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.

An Interview with Garrett Boatman, Author of Stage Fright

It will come as no surprise to anyone who has ever read this blog that I sometimes get obsessed with certain books. A few years ago, I first saw the cover of Garrett Boatman’s Stage Fright, and its heavy metal skeleton assured me that I would some day read it. A few months later, the cover of Stage Fright was featured in Grady Hendrix’s Paperbacks from Hell, and copies suddenly became scarce and expensive. It was already an obscure book that I couldn’t find much information about online, and this combined with its sudden scarcity made it all the more desirable.

stage fright boatman.jpg
This time two years ago, I was scouring the internet for an affordable copy of Stage Fright, all the time kicking myself for not having bought one when they were going for 10 dollars (including postage). I’m not exaggerating; I was literally searching bookfinder and ebay every few hours. At one point, I was planning a trip to the United States to buy a copy from some dude in Washington, but he sold it before I could go through with this. I also spent hours searching for Garrett Boatman on social media to see if he had any copies left, but I couldn’t find any traces of him online. I presumed he was either dead or that ‘Garrett Boatman’ had been an alias. Fortunately, I eventually found a copy online for about 35 dollars and snapped it up. 35 dollars is too much to pay for a tattered old horror paperback, but after a bit of reasoning I convinced myself that it would be worth paying that much just to free up the time I had been spending looking for this damned book.

When I got around to reading it, Stage Fright did not disappoint. It was a bloody mishmash of horror and sci-fi. I rated it 5 out of 5 on goodreads and wrote a glowing review. In writing that review I came upon Joe Kenney’s review that noted a curious feature of the book. The inside cover of Stage Fright makes reference to a book by Garrett Boatman titled Death Dream. This was peculiar for two reasons. First off, the description of Death Dream lines up with the plot of Stage Fright, and secondly, there was no record of a book called Death Dream ever being published. Here was a mystery.

death dream garrett boatman

I had purchased, read and reviewed Stage Fright, so I set my sights on some other curious books and moved on. I briefly considered selling my copy, but I decided to hang on to it because it’s so cool. I had spent a long time obsessing over this book, and it’s one of the jewels of my collection.

Can you imagine my surprise and delight when Garrett Boatman came out of hiding and posted a comment on my blog’s facebook page? Here was the hitherto believed dead author of one of my favourite novels sending me a message! Might this be my chance to get the answers to all of the questions I had about this most curious volume?

Yes. It was. It turns out that Garrett Boatman is actually a really nice, patient and accommodating guy. He very graciously responded to my questions and has allowed me to publish those responses here. I’m absolutely delighted to be able to share this interview of sorts with you.

garrett boatman.jpgMr. Boatman

First off, can you tell me the story of writing Stage Fright? Where, when and how did you do it? How did you get it published once it was written?

In the 1950s, researchers at Tulane University discovered a protein antibody called taraxein in the blood of schizophrenics that caused schizophrenic behavior when injected in monkeys. Administered to inmate volunteers from the Louisiana State Penitentiary, taraxein produced schizophrenic episodes that lasted up to half an hour, presumably until the body’s defense mechanisms defeated the invading substance. Hmm, I thought. From the blood of schizophrenics. Now there’s an idea.

Two other elements went into the inspiration for Stage Fright. Growing up I watched a lot of Creature Features and especially enjoyed stories about mad scientists like Frankenstein, Nemo, Jekyll, Morbius from Forbidden Planet.

The third piece was my idea for a new type of performing art. I remember thinking when I was a boy walking in the Georgia woods wouldn’t it be great if I could make up music in my head and hear it playing in the air. As an adult I loved movies—especially horror, science fiction and fantasy. But making a movie takes money, a director, actors… I thought wouldn’t it be great if there was a technology that could record my dreams. I’d always been interested in dreams, especially nightmares which I enjoy. In controlling them and watching how they play out. I’d recorded my best dreams for years in my notebooks. In fact some of the dreams or schizophrenic sequences in Stage Fright derive from my dreams. Anyway, I came across articles on how dreams or thoughts might be recorded in Psychology Today and other publications, as well as how different parts of the brain processes different sensory input and came up with the dreamatron, a combination synthesizer-neural transmitter device. Edison had his “flickers.” I had my dreamies.

