The Strange Books of Kenneth Rayner Johnson

Kenneth Rayner Johnson was an occult scholar, an alchemist, and a writer of trashy horror paperbacks. Despite the fact that he was obviously a super interesting individual, there’s barely any information about him online. The search for this information is hugely complicated by the fact that there are several authors called Ken Johnson who write about occulty/Biblical stuff and a different Kenneth R. Johnson who is an expert on science-fiction pornography. Goodreads is currently attributing half of Kenneth Rayner Johnson’s books to these other authors. I have spent the last 6 months piecing together as much accurate information about this lad as I could find, and I am excited to share these findings with the world. Kenneth Rayner Johnson worked as a journalist in the 60s. He lived most of his life in the UK, but spent some time in Canada (I wish I knew where!) Most of his books were published in the late 70s/early 80s. These books are a curious mix of B-movie novelisations, bizarre works of occultism and paperback horror novels. I did not manage to read all of his books, but I got through the important ones.

Let’s start with the novels.

The Succubus
NEL 1980

First published in 1977, The Succubus, as far as I can know, was Johnson’s first original novel. I only figured out that it was largely based on a true story when I was halfway through it. In the 70s, an American woman kidnapped a Mormon, chained him to her bed and repeatedly raped him. When the story hit the news, it sent the media into a frenzy of sensationalism. This actually happened, and there’s even a critically acclaimed documentary movie about it.

Kenneth Rayner Johnson took the story of “The Manacled Mormon” and threw in a rapist demon. It’s an entertaining read, but I felt very let down by the ending.

The book starts at the court case. Candice Maltman is found not guilty by reason of insanity and is sentenced to a stay in a fancy madhouse. She is very clearly still in love with Troy Valens, the dude she raped. Troy runs out of the courtroom and straight to his friends house. When he goes to bed that night, he is visited by a ghostly woman who gives him a good ride. She comes back for a shag every night after this. At first he thinks she is just a crazy sex fiend, but then he realises she’s a ghost or something. As this is happening, Candice is acting very strangely at the mental asylum. Her brainwaves are all over the place, and it seems like she’s asleep when she’s awake and awake when she’s asleep.

This part of the book was really enjoyable. There was lots of sex and supernatural suspense. It is hinted that Candice had made some forays into occultism before abducting Troy, and I was assuming that she had summoned some kind of demon that was helping her astrally rape him or something. This would have been great. Unfortunately this is not what’s actually happening.

Next paragraph contains spoilers. Skip it if you’re planning to read the book.

Actually, the evil spirit that is raping is actually the demon Lillith. The idiot who previously lived in the apartment where Troy is staying had summoned her years ago and never banished her. He was never able to see her because the numerical value of the letters in his name are different to the numerical values of the letters in “Lillith”. Troy and Lillith’s numerical values are the same so he can see her. Somehow, and this is absolutely never explained, Lillith has also been hiding in Candice’s body, even though she is miles away in a mental hospital and has never entered the room that Lillith has been trapped in for years. Fucking stupid. It doesn’t make any sense. The whole time you’re waiting for some kind of explanation for the initial kidnapping, but that part is purely incidental to the succubus stuff. This is a book about a man who gets raped by two entirely separate females that eventually become the same female for absolutely no reason.

Kenneth Rayner Johnson was pretty heavily into the occult as far as I can tell, and he references plenty of books that I’ve reviewed on here. Seabrook, Summers, Sinistrari, Maple… but well researched as he may be, I am not sure about the veracity of some of his claims.

There is one part where Johnson claims that Saint Aloysius Gonzaga masturbated himself to death. I love reading about Saints and Popes who have done messed up stuff, and I had to check this out. I’m pretty sure that Ken just made this one up. He references Butler’s Lives of the Saints as his source for this information, but I checked a couple of editions of that book and neither mentioned death by wanking. They actually claim that Saint Gonzaga died of a disease he contracted while tending to sick people. He is believed (by some) to have lived his entire life without committing a mortal sin, and he’s known for his devotion to chastity. I’m always down to trash Christianity, and I think it’s hilarious if Kenneth Rayner Johnson was being deliberately offensive here, but I am also very, very intrigued. Are there any other sources that claim that Saint Gonzaga died from wanking? I can’t find any online, so I asked the experts. I still haven’t gotten a response.

Like I said, I really enjoyed most of this book. It’s just the ending that’s absolutely shit and stupid.

The Homunculus
NEL – 1982

I have wanted to read this novel ever since coming across it while working on my lengthy post about Aleister Crowley’s attempt to make a homunculus. There’s not much info about Johnson’s The Homunculus online, but the cover is a thing of beauty. Look at it there. Fantastic.

