Clive Barker’s Books of Blood

clive barker books of bloodThe 6 volumes of Clive Barker’s Books of Blood were published between 1984 and 1985, and they are some of the most infamous and deadly collections of short horror fiction out there. I had been meaning to read them for a long time, and after reading two of the tales in the Splatterpunks anthologies last autumn, I decided to check out the rest. Each volume contains 4-6 stories, and they’re mostly very enjoyable.

Barker’s horror is dark and violent. There’s quite a few ‘Oh God, that’s horrible!’ moments throughout. I feel like I would have read more as a teenager if I had known that books like these existed. (That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy them as an adult.) The writing here is imaginative, exciting and often quite brutal.

I don’t really have a huge amount else to say about these books other than that they’re pretty awesome. In retrospect, waiting until I had read all six volumes before writing a review might have been a mistake. The quantity and variety of stories is so great that I don’t want to get into specifics. There’s countless other reviews online if you want more details, but I suggest you ignore those and just read Barker’s stories instead. If you like horror, you’ll very probably enjoy these books. I’ll certainly be reading more Barker in the future.

I hope you’re all staying inside and being safe during this stressful time.

 

The Brains of Rats – Michael Blumlein

the brains of rats - michael blumlein
The Brains of Rats – Michael Blumlein

Valancourt – 2015 (Originally published 1989)
I added this book to my to-read list after it popped up in my recommendations from goodreads a few months ago. Just days afterwards, the author, Michael Blumlein died, and the horror community on twitter assured me that this collection was one worth reading.

I really enjoyed this book. It’s top notch, bloody weird stuff. The first story, ‘The Brains of Rats’, a medical doctor’s ruminations on gender and identity, lets the reader know that this collection is going to be quite strange, but the next tale, the infamous “Tissue Ablation and Variant Regeneration: A Case Study.”, Blumlein’s first published story, is a kick in the stomach. Its visceral cruelty is all the more punishing due to its narrator’s clinical descriptions and apparent lack of empathy, but this brutality isn’t the key to the story. I was born in 1986, so it took me longer to realise what was actually being described than it would have to anyone reading it when it was first published in 1987. Reagan is only a name to me, and the penny only really dropped when I realised that changing it to Trump would be the only necessary step to completely modernise this tale. Even thinking about it now, I’m getting excited. Publishing a story like this was gutsy, but the writing is stunning. It reminded me of Edgar Allen Poe, not in its themes or word choices, but in its absolutely masterful execution. This is a short story I will never forget.

Every review of this book I’ve read since completing it makes comparisons to the writings of J.G. Ballard, and I have to admit, Ballard’s story ‘Why I want to Fuck Ronald Reagan’ is the first thing that came to mind once I realised what ‘Tissue Ablation’ was about. (Blumlein’s story is not about fucking the President.) The Ballard influence runs deeper than this though. The final story, and one of the best in the collection, ‘Best Seller’, describes one of its characters fetishization of scar tissue, a feature which immediately brought Ballard’s Crash to mind. There’s lots of other little Ballardian touches throughout the collection.

‘Shed his Grace’, another Reagan inspired tale, reads like the screenplay for an unproduced Ministry music video. It’s pretty fucked up. The other story that really stood out to me was ‘The Wetsuit’, a truly bizarre tale of a family’s strange secret. These are the kind of stories that made me think about what was going through the writer’s head for him to come up with ideas like these. I really, really enjoyed this collection and look forward to reading more Blumlein in the future.

Half a Decade of Blogging about Creepy Books

I got a notification during the week informing me that this blog is now 5 years old. My first post, a look at Wade Baskin’s translation of Collin De Plancy’s Dictionary of Witchcraft, was published on February 27th, 2015. Since then, I have reviewed almost 350 books.

