I recently got an email with some suggestions on books with violent female protagonists. This one got a special mention, and it’s fairly recent, so it was easy to track down. I read it over a few days. It was pretty good.
This is the story of Meg and Jack. They’re both serial killers who end up on a date together. I won’t ruin the ending for you, but I will confirm, it is quite violent.
Maybe it had something to do with how I heard of the book, but I found the plot a bit predictable. This is a book by a female author that was published and well received in 2020. Look at the cover. There’s certain things that I knew that this book would not contain. Once the plot is set in motion, there’s only one possible outcome. By definition, rape-revenge stories have to end a certain way. This book doesn’t rigidly adhere to the classic rape revenge formula, but it’s not far off. Also, even aside from the unlikely coincidence that gets things going here, the plot is a little unbelievable. Meg, the female serial killer, only kills men who have committed sexual assaults. Yeah right. She’s also successful enough in her day job to have bought a house. While these features make her a more sympathetic person, they also don’t seem like the qualities of a real serial killer.
Don’t get me wrong though. It is deeply satisfying to read about a sexual predator being badly hurt. Go Down Hard makes good on its promises. It’s a fun read.
I knew nothing about this book when I started reading it, but if you had asked me to guess the plot, my guess would have been very accurate. Honestly, this says more about the book than my expertise.
This is a book about a swarm of genetically altered flies who turn bad and start killing everything in sight. It was so similar to Gila! by Kathryn Ptacek that I wondered if both Kendall and Ptacek had attended the same “write your own animal attacks horror novel” workshop. One book is about lizards and the other flies, but episodically they’re almost identical. When I looked through the goodreads reviews after finishing the book, I noticed that I was not the only person to notice the similarities here. Killer Flies came out two years after Gila! too, so it looks like it was the rip-off. Apparently Mark Kendall is a pseudonym for a writer called Melissa Snodgrass, and it seems like she is not hugely proud of this work.
Honestly, this was pure trash. It’s exactly as bad as it looks. In the end, the main characters, 2 men and a woman who are involved in a ridiculous love triangle, kill the flies by playing a song at them.
Apparently this was quite a difficult book to track down for a while, but it was recently republished by Encylopocalypse. I love that there are publishers getting this kind of crap back into print. It would be a great shame for a person to have to pay more than a few dollars for trash like this.
The above comments may seem quite critical, but although they are all true, I did actually quite enjoy this very silly piece of trash novel about killer flies.
I really got into this book when I was reading it, but the ending was a let down.
The novel starts off with a child being murdered in the woods near a place named Deacon’s Kill. This scene is deeply unpleasant, but it does a good job of engaging the reader. Soon after the kid dies, a young professional buys a house in “the Kill” and invites all her friends for a party. One of them goes out to pee in the woods and gets murdered. A young couple who had been at the party then start living in the farm house and making friends with the locals, but it’s not long before they realise something bad is in the woods near their house.
That’s a pretty solid set up. I was totally invested at this point. I read the first 200 pages of the book in one sitting. Unfortunately, the ending of the book happens too fast, and the explanation given for the kills in The Kill is bizarre and unsatisfying. I’m going to talk about it in the next paragraph, so maybe skip that until you’ve finished the book.
A prehistoric, invisible, almost invincible man was fossilized inside a stone until it rolled down a hill and cracked open. I’m not a geologist or historian or anything, but the last time that the Eastern part of the United States was under water was the Cambrian period, about 50 million years ago. This guy is pretty old. Also, if he doesn’t weigh enough to make a footprint, how does he exert enough force to kill people? There’s no explanation given to this extremely mysterious antagonist. It just doesn’t work.
Tor – 1983
I had planned to include two of Ryan’s novels in this post, but I didn’t realise when I started Dead White that it is also set in Deacon’s Kill and features some of the same characters as The Kill. It’s not a sequel, but the town itself is as much a character here as in The Kill, and I would strongly recommend reading these books together. The text also references Charles L. Grant’s Oxrun Station and Stephen King’s Overlook Hotel as if they were real places. I thought that was pretty cool.
The events in Dead White take place only a little while after the events of The Kill. A big snow storm hits the town of Deacon’s Kill at the same time that a circus train full of diseased, bloodthirsty clowns arrives at the town’s abandoned railway station. This sounds silly (in the best possible way), but the writing is good enough to fill the book with suspense and atmosphere. The chapters are all fairly short too, and every time I would tell myself, “One more before bed.”, I’d end up reading 7 or 8.
