Wurm and Garden – Matthew Costello

I reckon that my memories of 2020 will be bittersweet. The lockdown and subsequent interruptions to my life have been pretty annoying, but on the other hand, I have read a bunch of cool books about scary worms. The worm books I have read have been surprisingly varied in their style and stories, but Matthew Costello’s Wurm is the most ambitious by far.

wurm matthew costelloWurm – Matthew Costello
Crossroads Press – 2018 (Originally published 1991)

A deep sea expedition brings some extremely dangerous parasitic worms back to the surface. While this is happening, a psychic channeler starts getting messages from powerful alien entities telling him to commandeer a TV station. Do these events have anything to do with each other? After the freaks take to the airwaves, the worms attack New York City in the grossest, most violent ways imaginable.

wurm paperback matthew costelloA very cool paperback edition cover

I had read that this book was a bit overwritten, but I really enjoyed the whole thing. There’s definitely a few problems and plot-holes here – my question in the last paragraph isn’t rhetorical – but this is a super entertaining mix of sci-fi and horror. If you’re the kind of person who is willing to read a book with a wurmy face on the cover, I reckon you’ll have a good time with this one.

Reading this in 2020, I was quite glad that I hadn’t written it. The one black character is bad, and while not all of the bad guys are black, it does seems that this chap’s blackness is part of what makes him bad. I’m not saying that Matthew Costello is an evil bigot – he probably cringes at the offending sections now – but these bits have aged horribly. (There’s a good black guy in the sequel too, so let’s not cancel anyone just yet.)

 

garden matthew costello

Garden – Matthew Costello
Crossroads Press – 2018 (Originally published 1993)

Garden is a very short sequel, only a novella, and it doesn’t really feel like a separate book to Wurm. It’s more of an extended epilogue. It certainly wouldn’t be of much interest to anyone who hasn’t read Wurm.

It tidies things up a little bit and provides a slightly more satisfying ending to the story than Wurm manages. Remember those weird aliens that hatched out of peoples’ bodies in the TV studio? They’re back. There’s still not much offered in the way of an overall explanation for what has happened, and while things are wrapped up by the end, the means by which this wrapping up happened remain pretty unclear. There’s some kind of weird religious symbolism going on, something about sacrifice… I didn’t really want to think too hard by the time I was finishing up. Also, why the Hell was it called Garden?  I struggle to imagine a more boring title for a horror novel… Shoe?

Let’s be honest, the plot of Wurm and Garden is a mess and ultimately unimportant. These books provide plenty of thrills and mindless fun. They’d make a far better TV series than they would a movie. I would be happy to read more of Matthew Costello’s horror fiction in the future.

Both Wurm and Garden were recently published by Crossroads Press, a company that specialises in putting out digital versions of out-of-print horror. I have had to cut down on buying physical books for storage reasons, and I plan to buy a bunch more stuff from this awesome publisher. Seriously, check them out.

The Worms – Al Sarrantonio

the worms sarrantonioThe Worms – Al Sarrantonio

Berkley Books – 1988 (first published 1985)

You know what this blog needs? Yeah, that’s it! More horror novels about evil worms.

I didn’t know anything about this book when I started it apart from the fact that the author had written a series of books about Halloween. Most of the horror novels I’ve read about Halloween suck ass, so I didn’t have high hopes for a worm horror book written by a Halloween guy. I was quite surprised by The Worms though.

This is the story of toxic waste infused worm zombies taking over a small town. Anyone who gets bitten by these freaks turns into a worm themselves, and that’s only the beginning of their transformation. This book has loads of action and grossout moments, and I loved every page. By the end, the small town where the story is set has turned into a Boschean hellscape. This is entertaining stuff.

This might not be high literature, but it was a lot of fun. I wish I knew about books like this when I was a teenager. If you have older kids, encourage them to read this! As an adult, I fully intend on reading more Sarrantonio on the future; maybe I’ll even do his Halloween series this October.