I’m a little bit surprised that I’ve lasted this long to be honest. I put a lot of work into this site, but I don’t see a huge amount of traffic. I have nobody to blame for this other than myself. Most of the books I write about are bottom of the barrel stuff that nobody will ever search for. I’ve thought about branching out and reading more contemporary fiction in attempt to draw more traffic, but while I certainly won’t rule out reading new books, I reckon weird old books will probably remain my focus. I think of this site more as a literary freakshow than a review site. I don’t really care if people want to read the books I write about or not, I just want you to know that these texts exist.

I write about famous books and popular authors regularly, but my favourite posts are always the ones about books that have an air of mystery to them. There have been a few posts on this blog where I have had the delight of presenting new information or theories on strange and mysterious texts. Here are a few posts that represent my best work. I beseech any lovers of peculiar literature to check these out if you haven’t already.

 

mmThe Autobiography of Saint Margaret Mary (March 2015)
This was one of my first posts. It’s about a Christian saint who had a shit fetish. I look back on it with a smile.

 

2015-12-28 02.38.38Did Aleister Crowley Create Strange Lifeforms? (December 2015)
This was my first post on Aleister Crowley. It’s a look at the different ways he was portrayed in fiction by those who actually knew him.

 

michelle remembers ross bayMichelle Remembers – Michelle Smith and Lawrence Pazder (March 2016)
I’m pretty confident in saying that at the time this post was published, it was the most comprehensive account of why this book is bullshit. It includes photos from the Satanic graveyard where the events in the book supposedly took place.

 

20160325_000821The Fiery Angel – Valery Bryusov (March 2016)
A look at the real events that inspired this peculiar occult novel.

 

robert anton wilson the sex magiciansRobert Anton Wilson, Sex Magician! (July 2017)
An exegesis of a book of pulp occult pornography. (It’s one of those ‘use the text to interpret the text’ situations.)

 

liber falxiferDeath Worship and Current 218 (November 2017)
An exploration of the link between heavy metal and Liber Falxifer, an infamous text of Black Magic.

 

spawn of the devil - aristotle leviSpawn of the Devil (Inpenetrable) – A Quaint and Curious Volume of Forgotten Porn (August 2018)
I still think this is the best post I’ve ever written.

 

dark gods - anthony roberts and Geoff GilbertsonDark Gods – Anthony Roberts and Geoff Gilbertson (July 2019)
It was a delight to be able to share information on this rare and curious tome of paranoid doom.

 

La Tronçonneuse de l'Horreur - nick blakeA History of Chainsaw Terror (Come the Night) by Nick Blake (Shaun Hutson) (February 2020)
There were histories of this book online before this, but this is the most complete one out there.

 

There’s lots of other good posts on here, but these few are special to me.

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ve probably noticed a recent lack of posts on occult books. (The last non-fiction book I wrote about was Daughters of the Devil back at the beginning of December.) There’s a few reasons for this. I’m mainly just sick of wasting my time reading stupid spellbooks written by wankers. I have been reading other types of occult books over the past few months, but unfortunately, they have been extremely boring, long and difficult to get through. I’ve had a post about Nazi Grail Hunters in the works since early October and another on a horrendously stupid book about interdimensional sasquatches, but reading these texts has been so tedious that I have been avoiding them and breezing through enjoyable horror novels instead.

I have not abandoned occult books, but I have to be more picky these days. I don’t need to read any more books of love spells or nonsense about kaballah. I don’t want to read any more post-hypnotic accounts of alien abductions or any more books arguing that some cave paintings prove our ancestors were space people. I’m getting pretty jaded with Satanism now too. The more Satanists I interact with, the less interested I am in books about their hero.

 

Recently, I decided that I want to start writing more fiction. Between Nocturnal Revelries and my other blog, I write a lot, and I reckon that I’ve read enough books now to make a decent go at my own stories. I’ve posted my short fiction before (Kevin and The Compost Bin, two disgusting tales), and hopefully there’ll be more coming soon.

Blogging may be past its heyday, but I like doing it, so I reckon I’ll keep going for another few years. Thanks to everyone who reads this site. I really hope you enjoy it.

