out there. I had to read this.

At first I wasn’t sure if Sister Julie, the protagonist, was actually possessed or if she was just mental. The Devil is here though. There is real wickedness at play, and some very nasty things occur. Sister Julie is from a long line of witches, and without spoiling the story, I will say that she performs a pretty blasphemous miracle by the end of the book.

Hébert was an award winning French Canadian author. There’s unannounced perspective changes and flashbacks in here, and you have to pay attention when you’re reading it. (This isn’t a problem though. There’s plenty going on to hold your attention.) Even though it’s a translation, this book felt more literary than a lot of the horror fiction I review here.

The cover of this 1978 edition is pretty nice.

I’m not really sure what the message of the book is. I might be biased, but I thought the head nun and priest of the convent come across as more dislikable than the daughter of Satan who is working towards their ruin. Sister Julie is not a standard hero figure though. The source of her powers seems to be the incestuous rape and neglect she suffered as a child. The suffering she has endures makes it hard not to want to see her succeed in her endevours, but she also lashes out at people who don’t deserve it. The book doesn’t seem to come firmly down on the side of god or Satan.

This was atmospheric, tense, dark fiction. You should read it.

Charles Platt’s The Gas

The Gas – Charles Platt
Savoy Books – 1980 (Originally published 1970)

A poisonous gas that drives people insane wafts around England leaving the country in chaos. Yes, this book has the exact same plot as James Herbert’s The Fog. When I read The Fog last year, I was surprised by how extreme some of the scenes were, but that book barely compares to the lurid chaos of The Gas. The gas in The Fog makes people violent, but the gas in The Gas makes them horny and violent.

The first two chapters read like regular porn. A guy picks up a hitchhiker with big boobs and proceeds to ride her. In chapter 3, a policeman wanks off his dog. By the end of the book, the reader is covered in shit, piss, vomit, blood and animal remains.

The Gas is an exercise in extremity, an author seeing how far he can push things. I’ve read other books that may outdo it in certain respects, but you get to a point where a few extra turds or rape scenes don’t really make a difference. I’ve previously discussed how I’m not hugely interested in reading books by authors who are solely trying to push the envelope, but The Gas was first published in 1970. Authors today can self publish pretty much anything. Getting this kind of filth printed 50 years ago seems far more impressive.

Actually, when a new edition of The Gas was put out in 1980, 3000 copies were seized from the publishers by the British government. Something about this makes it a very alluring text. That cover too… Irresistible.

The Gas was recently republished by Centipede Press as part of their Vintage Horrors series. I think it’s generally classified as sci-fi because of its author’s later works, but the violence is so extreme here that describing it as “horror” isn’t much of a stretch. The edition I read contained a foreword from Phillip José Farmer. The only book I’ve read by Farmer was also a work of erotic sci-fi horror.

The Gas is an extreme and horrifying book with an interesting publication history, but it’s a curiosity rather than a great novel. Give it a read though; you might as well.

Joe R. Lansdale’s The Drive In Series

The Drive In: A B-Movie with Blood and Popcorn, Made in Texas
Bantam Spectra Books – 1988

This book was on my to-read list for years, but it’s been in print the whole time, and I kept putting it off. I recently finished an extremely awful horror novel, and I needed something quick and enjoyable to cleanse my palate. Having read Lansdale’s God of the Razor stuff earlier this year, I knew that The Drive In was just what I needed.

A few thousand unfortunates get trapped in a drive in movie theatre. People putrefy into puddles, others melt into each other and things rapidly descend into a maelstrom of cannibalism. Oh, and there’s weird alien gods too. A few years ago, I read a couple of bizarro fiction novels. This is very much that kind of thing. I suppose it’s violent enough to be classified as horror, but it’s also very mental. Nothing is explained, and the novel is better for that.

Honestly, I breezed through this one so quickly that I have nothing else to say. It was enjoyable. I liked it. I am happy to read the other books in the series.

The Drive In 2: Not just one of them Sequels
Spectra – 1989

Honestly, I didn’t like this one. It takes up the story where the last book left it off. The gang go on a road trip through Drive In country. I lost interest about halfway through, but it was short enough so that it didn’t seem like a chore to finish. The writing is entertaining (Lansdale loves a simile.), but the story gets so ridiculous that I found it hard to care about what was going to happen next. It left me with very little enthusiasm to read part three.