There’s a weird cult called Supra Obscurans in London, and it’s led by a 9 year old homunculus with a massive cock. He plans to take over the world by impregnating a bunch of English women with his demon spawn. Things are going well for this lil’ pipsqueak until he kidnaps the girlfriend of a hologram scientist.

The story for this one was pure shit, and the characters were flat and uninteresting. The Homunculus is not a good novel.

I’ve read a quite a bit about creating a homunculus, and Kenneth Rayner Johnson obviously did too. Aside from the cover, the coolest thing about this book is the fact that the author clearly had a serious interest in the occult. Each chapter begins with a quote, and while most of these are from Nostradamus or The Bible, there were some from Crowley’s Book of the Law, Maugham’s The Magician and Kenneth Grant’s The Magical Revival (apparently Grant and Johnson were buddies). Johnson also repeatedly references Paracelsus. Reading through these bits made me feel like a knowledgeable wizard, but they didn’t save the book from being shit.

The novel ends on Glastonbury Tor, the place where Anthony Roberts would mysteriously die 7 years after its publication. I mention this because I believe I read something about a link between Johnson and Roberts a long time ago, but I can’t remember where I read it. They would have been working in the same circles at roughly the same time, so they may well have known each other.

Johnson apparently intended to release a third “Satanic” novel, but this never happened. His next and final major work of fiction was quite different.

The Cheshire Cat
Dell – 1983

Allison, a photographer, dumps her rockstar boyfriend when she’s 8 months pregnant and moves to some small town in Wales for a bit of a holiday before the baby is born. The manager of the hotel she’s staying is the leader of a Theosophist cult, and most of the people staying at the hotel are mothers and daughters who belong to this cult.

One of the guys who helps take care of this gang of little girls is an epileptic named Trevor Lewis. He makes friends with Allison. The only other guest at the hotel is a professor who is often seen arguing with the hotel manager.

It turns out that the entire neighbourhood is haunted by the ghost of Lewis Carroll, the guy who wrote Alice in Wonderland. Despite what some of his naïve fans claim, Lewis Carroll was undoubtedly a dodgy paedophile in real life, and I was a bit apprehensive that a fictional portrayal of him would try to make him out to be a good person. This book does no such thing. He’s not just a paedophile here; he’s also a psychopath. He’s the creepiest paedophile ghost with a speech impediment since Stephen King’s Library Policeman.

I actually really enjoyed reading this book, but I only finished it 10 minutes before writing this, and there’s so many things about it that didn’t make sense. There’s the whole spiritualism/theosophy thing going on, and while the haunting part kinda fits in with that, Charles “the paedophile” Dodgson doesn’t really come across as a Mahatma or Master of Wisdom here. The Cheshire Cat, which briefly appears a couple of times, is also referred to as a Guardian at the Threshold. It’s implied that some of the creatures from Alice in Wonderland are coming to life, but that side of things is never fleshed out.

There’s another part where Allison stumbles across a house with a pair of ugly women and a screaming baby in a cottage in the woods. This seemed like that scene with the Duchess and the pig from Alice in Wonderland, but it doesn’t add anything to the story apart from confusion.

Perhaps the most confusing part of the book is the Trevor Lewis character. A big deal is made out of the fact that this guy has epilepsy, and this is something that the real Lewis Carroll suffered from. Look at his name too. I think there’s even a part where it’s suggested that Trevor has a mild stutter, just like Lewis Carroll. I kept expecting him to be Carroll’s great-grandson or maybe possessed by Carroll or something.

I really liked the fact that this book attempts to sully Lewis Carroll’s reputation. The pacing is good too. Lots of stuff happens in these 330 pages. Aside from that, this book is quite ridiculous. It doesn’t make much sense at all.

The only other original fiction written by Johnson that I know of was a short story called ‘Pelican’ that was included in the Summer 1995 edition of Terminal Frights magazine. I have not been able to find a copy of this. Please contact me if you have one or if you know of any other fiction written by Johnson.

Before writing his own original novels, Johnson wrote 3 novelisations. The first of these was for a 1973 Italian movie called The Last Snows of Spring. It’s about a neglected 10 year old kid who dies of leukemia. The tagline of the book reads “Daddy, there’s so little time.” There is a 0% chance of me ever reading this book. Jesus Christ. As far as I can tell, the book came out 2 years after the movie. Johnson also did a novelisation of Blue Sunshine (1977), a horror movie about LSD that turns people in murderers. I didn’t feel any great desire to track this one down.