The Happy Man – Eric C. Higgs

the happy man eric cThe Happy Man  Eric C. Higgs
St. Martin’s Press – 1985

Here’s a snappy little horror novel that took me all of an evening to finish. I enjoyed every page.

The plot centers around a man in his early 30s who’s beginning to wonder if there’s any more to life than his marriage, his nice house and his comfortable job. When a new family move in next door, he makes friends with the husband, and things start to get messy pretty quickly. This new guy is a very, very, very bad influence. The plot is a little bit underdeveloped, but the telling of the tale makes this shortcoming pretty easy to forgive. In fact, I really didn’t notice it until I was finished and started thinking about what I had just read.

I won’t say anything else about the story because you should really just read the book for yourself. The writing is excellent. It reminded me of Bret Easton Ellis’s early novels – The Happy Man set in the 80s and the characters are affluent professional Californians who are apathetic to the suffering of others. This is definitely more of a horror novel than any of Ellis’s work though.

This is a short review, but The Happy Man is a short book. I strongly suggest that you pick up a copy. It’s funny, exciting and rather dark. It was recently reissued by Valancourt Books, and as you probably know, Valancourt specialise in reprinting books that really deserve to be reprinted.  This one is no exception.

the happy man eric c higgsThe new Valancourt edition’s cover

The Voice of the Clown – Brenda Brown Canary

the voice of the clown - brenda brown canaryThe Voice of the Clown – Brenda Brown Canary
Avon Books – 1982


After 
Paperbacks from Hell came out, quite a few of the books featured therein became hard to find. I made a list of the ones that I needed to read (most of which included the word Satan in the title) and tried to forget about the rest. After a bit of hunting, I managed to get my hands on copies of all of my first picks. I ordered some online, found others in thrift stores, and downloaded pdfs of others. Now, two years later,  I have read and reviewed 20 of the books featured in Paperbacks in Hell. Some were really good (The Cipher, The Tribe), and others were truly terrible (Brotherkind, The Manse). 

At this stage, the demand for many of these novels has diminished slightly, and books that were 300 hundred dollars are now available for 50 or 60. I check other blogs and discuss books with other nerds on twitter, and I noticed that the ‘paperback from Hell’ that is most frequently mentioned because of its scarcity is Brenda Brown Canary’s The Voice of the Clown

This title had escaped my notice when I first read Paperbacks from Hell, but I googled it after seeing it mentioned a few times and discovered the reason for its scarcity. Grady Hendrix has apparently claimed that this is the one book that actually lived up to the ‘from Hell’ title and that it is the only book to ever make his jaw drop. I was enticed, but after seeing the prices that it goes for online, I decided not to get too interested as I would never pay that much for a book.

A few weeks ago, I went to one of my favourite local bookshops. It’s super cheap, and has the biggest selection of paperbacks in my city, but it’s entirely disorganized, and over the course of several visits, I’ve cleaned out most of the horror novels. This time, I spent a good half hour without finding anything, but I didn’t want to walk by the owner of the shop without buying anything, so I continued my search. Then I discovered a copy of T.E.D. Klein’s The Ceremonies, a book I’ve wanted to read for a while, and with renewed vigour I turned to a bookcase that I hadn’t yet searched through. There are three rows of paperbacks on every shelf, and it was at the back row of the bottom shelf that I found a copy of The Voice of the Clown with 2.00 written on the cover.

I started to shake. This was the Holy Grail of collectible horror paperbacks. I grabbed another horror novel and sandwiched the Clown between that and The Ceremonies to make it less conspicuous. I had to get out of there before another collector saw what I had and a fight broke out. Like a thief in the night, I tiptoed to the counter, put my books down and smiled at the old lady. I assumed that she was going to recognise what I had in my hand, but she just smiled back and charged me 9 dollars for the three novels. I got out of there as quickly as I could, expecting to hear sirens behind me once somebody realised the daylight robbery I had just committed. 

IMG_20200216_083533

When I got home, I was elated. I tried to convey my excitement to my wife, but she didn’t seem to care. My reading list is fairly lengthy, but it was only a few weeks before I gave in to temptation and bumped this novel to the front of my list.