This is a short review, but there’s not much left to be said. Sarrantonio’s The Worms is a slick little horror novel that makes good on its title’s promises. If you like fun horror novels, you should read this book.

I recently reviewed another book with a similar title. For the record, I personally enjoyed The Worms more than Worms.

Bernard Taylor’s Early Work – The Godsend, Sweetheart, Sweetheart, The Reaping, The Moorstone Sickness, and This Is Midnight

I’ve done a few author overview posts recently. Here’s one on Bernard Taylor’s early books:
the godsend bernard taylorThe Godsend
Avon Books – 1977 (First published 1976)

The Godsend is a well written book, and I had no desire to put it down once I started it, but I’m not sure that I can say I enjoyed it. It’s horrifying in parts. This is one of those creepy kids books that were so popular 40 years ago. 

I’m fine reading about torture and gore and all that stuff, but I find it very difficult to read about children suffering. I read The Voice of the Clown and Childgrave earlier this year, and after reading The Godsend, I’m ready to avoid this kind of book for a while. This one wasn’t quite as nasty as The Voice of the Clown, but it was just as humourless. It’s bleak and upsetting.

A couple end up with a baby they weren’t planning for and very bad things start happening. I don’t want to say much more about the plot because once the story gets going, there’s only one possible outcome. You’ll realise this as you’re reading it too, but the writing is so smooth that you’ll stick around for the descent.

Without ruining the plot, I can say that this is one of those books where the reader is left uncertain about what’s really happening with the events of the story. Is the narrator insane, or is there something genuinely supernatural going on? This is a trickier one to decide than most though. The plot events seem far too weird and severe to be coincidental, but there’s never any explanation offered. Also, the story is narrated by one of the characters living through these awful events, so it’s very likely that his trauma would be influencing his account. At one point the narrator seems to be on the verge of performing at act that no sane person could ever perform. If anyone else has read The Godsend and has thoughts on whether or not something spooky was going on, I’d love to hear from you.

 

sweetheart sweetheart bernard taylorSweetheart, Sweetheart
Valancourt Books – 2015 (First published 1977)

I think this might be my favourite book by Taylor. I remember a few months ago, I was thinking about the limitations of different forms of media. Books generally rely on atmosphere for their scares while movies can terrify their audiences with a well timed noise. I didn’t think that books could have the same effect. That was until I read about the protagonist of Sweetheart, Sweetheart sitting alone in a haunted house and suddenly hearing laughter. I’m aware that my description here doesn’t sound scary at all, but imagine how creepy that event could be in a well made horror film. Imagine how good the writing would have to be to make a text version of that scene equally as scary. Well, Bernard Taylor pulls it off. At its heart, this is a traditional ghost story, but let me assure you, this is an exceedingly well told traditional ghost story. This was a great book.

 

the reaping bernard taylorThe Reaping
Valancourt Books – 2019 (First published 1980)
I reviewed this a few months ago for another post. I really liked it.

 

the moorstone sickness bernard taylorThe Moorstone Sickness
Grafton – 1990 (First published 1981)

I thought The Moorstone Sickness was pretty good. I read this a few weeks ago, and I can’t think of much else to say about it now. I read it in a single evening, and I thought it was quite similar to Get Out, the 2017 horror film. Taylor’s book features more occultism and less surgery/social commentary. I liked that movie Get Out right until the very end when it had a surprise happy ending. I don’t have the same complaint about The Moorstone Sickness. Taylor seems to be aware that horror should actually be horrifying.

 

this is midnight bernard taylorThis is Midnight: Stories
Valancourt Books – 2019 (First published 2017)

This is the only collection of Bernard Taylor’s short fiction. It’s pretty good. I can’t remember where it was, but I once saw Taylor being referred to as a British Stephen King. After reading some of his books, I can see some similarities between the two; they’re both very readable, but the tone of Taylor’s books always seems a bit more serious than King’s. There’s not much humour in Taylor’s novels. I can’t remember any of the stories in This Is Midnight being outright silly, but some of them are certainly more light-hearted than his novels. Ultimately, I reckon Taylor’s novels are better than his short stories, but these are still pretty enjoyable. I like the completeness of this collection too. This guy has been an author for 40+ years, and he’s only written 13 short stories. Although this collection was first published in 2017, I am including it in this post as many of the stories herein are from Taylor’s early days as a writer.