Stage Fright was my second novel. The original title was Death Dream. I wrote it long-hand, then typed it up on a second-hand IBM Selectric. I was unagented. I called New American Library because Signet published Stephen King. I asked to speak to an editor and got one, Matt Sartwell. He asked what I had. I told him about taraxein and my idea for a new media for performing arts. He asked me to send the manuscript and I signed a contract a couple months later. The book was originally intended for NAL’s science fiction imprint Ace with a print run of 90,000 copies, but NAL had recently launched a horror imprint, Onyx Books, and editor-in-chief John Silbersack decided to publish Stage Fright under the Onyx imprint with a print run of 70,000 copies. The new title was also John’s idea. And so it goes.

What can you tell me about the amazing cover art? The artist is uncredited in the book as far as I can see.

I have no information about the cover artist. He or she is not credited in Stage Fright. Paperbacks from Hell lists the cover artist as “unknown.” When I was shown the artwork for Stage Fright, the colors were circus bright. The skeleton’s face was white, hair blond, vest red. I think the pants were blue. The boots were buckskin. I said the colors should be darker. Silbersack agreed. When I got the mockup, I was pleasantly surprised. The art department did a great job.

What about this Paperbacks from Hell business? Did you know your book was going to be featured? If not, how did you find out about it?

No, I didn’t know. I’d been working on a dark-fantasy for the past few years, doing more writing than reading (which for me is a hardship since I’m a voracious reader), and when I finished editing the last volume in November, I ran a search keywords my name and Stage Fright and was thrilled to come up with hits on Nocturnal Revelries, Too Much Horror Fiction, Glorious Trash, Goodreads. It was the link from your review of my book on your post One for the Rockers that sent me to Paperbacks from Hell.

(Ohhhhhh man, knowing this makes me so happy. I feel like I’ve played a small role in horror fiction history!)

How did it make you feel to find out that your book had been not just featured in Paperbacks from Hell but also included on its cover? That book won awards and has had a pretty big influence on the horror market in recent years. Do you accept the title of ‘Paperback from Hell’ for your book?

I write from that dark subterranean platform where the three tracks of science fiction, fantasy and horror meet. There was a time when my editor at NAL joked maybe I would be the King of Technohorror. So if the shoe fits…

But yes, I was tickled pink. Ordered a copy right away. Grady Hendrix must have good taste: he’s using the face from my cover for his Facebook image. Check it out. But really, Stage Fright is more than that. I am very interested in social evolution and how new technologies impact social evolution. I plan to further explore how my dream technology might help shape social evolution. Movies, cell phones, virtual reality all have an impact. If I can throw some frights in along the way, even better.

A couple of years ago, right after PfH came out, a lot of the books featured therein became highly sought after. I remember a time when the cheapest copy of Stage Fright available online was $300. Prices have dropped considerably since the big PfH boom, but copies of Stage Fright still don’t come cheap. Do you find that annoying or flattering?

Neither, I just shake my head in amazement. But I’m glad horror is back. Can I get a Hell Yeah?

Hell yeah, brother! Haha, so what are you plans for the future? Tell me about the new stuff you’re writing/have written.

Night’s Plutonian Shore is a doppelgänger novel, “creatures of the id” as Dr. Morbius called them in Forbidden Planet. One of my favorite tropes. Experimenting with psychotronic generators—similar to what the ancient Egyptians called “Wands of Horus,” a group of students accidentally produce doppelgängers. Survival instinct compels these creatures to murder their originals. My protagonist has a conscious and draws the line at murder; his double does not.

In The Clocks of Midnight, Rick and Fergi, having survived encounters with their doppelgängers, have relocated from New Jersey to Memphis, Tennessee. At the site of a multiple-vehicular accident, a dead man wakes to tell Rick, now an EMT, “The feeding has begun.” In Montreal, a shadow creature attacks two-hundred-year-old horologist Reginaldo da Silva, priest of the Goddess and guardian of the mandala that binds the Watchers to the Abyss. In the days of Enoch, the Watchers, sent to keep an eye on man, abandoned their task and cohabitated with humans, producing monstrous offspring, the Nephilim. The true Samhain, when the Pleiades stand at the zenith at the stroke of midnight and the veil between worlds is thinnest, approaches. And when the Goddess, posing as a vendor in a flea market, sells Rick a crystal that channels the energy of the stars, his life is catapulted into a confrontation with an ancient evil, one of the Grigori, a Watcher who escaped God’s avenging angels in the world’s youth and whose mission is to open the gates of the Pleiades and usher in a new reign of terror.

