Thomas Tryon’s The Other and Harvest Home

The Other – Thomas Tryon

Fawcett Crest – 1972 (Originally published 1971)

The only thing I knew about Thomas Tryon’s The Other before I read it was that it was a bestseller in 1971. It was only as I read it that I realised how influential a novel it has been on modern horror.

Niles and Holland are twin 13 year old boys who live on a farm in New England. Niles is quiet and easily led, and Holland is… well, Holland is a real bad kid. Their dad died a few months before the story begins, and from the beginning it seems pretty obvious that Holland had something to do with this. My suspicions ran wild as I was reading it. I suspected there was going to be some big plot twist, and I was trying to figure out what it was, but the story takes its time and Tryon holds on to his details, only ever giving just enough to keep his readers engaged.

The pacing got on my nerves a little bit during the first half of the novel, but when the twist was revealed and things clicked into place, it all felt worthwhile. I’m sure lots of people who haven’t read this book already know how it ends, but I won’t give anything away. I will mention that I was surprised at how unpleasant that part near the end is.

It was that particularly nasty bit that made me realise how influential this book is. I would be very surprised if Brenda Brown Canary’s choice of setting and violence in The Voice of the Clown were not influenced by Tryon’s book.

I didn’t really like the part where the boys’ grandmother, a crazy old Russian woman, teaches them a trick where they can enter the bodies of other creatures. I guess this makes it easier to accept the potentially supernatural goings on, but it was also a bit weird and unnecessary.

I can imagine some readers getting halfway through this book and not bothering to finish it. That would be a mistake. The pacing and all of the mysterious little clues that are offered throughout the book all come together at the end. I thought this was a very effective horror novel. At times I found it mildly shocking and horrifying. Read it if you haven’t already.

Harvest Home

Dell – 1987 (First published 1973)

I waited for six months to read another book by Tryon. I didn’t dislike The Other, but it was a bit slow, and I usually prefer things short and snappy. Harvest Home is actually pretty similar in pacing to its predecessor, but I ended up absolutely loving this book.

This novel starts when the Constantine family moves to Cornwall Coombe, a quaint rural village where everybody knows everybody. The new family is settling in and everything is going well until the father stumbles upon a ritual in which a local child with a learning disability is forced to choose the Harvest Lord by studying the entrails of a freshly sacrificed sheep. He sneaks away and pretends he has seen nothing, but after this, he starts to notice other strange goings on in the town. It turns out that there’s some fairly bad stuff happening behind the scenes.

I really, really enjoyed Harvest Home. Again, Tryon holds back details in a masterful way. I found this approach even more enjoyable here than it was in The Other. I think it was because the protagonist in this one was a little bit more relatable to me than the boys in his first novel. The pacing is slow, but the writing and characters are enjoyable enough to keep things entertaining between the big revelations. There was one part where the main character gets really drunk and ruins a party. I had to go back and read this section a second time to make sure I had understood everything that happened. It felt rushed and muddled the first time I read it. Reading back, it became apparent that this was clearly intentional. The author used barely any full stops (periods) in the whole passage. It’s probably a well known trick, but I found it really effective.

Tryon was an interesting guy. He was a relatively successful Hollywood actor before he was a writer. That fact made me assume his books would be trashy, but these two weren’t. They were really good. It seems like Thomas Tryon was a real cool guy.

Teddy (Novelisation of The Pit) – John Gault and Ian A. Stuart

Teddy – John Gault/Ian Stuart
Bantam – 1980


I’ve read lots of books that went on to become movies, but only a few books that were based on movies. I liked the novelisation of Halloween because it added a backstory to Michael Myers that is not in the film. If I’m going to spend 4-5 hours reading a story in book form, I want it to offer something the 2 hour film version doesn’t. The second Halloween novelisation is a more faithful adaptation, and I found it very boring. The only other novelisation I’ve read was Zoltan, Hounds of Dracula, and I only bothered with that one because I was researching its author. The book was so bad that I never bothered watching the film. I know some people collect them, but I really don’t have much interest in novelisations. Despite this, I read Teddy last week. This rare and creepy book is is a novelisation of a screenplay for the 1981 Canadian horror film, The Pit. It is not a novelisation of the film that was actually produced.

Jamie is a weird 12 year old kid who, when he’s not getting bullied, spends his time making pornographic photo-collages involving the local librarian and hanging out in the woods near a gigantic hole in the ground that nobody else knows about. Oh yeah, and this hole is full of weird, hairy dwarf creatures. His family are about to move house, and his parents need to leave town so they can sign the appropriate papers. They hire Sandy, a local college student, to babysit Jamie.