 

I enjoyed everything I’ve read by Bernard Taylor. On average, it took me a day and a half to finish each his novels, and that had nothing to do with their length. Once I started reading Taylor’s books, I never wanted to put them down. According to wikipedia, he has written 7 more novels that can be classified as Horror/Suspense. I’ve read 5 of his books in the last 4 months, so I’ll probably give him a break for a while, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he shows up here again. I’ll probably avoid the 5 books he wrote under the pseudonym Jess Foley though.

jess foley
I’m not trying to make fun of Taylor here. Fair play to him for writing these. They just seem… kinda different to the stuff I’ve read by him. Anyone know if they’re good?

Worms – James R. Montague

worms james montagueWorms – James R. Montague
Valancourt Books 2016 (First published 1979)

After my recent spate of reading books about killer worms, I decided to cut back on that kind of thing. There’s a surprising amount of horror novels on that topic, and while none of the ones I read disappointed me terribly, I decided that it wasn’t a field in which I needed to dig much further. I told myself that from thereon I should only read only the choiciest horror novels about worms. Valancourt books, those purveyors of arcane lore, decided to reissue Jame R. Montague’s contribution to the genre after it had remained out of print for almost 40 years, so I assumed it would be pretty good.

This was a fairly strange book. It’s about a henpecked husband who acts drastically and then seems to go mad with guilt. It starts off lighthearted and funny, proceeds into the realm of psychological horror, and ends with a bang of tromaesque nuclear worm horror. It’s not a long book either, so these changes were a bit jarring. I liked the first part a lot and probably would have enjoyed everything a bit more if the rest of the book had continued that way.

Still, this was a decent read. It’s short, entertaining and quite weird.

I knew that James R. Montague was a pseudonym for Christopher Wood when I was reading this book, but it wasn’t until I wrote it down a few minutes ago that I realised that the pseudonym is M.R. James backwards. Fuck, now I want to read this again to compare it to that author’s work. Apparently Christopher Wood wrote the screenplays for a couple of James Bond films and the novelisations for 2 others. Worms has very little in common with James Bond stories.

 

 

Canadian Psycho – Kelley Wilde’s The Suiting

the suiting - kelley wilde
The Suiting – Kelley Wilde
Tor – 1989 (First published 1988)

A few months ago, I was looking through the paperback horror section in my favourite thrift store and saw this book. I think my initial response was to roll my eyes. “A horror novel about a suit? Jesus, they must have been running out ideas by the end of the 80s.” I left the store empty handed, but by the time I was home, I was obsessed. “A book about a haunted suit? Yeah, that’d be different. It might be good. It couldn’t be worse than that book about evil trout that I read last year. I’ll give it a go. I want to read it. I need that book.” I went back the next day and bought it.

The book starts off with some lad getting fitted for a suit. Then he leaves the tailors in a hurry, puts his suit in a locker, and bumps into a gay lad who he has been avoiding. After a long, violent fight, the gay lad kills him. I don’t know why the gay lad’s sexuality is ever mentioned. It has nothing to do with anything else in the book. 

Another fellow finds the suit in the locker. He nicks it and then goes home to try it on. It doesn’t fit him. This chap is a dork. He collects coins and spends his Friday night’s with another loser talking about poetry. He’s in love with a girl from his office, but he’s too scared to do anything about it.

The suit possesses him. It teaches him how to speak French and convinces him to go to the gym. He hits the gym so hard that his body changes to fit the suit. He convinces his alcoholic boss to relapse so that he can take his job. This works. This part of the book was fairly interesting. The character’s sudden narcissism and preoccupation with fitness and luxury items reminded me of Patrick Bateman.  