I really enjoyed reading The Kill, but the ending fell flat. Dead White is just as enjoyable, but the ending here is more cohesive while remaining just as bizarre. It is a book about murderous clowns, but it predates both King’s It and Killer Klowns From Outer Space., so it doesn’t really feel like the cheesy clownsploitation horror that I’m sure we’re all sick of. I really enjoyed it. I’ll definitely be reading Ryan’s Cast a Cold Eye in the future.
The Animated Skeleton has all the stuff you’d expect. There’s hidden passages, a virginal maiden, haunted chambers, a tyrannical ruler and his subservient bandits. Plus, the plot plays out in a nunnery and a castle. Why then, I hear you asking, did this book fade into obscurity while the novels of Ann Radcliffe have seen hundreds of editions?
I can’t say for certain, but I have a feeling that it might have something to do with the fact that it’s very, very shitty.
Honestly, this is not good at all. It’s a terrible, boring, confusing mess.
A family goes on the run after the mother is assaulted by some brutes. After getting framed for murder, they go to a monastery where they find out that a powerful woman (she’s not quite a queen) in a local castle has a grudge against them and their mate. The mother of the family dies, and then there’s a court case where it becomes apparent that they are innocent. Meanwhile, ghosts are showing up back in the castle of the bad lady. I did read the rest, but it was so boring that I don’t want to recount it here.
There’s too many characters, and most of them are entirely forgettable. One of them has two names, and the author goes back and forth between them even though they say they won’t. Honestly, reading this was a chore. I have read that the low quality was because the author of this book wrote it to make money rather than literature and that this distinguishes it from the earlier works of gothic fiction mentioned above. I suppose this book will be of interest to those interested in the history of the gothic novel, but if you’re looking for an enjoyable read, you should probably avoid The Animated Skeleton.
In saying this, I cannot over emphasize how grateful I am to Valancourt Books for literally making it their business to republish books like this. Personally, I am mildly interested in the history of the Gothic novel, and I’m very happy to have been able to read The Animated Skeleton. This is one of the first books that Valancourt put out, and they have gone on to make loads of awesome books available again. I think that the world is lucky to have a company that puts the effort in to preserve these strange old tales for future generations. I fully intend to read more of Valancourt’s Gothic reprints in the future.
I hope you all have a spooky (and safe) Halloween!
The Devil of DeCourcy Island: The Brother XII. – Ron MacIsaac, Donald Clark and Charles Lillard Porcépic Books – 1989
In the 1920s, a weirdo calling himself Brother XII started a commune for his religious order on Vancouver Island. His cult, the Aquarian Foundation, was a variant of theosophy, and it was mainly made up of old rich stupid people. As time went on, things got awkward at the commune, especially after Brother XII started taking his new girlfriends back with him and telling his followers that these women were reincarnations of Egyptian goddesses. One of these women was quite mean to the people living in the commune. The Aquarians started to suspect that their religious leader might have been taking advantage of them. He was living in a big house with his mistress, and they were living in shacks. They tried to take him to court, but when the court date came around, Brother XII was missing. He had sailed away with as much of their money as he could fit into his boat. Nobody really knows where he went afterwards, but some believe he died in Europe a few years later.
That’s more or less what happened. It’s a moderately interesting story. Nothing about it seems particularly far-fetched. This is story told in the first half of The Devil of DeCourcy Island by MacIsaac, Clark and Lillard. The book’s narration is horrendous, and it constantly goes back and forward in time. I think this might have been done to create suspense, but it fails. It just makes reading the narrative confusing.
The writing is terrible, but the real problem with this book is that the second half serves as a rebuttal to the first half. The authors spend the final 60 pages showing how parts of the story they’ve just told are slightly inaccurate. There’s no major contradictions that I could pick out though; they’re all little fecky things. It struck me as odd that they would structure the book in such an awful manner. Surely the logical approach would be to simply write a single, accurate account of what they knew about the Aquarian Foundation? I reckon the authors did what they did because the interesting version of a truthful story of Brother XII would only take up 60 or so pages.