The Drive in 3: The Bus Tour
Subterranean Press – 2005

My expectations for this book were pretty low, and I ended up enjoying it more than its predecessor. The second novel took the story so far from the original Drive In that the third novel in the series had no choice but to go further afield again. While the first novel found its cast of characters trapped at a drive in movie theatre, the third novel sees them trapped in a giant, semi-robotic catfish. This is a silly book, but it’s also very easy to read.

Personally, I thought The Drive In was pretty good, but I found its sequels a bit too zany for my tastes. There’s an omnibus edition available if you’re interested. I reckon I’ll wait a while and then give Lansdale’s short stories a go.

The Possessors – John Christopher

I recently read T.E.D. Klein’s The Ceremonies, a horror novel that centers around a college instructor who is preparing a course on horror fiction. I have already read and reviewed most of the books that he discusses, but there were a few he mentioned that I had never heard of. This book, John Christopher’s The Possessors, was one of them.

The Possessors – John Christopher
Avon – 1966 (Originally published 1964)

An alien lifeform kills a child and possesses his body at a mountain cabin in Switzerland. The kid then starts possessing all of the other guests at the cabin. An infected person only has to touch your skin for a few minutes to pass on the infection. I’m using infection and possession in the same way here. You get fingered and turn into a cold alien.

This is basically Night of the Living Dead but with zombies that touch you up instead of eating you. It was published 3 years before that movie came out too, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Romero read this before shooting his film. The plot of The Possessors is pretty straightforward, and the story is predictable to an extent, but that didn’t bother me too much. It was the long-windedness of the writing that let me down.

There’s so much character building, and so little of it matters to the story. Maybe it’s supposed to help create tension, but it bored me. There’s an alcoholic character who is clearly destined to get possessed. She’s obviously a weak link who will jeopardize everything for everyone, and we know she’s going to get done away with. Despite this, Christopher provides details about her summer holidays as a girl and the names and fates of all her brothers and sisters and cousins and pets.

I think this is generally classified as science fiction rather than horror. Maybe that’s why I hadn’t heard of it. It’s quite similar to The Body Snatchers in both its premise and awkward classification status.

The Possessors wasn’t great. It’s a decent idea, but the pacing is just too slow. I think it would have been a much more exciting read if it were 30 pages shorter.

Russ Martin’s Satanic Mind Control Babes: Rhea, Susan Browning, Lisa Black, Candy Sterling, Jessica Young, Sally Wing, and Jennifer Parrish

I remember coming across these in Paperbacks from Hell and immediately writing them off because 7 books seemed like a big commitment and an initial search showed them to be fairly scarce. I took a closer look a few months later and realised I’d have to read them.

Like many of the books featured in Paperbacks from Hell, these titles are very tricky to track down, but these particular books were already scarce when PFH came out. These are erotic novels, and they feature a specific kink. I found a link on Will Errickson’s blog, and it might have something to do with why these books are so hard to find. This webpage is a list of JR Parz’s favourite erotic mind control novels, and it has been online for well over 20 years. The Martin books have been listed at the top of it since it was first posted. Erotic mind control seems like a fairly specific kink, and I’d imagine that the erotic mind control online community is pretty closely knit. Yep, I would be willing to bet that more of the copies of Martin’s books still in existence are sitting shelves of mind control perverts than on the shelves of regular horror fans.

There’s a paragraph on these books in Paperbacks From Hell and an essay in Satanic Panic: Pop-Cultural Paranoia in the 1980s about how Martin’s novels reflect the early 1980’s fear of Satanism, but neither of these sources offer any information on Russell W. Martin, the mysterious pervert who wrote these strange books. The internet isn’t much better. The only online source on Martin I could find was his ISFDB page. That page says he was born in 1933 and that his full name is Russell White Martin, but it also says he cowrote a book about space and drew some pictures for a 1992 science fiction novel called A Fire Upon the Deep. I got hold of both of these books, and I can confirm that the space book was written by a different Russ Martin, and the art in A Fire Upon the Deep was created by Elissa Mitchell. I don’t know if we can believe the other information from ISFDB either.

The only reliable information I could find on Martin is on the inside cover of my copy of Chains. Chains is the UK version of Rhea. This information is not included in the Playboy edition of Rhea, published one year later.

I emailed the college he used to work at, but they are yet to respond.