In fact, the only novelisation by Johnson that I bothered with was Zoltan, Hound of Dracula from 1977. It actually seems to be the best known of all Johnson’s books. There was 3 separate editions of this book, all with different names. (It also goes by Dracula’s Dog and just Hounds of Dracula.) It’s about Dracula’s dog, so I had to read it.

All three editions of this novel contain text that reads “now a motion picture” on their covers. This would suggest that the movie was based on the book, but that’s not true. Both the movie and the novel were based on Frank Ray Perilli’s screenplay. It seems as though film companys thought it would help novel sales if people believed the book was so good a movie was made of it. (The same trick was also performed on the covers of Johnson’s other novelisations.)

This book is a piece of crap to be honest, but I enjoyed it well enough. It’s short, and too silly to get upset over. Some Romanian soliders unearth the Dracula family’s tomb, but they burn all of the vampires inside except for the servant vampire and his dog. These two loyal servants are left in an awkard position: they no longer have a master as all the Dracula family are gone.

Or are they?

No. It turns out that Dracula’s great-great-great-great-grandson moved to America and changed his name to Drake. The vampire and vampire dog head across the Atlantic to find him. When they arrive, they discover that their future master (who is not a vampire) is camping with his family. They really want this guy to tell them what to do, so they try to make him a vampire too. Their plans are complicated when a Romanian military officer comes over and tells Drake about the trouble he is in. The way in which the American man accepts the fact that an evil dog is trying to make him a vampire is pretty funny. He doesn’t get surprised or ask any questions. It seems like a perfectly natural course of events for him.

I finished the book in one sitting, and I was reasonably entertained. I thought about watching the movie version for comparison’s sake, but after skimming through it I decided not to. I don’t mind wasting 3 hours of my time reading through an awful novel, but I will be damned if I waste an hour and a half on a shitty movie. (This always happens to me. I should probably watch the movies before reading the novelisations in future.)

Part of what makes Johnson such an alluring person is that he was not just a fiction writer. He also published several peculiar books on occult phenomenon.

In 1975 a mysterious book called The Zarkon Principle appeared. It was written by a myterious weirdo named Zarkon, and it presented information about ancient aliens and predictions for the future. I haven’t read the book, but from what I have read about it, it seems that most of its predictions did not come true. It seems pretty similar to some other books that I have read, that whole fantastic-realism movement that I can’t stomach anymore.

In 1996, a new version of The Zarkon Principle was put out by Creation Books. It was retitled Armageddon 2000. This book confirmed that Zarkon was actually Kenneth Rayner Johnson.

Armageddon 2000 claimed that the world was dying and would definitely die soon.

It also claimed that ancient civilisations knew a lot and had very surprising technology. Many of these civilisations had stories featuring gods travelling in eggs. These eggmen were probably aliens who came to earth. Ancient religious texts say we come from clay. We probably do; ever hear of primordial soup? Who told us these clay stories? Aliens.

I could not bring myself to finish this book. Like the original Zarkon book, this one is full of predictions. Now, 26 years after it was published, few of these predicitons have come true.

Johnson published The Ancient Magic of the Pyramids in 1977. He also edited Robert Scrutton’s pair of 1979 books on the lost conintent of Atland (The Other Atlantis and Secrets of Lost Atland) and Scrutton’s 1982 The Message of the Masters. These all seem like pseudo-sciencey nonsense, so I didn’t try to track any of them down.

The Fulcanelli Phenomenon
Spearman – 1980

Of all Johnsons books, this is probably the most sought after. I think it’s a pretty important book in the field of Fulcanelli research, and despite my disdain for alchemy, I was mildly intrigued.

As far as I know, nobody has ever turned lead into gold, and alchemy’s greatest achievement was when Paracelcus made a goblin in a pooey bottle. Fulcanelli was some French dude who wrote two books about the alchemical symbolism inherent in gothic architecture. He is best known for appearing in Pauwel and Bergier’s very stupid Morning of the Magicians. There’s a bunch of stupid stories about this lad. Apparently he went missing for 30 years and then showed up looking younger than he did when he was last seen. He also took one of his students to a magic castle in Spain where they travelled back in time and Fulcanelli changed his gender overnight. Nobody really knows who this lad was, and I, for one, don’t care. Johnson’s book is half the history of alchemy, half the legend of Fulcanelli. The author is clearly very passionate about this stuff, but this wasn’t enough to keep me interested, and I ended up skimming huge sections of this book.