In The Mirror of Eternity, EMT Rick Scott arrives at the scene of a fire and finds an apartment block vanished, replaced by a warehouse dating to the time of paddle wheelers ablaze, and standing before the inferno, two antique horse-drawn pump wagons and firemen in peaked leather helmets and old-fashioned uniforms. Time is flowing back toward the singularity of the creation. Though he wants no part of magic or the Goddess or Her priest Reginaldo da Silva, he needs answers and, using a vintage 1934 Omega RAF pilot’s watch the ancient horologist has modified with complications created on the astral plane, travels back to 1583 to consult with John Dee and Giordano Bruno and to face demons and gods and in the process become what he never wanted.

The trilogy follows Rick’s reluctant journey from initiate to adept. His arc mirrors the alchemical stages of nigredo to albedo to rubedo.

These books will be available soon, and since this interview was first published, Mr. Boatman has confirmed that Stage Fright is going be rereleased as part of the next run of Valancourt’s line of Paperbacks From Hell.  (YES! I’ve been smiling since I found out yesterday!) I hope this information was as interesting for you as it was to me. You can find more information about Garrett Boatman and his books on his new website, https://www.garrettboatmanauthor.com/

Thank you Garrett!

Hell-O-Ween and The Manse

hell-o-ween the manse halloweenHappy Halloween. To celebrate my favourite holiday, I’m reviewing two Halloween horror novels that have pumpkins on their covers.

david robbins hell-o-weenHell-O-Ween – David Robbins
Leisure Books – 1992

Hell-O-Ween is a remarkably awful book. It starts off with the line; “Yo dweeb, are you ready to go monster hunting?”, and what follows is pretty much what you’d expect. This is an overwritten Goosebumps book with a little violence and a few (gross) mentions of sex thrown in. The following sentence appears n page 23: “She’d neck heavy and let a guy play finger tag with her box, but she refused to go all the way.” This isn’t a line of dialogue either; it’s the narrator’s voice. Finger tag with her box? Jesus.

Hell-O-ween is the story of a nerd, two sluts, 3 jocks (2 bad and 1 good), a geeky girl and a beautiful virgin. These painfully stock characters decide to explore a system of caves on Halloween night. There is a huge picture of an angry demon right at the entrance to the cave, and the astute reader will figure out exactly how the story is going to end after about 10 pages.

Very little happens in here that you wouldn’t expect. Perhaps the most interesting part was a lengthy passage in which one of the jock characters admits to his friend that he started selling cocaine in defiance of his liberal father. I’m sure the author was making a point here, but I can’t figure out what it was. Was it that liberals are irresponsible and can’t raise kids, or was it that non-liberals are piece-of-shit drug dealers? I sincerely don’t know.

This was a gruelling read that I regretted starting almost immediately. Do yourself a favour and give this one a miss.

the manse lisa wThe Manse – Lisa W. Cantrell
TOR – 1987

The Manse won a Stoker award for best 1st novel in 1987. Kathe Koja’s excellent The Cipher won this same award a few years later, so I was expecting a fairly high standard from this book.

I was disappointed, terribly disappointed. This is shockingly dull garbage. It’s the painfully boring story of a haunted house that becomes extra haunted on Halloween night. Actually, Will Erickson reviewed The Manse years ago, and said all of the things I feel like saying about this book. Read his review if you’re still interested. I don’t need to say anything more. Cantrell wrote a sequel, but I’m not going to waste my time on it. The Manse was a shitty, shitty pile of trash. It was poo in a baby’s diaper. Stay away!

 

Both of the books I reviewed for this post absolutely sucked. Actually, pretty much all of the books I reviewed this month absolutely sucked. This week marks a milestone for this blog, and I have a bit of an announcement about that.

For the last year, I have published (at least) one post per week. I have read some great books in the process, but I have also forced myself to read some utter crap to maintain the steady stream of reviews. After some consideration, I have decided that continuing at this pace isn’t really beneficial to me or to this blog. Look at some of the shit I’ve reviewed in the last year.

 

 

Sensible adults don’t read books like these.

Nobody cares about this nonsense, especially me. With this in mind, I want to let you know that I am going to cut back on posts for the next while. I’m going to be focusing on quality rather than quantity for a bit. This probably means 2 posts a month rather than the 5 you’ve been getting for the last year, but at least the newer posts will more than just “This book is pooey farty bumbum.” I want this blog to be something that I enjoy doing rather than something I feel obliged to do.