In Paperbacks from Hell, Grady Hendrix claims that Martin wrote 7 novels about the Satanic Organization, but that’s not true, and anyone who has read these books will understand why (details below). Also, Alison Natasi omits Rhea and Candy Sterling from the bibliography to her essay. This might be because one was written in the 70s and the other doesn’t quite fit in with the theme of the essay, but it might also be because Candy Sterling is almost impossible to get hold of. Apart from JR Parz, I am not convinced that I know of anyone who has actually read all 7 of these books.

Hard to find, rarely read, trashy novels about horny Satanists? Hell yes.

Due to the relative scarcity of these books, I am providing summaries of each. If you’re actually planning on reading these, maybe skip to the last 2 paragraphs and then come back once you’re done. (I wrote these reviews as I was reading the books, so I end up answering some of the questions I ask later on in the post.)

Rhea/Chains
Ermine – 1978
Playboy Press – 1980
Futura Publications – 1979

A girl born in the 1700s spends her birthday money on a mysterious old book called Liber de Malo from the back of a merchant’s van. She is a gifted child, and at 5 years of age uses her schooling in Latin to summon a demon. Once she hits puberty, she starts using demons to help her gain complete sexual subordination from anyone she fancies. She does this for about 200 years and then meets Phillip Stafford, a wealthy movie executive.

She gains control over this Phillip guy, but things start to get really nasty once his wife finds out. Philip hires a private detective to figure out Rhea’s game, and it’s through his sleuthing that many of the details of Rhea’s past lives are revealed. The chapters are not in chronological order, and each one offers the perspective of a different character. I was very impressed with how well the plot was crafted. This is sexy, satanic horror fiction, but Russ Martin put some serious work into organising this story.

This isn’t porn though, even if it was published by Playboy. The characters have lots of sex, but there’s barely any graphic sex scenes. The most lurid scene appears towards the end of the novel, and it is anything but sexy.

Parts of the book are scary too. Rhea is proper bad. She’s not just mean and selfish. She’s evil.

Honestly, I was really surprised by how much I liked this one. I don’t know why it hasn’t been reissued since 1980. It felt like a proper gothic novel.

The Desecration of Susan Browning
Playboy Paperbacks – 1981

An up-and-coming film maker rescues a woman named Wanda Carmichael from getting raped. Turns out that Wanda’s in league with the devil, and she decides she wants the lad who saved her, so she puts a mind control spell on him. Susan, his wife, isn’t too pleased, so one of Wanda’s associates puts a love spell on her too. Both Susan and her husband are drawn towards people they absolutely hate by an insurmountable force of evil. Susan finds some reprieve when she meets Al Crabbe, a handsome priest who stows her away in a convent, but even he can’t stop the Devil’s powers. The novel ends with a mass gathering of Devil worshippers gathering for a Satanic baptism. Instead of being anointed with holy water, the baby, and probably Antichrist, is anointed with blood from a fresh castration wound. Fr. Crabbe sneaks into this ritual, and although he doesn’t manage to save Susan, he does wreck the party and make off with the baby. The novel ends with Fr. Crabbe looking at the baby and questioning his faith.

The Desecration of Susan Browning wasn’t as impressive a novel as Rhea in terms of plotting but it was still an enjoyable read. There’s less exposition here. While Rhea told the story of how the titular character fell in league with the devil, there’s not as much backstory to Wanda Carmichael. We don’t find out exactly how she has gotten to where she is today. While Rhea felt like a gothic mystery, The Desecration of Susan Browning is more of a thriller.

One of the few things we do find out about the novel’s antagonist is that she is a trans woman. This trashy horror novel was written in 1981, so this isn’t dealt with in particularly a sensitive manner.

There’s also a scene where a Satanist refers to Jesus as a “suckass”. LOL.

The Devil and Lisa Black
Playboy Press – 1982

I’ve seen this described as both a sequel and prequel to Susan Browning, but I think the more appropriate way to describe this book would be as an appendix to its predecessor. Lisa Black is a minor character in The Desecration of Susan Browning. She’s an informant who has had a curse put on her that makes her think she’s hideously ugly. She’s an intriguing character, and if I hadn’t known she that she was going to show up again in a different book, I would have wondered why Martin introduced her.

About half of The Devil and Lisa Black is taken up with Lisa’s backstory. It’s pretty much what I’ve come to expect at this point. A beautiful young girl is bewitched and drawn into a circle of horny Satanists.