Then I sat down and read it.

 

Jesus Christ. This was an unrelenting nightmare.

T.J. unknowingly gets his girlfriend Molly pregnant and then moves away. Then he knocks up a different girl, Kate, and marries her even though he only loves Molly. After giving birth, Molly kills herself. A few years later, T.J. and Kate have another kid. Unfortunately for them, Laura, the new baby, is the reincarnation of Molly, T.J.’s old girlfriend.

Laura really, really, really hates her mom, but she doesn’t fully understand why yet. She REALLY loves her dad though, in a way that seems weird right from the beginning. When her dad gets her mom pregnant again, she becomes very unhappy.

For the most part, the reincarnation business is the only supernatural element in this book. This is not what I was expecting from the cheesy cover. The horror is not of evil spirits or of psychic powers. It is the horror of trauma, suicide, domestic abuse, and misery.

Laura is not only jealous; she is also a manipulative, sadistic psychopath. The story is also told from her point of view, a fact that makes this book all the more disturbing. The reader starts off on her side, but I started to sympathise with her mother pretty quickly. Laura does everything she can to upset Kate, a woman who may not be the best mother in the world but who hasn’t actually done anything unforgivable. I don’t want to give away details, but some of Laura’s actions were so upsetting that they caused me to put the book down and consider whether or not I actually wanted to finish it.

I’ve seen other reviews of this book where people said that The Voice of the Clown isn’t as scary as it’s made out to be and that it gets bogged down with character development, but I found the build up to be really effective. Also, I honestly doubt that those naysaying reviewers have kids of their own. I have a little girl, and my wife and I have another kid on the way, and reading about a child’s mission to destroy her family by any means was deeply upsetting for me. I can read gore all day and won’t be bothered, but reading about a jealous child’s well thought out plans to torment a helpless baby and its mother was utterly horrendous. This novel struck a nerve.

This is a miserable, bleak, unpleasant book to read. While there are some supernatural elements, it’s really more horrible than horror. That being said, I reckon that was the point. Brenda Brown Canary must have sat down and really thought hard on to how write the most horrible book ever. I don’t think something as unpleasant as this could happen by accident. I know that Valancourt Books have tried to get in touch with her to reprint this as part of their Paperbacks from Hell reissues line, but that she has yet to respond. I wonder how she feels about this book now. Was it written during a dark time in her life that she would rather forget? I hope I’m wrong, but I find it difficult to imagine a person who loves their life writing a book like this. It’s relentlessly unpleasant, and it gets worse and worse as it goes on.

All that being said, I think it is a good book. This is a methodically written novel of terror, real, unpleasant terror. I’ve written before of times when books have obsessed me. In all other cases, the obsession reached its peak before reading the book. I would get fixated on a rare horror novel and spend hours seeking out information about it before finding/ordering a copy. Reading it would be the climax. In this case, my interest was really sparked after finishing the novel. I’ve found myself picking it up since finishing it, staring at the cover and feeling an unpleasant discomfort. Part of me wants to get rid of my copy to have it out of my house, but the masochist in me wants to keep it in case I want to punish myself again in a few years. If you can get a copy of this thing and you’re not faint of heart, pick it up and jump into the nightmare.

Kill for Satan – Bryan Smith

42304587._SY475_.jpg

Kill for Satan – Bryan Smith

Grindhouse Press – 2018

I saw the cover of this book roughly a year ago and knew I’d have to read it. It’s about a bunch of people killing a bunch of other people. Oh, and they’re doing so for Satan.

Kill for Satan only came out in 2018, and it features a lot of pop culture references that made me realise how little modern horror I actually read. I was a bit bothered by the repeated allusions to one of the character’s Cradle of Filth tshirt (Jesus Christ, that band are shit.), but I liked the part when one of the characters is researching Satanism and discovers “modern so-called “Satanic” groups that don’t actually believe in the existence of any demonic evil entity ” who “use Satan as a provocative and subversive means of delivering progressive messages. They are social activists, not true devotees of the dark path.” Haha, I wonder who he’s reading about.