Jamie falls in love with Sandy, and when he realises that she doesn’t love him back, his teddy bear convinces him to go on a killing spree, luring his victims into the woods and then pushing them down the hole.

It’s a decent story, but the book and movie approach it differently. While the movie isn’t exactly comedy horror, it’s so ridiculous that if you’re not going to laugh at it, you’re going to find it extremely boring. There’s a scene where the kid pushes a mean old lady in a wheelchair into a giant hole in the ground. In truth, I lost interest about halfway through and started playing chess on my phone. When I looked up a while later, it had changed from a story about a creepy kid to a bunch of hairy goblins running around causing mischief. The movie tries to do too much, and this lessens the effectiveness of the actual creepy parts. The actor playing Jamie is quite good, but his performance is not enough to save this awful film.

The book is far, far better than the movie. Jamie’s parents come across as bigger jerks here, and we get to witness more of the bullying he experiences at school. Yes, he is a weirdo, but he never really had a chance. He also seems more pervy in the book. There’s parts in here that wouldn’t have been legal to film. Teddy, who is obviously just Jamie, has a far dirtier mouth in the book. Maybe it’s just me, but I felt that Jamie is easier to feel sorry for in the book.

The novel also gives more background on the creatures living in the hole. It turns out they are the descendants of the Whately family, a group of sinister weirdos who moved from somewhere in New England. Surely that is a reference to Lovecraft’s Whateleys? They are supposed to have moved to Wisconsin in 1870, and the events in The Dunwich Horror don’t occur until after this, but I think we can assume these hairy goblins must be cousins of Wilbur’s.

Ian Stuart, the guy who wrote the screenplay that both the book and movie were based on has claimed that the monsters living in the pit were supposed to be a figment of Jamie’s imagination in his screenplay, but they are real in both the movie and book. I don’t know if the screenplay is still is existence, but I’d be interested to read it. I gather it was more serious than its products.

If you’re interested in watching The Pit, you can watch it for youtube for free at the moment. I wouldn’t bother if I were you. (I have no patience for bad films anymore.) Teddy was far better than the film, and it’s a pretty good read in and of itself. Copies are shockingly rare, but there’s an ebook version kicking around the internet if you’re not extremely rich and patient.

Guy N. Smith’s The Sucking Pit and The Walking Dead

The Sucking Pit

NEL – 1975

The Sucking Pit? More like… Fucking Shit. Guy N. Smith isn’t known for high-brow fiction. His Crabs series is infamous, and The Slime Beast has been reprinted by fancy publishers as an example of extreme pulp horror., but The Sucking Pit seems to have a reputation as his worst book.

After reading it, I can confirm that this is indeed very, very bad.

A man dies in his cabin in the woods, and when his niece comes to visit him and discovers his corpse she becomes possessed by his spirit. She then makes a potion out of hedgehog blood and this makes her extremely horny and violent. She starts living in her uncles cabin, and she throws her victims into a marshy swamp known as the Sucking Pit.

There’s a bit more to the story than that, but it’s not worth recounting here. This is a ludicrous pile of nonsense. I have enjoyed the other ultra simplistic crap that I’ve read by Smith, but The Sucking Pit was so monumentally stupid that I found it tedious. This is as low as it gets. This book both sucks and is the pits.

The Walking Dead

NEL – 1984

I read The Sucking Pit in an afternoon. Its sequel, The Walking Dead, is only a bit longer, but it took me almost 2 weeks to finish. Part of this was because I was busy with Christmas stuff, but it was largely due to the fact that I had very little interest in what was happening. I had to force myself through a chapter every night.

10 years after the events of The Sucking Pit, the Sucking Pit comes alive again, and all of the corpses it absorbed in the first book come back to life. The Sucking Pit has also developed the ability to call people to it so that it can brainwash them.

There was a scene in which a man is buried alive that was actually quite scary, but the rest of this book was absolute shite. The only other memorable bits were when a rapist cuts off his own cock and when a man decapitates another man after punching him in the erection.

I did appreciate the fact that this sequel did not try to make the events in the first book make any sense. It doesn’t limit itself with any such restrictions either.

The Sucking Pit is an infamously awful novel, and its sequel, while admittedly a slightly better book, is also very silly. I wasn’t disappointed by these novels, but they didn’t make me want to read any more Guy N. Smith either. I read four of his books last year, and I think I should probably wait a good long while before I go back to him if I expect to derive any further enjoyment from his writing. There is no subtlety or pretense in these books. They are as awful as they appear.