My favourite thing about this book was the helpful list of Johnson’s other books included before the text. I tried contacting the people mentioned in the thank-you section here to see if I could track Johnson down, but none of the people on facebook with the same names as his thanks-yous responded.

Creation Books planned to release an updated version of The Fucanelli Phenomenon called The Immortal in 1996, but from what I can tell, it was never actually published.

According to Greenmantle magazine, Johnson also ghost wrote the autobiography of Lady Dowding, a wealthy theosophist, and animal rights activist. There are two autobiographies of Dowding, Beauty: Not the Beast An Autobiography (1980) and The Psychic Life of Muriel, Lady Dowding: An Autobiography (1982), but these might well be the same book with different titles. I can’t pretend I have any interest in reading them in any case.

Aside from these books, Johnson wrote articles for several occult magazines including The Hermetic Journal, Rapid Eye, and Greenmantle. He also contributed articles to the legendary encyclopedia of occultism, Man, Myth and Magic and other occult themed collections. He worked as a journalist from the 60s, so I’m sure there’s lot more of his writing out there. In Zoltan he introduces a chapter with a quote from an interview he did with Christopher Lee. I’d love to read that one!

In truth, none of Johnson’s books were good enough to cement his reputation as an amazing writer. The novels I read were all enjoyable at points, but they were all pretty silly too. His non-fiction is outdated, and I found it unbearable to read. Regardless of this, I still think Kenneth Rayner Johnson was a pretty cool guy. I spent a lot time trying to track him down while I was working on this post, but after emailing an old publisher of his, I discovered that Ken Johnson died of cancer in 2011. Once I knew he was dead, I googled his obituary and found an article about him in an old edition of Greenmantle. That article provided me with some of the biographical details I’ve included here and the only picture of Mr. Johnson on the internet:

Kenneth Rayner Johnson
1942-2011

Asamatsu Ken’s Kthulhu Reich

Kthulhu Reich – Asamatsu Ken
Kurodahan Press – 2019

This is a book of short stories by Asamatsu Ken, a Japanese horror author who specialises in Lovecraftian horror. I had intended for Robert Bloch or Robert E. Howard to be the next Cthulhu Mythos I read, but saw this and could not resist the promise of a Cthulhu Nazi crossover. Although the book was published in 2019, I believe all of the stories were written in the late 1990s.

The first story in here is a fairly straightforward reincarnation tale. I wasn’t super impressed. It wasn’t very Lovecrafty. The second story was about some some Nazis looking for the Mask of Yoth Tlaggon. This had an evil wizard and some spirits. It was better than the first story. I really liked how the author uses footnotes to include information on real historical events, occult theories and his own fictional characters. I enjoy the blatant disregard for the boundary between fact and fiction. The next story was basically At The Mountains of Madness with Nazis. It was pretty good.

Things got really interesting for ‘April 20th, 1889’, the 4th tale in the collection. It’s about Jack the Ripper teaming up with Nyarlathotep to summon the unborn Hitler. This is an utterly ridiculous combination, but it works. The next two stories are about Nazis getting attacked by Dracula and Dagon. I loved them. The final story, ‘Dies Irae’, is a mixture of historical fiction and the weird crustacean creatures from the The Whisperer in the Darkness.

I really enjoyed this collection.

The first story is not awful, but I reckon it’s the weakest. As I was reading it, I started thinking about why I enjoy Lovecraftian fiction. I like the pessimism in Howard’s writing, but I also enjoy his style. I know some people hate how long winded and archaic his writing is, but I don’t. This style is altogether absent in Kthulhu Reich, a translation of a modern mythos writer, and I needed the author to make up for this somehow. Fortunately, these ludicrous stories that weave in different historical figures, aspects of occultism and Lovecraftian entities were quite sufficient. You have to be careful with modern Cthulhu Mythos fiction. I know there’s lots of kitschy, cutesey Cthulhu stories out there right now. Fuck that. Ken’s stories are bonkers, but there’s a darkness behind them that keeps things legit. I would be happy to read more of Asamatsu Ken’s books in the future.

Sorry for the recent lack of posts. I have a few big articles I’m working on, and I’d rather work on those than pump out quick reviews of shit books nobody cares about.

2021, The Year in Review

2021 was an eventful year for me. I had a lot less free time than in years previous, and I wasn’t able to put as much effort into this blog. I published my lowest amount of posts since 2017, and those that I did publish were generally a bit shorter than what I used to put out. Sorry dear readers. It’s been hard juggling a family, a full time job, a nervous breakdown and a blog about creepy books.