Have a safe and happy Halloween. Check out my previous Halloween posts while you’re here.

J.N. Williamson’s Martin Ruben Series: The Ritual, Premonition and Brotherkind

martin ruben seriesHere’s three books by prolific horror author, J.N. Williamson. I had never read any of his books before reading these, and it is highly unlikely that I will ever read anything else by him again. The description of Brotherkind in Paperbacks from Hell ensured that I was going to track it down and review it here, but after buying it, I discovered that it was part of a series of 3 books: The Ritual, Premonition and Brotherkind. Naturally, I had to read all of them.

the ritual j. n. williamson
The Ritual – J.N. Williamson
BMI – 1987 (First published 1979)
A young boy turns out to be the Antichrist. His body becomes possessed by the spirits of Napoleon, Hitler Aleister Crowley and Genghis Khan, and he goes on a spree of rape and murder. Other people in his town also go a bit mad and start misbehaving. A local university professor and expert on the occult, Martin Ruben, is called in to deal with this issue. With the help of a priest, a police officer and one of his students, Ruben tries stop the Antichrist. This is just a shit version of The Omen.

If you don’t want spoilers, skip the next paragraph.

This book is really surprisingly shit. Most of the text is taken up with Ruben’s squad attempting to exorcise the kid through hypnosis, but in the end they just kill him. What a damn waste of time!

There’s no suspense, no mystery and no likable characters. This book also contains what might just be the worst line I’ve ever seen in a horror novel: “what Greg was doing had nothing to do with love or marriage and a great deal to do with rape.” Yuck. There are a couple of needlessly brutal rape scenes in here. I guess that’s what you have to resort to when you have no interesting ideas on how to scare people. I was looking forward to finishing this junk after only a few pages.

 

brotherkind j. n. williamsonBrotherkind – J.N. Williamson
Leisure Books – 1982

In J.N. Williamson’s brief profile at the back of Paperbacks from Hell, both Brotherkind and the Premonition are said to acheive an accident “lunatic grandiosity”, so I was hoping they’d be more fun than The Ritual. They are a little better, but they’re not good books.

The description of Brotherkind in Paperbacks from Hell makes it sound awesome. Bigfoot and a gang of aliens gang rape a woman in the first step of a plot to subjugate mankind, but their plans are eventually foiled by the rock’n’roll music of KISS. I mean, maybe that sounds unsavory to some, but probe my ass, it sounds amazing to me. Read that description again though. It took me a single sentence to give you all of the cool parts of this 283 page novel. Unfortunately, there’s nothing else in here of any worth. This is long, overwritten and surprisingly boring.

The book, while fiction, actually serves to expound Williamson’s sincere theories about the UFO phenomenon. He thinks that UFOs and their pilots are beings made of anti-matter that are actually from Earth. He thinks that they are contacting us to try to help up develop the side of our brains that we don’t use as much. I picked up Brotherkind right after finishing The Dark Gods by Anthony Roberts and Geoff Gilbertson, so my patience for bullshit theories about aliens was already wearing thin. Williamson lays out his ridiculously stupid ideas in great detail. This slows everything down and makes for a tedious reading experience. Between chapters, he includes lists of quotations from crackpots and alien researchers, including himself, and he actually ends the book with a page of quotations from The Eternal Man, one of the sequels to Pauwels and Bergier’s Morning of the Magicians. I’ve had that book on my shelf for many years, but I’ve avoided picking it up because I know how incredibly shit and dumb it will be.

The plot of Brotherkind is ridiculously  trashy, but it could have been awesome if Williamson had acknowledged this and gone with it. Instead, he absolutely ruins the book by trying to make it thought provoking and clever. What a waste.

 

premonition j. n. williamson

Premonition – J.N. Williamson
Leisure Books – 1981

By the time I got around to reading Premonition, I was well and truly sick of this series. I didn’t want to read this at all, and I ended up mostly skimming through large sections of the book. This method actually enhanced my enjoyment of the story greatly, and I reckon that this book and Brotherkind would have greatly benefited if 100 pages had been cut from each. The stories in these two are mental enough to be entertaining, but they get bogged down in boring details. I know publishers used to charge more money for longer books, so maybe these were originally good stories that Williamson ruined for some extra cash.

Brotherkind had a mental storyline, but I reckon Premonition is probably the wackiest of this series.