The first half of this book is poorly structured. The second half is unbearably boring. I had hoped to read about some weird occult rituals, but it was mostly about how different witnesses reported different amounts of money being taken. I’m not going to rule out reading more books on Brother XII in the future, but I’m not going to go searching them out either.
Gabrielle Wittkop’s The Necrophiliac isn’t the first book about a corpse fucker that I’ve read, but it does seem to be the most “lyrical”, whatever that means. Every review I’ve seen of this grim little novella praises the expressive nature of the sex scenes with festering cadavers. If I hadn’t googled the book after reading it, I would have guessed it was written by a weird 20 year old with a ponytail, but the author was actually a 50 year old French woman.
This book passes for literature because the language used isn’t what you’d expect from a piece of art about fucking the dead. Cannibal Corpse, one of my favourite bands since I was a teenager, have written many songs about necrophiliacs, and the lyrics to these songs would be my benchmark when it comes to this kind of thing.
I begin the dead sex, licking her young, rotted orifice I cum in her cold cunt, shivering with ecstasy For nine days straight I do the same She becomes by dead, decayed child sex slave Her neck I hack, cutting through the back I use her mouth to eject
Here I cum, blood gushes from Bleeding black blood Her head disconnected As I came, viciously I cut, through her jugular vein She’s already dead, I masturbate with her severed head My lubrication, her decomposition
While I was sliding into that flesh so cold, so soft, so deliciously tight, found only in the dead, the child abruptly opened an eye, translucent like that of an octopus, and with a terrifying gurgling, she threw up a black stream of mysterious liquid on me. Open in a Gorgon mask, her mouth didn’t stop vomiting this juice until its odour filled the room. All this rather spoiled my pleasure. I’m accustomed to better manners, for the dead are tidy.
Maybe some of the beauty of Wittkrop’s prose got lost in translation, but the effects of the above excerpts seem almost identical to me, even if the execution is little more “lyrical” in the latter. Sure, Wittkopp’s passage contains a synonym, an allusion to Greek mythology, and a touch of irony, but it’s still puerile gross-out material.
Don’t get me wrong here. The Necrophiliac was a short, moderately entertaining read. It was fine; it just makes me cringe to see people fawning over it because the author was European and threw in some poetic devices. It’s still a gross book for horrible sickos. I reckon I liked The Necrophiliac more than the other dirty French books I read a few years ago.
I started Snowman because i wanted something short. After reading the first few chapters and realising this was a novel about a team of Native Americans and Vietnam veterans hunting a yeti who attacks a ski lodge, I considered giving up. Thomas Page’s The Spirit was based on an almost identical premise, and I wasn’t a huge fan of that book.
Things picked up a bit as I kept reading. The main bigfoot hunter here is called away from a weird drug cult he has started on a Native American reservation, and he’s armed with miniature nuclear weapons. The bigfoot in question is also really, really big, and he’s half-dragon. Yes. He has heat rays and sparks come out of his mouth.
Honestly, this book was entertaining enough when I got into it, but realistically, it’s drivel. There’s a whole bunch of subplots and ideas that go absolutely nowhere. There are some cool bits, but Bogner didn’t seem to understand that these ridiculously over the top elements are the only thing that make the book enjoyable. Too much of the book is filler. Why the fuck would I want a chapter on a love interest in a book in which a peyote munching wacko melts a fire-breathing yeti’s arm off with a tiny nuclear warhead shot from a crossbow at the top of a mountain? I think Bogner should have played up the trashier elements, maybe added a some wheelies, laserbeam and guitar solos.
This book was like airplane food, unappealing at first, but tolerable after the first few bites. It also gave me diarrhea.
I did a post on a few books by Tom Piccirilli earlier this year, and despite ending that post saying I would avoid his horror fiction for a while, I recently read two more of his spookier books, Pentacle and A Lower Deep.
1995 – Pirate Writings Pub This is a collection of 7 short stories about a wandering wizard and his familiar spirit, Self. Self is pretty much just a small, sassier version of the Necromancer that follows him around, licking him when he gets hurt and attacking the people who inflict his injuries.
The Necromancer and Self stay at an abandoned hotel, go to a blues concert, visit a mental asylum, an art gallery and a native reservation. They come across demons, ghosts and witches in all of these places, and they rarely make friends. A lot of hexes are thrown about.