When I started doing annual review posts, I used to link to my 10 favourite posts of the year. I stopped doing that for a few years because I was finding it difficult to limit myself to 10 posts, but this year 10 noteworthy posts almost seems like a stretch.

10. The Lovecraftian horror fiction of Frank Belknap Long
I got the bottom of the convoluted publishing history of The Hounds of Tindalos collections.

9. Joe R. Lansdale’s God of the Razor stories
I started off reading a novel and ended up reading comics for the first time in years. It was a good time.

8. Adventures in Sleep Paralysis
Welcome to my nightmare.

7. Edward Jarvis’s Maggots
This is a rare and sought after paperback because of its rotten cover. I got my hands on a copy and actually read it.

6. Bram Stoker’s The Lair of the White Worm
This is an old and relatively well known book, but I went all in with this review.

5. Keeping Politics out of Satanism
A few years ago, I think I thought Satanism was cool. Not anymore.

4. The Ingoldsby Legends
The first and last time I will ever write a review in the form of a poem.

3. Scatology
My attempt at giving an indie author some well deserved coverage.

2. The Sexy Mind Control Novels of Russ Martin
This one took a lot of work, and as far as I know is the most detailed piece of writing on Martin’s novels in existence.

1. Putting a Curse on my Noisy Neighbour
I spent the first half of 2021 living under an arrogant prick. This is an account of how I set my revenge in motion.

Looking back at this list, it becomes apparent that I actually preferred writing non-book-review posts this year. My favourite post, the one about the neighbour, is my favourite because it felt properly creative. I love books and still enjoy reading as much as ever, but I’m a bit bored reading horror novels and feeling like I have to churn out a review by the end of the week. It has been feeling more like an obligation than a hobby recently .

I’m not giving up, but I’m going to think about ways to make the blog more interesting for me to keep. I’m not entirely sure how this will work. I might try a few more opinion pieces on the horror genre or occult phenomena. I was mostly reading for pleasure this year, and I found it hard to stick to any kind of research, but that might change next year. Whatever I decide to write about, it will almost definitely involve books.

Also, I didn’t publish any fiction this year, but I have been working on some recently. I’m going to try harder at this.

Anyways, here’s a bunch of books I read this year. If you want to read my reviews of them (or any one of the other 500 or so books I’ve written about), you can find links to each review on my index page.

My favourites of the year were probably The Ceremonies, The Crone, Children of the Black Sabbath, Familiar Spirit and The Flesh Eaters. Let’s Go Play at the Adams was by far the most disturbing. Mervyn Wall’s The Unfortunate Fursey and William Lindsay Gresham’s Nightmare Alley were also great books.

I only did a handful of non fiction books this year, and they were all terrible. When I have 40 minutes to myself a day, I don’t want to spend it reading stupid nonsense.

Well that does it for 2021. It was a shit year really, but I still got through more than 80 books. I wrote posts like this for 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020 if you’re interested. If you have any recommendations or questions, you can leave a comment, message me on twitter, or email me at dukederichleau666gmail.com.

Thanks for reading. I hope it has been somewhat interesting/entertaining. Happy new year.

Bill Garnett’s The Crone

The Crone – Bill Garnett
Saint Martin’s Press – 1987 (First published 1984)

When I saw the cover of this book, I knew I had to read it. A mangy, ugly hag with a knife? Sign me up! The plot is as ridiculous as I’d hoped it would be.

Magda Janosi, an extremely ugly and deformed Hungarian woman, cuts a chunk of flesh out of her leg, moulds it into the shape of a small person and then baptizes it in the blood from a self inflicted and lethal tear in her jugular vein. This disgusting lump becomes sentient and starts burrowing into other bodies, eating their insides and animating their corpses to wreak vengeance on the man who wronged Magda’s daughter.

Magda is clearly a witch, but aside from a brief backstory of her getting raped, the origins of her dark powers are never revealed. That’s fine though. This isn’t the kind of book where you need things explained.

I don’t know anything about the author, and I’m not saying he was a sexist, but the protagonist of this novel definitely is. He rides his secretary, and when she falls for him, he breaks up with her by calling her a “pathetic whore” and threatening to “knock her shitless”. The way he thinks about his wife is pretty nasty too. All in all, he comes across as really horrible, and I think the reader is supposed to be half-rooting for his destruction, so maybe the book isn’t as mysogonistic as its main character. Then again, this novel is called “The Crone”, and as far as I know, crone literally means ugly old woman. So much emphasis is put on how physically unattractive Magda is, and her appearance has no real importance at all. She’s really wrecked though; even her own daughter can’t look at her. I’ve thought about this for a while, and I don’t really understand why it was so important for the reader to know how abhorrently hideous she was.