Ruben goes to work for Solomon Studies in an abandoned amusement park on an isolated island. It turns out that his boss is the reincarnation of King Solomon, and her company is secretly trying to develop a way to prolong life indefinitely. Unfortunately, the island where they have their headquarters is also home to a sex demon that is made of cancer. Also, one of the doctors working there, a former Nazi, has cloned a pterodactyl. Eventually this pterodactyl teams up with a magical hermaphrodite midget to put a stop to the cancer demon. I’m not joking.

Like I said, I flicked through this one pretty rapidly, mainly just skimming for the important points of the plot. There was one passage that jumped out to me though. It’s a scene in which a hospital worker is verbally abusing an elderly patient to prove to Ruben that the old man is in a catatonic state. He shouts, “you’re a useless piece of excrement on life’s shoals, a chunk of fleshy shit caught on the rocks”. I laughed heartily at that, both when I read it and again when I was typing it out. Think about what that would look like. For a shit to be described as ‘fleshy’, it would have to have some girth to it. You wouldn’t use the word fleshy to describe a stringy little turd. It’s the next deductive step that provides the big laughs though: for a shit to be girthy, the person who did it must have had a stretched anus. The hospital worker is telling the man in a vegetative state that he is a big poo from a big bumhole. This made the book worth reading.

premonition williamsonThis is the image from the cover, un-negatived. I wonder who she is.

These books share a central character, but they’re not much of a series. The timeline is all messed up. Aside from Martin Ruben, there is one other character who appears in all three books, but he actually dies in the first one. In terms of publishing, The Ritual came first, then Premonition and then Brotherkind, but the timeline of the actual stories is quite different. Premonition comes first, and then The Ritual and Brotherkind take place at the same time. There’s a single mention in Brotherkind of the stuff that’s happening in The Ritual, but Williamson didn’t have the foresight to include events from the unwritten Brotherkind in The Ritual. The characters must be incredibly talented at compartmentalizing their lives. They simultaneously save the world from the Antichrist while also preventing an invasion of alien rapists, and they do so without letting one event even remotely interfere with the other.

All in all, this series was terrible. There’s some silly ideas in here that could have been entertaining, but these books are boring and unpleasant to read.

Summertime Reading: A few more Paperbacks from Hell – Miss Finney Kills Now and Then, The Stigma and The Tribe

paperbacks from hell summerI’ve read quite a few paperback horror novels over the summer. Most of them are throwaway reads that don’t justify a post of their own, so I’ve been grouping them by series, authors and publishers. (Expect posts on William Johnstone’s horror novels, J.N. Williams’s Martin Ruben series, Richard Jaccoma’s Werewolf series, and random Zebra and Tor books showing up here in the next few months.) The books in this post have nothing to do with each other aside from the fact that they were all featured in Grady Hendrix’s and Will Erickson’s Paperbacks From Hell and also reviewed by those guys online. I don’t feel a need to go into much detail with these books as Grady and Will have done so already.

 

the stigma trevor hoyleThe Stigma – Trevor Hoyle
Sphere Books- 1980
This book starts off very serious, and there’s a bunch of references to real witch trials and the Brontë family that got me excited. I’ve never reviewed Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights on this blog, but they’re two of my favourite books, and the Brontë references left me moist. There were also some fairly scary moments, and by the halfway mark I was wondering if it was really fair for a book like this to have been listed alongside the work of J.N. Williamson in the pages of Paperbacks From Hell. Then I got to the bit where a naughty dog tries to rape someone and had to reevaluate my stance. Things get grosser and sillier as the book comes to a close, and the ending alone warrants its inclusion in PFH. This is ultimately quite a silly book, but I enjoyed it.

I decided to buy The Stigma after reading about it in PFH, but like so many of the texts featured therein, cheap copies of The Stigma became scarce for a while. I paid more than I should have a year and a half ago, but it seems that there’s loads of affordable copies online again now. Grady Hendrix also wrote a more elaborate review of this book for Tor.com

 

miss finney kills al dempseyMiss Finney Kills Now and Then – Al Dempsey
Tor 1989 (First published 1982)
This is the story of an old woman who can grow younger by murdering people. I found it very enjoyable. The characters are more interesting than I expected, and the plot, while obviously ludicrous, is pretty entertaining. When I was buying this at a thriftstore, there were two copies. One had a slightly classier looking cover featuring a bloody dagger, but I obviously went for the hideous hag one. I discovered Grady Hendrix’s review of this book right after finishing it and then realised that it’s actually featured on the front cover of Paperbacks from Hell. Will Erickson also reviewed Miss Finney. He hated it.