Then he goes to Montreal on vacation. He takes some pictures and has some confusing hallucinations about dying and a woman. When he gets home he shows his loser friend the pictures. There follows a lengthy, confusing section where the friend tries to figure out the relationship between the different pictures. It turns out that the buildings in the pictures are from different eras. This part was not at all interesting or exciting, but it drags on for ages.

There’s some kind of mention of a curse, but it’s never really explained.

Then the protagonist starts meeting girls in bars. One of them fingers his arse. He likes it. The girl from his office that he fancied is murdered by her old boyfriend. Our hero later finds this boyfriend and stabs him in the face.

With 50 pages to go, I was starting to get worried that this book wasn’t going to tie up its loose ends. The protagonist seemed to be having some kind of breakdown that was interfering with the narrative. He throws the suit in a river but keeps part of it. Then he gets a new suit. Then he rapes and kills a small child and starts seeing ghosts in his apartment. Then he goes out and finds the gay lad who murdered the suit’s original owner and kills him. Then he jumps in front of a train.

At first, I thought the omission of explanatory details was intentional and that they’d be given by the end and the mystery would be wrapped up. By the end of the book, I realised that the lack of clarity and cohesion was just bad writing. A lot of the horror I read gets by without ever explaining the mystery, but this book is about an evil suit. It needs to be explained. I get the sense that the author was trying to walk the line between pulp horror and surrealism (I read an interview with him in which he compared this book to Roland Topor’s The Tenant, ha!), but The Suiting is too complicated for the former and too stupid for the latter. This is unfortunate, as I enjoyed big chunks of it, and it could have been much, much better. Kelly Wilde actually rewrote this book for a special 25th anniversary edition. I think it only came out as an e-book, but it has since been removed from Amazon. I won’t be reading the new version.

Kelley Wilde lived in Canada, but he is an American. Aside from the street names and the appendix of translations of French Canadian phrases at the end of the book, there’s nothing inherently Canadian about The Suiting.

There’s quite a few comparisons that can be made between this novel and Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho. They were written within a few years of eachother, and both deal with similarly unstable protagonists who are drawn to fancy suits. The reason that you’ve probably heard of American Psycho and not The Suiting is becase the latter is a heap of crap.

The next time I find a horror novel about something that sounds really stupid, I’ll know better and leave it on the shelf.

 

 

Haha. No, I won’t.

 

Cabal – Clive Barker

Although this is a post about a book by Clive Barker, I could start it off the exact same way I started my 2016 post on the books of Stephen King, discussing my weekly trips to the local video shop with my parents when I was a kid. The box of one video in the horror section fascinated me. It was called Nightbreed, and there was a picture on the side of the box of a fat, gross goblin-like creature with his face in his chest. Anything featuring this guy had to be a repulsive work of obscene horror. 

nightbreed fat monsterI wanted to see this movie so much.

After getting broadband internet when I was 17, I spent a few years downloading and watching all of those horror movies that had disturbed me in the video shop. I think I was mildly underwhelmed when I got around to Nightbreed. It’s so long ago now, that if you had asked me last week, I wouldn’t have had a clue as to what the movie was about, but I read Cabal, the novel it was based on, at the weekend, and I think some of it came back to me.

cabal clive barker
Cabal – Clive Barker
Harper Collins – 1989 (First published 1988)

I couldn’t remember the plot of the movie, but I was able to figure out who the bad guy was in the book almost instantly. I can’t be sure that this was my memories of the movie coming back or the fact that it’s kind of obvious. I looked back at the movie poster and trailer there to see if I might want to watch it again, but at 33, it seems considerably less appealing. I know the director’s cut has been released, but I doubt it’s much better. One of the characters still looks like he has the moon for a head. Still though, I’ve been listening to the soundtrack as I write this post, and Danny Elfman’s score is convincing me that the movie might be worth another look.