Really though, aside from all of the killing for Satan, there’s not much else going on in this book. It reminded me of a more straightforward version of William Johnstone’s The Nursery. In a way that’s a good thing; Johnstone’s book was a mess, but I found the plot of Kill for Satan to be a bit underwhelming.

Bryan Smith seems to specialise in Splatterpunk, and this book, like some of the others within that genre, was just a bit too straightforward for me to really enjoy. Kill for Satan felt a bit more like reading the screenplay for an extended death metal music video than it did a novel. Smith’s writing is decent – I was never bored, but personally, I would have enjoyed a bit more plot/character development – maybe a little less killing and a little more Satan.

There is one particularly memorable scene in which a mother says to her child, “I’m sorry, sweetie. I do love you. But I love Satan more.” Yikes. You can probably guess what happens next. If this sounds good to you, if you’re looking for a straight up bloodbath of mindless, brutal violence, this book will not disappoint.

 

My Work Is Not Yet Done – Thomas Ligotti

My Work is Not Yet Done ligotti.jpgMy Work is Not Yet Done – Thomas Ligotti
2002 – Virgin

I read a lot of books, but in truth, there are relatively few authors whose books I savour. I actually hold off on reading Thomas Ligotti because I don’t want the day to come when I have already read all of his books. His low opinion of humanity is both tragically hilarious and brutal, and while I don’t necessarily share the outlook of the narrators of his stories, I find his pessimism the perfect vehicle for horror. The message that our existence has no worth is perhaps the most disturbing idea that an author can offer to 21st century humans.

My Work Is Not Yet Done is a novella and two short stories. All of these tales are about workers’ lives as part of a corporation. There’s a very Kafkaesque vibe running throughout, but Ligotti covers the bureaucratic angst with layers of supernatural horror and misanthropy and turns it into something far darker. The first act of the eponymous novella portrays a man who decides to go on a killing spree in his office after he’s unfairly dismissed from his job. I know Stephen King found himself in hot water for writing a novel about a school shooting, so I was impressed that Ligotti had done something so extreme. I won’t tell you what happens later on in the story, but I will say that it’s actually far worse than what you’d expect.

I know full well the misery of working for a company that you hate, and while I’ve only spent a little over a year working in an “office job”, I spent enough of that year fantasizing about murdering my boss to have thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Little things about the book stuck out to me. Characters have stupid names – coworkers are named Sherry, Terry, Mary, and Perry, and detectives are named Black and White. Also, the purpose of the corporations that these characters work is barely discussed – the nature of the work that the characters engage in is almost entirely passed over. Why does Ligotti omit these details? Why doesn’t he put more effort into naming his characters? Because that stuff doesn’t matter. Human beings are entirely interchangeable. You are no different to the people you hate the most. What corporations actually do doesn’t make any difference to their workers. Nothing fucking matters. Every living thing is going to die without having made any noticeable difference in the universe, a universe in which every single atom will eventually decay.

Oh, I forgot to mention that this is the first post of 2020. Happy New Year everyone!

“Generally speaking: Expect nothing but nightmarish obscenities to be born when human heads come together in intercourse.

More generally speaking: Whatever is born will ultimately grow into a nightmarish obscenity – in the grand scheme of things.”

There’s moody nuggets like this sprinkled throughout the book, but the closing lines of My Work Is Not Yet Done sum it all up. I don’t want to quote those here as it might ruin the effect when you do get around to reading it, but fuck me, they’re perfect. Please believe me when I say that this is a novella worth reading.

I’ve also reviewed Ligotti’s Teatro Grottesco and The Conspiracy Against the Human Race if you’re interested. I read Noctuary years ago too, but I haven’t reviewed that one properly yet. There’s a copy of the Penguin edition of Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe on my shelf, but I’m waiting for a special occasion to allow myself the luxury of reading it.