 

the tribe bari woodThe Tribe – Bari Wood
Signet – 1981
I saw a copy of this at a used bookstore a few weeks back and picked it up. I couldn’t remember reading about it, but I knew it was recently republished under Valancourt’s Paperback from Hell reissue series, so I assumed it would be pretty good.

This is definitely a cut above the other two books in this post. It’s actually a well written novel with an exciting plot and complex characters. It deals with complicated issues in a way that doesn’t get pedantic or preachy. The Tribe tells a story that makes you think. Will Erickson and Grady Hendrix both commented on the effectiveness of the prologue, and I can confirm that it’s pretty great. I can’t imagine anyone reading the first 20 pages of this book without wanting to read the rest.

Oh yeah, it’s about a murderous Golem in New York, but don’t let that put you off. It’s actually fucking great.

After having read The Tribe and enjoying it so much, I definitely aim to read the other Paperbacks From Hell that Valancourt are reissuing.

 

Well, there you go. These books were amoung the better horror novels I read over the summer. Thanks to Grady and Will for the recommendations.

Fleshbait – David Holman and Larry Pryce

fleshbait holman pryce.jpg
Fleshbait – David Holman and Larry Pryce
New English Library – 1979

There was a period a few decades ago when animal horror was the big thing. Authors would pick any living creature, imagine them having murderous tendencies and a book would soon emerge. Harmless creatures such as dogs, cats, rats, slugs and crabs all had their turns at turning nasty. This type of horror isn’t hugely appealing to me, but I was in a bookstore the other day and found a short book about what looked like killer fish for 2 dollars. I thought I might as well give it a go.

One of the many problems with this truly awful book is that the first identifiable group of killers is a swarm of trout.

There are two reasons why I find trout amusing. Can you remember when you and your friends were teenagers and you would collectively fixate on a word or phrase? In my school this happened several times. The boys in my 4th year classroom decided as a whole that the word “girth” was hilarious. We’d mutter it under our breaths when the business studies teacher turned his back, or we’d write “Adam has a girthy one”on the inside of Adam’s copy book. Another time, somebody realised that a boy in the year below us had bulbous eyes and a fishy looking mouth. When he dyed his hair different colours, he sealed his own coffin. From that moment on, he became known as ‘Rainbow Trout’. For the interests of mischief, we dropped the Rainbow part of the phrase when in class, but the phrases ‘trout’ and sometimes even ‘brown trout’ were forevermore heard echoing through the classrooms and corridors of my alma mater.

The second reason that the word trout brings me mirth is a text message my sister sent me a few years ago. She was on holiday with a less than responsible friend, and on one occasion, my sister returned to their hotel room only to discover this friend engaged in an act of passion on the veranda. I believe the exact phrasing of her later report to me was, “I walked in and there was a lad on the floor licking her trout.” To this day the memory of that text never fails to bring me a chuckle.

Keeping these points in mind, the reader will understand how I found it difficult to take seriously the horror of a swarm of malevolent trout.

There’s more than trout to this book though. After a bunch of nuclear waste leaks into the sea, any fish that encounter it begin to mutate. They quickly evolve larger brains, vocal apparatus, telepathic abilities and a thirst for revenge against the humans that have hunted them for thousands of years.

A scientist, still reeling (haha) over the suspicious death of his best friend, finds himself in charge of the campaign against the killer fish.

After a particularly nasty fish attack, he calls a press conference, but the only person to speak at this conference is an insane woman.

When the scientist discovers that his friend actually committed suicide because he was gay for him, he recklessly dives into the most contaminated part of the sea and discovers a slab of rock that’s covered with mutilated human bodies that the fish have put on display in much the same way that fishermen display pictures of their catches on the walls of their offices.

This grisly grotto turns out to be a radioactive hub that is charging the local sea life with mutating radiation. After it is blown up, everybody assumes that the problem is solved.

This illusion is shattered when a big gang of fish assemble near a railway that passes by the ocean front. When a train containing the scientist and his team passes by this little stretch, these fish point their arses inland and flip their flippers. This causes a tsunami that knocks the train off the tracks.

Haha, this book was such a piece of crap. I just looked back through the animal horror section in Paperbacks from Hell and saw that it does get a brief mention there. Of all the books I’ve read that were featured in there, this is definitely the worst. The authors try to fit too many ideas into a very short text, and the antagonists aren’t scary at all. This book is shite.