How about the book though? Well, I want to mention something else before talking about that. I moved apartment recently, and before handing over the keys to my old place, I had to scrub it clean and make it presentable. We had been there for 6 years, so you can imagine how much work that was. I decided to make the work a little easier by distracting my mind with an audiobook. I chose Cabal. I’ve been doing a lot of books on Audible recently, and I have been using the app’s speed-up feature to get through the books quickly.

I did not enjoy this book from the comfort of my armchair. I did not have a pillow against which to rest my weary head as I turned these pages. I did not sip gingerly from a hot cup of peppermint tea as this tale reached its climax. No, no, no. While I was listening to this book being narrated at almost double speed, I was huffing oven-cleaner fumes and shoveling half a decade’s worth of dust and grime from behind a fridge.  

Ok, enough of that. You didn’t come here for the banal horror of my life. I included that information to give you some context that might explain my opinions or lack thereof on this book.

Cabal was enjoyable enough. I’ve forgotten a lot of it already. It was pretty violent in parts. I’ve only ever read the Books of Blood before this, and Cabal definitely felt like the same author. There was some religious symbolism or analogy at the end that went over my head. I can’t recommend that you rush out and read this book, but if you’re looking for a weird adventure story to pass the time, you could probably do a lot worse. I bought a paper copy at a library book sale for a quarter years ago. I don’t regret my purchase at all. 

My post about The Books of Blood was very short too. I assure you, this is not because I don’t like Clive Barker’s writing. I do. Everything I’ve read by him has been enjoyable. I watched Hellraiser for the first time in years just last week, and I’m already planning another post on the Hellbound Heart and few of Barker’s shorter works in the near future.

The Nursery and Toy Cemetery – William W. Johnstone’s Insane Horror Novels

the nursery william wThe Nursery – William W. Johnstone
Zebra Books – 1983

“a Satan who is obsessed by anal sex” – this is part of the description of The Nursery given in Paperbacks from Hell. Well, after reading that, there was no way in Hell that I wasn’t going to track down this book. Fortunately, it completely lived up to the hype. This is perhaps the most insane horror novel I’ve ever read. The cover and title are fairly misleading. There is a nursery in the story, but it’s not super important to the plot. This book is more about violence, sex and Satanism… oh and vampires.

The Nursery is a tricky one to find though. At this stage, nearly all of William W. Johnstone’s horror novels have been released as e-books, but The Nursery has not yet been given this treatment. (I’ve ended up with two copies. If you wanna trade me something good, message me.) This shit is truly mental, but it’s damn entertaining. There’s another, more thorough, review of this book on Glorious Trash if you want more details before reading it

I wrote the above paragraphs about The Nursery roughly a year ago. After finishing that book, I had a hard time picking up another novel by Johnstone. While I did actually enjoy The Nursery, it’s a very intense novel, and reading it was a hectic experience.

Looking back at those paragraphs, I am amused to see that I described The Nursery as “perhaps the most insane horror novel I’ve ever read”. I finished reading Toy Cemetery a few weeks back, and I can say with certainty that it is definitely the most insane horror novel I’ve ever read.

toy cemetery - william wToy Cemetery – William W. Johnstone
Zebra Books – 1987

Toy Cemetery is essentially the same novel as The Nursery except this one has the added attraction of two armies of living toys. Yes, this is another novel about a Vietnam veteran returning to his home town only to find it overrun by Satanists. There’s more incest in this one, but it’s also extremely violent. There was one scene that starts off with a man taking his new girlfriend on vacation; after a few paragraphs, he is crushing her skull with the heel of his boot. Another noteworthy feature of this one is the fact that every single female character is evil. Honestly, there’s so many insane parts of this novel that I don’t feel capable of properly explaining how mental it is. By the end of the book, the honest,  honorable, Christian protagonist is stabbing his family to death in garbage dump. Grady Hendrix wrote an excellent review of this one a few years ago. I read his review right after finishing the novel, and actually being forced to think about what had happened in this novel after reading it was a very funny experience. Any attempt to summarize the events in this book will fall short of expressing how truly bizarre it is. It’s ridiculously flawed, misogynistic, and non-nonsensical, but I absolutely loved it.