I though the build up of the story was the best part. Once the monster is ready to kill, the guy it’s trying to kill goes on a tour around the Middle East and North Africa. This allows the monster to attack in different ways, but the descriptions of each new city they visit made it feel a bit like the author was just trying to reach a page count.

Honestly, the whole book was very silly, but I found the story both fast paced and ridiculous enough to be thoroughly entertaining. This is pure trash, but I had a good time reading it.

Stephen King’s Pet Sematary

Pet Sematary – Stephen King
Doubleday – 1983

I haven’t read any Stephen King novels for a few years. 2 weeks ago I picked up Pet Sematary. I had seen the old movie version years ago, but I was not prepared for this book at all.

A family with two small kids moves into a house beside a busy road. Behind their house is a magical graveyard that brings whatever’s buried there back to life. The resurrected are altered though, altered for the worst. Even if you haven’t already read the book or seen the movie, you’ll probably be able to figure out what’s going to happen here.

King has claimed that Pet Sematary is the only book of his that actually scared him, but scary isn’t really the word I’d use to describe this. This is morbid. It’s a book about how people deal with death, specifically the death of a child.

I’ve mentioned it a few times, but I really don’t like reading about kids getting hurt. It’s too close to home. My kids are the same ages as the kids in this book, and I seriously wonder if some masochistic part of my subconscious was waiting until now to tell me to read it. I definitely found this more horrifying now than I would have if I had read it 10 years ago. I don’t know if that made it more or less enjoyable.

The inevitability of the plot is what makes this book so suspenseful. By the time you’re a quarter way through the book, you know full well where you’re going be at 3 quarters. You have to sit down and watch these poor bastards slowly suffer and disintegrate. It’s actually quite sadistic.

Pet Sematary is an effective novel, but I didn’t enjoy it as much I’ve enjoyed some of King’s other books. I’ll read another King novel next year.

The Fates and The Nightwalker – Thomas Tessier

I don’t think I’ve ever seen somebody bring up Thomas Tessier’s novels without saying how great they are. It also turns out that Tessier lived in Ireland for a while and even attended the same university as me, so I decided to give him a go earlier this year. I’ve only read two of his books, but both were enjoyable.

The Fates
Crossroads Press – 2019 (Originally published 1978)

Weird stuff starts happening in the town of Millville. A cow is torn apart, people are murdered in locked rooms, the Virgin Mary starts appearing to the local children… Read this book if you want to find out why.

The Fates was pretty good. It’s a science-fictiony horror novel that starts off with a high school teacher quoting James Joyce to his students. It’s hard for me not to enjoy that kind of thing.

The Nightwalker
Crossroads Press – 2018 (Originally published 1979)

I read this a few months ago and forgot to write anything down about it, so I don’t have a huge amount to say. I don’t need to say much though. This is the story of A Vietnam veteran who moves to London in the late 70s and becomes a punk and a werewolf. If that doesn’t make you want to read it, you have something desperately wrong with you. The book starts off with a man brutally assaulting his inconsiderate neighbour too, and anyone who reads this blog will probably remember why that might appeal to me. Some books have plots that make them sound great, but fall seriously short in the telling. This is not one of those books. It’s well written and super bloody. You should read it. You really should. The edition I read (well listened to actually) also includes, The Dreams of Doctor Ladybank, a story about a psychiatrist who dabbles in mind control. This story was also great.

I originally planned on reviewing more of Tessier’s books in this post, but I have a backlog of multibook posts, and I needed something to put out this week. I’ll read the rest of Tessier’s books in the future.

Duncan Ralston’s WOOM

Woom – Duncan Ralston
Shadow Work – 2016


When I was reading about Matthew Stokoes Cows a few days ago, I came across a comparison to this book. I had downloaded an audiobook version of WOOM a few months back, and seeing that it was very short, I decided to give it a go.

A weird lad invites a prostitute to a hotel room and tells her gross stories while he tries to stretch out her vagina. Some of the stories are pretty nasty, but nothing in here really surprised me. This is the second book in a row that I’ve finished that contains a scene where somebody kills themselves by a self-administered abortion. I assumed that the narrator was working himself up to some horrible climax where he would do something really nasty to the woman he is talking to, and I was quite disappointed to find that my assumption was entirely correct.