The other half of this book deals with Al Crabbe (the priest from the last book). He has abandoned the priesthood and is still looking after the baby he kidnapped from the Satanists (the baby whose high ranking Satanist mom was designated male at birth). Al’s luck takes a turn for the better, and he very quickly ends up with a high paying job, a nice house and several attractive sex slaves, one of whom is Lisa Black. Things get a bit weird for him after he starts seeing the ghosts of Susan Browning. I didn’t expect a happy ending from this one, and I didn’t get one.

It’s a bit of an odd book. The two strands share one character, but Lisa doesn’t really do much in the Al Crabbe part of the story. I mentioned above that I was impressed with how Martin strung the different threads of Rhea together into a cohesive whole and that I thought The Desecration of Susan Browning fell a little short of its predecessor. After reading The Devil and Lisa Black, I think that Russ Martin may have originally intended the the Lisa Black parts of this novel to be part of The Desecration of Susan Browning. They all take place before the events in that book, and they would make her inclusion there more understandable. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Martin’s publisher had convinced him to cut that stuff out and put it into another novel. I reckon the Al Crabbe stuff here was added on to fill up space.

While this is definitely the worst novel so far, it might also have been the sexiest. I’m pretty sure there’s more boobs in this one anyways. It also contains the greatest line in sleaze fiction history:

“I’ll make a deal with you, Mr. Crabbe,” she whispered. “I won’t ever call you Al in public. And you don’t ever call me a lady in private.

The Possession of Jessica Young
Tor – 1982/1988

This is the first of Martin’s books to be published by Tor.

While the 3 previous books featured relatively small cabals of Satanists, the Satanists in The Possession of Jessica Young are part of an international network referred to as The Organization. The Organization aims to bring about the reign of Satan on Earth. One of the highest ranking members in the Organization is a guy called Stephen Abbott. Part of his job is seeking out psychics who may somehow obstruct the Organization. The exact nature of how these psychics will do this is never really addressed.

Jessica Young is young and beautiful. She’s also the most powerful psychic the Organization have ever come across. She can kill people without touching them. At first Stephen Abbott does the ol’ mind control spell on her and gets her to kill her own family. Unfortunately for Abbott, her powers are so strong that she breaks the spell herself. Abbott is left with little choice but to lobotomise her. The lobotomy scene is pretty degrading and gross.

This book felt distinctly more mean spirited than its predecessors. This is less a novel about dashed hopes. It’s more a novel about suffering. Jessica has already killed her family by the time the book begins, and we’ve already come to understand that Martin’s books end in a worse place than where they began. Sure, the bad guys are Satanists and Jessica is psychic, but the occultism that kept Rhea exciting is entirely gone. This felt more like a book written for dudes who like the idea of having complete control over a woman. There’s a slight reprieve of misery at the very end of the book, but it doesn’t make up for what’s happened.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m just reading through these too quickly and I’m getting a bit tired of them, but I didn’t really enjoy this one very much.

The Obsession of Sally Wing
Tor – 1983/1988*

This is a direct sequel to The Possession of Jessica Young. Half the book won’t make sense unless you’ve read that book beforehand.

The plot is a bit of a mess at this stage.

Jessica Young was lobotomised at the end of the last novel, but her soul fled into her sisters body and took over. Her sister is obsessed by Stephen Abbott (the main man from the Organization), so this is tricky business. If Jessica gives her sister any control over her own body, she will turn themself in for a chance to see her loverboy. Half the novel tells the story of Jessica trying to gain access to Stephen Abbott, but when she gets close enough to kill him, she changes her mind and has a brief affair with him.

The other half of the novel is about a former child prostitute named Sally Wing. The Organization turns her into a vampire, and she kills a bunch of children. After she kills a child that the Organization had turned into an adult, the Organization loses its patience and has Sally raped and murdered. The Sally Wing part of the story has absolutely no overlap with the Jessica young part.

Sally feeds on fear rather than blood, and there’s one part where she does a really good job at scaring a little girl that I did not enjoy reading.

I was pretty surprised with how this one ended. There’s no revenge, but Jessica Young is not dead or evil yet.

*(I’m not sure about the publication date of the second version pictured above. Will Errickson and ISFDB say it’s from 1988, but my copy says first edition on the inside cover. This is extra confusing as it also lists The Education of Jennifer Parrish in the “Other titles by this author” section. That book wasn’t published until 1984 though… Probably just an error.)