Speaking of hexes, I found Piccirilli’s novel Hexes a bit challenging when I read it, but I think it might make more sense if I had read it after this one. While Pentacle is not a sequel or prequel to Hexes, it is set in the same universe. Some of it is set in the same town, and both books feature Panecraft Asylum. They’re both from relatively early in Piccirilli’s writing career, and it seems a bit like he was trying to establish his equivalent of Arkham. I haven’t read it, but another of Piccirilli’s stories is also set in Panecraft.
The writing is very dark, and it reminded me of Clive Barker with its focus of blood and pain. It’s a bit more occulty though. It references a lot of real occult texts and authorities, and a lot of these stories feature real figures from the history of witchcraft. Matthew Hopkins has somehow come back to run the insane asylum. There’s a recipe for disaster.
Overall, I enjoyed this more than the other horror stuff I’ve read by Piccirilli. The writing isn’t super clear, but the short story form makes it easier for me to get through a plot without knowing exactly what’s going on.
A Lower Deep
2001 – Leisure Books
A Lower Deep is basically a novel sized continuation of the stories in Pentacle. This time the Necromancer’s old friend tries to get him to resurrect Christ so they can bring about Armageddon and storm into heaven. (Yes. The protagonist remains unnamed here. Oooooooh, so edgy!) I hated this book so much that I find it hard to believe that I wrote the above paragraphs. I’ve wanted to write positively about Piccirilli’s books for years, but in truth, his horror novels are crap. This book is boring, contrived shite. If you don’t have an interest in the Bible, this will be very confusing. There’s lots of references to the Book of Revelation, the prophet Elijah and the nephilim. Yuck.
This is really a work of fantasy rather than horror. There’s lots of blood and occultism, but nothing scary happens, and I hated every page. Self, the protagonist’s familiar is supposed to add comic relief, but I found him horribly disruptive to the novel’s tone. A one point during the beginning of the apocalypse, he starts speaking with a Jamaican accent. Sigh…
The brevity of the stories in Pentacle is what made them bearable. A Lower Deep is a short novel, but it’s still far, far too long. Honestly, it’s terrible. Avoid it.
I am probably done with Piccirilli. I gave him more than a fair chance, but his horror novels just didn’t do it for me.
I kept a diary from the time I was 14 until I was 17. Reading back over it now is excruciating. When I started reading Satan Wants Me, an occult novel in the form of a diary, I felt the same embarrassment for the narrator that I do for myself whenever I read my own old journals. The self-absorbed tone of a diary keeper is spot on.
At first I couldn’t figure out whether this was because Robert Irwin was a skilled writer who understood his character or if he was actually transcribing his own diaries. Some of it is really cringey, but in retrospect, I’m sure this was intentional. You’re supposed to think the narrator here is a bit of a wanker.
Peter is a hippy, an occultist and a PhD Candidate. The book starts off when one of the leaders of an occult order he has joined instructs him to keep a diary. The year is 1967, and Peter is mostly occupied with drugs, sex and rock’n’roll (in that order). He joined the occult order so that he could see a demon, but that doesn’t work out immediately.
Somebody recommended this book to me, and I picked it up knowing nothing about it at all. I ended up spending a large portion of the novel wondering what kind of a book it was going to be. A lot of novels about occultism veer into horror, and the ones that don’t are likely metaphorical wishy washy crap. This book seemed neither. As the novel progresses, the protagonist becomes more and more convinced of the efficacy of magic, but nothing actually happens that couldn’t be explained away by a sceptic. I quite admired this aspect of the novel. I feel like Robert Irwin understood what he was writing about.
Interwoven into the story are a bunch of different aspects of occult history. This novel manages to pull off what Eric Ericson’s The Master of the Temple fails to do. A person who knows nothing of the occult will learn from this book without getting too bored. The Satanism is important to the story, but it’s not overbearing.
This is a book about Satanism, sex, hallucinogenic drugs and rock music. I don’t know how it took me so long to check it out. I read it when I was on holidays, and it seemed to take me ages to get through it, but I thought it was pretty good. It only occurred to me as I was editing this post that I have also reviewed a book called Satan Wants You. That one was crap, as I recall.