 

It might take me a while, but I intend to read all of Johnstone’s horror novels. The phrase “Paperbacks from Hell” is now used to describe horror novels from the 70s, 80s and 90s, but I don’t think I’ve read any books that live up to that title as well as Johnstone’s. These are x-rated Goosebump books for weirdos. They’re brilliant (in an awful way). You need to check them out.

Paperback Horror Classics by Ken Greenhall

Right now, paperback horror is all I can stomach reading, so I decided to check out Ken Greenhall’s stuff as I had heard he was one of the best. All three of these books were originally published under Greenhall’s ‘Jessica Hamilton’ pseudonym, and Valancourt reissued all three under the author’s real name in 2017.

 

hell hound - greenhall

Hell Hound – Originally published 1977

This is the story of an evil dog. The dog is bad by himself, but halfway through the book, he gets adopted by a teenage Nazi.  I had read some glowing reviews of Greenhall’s work before reading this book, and I had pretty high expectations. It was certainly well written and entertaining, but large chunks of the narration are presented from the dog’s perspective. I know it’s stupid, but there was a little part of my brain that had a problem accepting this, even for the sake of a horror story. Whenever the dog would start to speak, I started to think of the scene in Derek Jarman’s movie about Wittgenstein where the philosopher explains the linguistic limitations of dogs. This was a fine horror novel though. It kept me entertained for an afternoon in quarantine.

 

ken greenhall elizabeth

Elizabeth – Originally published 1976

This one was quite creepy. Elizabeth is the story of a teenage girl who starts to see a woman in the mirrors around her house. The woman starts telling her what to do, and pretty soon, her family members start dying. The general consensus on Ken Greenhall is that he is a terribly underrated and forgotten writer, and this book convinced me of that. This is an extremely well written novel. The characters are super interesting, and there’s an impressive amount of atmosphere. There are also quite a few paragraphs throughout that require rereading, not because they’re complicated, but because they’re brilliant. I started this one afternoon and stayed up late that night to finish it. After reading it, I felt uncomfortable walking around my apartment with the lights off. This is a great horror novel, and I reckon it’s the best of Greenhall’s books.

 

ken greenhall childgrave

Childgrave – Originally published 1982

The title of this book put me off. Call me a wuss, but I don’t want to read about dead or dying children. When I started reading about a father and his 4 year old daughter, I felt uncomfortable and anxious. (I have a little girl, and it was hard to read this without picturing us as the characters.) This anxiety faded as I got further into the novel; the narrative voice is very self aware and quite funny, and this makes it seem unlikely that the protagonist will allow anything truly awful to happen. By the halfway point of the book, Childgrave feels like a comic, well-written, paranormal love story.

It’s not though. It gets very, very dark at the end. Grady Hendrix claims that stylistically Greenhall “was a direct heir to Shirley Jackson”. I don’t think Jackson’s influence on Greenhall was limited to style. Without giving too much away, I can say that the ending of Childgrave is only a few steps removed from one of Jackson’s most famous tales.

I don’t want to ruin the story for anyone who hasn’t read it, but I found the last few chapters of the book hard to stomach. They didn’t feel believable. The narrator makes a choice that seems completely unrealistic and out of character. He comes across as mildly unhinged throughout the book, but the choice he makes near the end violates human nature. It’s not believable. The whole book leads up to this choice too, and I found it hard to enjoy the rest of the story after that point.

Childgrave is the longest of the three novels by Greenhall that I read, and I can say that I probably enjoyed reading the first 5/6ths of this one more than the others. The characters are good, the plot is interesting and the writing is great. Unfortunately, I thought the ending made the whole book feel a bit dumb. I’m sure lots of Greenhall fans will disagree, but I’d bet the ones that do don’t have kids of their own. Come on, he wouldn’t do that! No way.