The Education of Jennifer Parrish
Tor – 1984*

*(This cover is from 1988. I don’t know if there was ever a different cover for this one. There were alternate covers for the other 2 Tor novels.)

Like The Obsession of Sally Wing, this book has two almost entirely separate storylines. This is the third book dealing with the saga of Jessica Young and Stephen Abbott. It also introduces a brand new scenario and cast of characters.

Jennifer Parrish, a teenager, tries to kill a rapist, so she’s forced into a military-style boarding school that’s owned by the Satanic Organization. Why would Satanists run a school? Well, when a high ranking Satanist gets old, they visit the school, pick out an attractive student and then forcibly trade bodies with them. The procedure doesn’t initially work on Jennifer because she’s a virgin, but the Organization figures out a way to remedy this.

Stephen Abbott’s failure to subdue Jessica Young by the end of the previous book has got him in big trouble with the Organization. He is told that if he doesn’t get her under his control, he will be obsessed by a sadistic woman that he hates. He manages to have sex with Jessica at least once more, but despite his pleas, she runs away and allows him to become obsessed.

Jennifer Parrish dies, but she only took up half a book. Jessica Young escapes, and her tormentor from the first book in this trilogy is in a far worse position than her. Martin doesn’t tell us where Jessica is going to go or what she’s going to do next, and Abbott is obsessed, but Jessica has the power to cancel an obsession, so although the ending to this book is tidier than its predecessors, it does not rule out a continuation of the story. Unfortunately, no further books in this series were ever published.

The Resurrection of Candy Sterling
Playboy Press – 1982

This is by far the hardest Russ Martin novel to find. Some of the others go for ridiculous prices, but I have never even seen a copy of this for sale online. I left it till last because I taught it was written last, but it turns out that this was actually published 2 months after The Devil and Lisa Black. This was Martin’s last novel on Playboy Press, and this publisher shut down shortly after it was released, so there were probably fewer copies of this printed than the others.

If you are reading Martin’ books due to an interest in Satanism in literature, you can skip this one. This deals with a cult, but nothing Satanic. Let me tell you, it’s easier to stomach sadism if the perpetrator is supposed to be a worshipper of evil. Having normal people perform acts of brutal sexual violence makes it much nastier.

Candy Sterling is a stupid prostitute. I don’t mean to imply that prostitutes are stupid. Candy is both a prostitute and an imbecile. She joins a cult led by a mysterious figure known as “The Prophet”. This Prophet guy convinces rich people to give him all their money and then spend the rest of their lives working on his farm or, if they are beautiful teenage girls, working in his mansion.

This is where the commonality with Martin’s other books shines through. The Prophet has absolute control over his followers. They will do anything he tells them to. Candy is mugged while in his service, but she refuses to give his money to the mugger even after he brutally assaults her. The mugger is so impressed with her fortitude that he joins the cult himself. (His reasoning here is never fully explained.)

Soon enough, Candy and her mugger are married and given the special job of murdering apostates of the cult. It quickly becomes apparent that Candy is the more unstable of the two when she tortures a family of rape victims to death. She later leads her husband back to the the scene of this murder and then shoots him in the head while he is performing cunnilingus on her.

Honestly, if sexual violence isn’t your thing, avoid this book. It was surprisingly extreme.

Having read Martin’s other novels, there’s something disquieting about the focus on brainwashing and power relations in here. You don’t write 7 erotic novels heavily featuring the same kind of kink if you’re not into that kink yourself. But Candy Sterling is not the kind of story you should be wanking too. This is a grim read, and the sincerity of the eroticism made me feel a bit dirty. Even JR Parz gave this one a negative review.

Ok, so if you haven’t been paying attention, let me sum up the sequence of these books. Rhea and The Resurrection of Candy Sterling are standalone texts. The Desecration of Susan Browning and The Devil and Lisa Black are a pair. The Possession of Jessica Young, The Obsession of Sandy Wing, and The Education of Jennifer Parrish are the first three books in an unfinished series.

These are novels about Satanists and black magicians, but most of the occult rituals occur behind closed doors. The Satanism on display is of the trashy horror novel variety. The essay in Satanic Panic about these novels is probably a better place to look if you want some commentary on how they reflect the social values of when they were written. I read them for enjoyment, and they got the job done. Rhea was definitely the best; if you’re going to read any of them, make it that one. The others are varying degrees of ok, definitely not worth the prices that some sellers are asking for them.