No, your eyes are not deceiving you. You have seen that cover show up on this blog before. Valancourt books used that artwork on their 2019 edition of Thomas Page’s The Spirit. (If you’ve seen the original artwork for that one you’ll understand why.) Two books sharing the same cover is not unheard if in the world of paperback horror, but Cold Front is an anomaly. This book is so rare that there was recently a thread on reddit about whether it still exists or not. There’s lots of rare horror paperbacks, but copies of The Voice of the Clown, Eat Them Alive, Chainsaw Terror and the Halloween novelisation are out there; they’re just really expensive. Cold Front is different. There are 5-6 known copies in existence. The rest of the scant information about this book online suggests that it is a lost classic, a surprisingly well written nightmare that has almost disappeared.
Adding to the allure is the fact that the book is supposed to be extremely Canadian. I have no proof of this, but as far as I know, Cold Front was only ever available in Canada, hence its rarity. Now I don’t know about you, but there’s little in the world that excites me more than a mysterious, rare, horror paperback, smothered in maple syrup. I had to read this one.
As I write this, there is actually a copy of Cold Front for sale on ebay for $3000. I didn’t pay quite that much, but I had to make a bunch of calls, barter with strange Canucks and then travel across the Great White North to procure a copy. The whole process took 4 months, but last week, I finally got my hands on one of the last remaining copies of this bizarre little book.
Cold Front is only 150 pages long. The first two thirds are entertaining but largely predictable. Three low-lifes kill their boss after a night of drinking. They stash his corpse and his cash box into their car and drive away into a storm. When they wake up the next morning, they find themselves broken down in the middle of nowhere and then notice that the body is missing from the trunk of their car. Concerned and cold, they walk until they find a cabin with a smoking chimney. When they enter they find a beautiful, half naked woman alone.
And that is where the predictable part of this story ends. As the tagline on the back cover says, “You might pity the girl, trapped in a snowbound cabin in the Canadian wilderness with three savage fugitives from the law. But you would be wrong.” I won’t give any spoilers, but I will say that the last 50 or so pages of this book are mental. This changes from a gritty crime novel to a blood-soaked, supernatural nightmare.
I can confirm that most of the stuff you’ve read about this novel is true. Cold Front is a fast paced, well written, absolutely bonkers, horror novel. It is a great shame that more people haven’t had the chance to read it.
This book is infamously rare, but unlike some rare paperback horror novels, this one is rare (at least in part) because of its reputation as being a good book. I couldn’t help but wonder why it has not been republished. The fact that Valancourt books used its cover for another book proves that Cold Front was on their radar at some point. They confirmed this in a different thread on reddit about the book, where they stated that “The art for The Spirit was not available to use and there were no plans for Cold Front to be reissued. We purchased the rights for the Cold Front art.” How would they know that there were no plans for Cold Front to be reissued if they hadn’t looked into reissuing it at some point? It seems fairly safe to assume that Hammond turned them down.
Why would an author do this? Well, this is pure speculation, but I have a theory. Barry Hammond is still active in the world of Canadian literature. He’s currently the poetry editor for On Spec, “the Canadian magazine of the fantastic”. Canada has changed quite a lot since Cold Front was published in 1982, particularly with how people think about the experiences and representation of the Indigenous and First Peoples of Canada. One of the main characters in this book is an Indigenous Canadian and a violent alcoholic. There are another two Indigenous characters who come across no better, and none of this is contextualized by addressing the horrible shit that Indigenous people in Canada would have lived through at the time when this book was written. This wouldn’t go down well today. In fairness, Hammond has to have been a fairly young man when he wrote this, and in 1982, most Canadians supposedly didn’t know about the utterly abhorrent shit that their government was doing to First Nations peoples. Again, this is pure speculation, but if Hammond is the type of guy he seems to be (and remember, he’s the poetry editor for a literary magazine), I reckon he’s happy enough to let this book remain obscure and mysterious. If this is the case, that’s actually pretty cool (and very Canadian) of him.
There are some heinous racial slurs used at one point, but the characters in this novel are definitely the kind of guys who would use racial slurs. The swearing throughout is generally delightful. I think it’s the second chapter that opens up with the phrase, “Holy Cock!” All this profanity made the book feel a bit like a Trailer Park Boys Halloween special. I mean that in a positive way.
Cold Front is definitely of its era, but if you’re able to look past its faults, it’s very entertaining. It’s only 150 pages, so I got through it in a couple of sittings. If you ever find a copy of this bizarre Canadian masterpiece, read it immediately.