This book proudly claims to be extreme horror on the cover. I understand that extreme horror often contains rape scenes. Detailed descriptions of fictional rapes don’t really bother me, but I am sometimes bothered by how rape is used in transgressive fiction. This book, while well written and plotted out, is essentially the story of a man raping a prostitute. He rapes her in a particularly unpleasant manner, but the specifics of his actions didn’t disappoint me. It was the fact that the whole book is essentially just a lead up to a rape.

Again, I don’t mind authors using rape in their stories. There’s loads of ways that rape could be used in an extreme horror story. Using it as the punchline seems lazy.

Some might say that the horrible ending to the book is to make some profound statement on the unpleasantness of existence. Let’s Go Play at The Adams’ uses rape to effectively convey this message. I don’t think that WOOM is operating on that level though. It’s not that sophisticated. One of the chapters in here is about an exploding bumhole.

I actually did enjoy reading the book, and I think Ralston is a capable writer. The plotting here is quite impressive. I just really disliked the ending. I’d be willing to give Ralston another go.

The Ingoldsby Legends – A Review in the Spirit of the Work

The Ingoldbsy Legends – Richard Harris Barham
J.M. Dent & Co – 1898 (Originally published 1840)

Waded through some poems in The Ingoldsby Legends before dinnertime, & that was punishment enough.

T.E.D. Klein, The Ceremonies

Ted Klein wrote a novel called The Ceremonies
that mentions some other horror ficciones
(that’s Spanish for stories), and I, being me,
decided to seek out these tales with great glee,
for Klein’s a respected horror critic and author,
and taking his recommendations I oughta.
I’d already read Stoker and  Machen and Poe,
but some of the books in there I didn’t know,
so I set out to find them, though it might be a slog,
and vowed to review each of them on my blog.

Now Klein’s protagonist reads these dark tales
but encountering one, he verily fails
to finish, for it is too boring by far,
so he picks up instead a book about stars.
I promised myself I’d succeed where he failed,
so I opened the book and I slowly inhaled
to ready myself for some archaic prose
about witches and jackdaws and old spooky ghosts,
but soon my face puckered like I’d sucked on a lime,
for The Ingoldsby Legends is written in rhyme.

It popularized supernatural tales,
but to provide any frightening scenes it quite fails.
I pushed to get through it,  made several tries,
but this kind of writing, I truly despise;
it’s boring and British and repulsively twee.
It might feature spirits, but it isn’t for me.

Let this be a lesson, learn from my mistake,
and leave Ingoldsby’s Legends alone, for God’s sake.
Use your copy for toilet paper, don’t you think twice,
and please listen closely to these words of advice:
When writing ghost stories and tales (and reviews),
poetry isn’t the form you should use.

Shoved Down Your Throat and Shat Out Your Arse – Matthew Stokoe’s Cows

Cows – Matthew Stokoe
Creation Books – 1998

Happy Halloween! Here is one of the least Halloweeny horror novels I have ever read. I had this book on my to-read list for several years before getting around to it. I don’t really remember where or how I first heard of it, but I must have read a summary of it years ago because when I started it, I recognized some plot elements. That being said, I was actually quite unprepared for the extremity of this book. I really didn’t know it was going to be so gross.

It’s about a dude who lives with his abusive mother and crippled dog. This guy gets a job in a slaughterhouse, and everything goes to Hell. I enjoyed the first few chapters. The nastiness is so extreme from the beginning that it’s difficult to absorb. I know that the world is filled with sickos and abusive parents, but the book starts off so unpleasant that nothing ever feels real. The beginning feels nightmarish, but when the violence ramps up, the whole thing starts to feel silly.

The point at which I stopped enjoying the book was when the workers in the slaughterhouse ganged up and started fucking the wounds on a cow they were killing. This scene reminded me of pictures my friends and I would draw in business studies classes when we were 15. Pretty soon after this scene, the cows start to talk and I lost interest. I did finish the book, but I didn’t enjoy much of the last half.

There is few drawn out poo-eating scenes in here. One of these made me feel a bit ill. I’ve read more books about poo-eaters in 2021 than any sensible person should.

When I was done with the book, I googled it and discovered that Cows is a widely blogged about novel. I read a few reviews, and it turns out that a lot of people talk a whole lot of rubbish about this book. It’s not really thought provoking or insightful. It’s puerile crap about a pair of poo-eaters. When it comes to artistic statements about slaughterhouses and shitty arses, there’s only one that matters:

Fun Halloween Book Recommendations

I’m a big fan of horror fiction. A quick browse through this blog will show you that I don’t really limit myself to any specific subgenres. Halloween and horror are inextricable, but I feel like certain types of horror are more Halloweeny than others. It’s just my personal opinion, but I feel like Halloweeny horror should contain an element of fun. The following is not a list of the scariest books I’ve read. It’s a list of horror novels that both trick and treat, books that will make excellent reading while you’re stuffing your face with the candy that you didn’t give out on the evening of the 31st. These are my recommendations for a good Halloween read.