Phew, I think this might be the longest post I’ve written. I hope it was entertaining/elucidating. If anyone has any information about Russ Martin, please leave a comment or email me.

T.E.D. Klein’s The Ceremonies and Dark Gods

At this stage, T.E.D. Klein is probably more famous for what he hasn’t written than what he has written. He put out a novel in 1984 and a collection of novellas in 1985. Both were well received, but he hasn’t released anything to speak of since before I was born. He’s not dead. He didn’t suffer a debilitating brain injury. He hasn’t been kidnapped. He just has writer’s block.

Despite his minimal output, Klein is considered by many to be one of the greatest horror writers of the latter 20th century. It was high time I checked him out.

The first thing I read by Klein was his story The Events at Poroth Farm. It’s about an academic who rents a room in the countryside during the summer to help him prepare for a course he’s going to be teaching on gothic horror. Some creepy parasite gets into his landlord’s cat, and things get nasty for everyone. I enjoyed the story plenty. Klein went on to expand this tale into a novel called The Ceremonies. After reading The Events at Poroth Farm, I deliberately waited half a year to move on to the novel, and although I saw certain parts coming, I feel like I put enough distance between the two stories to let them both really shine.

The Ceremonies
Bantam – 1985 (Originally published 1984)

The Ceremonies is awesome. I’ve read reviews that say it’s bloated and that the short story is better, but the people who wrote those reviews are wrong. This is 555 pages of deadly.

This time, the parasite isn’t just after the academic. It’s out to destroy the world. There’s a brilliant mix of folk and cosmic horror at play here. The writing is great too. The characters are all likeable in their own quirky ways, and some of the sequences here are genuinely creepy.

The fact that one of the central characters is a horror fiction nerd made this book especially enjoyable, and I reckon The Ceremonies will be the most influential book on my to-read this year. To my great shame, there’s a few books mentioned in here that I haven’t yet read. I think I’ll do a separate post on “The Ceremonies Reading List” after I get through those. The only text that I would recommend you read before reading this one would be Arthur Machen’s The White People. That particular story is referenced quite a few times in here.

Honestly, I loved this book. It was exactly what I needed in my life when I started reading it.



Dark Gods
Bantam – 1986 (Originally published 1985)

This is Klein’s second book, but 3 out of its four stories had been published before The Ceremonies came out. These four novellas are of the highest caliber. The stories are masterfully crafted, and the writing goes down real smooth. I have seen this described as “literary horror”, and while it is certainly very classy stuff, it’s also very, very readable. Aside from Lovecraftian themes, this has nothing to do with that other book with the same title.

Petey is the story of a housewarming party that turns sour when somebody busts out a deck of old tarot cards. I have seen a few people claim this is the weakest tale in the collection, but I really liked it.

Children of the Kingdom
This is almost like a modern sequel to Bulwer Lytton’s Vril. I thought it was great.

The Black Man with a Horn
I knew that this was supposed to be a tale of the Cthulhu Mythos, but I assumed that meant it had Lovecraftian elements. No. This is very much a continuation of Lovecraft’s work. It was awesome. It was a few weeks after finishing this story that I read all of the Cthulhu Mythos fiction of Frank Belknap Long. Not only was Franky the model for the narrator of this story, but this tale has some striking similarities to Long’s novel The Horror From the Hills.

Nadelman’s God
This story features heavy metal, blasphemy, an S&M club and a murderous golem made out of garbage and broken glass. If that doesn’t make you want to read it, I genuinely don’t know what you’re doing reading this blog. Go away.

I don’t think I have a favourite story from Dark Gods. They’re all really well written, and there’s horrifying moments in each. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Both The Ceremonies and Dark Gods are essential reading for horror fans. T.E.D, Klein is a masterful writer, but he needs to get the finger out.

Black Harvest – Ann Cheetham (Ann Pilling)

Black Harvest – Ann Cheetham
Armada – 1983


“A novel about a haunted house in Ireland? Yes. I will read that.”

