Summertime Reading: A few more Paperbacks from Hell

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.

Paperbacks from Hell – Grady Hendrix

paperbacks from hellPaperbacks from Hell – Grady Hendrix
Quirk Books – 2017

Most of the horror novels that I have read have been rather old. I have nothing against modern horror, but I’ve felt that I should read the great works of the genre before indugling myself with the newer ones. At this stage, I’ve read quite a lot of the classics, and I’ve recently been allowing myself to dabble with some more modern stuff.

I haven’t put much effort into how I choose the modern horror fiction that I’m going to read. I did a bunch of Stephen King stuff last year because he’s the obvious starting point, but apart from that most of the modern horror novels on my book shelf are books that I got dirt cheap at library booksales or saw on the toomuchhorrorfiction facebook page and bought because they had cool covers.

I’m not the only person taking recommendations from toomuchhorrorfiction. Grady Hendrix used it to direct his research for Paperbacks from Hell, winner of the 2018 Stoker Award for non-fiction. Will Errickson, the guy who runs toomuchhorrorfiction, even wrote the book’s afterword. Paperbacks from Hell explores the history, scope and magnificence of the pulp horror novels that were churned out in the ’70s and ’80s.

horror paperbacksThe only thing that I don’t really like about this book is the fact that it has caused some of the featured texts to skyrocket in price. There was one text that sounded particularly appealing to me, but the only copy I was able to find online was $15,000. (I also found a pdf of that text online, for free. I’m not sure which I’ll go with yet.)

I read Paperbacks from Hell in one afternoon and enjoyed every page. The layout, tone, and information are all fantastic. The book has 8 chapters, each one looking at a different theme of trashy horror. Lots of the books you’d expect to see are in here, but much of the focus of this book is on the forgotten gems of the genre. Well, “gems” might not be the perfect word here as some of these books sound absolutely terrible, but that doesn’t make me want to read them any less. It doesn’t matter how awful a book is; if it features a woman giving birth to the Antichrist through her anus, I’ll want to read it! Obviously, I made a list of the books mentioned in here that I’ll have to read, but I’m not sure if that was really necessary. This is not a definitive list of the best horror fiction from the ’70s and ’80s; it’s more a sample of the stunning range of material that was published during those decades.

michelle remembersMy old friend shows up!

I don’t normally gush like this, but this book was really cool, and I picked it up at just the right time. A few weeks ago, I read Ghoul by Michael Slade and absolutely loved it. I’m a busy man, and the experience of reading that book was so much more enjoyable than some of the crap that I’ve reviewed on here recently that I’ve decided, at least for a while, to only bother with books that I’ll enjoy reading. Sounds mad doesn’t it? Well, Ghoul, the book that changed my perspective, is literally the type of book that Grady Hendrix is writing about – it’s featured on page 213. (I thought this was a bit odd; page 213 of this book only features books about serial killers. 213 was also the number of Jeffrey Dahmer’s apartment. Coincidence? I doubt it.) Anyways, thanks to Paperbacks from Hell, I now know that there’s lots more similar stuff out there. In general, if a book makes me excited about reading more books, I can probably say that I enjoyed reading it. Reading Paperbacks from Hell has got me absolutely pumped to dive into the slimy, toxic swamp of trashy horror fiction from the ’70s and ’80s. I just hope Grady Hendrix and Will Errickson don’t get annoyed when I review lots of the books they’ve already written about.

devil finds work satans disciplesI thought this was cool. The caption under the book covers reads:
“Satan sold, whether it was new covers slapped on old books (The Dowry, 1949; To the Devil a Daughter, 1953) or an occult cover applied to a mystery about antique collectors (The Devil Finds Work, 1968).”
The cover for The Devil Finds Work was actually taken from Robert Goldston’s 1962 book, Satan’s DisciplesI’m considering tracking down a copy of The Devil Finds Work because I love that cover so much, but Mr. Hendrix has made it sound rather shit indeed.