 

Greenhall wrote a few other books, but these were the ones that Valancourt chose to reissue, so I assume they’re the best. I enjoyed them, and I agree that Greenhall deserves more recognition as a writer. These are objectively better books than some of the tripe I’ve been reviewing recently.

The Hazards of Genetic Experimentation: Harry Adam Knight’s Slimer, Carnosaur and The Fungus

Since the start of the lockdown, I have been ripping through thrashy horror novels. Here are three by Harry Adam Knight. Harry Adam Knight was a pseudonym used by a pair of authors, John Brosnan and Leroy Kettle. These three books were written within 3 years of each other, and each one of them is about a genetic experiment gone wrong. I’ve been really into this kind of stuff recently. Maybe I’m subconsciously trying to teach myself how to cope in situations where an inhuman force is decimating a completely unprepared civilization. I don’t know.

 

slimer harry adam knightSlimer
Star Books – 1983

6 young adventurers get stuck on an abandoned oil rig turned science laboratory with a genetically modified nightmare.

I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed this novel. The premise is ludicrous and the characters are dumb, but the setting is so effective that it makes this a really enjoyable read. The idea of an abandoned oil rig, hundreds of miles from civilization is perfect for a horror novel. There’s a real sense of mystery that creeps out of the emptiness. (I was reading over this paragraph before publishing this post, and I remembered an episode of the X-Files that was set on an oil-rig. I’m just reading over the plot synopsis of that episode now and I’m surprised by the similarities with this book. It was Vienen, the 18th episode of season 8 (2001), if anyone is interested in writing a compare and contrast essay.)

Once things get going in Slimer, they head in the direction you’d expect, but by that stage I was enjoying the atmosphere and the drama between the characters. I read this book over two days, and I spent the entire first half of the second of those days looking forward to sitting down and finishing it. There’s no denying that this is trashy horror, but I had a good time with it.

 

carnosaur harry adam knight
Carnosaur
Tor – 1993 (Originally published 1984)

Usually I wait a while between books by one author. I waited 3 days after finishing Slimer to begin Carnosaur. (Although technically, this is a different Harry Adam Knight to the author of the other two books in this post as this one was actually written by John Brosnan by himself.) I don’t regret rushing into Carnosaur. It was lots of fun too.

A rich lad genetically engineers dinosaurs into existence. Sounds familiar? Well, this was actually written 6 years before Jurassic Park, and Carnosaur is set in a rural village in England rather than a remote island. Oh, and this has a lot more people getting eaten.

This was not a particularly clever or subtle book, but it had a shit-ton of dinosaurs and shotguns. If that doesn’t sound good to you, you’re probably a wimp.

 

the fungus harry adam knight
The Fungus
Valancourt Books – 2018 (Orginally published 1985)

Genetically modified fungus destroys Great Britain. Hell yes.

One of the main characters in this novel is a violent English soldier who was stationed in Belfast in the early 1980s. This created an uncomfortable tension for me. I really, really wanted him to die horribly.

This is another book that delivers what it promises, lots and lots of minging fungus. Enough said.

 

At one stage, these books were fairly difficult to track down for a reasonable price, but both Slimer and The Fungus were reissued by Valancourt Books a couple of years ago. Carnosaur was made into a movie in the early 90s, and I assume the movie company has the rights to the novel or something as it hasn’t been republished. I read the movie tie-in rerelease on openlibrary. The cover of this version is wretched, but it beats paying $60+ for an original copy.

I don’t know how much my current living conditions had to do with it, but I really enjoyed all three of these books. They’re not groundbreaking high-literature, but they were a lot of fun to read. Brosnan and Kettle collaborated on some other books under a different name, and I’ll read those if I ever find cheap copies.

 

 

Slither, Slime and Squelch: John Halkin’s Slither Series

The titles and covers of the books in John Halkin’s Slither series are ridiculous, so ridiculous that I had to read them. I’ve seen people write these books off for seeming too silly, but I thought they were actually pretty entertaining. In truth, they’re not really a series. The events in these books make no reference to the events in the others. They’re more a trilogy of thematically, structurally and onomatopoeically similar books.