2022, The Year in Review

Normally, I focus on a book, author or theme in my posts, but once a year I do a post about this blog itself. If that seems goofy to you, piss off until next week. 2022 was a good year for me, but I simply don’t have as much time to blog as I used to. Work and family take up most of my day, and this year I also produced a series of podcasts and got involved in a few musical projects. (I also cursed and un-cursed a youtuber.) I’m still reading as much as ever, but I find it harder to find the time to take and crop book photos, research authors and actually write posts. There were actually a few weeks this year when I didn’t post anything! I have a huge backlog of half-written posts that will appear in the new year.

It’s funny looking at the site’s stats. The amount of visitors on this site has gone up every year, but the rate of growth has decreased substantially over the last year and a half. This blog has been online for almost 8 years now, and there has to be a limited audience for a blog on weird, old books, so maybe it has just reached it’s peak. Then again, the stats reveal more. The amount of on-site comments and likes has decreased dramatically. Maybe the quality of my blog has gone down in the last two years, but I also suspect that people aren’t signing in to wordpress.com to browse through blog posts as much as they used to. I’m not upset at the lack of likes, but it does make me feel a bit old fashioned. Has blogging gone the way of alchemy?

Some of the slow-down might be due to the fact that I’ve pretty much given up on promoting the blog through social media. Being on facebook makes me hate everyone, and twitter is a useless piece of garbage. The more active you are on those sites, the more prominent your posts will be in others’ feeds, and personally, I find this idea abhorrent. They are rewarding loudmouthed fools, and their owners are turds. No thanks. I’ll cut off my own cock before I start a tiktok.

A lot of what I read in 2022 was made up of stand-alone paperback horror novels. These things are usually easy to digest and don’t require serious analysis. Some of them were utter rubbish, but every now and then I’d stumble upon a Throwback or Blood Fever and really enjoy myself. I was delighted to finally read Pierce Nace’s insane Eat Them Alive (while suffocating with COVID), and getting my hands on a copy of Barry Hammond’s extremely rare Cold Front was one of the highlights of my year.

I also did a few posts on specific authors. I read several books by Alan Ryan, Thomas Piccirilli (Part 1, Part 2) and William H. Hallahan. I’m fairly certain that my posts on Kenneth Rayner Johnson and Eric Ericson are the most comprehensive articles about those writers currently available online.

My posts on Robert Bloch and Robert E. Howard finished my series of posts on the weird fiction of the members of the Lovecraft Circle. I also read and enjoyed Asamatsu Ken’s more modern work of Lovecraftian horror, Kthulhu Reich. I’m not sure where I’ll go next with this stuff. Maybe Ramsey Campbell’s short stories.

I did a few non-fiction books in 2022. They were all terrible, but The Beginning Was The End by Oscar Kiss Maerth was so terrible that it became my favourite book of all time. It’s a book about cannibal monkeys, and if you haven’t read my review of it, please do so right now.

Well, there you go. Another year older and grumpier. I wrote posts like this for 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021 if you want to take a trip down bad-memory lane. You can also check out my index page for individual links to the 500+ books I have reviewed here so far. Email me at dukederichleau666(at)gmail.com if you have any recommendations or questions. I hope that this blog has been interesting. Happy new year!

Seán O’Connor’s The Mongrel

The Mongrel
Matador – 2018

A horror novel about a Dubliner getting stranded in the Wicklow mountains, written by a Dublin author who plays in heavy metal bands? I really wanted to like this book. Truly, I did. Unfortunately though, it’s not very good.

There’s 4 main parts to this story. The first part, the argument between the protagonist and her boyfriend, is unnecessary and could have been worked into a flashback in the second part where they go on a reconciliatory drive in the mountains. Show, don’t tell. The third section is passable survival fiction and provides the only excitement in the book. The pregnant protagonist is stranded in a broken-down car with with a hungry wolf outside. Things get gooey. The final section descends into utter nonsense. An utterly unbelievable supernatural element is thrown in, and the plot collapses in on itself.

I got the impression that Seán O’Connor wanted to write a book, so he sat down and tried to come up with a story to tell. The plot feels entirely forced. There’s elements that make no sense, and there’s bits that are painfully underdeveloped. How did Phillips best friend end up on Erin’s dad’s team? Why were Phillip’s knives in the boot of his car? A wolf killed her mom? (Ok, this bit is kind of explained at the end, but I actually rolled.my eyes when it was first mentioned). The ending feels rushed and, quite frankly, stupid. I don’t think I’ve ever said this before, but another 50-100 pages of plot development could have made this book a lot better.