Those were my thoughts when I first heard of Ann Pilling’s Black Harvest. After looking it up, I discovered that it was the first in a series of five “young adult” novels. I’m afraid of commitment, so I don’t really like series, and I’m also a grown man, so I don’t read YA. When I skimmed the reviews on goodreads, I noticed that several mention that this is very scary for a book aimed at teenagers, so I decided to give it a go.

This is not just a horror story set in Ireland. This is supernatural story about the horrors of the Irish Potato Famine.

The worst year of the Irish Potato Famine was 1847. That’s long enough ago that not even my great grandparents would have been directly affected by it. Intergenerational trauma is a real thing, but the Great Hunger of 170 years ago never caused me any suffering until last week when I picked up this book.

Jesus Christ, this was a pile of shit.

I usually get through 2 books a week. This piece of crap is less than 200 pages, and it took me 8 days to finish it. The writing is excruciating. I struggled to read more than a chapter each night. Wretched stuff.

A family decides to spend their holiday in a cottage in the Irish countryside. When they arrive, their baby sister won’t stop crying, and the kids all feel hungry. Every piece of food they bring into their cottage rots immediately. When the kids go outside, they see very skinny ghosts eating muck and trying to trade dead babies for food. Their mom goes crazy and abandons them.

It turns out the house is haunted because some famine victims are buried under it. The kids exhume their corpses, and the skinny ghosts go away.

At the end of the book, the author notes that when she was commissioned to write this novel she was “uneasy about horror novels. Horror was a genre [she] associated with “pulp”, with cheap, overblown writing where the author stands on tiptoe throughout to achieve ghastly effects. [She] associated it with mutants and ectoplasm, a world in which [she] had no interest.” In other words, she didn’t have any understanding of horror whatsoever, but she was convinced that she could do better than the hacks who wrote within that pathetic genre. She then goes on to say, “I decided that any spine-chilling story I might attempt would have to be rooted in reality. In The Great Hunger I found it”

So The Great Hunger is actually a non fiction book about the Irish Potato Famine. Let’s step back and think about what Ann Pilling has chosen to do here:

In Black Harvest, the author takes the suffering of poor Irish people and turns it into the main attraction at her “spine-chilling” fun fair. The events the kids witness in this story actually happened to real people. More than a million people died because they didn’t have enough to eat, and Ann Pilling decided to use their suffering to give her teenage readers a quick scare.

To Pilling, horror is uninteresting because it’s not rooted in reality. Personally, I enjoy reading horror because it is not reality. Reality is way more fucked up than any fiction. Frankenstein isn’t really horrifying. What the Catholic church did to children is horrifying. I don’t mind reading a story about a monster killing a kid, but I absolutely do not want to read a story about a priest doing the same thing. That’s not entertaining. It’s real, and it’s horribly depressing.

Maybe Pilling meant well, but this book fails on every level. I will not be reading the other books in the series. If you find a copy of this book, avenge Skibbereen by tearing it up and recycling the paper.

Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke – Eric LaRocca

I joined twitter to network with other book nerds and find out about cool horror novels. When the people I follow post about non book stuff, I often want to make fun of them. Dorks. If I follow you on twitter and you’re reading this, it’s probably you I’m talking about. Dial it back a notch, you little geek. To the people who just exclusively post about sick books, thank you.

Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke – Eric LaRocca
Weirdpunk Books – 2021


A while back, I saw somebody tweet about this book. I usually ignore stuff about new releases, but this cover grabbed me. I actually clicked on the link for a closer look. I saw somebody else post about the book soon thereafter. It popped up again a little while later. There seemed to be a lot of hype building around this one, and my curiosity got the better of me. I decided to read it.

This is the story of two women who start a relationship over the internet in the early 2000s. Theirs is not a sexual relationship, and it would be a stretch to describe it as romantic. It’s a kind of consensual master/slave type thing. Zoe, the master, gets Agnes, the slave, to do some pretty messed up stuff, and Agnes doesn’t really make things any better. She seems like a real idiot to be honest.

I don’t want to give any more details away in case you read this, but it does get quite gross. This isn’t the kind of horror novel I’d recommend to my mom.

The story is presented through emails and chat logs, and this format reminded me of the interactions I used to have online during the early 2000s. My familiarity with internet perverts probably lessened the effect of the book for me. Aside from a note at the very beginning of the text that states that one of the characters is now dead, there’s nothing here that proves the characters are actually doing the things they say they’re doing. If I were to dig through my old MSN chat logs, I am sure I would find stuff equally as fucked up. Seriously, can you remember 2000s era internet? A/S/L?