 

halkin slitherSlither – 1980

When I started reading Slither, I didn’t have high hopes. I presumed it was going to be an exercise in scraping the bottom of the barrel, one of those awful novels I can only bare to skim. I was pleasantly surprised to find myself enjoying it. I mean, it didn’t win John Halkin the Nobel Prize for literature, but it kept me entertained for a few hours. This is the story of a TV cameraman during a killer worm attack on England.

Halkin doesn’t waste much time describing the origin of the worms or their motives. He spends more time describing the protagonist’s complicated relationship with his wife. The plot is ludicrous, but the characters are believable, and when I finished this one, I wasn’t dreading the other books in the series.

 

halkin slimeSlime – 1984

Although I had enjoyed Slither, I didn’t really feel any great desire to immediately pick up Slime, the next entry in the series. I’m off work at the moment though, so after about 2 weeks and 7 other novels, I got going on it.

There’s not much to say about this one.

It’s basically the same novel as Slither. Both are about English lads who work in television. Both protagonists are going through severe marital problems. Both books feature plagues of new breeds of water animals with a hunger for human flesh, and both books end with the protagonists having to put themselves in an extremely dangerous situation to save the person they love most.

For the first part of the book, I was rolling my eyes at the similarities with its predecessor, but by the end, I was reading along happily. I can’t say this book was clever, or even original, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it.

 

halkin squelchSquelch – 1985

When I started on Squelch, the final book in the series, I wasn’t expecting any surprises. I didn’t get any either. A struggling TV director ends up as part of England’s first line of defense against a plague of killer caterpillars while also having an affair with her sister’s husband. The biggest difference with this one is that the ending is a little less dramatic than the other two books. It is, however, just as ludicrous. I reckon Squelch is my favourite title for a horror novel ever.  Every time the word squelch appeared in the book, I felt like cheering.

While these books, especially the latter two, are strikingly unoriginal, I got the sense that Halkin was probably capable of a lot more. The depth of characterization on display here is surprising, and although the plots are almost identical, if you space the books out, this doesn’t really make them any less enjoyable. Let’s just remember that these books are titled Slither, Slime and Squelch. If you were writing a series with those titles, would you try to reinvent the wheel? These are competent novels for what they are, and if you are the kind of person who would even consider reading a book called Squelch, you won’t be disappointed. There are a few grossout moments in each book that literally had me squirming.

While reading these books and noticing their similarities, I began to think about the author.  His protagonists are a cameraman, an actor and a director, so I assumed that Halkin himself must have worked in TV. In a comment on Too Much Horror Fiction’s post about these books, horror author Ramsey Campbell confirmed my suspicions, stating that “Halkin was the pseudonym of someone quite high up in BBC arts production in the early eighties.” Also, all three of Halkin’s protagonists are having serious relationship problems and a bunch of affairs. I wonder if Halkin was inspired by his personal experiences here too.

While the plot structure of all 3 novels is the essentially the same, the originality of each book stems from the author’s choice of flesh hungry animals. I was also impressed by his creative ways of getting rid of these slimy anatognists. For those of you who are too cowardly to actually read these books, I’ll just mention how they end for your amusement. Spoilers ahead, skip to the next paragraph if you’re planning on reading these books: The giant water worms are stopped when the queen worms (that may have come from outer space) are bombed to death after most of the worms have been turned into designer belts. The jellyfish are killed by scientists pumping the oceans full of the polio virus. The herds of genetically modified caterpillars are thinned when the government imports thousands of caterpillar-eating lizards from Africa and then dumps them into the English country side.

Halkin wrote another creepy-crawly book called Blood Worm. I don’t feel the need to read it immediately, but I’ll probably get around to it at some stage. These books are unadulterated trash, but when the city where I live is in lockdown because of a dangerously contagious virus, trashy horror novels are just what I need.