I don’t read a lot of modern fiction, and I feel like a jerk shit-talking an active writer’s work. I recognize that it takes more work to write a book than to sit here picking it apart, but this novel is an absolute mess. O’Connor has published three other books since this came out, so hopefully they are better.

Drawing Blood – Poppy Z. Brite

Evening Star Books – 1993

I had read two Poppy Z. Brite books before starting Drawing Blood. While I enjoyed both Lost Souls and Swamp Foetus, I also felt that I would have enjoyed them even more if I had encountered them when I was younger. I felt the same way about Drawing Blood for the first few chapters. I kept telling my wife how much I was enjoying it. The story set up was weird, but it had a queer computer hacker, a haunted house, and a stripper in a Ministry t-shirt. Things were off to a very good start.

When Trevor was just a little kid, his dad went nuts and killed his whole family in a house in the small town of Missing Mile. As an adult, Trevor goes back to this house to confront his past. When he’s there, he meets Zach, a hacker who is on the run from the government. They fall madly in love with each other, but before they run away together, they try to come to terms with Trevor’s past.

Unfortunately, I found the second half of the book almost unbearable. The following paragraphs contain spoilers, so skip to the last paragraph if you’re planning to read the book.

I am a prude, and I don’t like extended descriptions of sex, straight or gay. There’s some pretty long sex scenes here. I’m sure these are really great for some readers, but I didn’t like them.

I didn’t like the fact that the climax of book occurred while the protagonists were tripping on mushrooms. I’ve read and enjoyed plenty of books about drug users and their experiences, but it felt a bit cheap for the resolution of the story to take place while the characters were high on psychedelics. They witnessed poltergeist activity in real life, and the drug trip at the end felt gratuitous and unsatisfying.

There’s a long, unnecessary scene in which Zach becomes a singer in a local rock band and plays a concert. This dude is on the run, and he agrees to perform his first concert ever. It turns out he is actually a rock god, and he gives the performance of a lifetime. This was entirely unbelievable and painfully cringey. Even as I teenager this would have made me balk. Thinking about it now is making me uncomfortable.

At the end of the book, the two protagonists escape from the United States and go and live in Jamaica. Yes, the two gay men go and live happily in Jamaica. One of them grows dreads, and they spend their days singing reggae and smoking weed with the Rastas. Makes sense, right? I mean, if Jamaica is known for anything, it’s the fact that it’s a living paradise for homosexuals.

I know some people love this book, but I found it very disappointing. I’m a straight guy in my late 30s, so I’m not the target audience for this work, but that didn’t stop me enjoying Lost Souls and Swamp Foetus. Drawing Blood was just a little too vampirefreaks.com for me. That said, I will defintely be reading Brite’s novel Exquisite Corpse in the future.,

The Trouble in Deacon’s Kill: Alan Ryan’s The Kill and Dead White

The Kill

Tor – 1982

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.

Dead White

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.

Norman Bogner’s Snowman

NEL – 1979 (First Published 1978)

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.

Tom Piccirilli’s Nameless Necromancer: Pentacle and A Lower Deep

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.

Pentacle

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.

Hell! Said the Duchess – Michael Arlen

Hell! Said the Duchess – Michael Arlen
Valancourt Books – 2013 (Originally published 1934)

Valancourt books is one of my favourite publishers. Sometimes, if I’m not sure what to read next, I’ll browse their catalogue with the near certainty that whatever I pick will be entertaining. That is how I first heard of this novel. A little research told me that in 1983 Karl Edward Wagner listed Michael Arlen’s Hell! said the Duchess as one of his favourite supernatural horror novels ever. Not only did the book come highly recommended, bit it’s also nice and short.

This is the story of Jill/jane the ripper, a female serial killer in London. The main suspect is Lady Dove, a shy noble woman.

The first thing that struck me was the jovial tone of the narration. I had just finished reading a collection of Saki’s short stories, and this felt quite similar. There’s lots of clever little jokes. The story does involve several murders, but, given the book’s reputation, I spent a large portion of the book wondering when the supernatural horror was going to kick in.

This is an enjoyable book, and while it does get a bit spooky towards the end, I wouldn’t really call it a horror novel. It had been out of print for almost 50 years when Wagner put it at the top of his list, and I reckon he was trying to be kvlt by listing this obscure forgotten novel as one of his favourites. It’s a fine, fun book, but it’s not scary.