The story was entertaining, but I found it a bit hard to believe that Agnes would accept the terms of the relationship so quickly. We’re talking lifelong dedication after a few days of chatting and a bit of money. I suppose I find it hard to imagine what life was like for a lonely lesbian 20 years ago. It was probably tough, but I doubt many of them were as desperate as this. There are a lot of sickos out there though. Who knows?

This is a very short book; it felt more like a short story than a novella to me, but I enjoyed it while I was reading it. I’d consider reading more LaRocca in the future.

Scatology – Sea Caummisar

Everybody wants to be the best, but there’s about 8 billion people in the world now, and doing anything better than all of those people is pretty damn tough. At the same time, given the amount of people that we’re competing against, it’s also an achievement to be the worst at something.

When I saw the cover of this book, I knew I was looking at an absolute. I am entirely confident in saying that this splatterpunk novella has the worst cover of any book in existence. Now splatterpunk is an “extreme” genre, and I’ve included splatterpunk books before with suitably outrageous covers that were designed to revolt, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. It’s not just the idea behind this cover that’s awful; the execution is also comically inept. The original cover is so gross that I’m only going to embed an edited version in this post. This is a classy blog after all.

Original image here. (You might not even notice the difference.)

Yes. The actual cover of this book is a photograph of some shit and piss in a toilet bowl. It’s clearly a real photograph. There has been no photoshopping or trying to make it look arty or anything. Somebody used their phone to take a picture of their poo before they wiped their bum, and the picture ended up on the cover of a book. The title of the book is presented in the most childish looking typeface imaginable, and the text is all brown.

I did a reverse image search on the cover, and I could not find the original photograph without the text. I didn’t look super hard, but the lack of a match suggests that the image was not the result of a google search. It seems more likely that it was actually taken for the cover of the book. Did the mysterious Sea Caummisar take a picture of her own turds for the cover of her book? As gross as that seems, I would have more respect for a person who would do that than I would for a person who would get somebody else to do it for them.

Ok, I’ve talked enough about the book’s shitty cover. What about the book itself?

I actually have mixed feelings about it.

I try not to be judgemental about what happens between two consenting adults, but poo eating is really fucking gross. I don’t like thinking about it. I mean, obviously, it’s really, really funny that people do it, but I only ever want to think of it in terms of humour. Reading about people getting off to poo made me feel a bit sick. At one point near the beginning of the book when the protagonist is rubbing poo over a prostitute’s tits, I started to wonder if this was actually just shit-porn that had been mistakenly labelled horror. I was grossed out, so I took a break and came back to it a few hours later.

I’m glad I did because the next part of the book was actually really funny. The story is about Luke, a scat fetishist who meets a prostitute who lets him rub shit on her. He is jealous of her junky boyfriend, so he kidnaps him to get him out of the picture. While strung out and tied up in the back of Luke’s car, the junky boyfriend shits his britches. When Luke notices, he gets a huge boner, and a lot of the rest of the book consists of Luke wondering if getting off on “man crap” makes him gay. I laughed whenever this came up, and it came up quite a bit. The very blunt use of language made it all the funnier:

“Luke enjoyed the smell of the man’s messed pants and removed them for his own keeping.”

“After telling himself that enjoying a man’s poo didn’t make him gay, he raised the pants to his nose and inhaled a deep whiff.”

“It [a corpse’s mouth] wasn’t warm or wet, but the thought of her poo breath caused him to instantly blow his load down her throat”

Like I said, I think that people eating poo is really gross, but I also think it’s the root of all good comedy. I had a hearty chuckle at these and many other lines in this book. I’m laughing as I write this. “messed pants”…classic!

The book itself is gross-out trash, but it made me laugh quite a few times. Sea Caummisar has written a lot of books, and she publishes them herself as far as I can tell. The cover of this book sucks, but this is a DIY release. The ineptitude is part of the charm. I don’t like reviewing new books because I’m always afraid that the author will see what I’ve written and feel disheartened. Sea Caummisar, if you read this review and think I’m a dickhead, you’re right. I am a dickhead, but I got a good laugh out of your book, and I sincerely hope you continue to write horror. I was in no way disappointed by this book, and I am glad I read it. Here’s a link to Sea’s books on Amazon for anyone who’s interested.