Al Sarrantonio has written several books about Halloween, but I haven’t read those yet. I read 4 of his other books last year, and Moonbane and The Worms were the most enjoyable. They’re quick, fun reads, perfect for Halloween. One is about werewolves, and the other is about… worms. Even thinking about these makes me want to read more Sarrantonio.

I’m going to take it for granted that my readers are all familiar with H.P. Lovecraft. I read quite a lot of the extended Cthulu Mythos over the last 2 years, and aside from Howard’s own stories, I think my favourite Lovecraftian pastiche is Frank Belknap Long’s The Horror from the Hills. You wouldn’t need to be big into Lovecraft to enjoy this on its own either. It’s imaginative, exciting and a lot of fun. I’m pairing this with T.E.D. Klein’s Dark Gods as that contains a short story called ‘The Black Man with a Horn’ that features Long as its protagonist and parralels The Horror from the Hills in interesting ways. The other stories in Dark Gods are top notch horror writing. So, so good. (Klein’s The Ceremonies is phenomenal too, but it’s set in summer, so doesn’t really fit in with these Halloweeny vibes.)

I read quite a few Joe R. Lansdale books this year, and my favourite was definitely The Nightrunners. This is a horrible, violent story, but Lansdale’s style of writing is so easy to read that the book feels like fun. Lansdale’s The Drive-In books are fun too, but not quite spooky enough to recommend here.

These William W. Johnstone novels are not good books, but the horror elements at play within these novels are so over the top that I found them rather enjoyable. These are definitely “Paperbacks from Hell”, and if you’re into ridiculous horror B-movies, you might enjoy these. They’re utterly mental though. Seriously. Imagine an x-rated episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark directed by a Ted Nugent who’s high on crack and you might get an idea of what these books are like.

I know he’s an obvious choice, but let’s be real. Stephen King. You understand. I reckon Salem’s Lot and his short stories would be the best for this time of year. It’s probably that I’ve been conditioned to think this since childhood, but Stephen King’s fiction is exactly the kind of thing that I want to read at Halloween. Gross, creepy fun. Perfect.

Ray Bradbury is another obvious choice. His books are less trashy than the others I’m discussing here, but they definitely have the fun element that is key to good Halloween fiction. Something Wicked This Way Comes is an all round awesome book, and it’s set at Halloween. His most famous collection of short horror fiction is called The October Country. These two books are absolutely mandatory Halloween reading. He also wrote a kids book called The Halloween Tree. Bradbury is great.

I’m not going to recommend Dracula or Frankenstein here for a couple of reasons. You already know they exist, but both are also quite serious books. Varney the Vampire, which predates Dracula by about 50 years, is not a serious book. It was serialized over the course of two years, and it’s absolute trash. Characters disappear and turn into different people, the chapters are out of order, and it’s so long that it contradicts itself on several plot points. Despite all this, I found it very enjoyable. It’s bloody long though, so you’d better get started soon if you want to finish by Halloween

Pretty much anything by Harry Adam Knight/Simon Ian Childer would be great for Halloween. Both Harry and Simon were pseudonyms used by John Brosnan and Leroy Kettle. The books they wrote together under these names are trashy, gross out horror novels that are supremely entertaining. I absolutely loved these books. Slimer and Worm were my favourites. Classic stuff.

Michael Slade’s Ghoul is a horror novel with a Lovecraftian tinge about a murderous hard rock band that lives under a graveyard. It’s pure trash. I loved it. I read Brian Keene’s Ghoul last year too. It’s also about a creep that lives under a graveyard, and it too would make for some fine reading on a chilly October’s eve.

A few years ago, I chose my October reading based on the amount of pumpkins the books had on their covers. This was an awful idea. (The only decent book I’ve read with a pumpkin on the cover was the original Halloween novelisation.) Pumpkins are good, but they’re not enough. A good Halloween novel should be fun to read. The books listed in this post are easily digestible, super entertaining horror fiction that do a good job of encapsulating the fun and fear that make an enjoyable Halloween. Hopefully this post will help some indecisive readers find something juicy for All Hallow’s Eve. If you have any recommendations on exciting horror fiction, please leave a comment and let me know.