Spawn – Shaun Hutson

Sometimes a cover is so good that you have to read the book.

Spawn – Shaun Hutson
Leisure Books – 1988 (First published 1983)

I read Chainsaw Terror last year, and I knew that Shaun Hutson isn’t really known for writing hi-brow literature, but I have to admit, I was appalled at this book.

I generally like to know as little as possible about a book before I read it, and so aside from knowing that this book would probably include a mean baby, I had no idea what it was actually about. I’m going to provide a summary next, so if you’re like me, you might want to read the novel before continuing with this post. If, however, you have a sense of decency, you might be better off with my brief synopsis.

Harold Pierce, a badly traumatised and developmentally challenged burn victim gets a job in a hospital. He is assigned the role of loading the hospital’s aborted fetuses into a furnace. The fetuses remind Harold of his baby brother who died in a fire that he started, and so instead of burning them he sneaks them out of the hospital and buries them. This is gross-out horror, but so far the story is merely tragic. The whole aborted fetuses motif is immediately repugnant, but there’s no malice at play so far. Harold is damaged; he’s not evil.

Then there’s a big storm. A bolt of lightning knocks down a powerline right beside where the fetuses are buried, and the electricity from the lightning and the power cables is sent directly into the shallow grave. The electricity burns the earth and grass around the grave, but it somehow manages to bring the fetuses back to life. It also gives them psychic powers and a thirst for blood.

Yep.

Honestly, I was actually impressed with the plot. Hutson clearly did not give a shit. “Hmmmm, I need some way to reanimate these rotten abortions so they can kill a bunch of people… Voodoo? Nah, too ethnic… Scientific experiment gone wrong? Far too complicated… Fuck it. A bolt of lightning. That’ll do.”

Oh, and there’s a serial killer on the loose too. You spend the whole novel wondering how he’s going to fit in with the vampire abortions, but they barely interact. I reckon the murderer bit was only included so that Hutson could have some gory scenes at the beginning of the book. The killer is also a victim of neglect and child abuse.

I’ve read plenty of repugnant splatterpunk horror fiction, but this one is distasteful in a special way. Some gross-out horror is tough to get through because the authors seem like they’re trying hard to be super offensive, but Spawn is such a puerile mess that at times I got the sense that Hutson might not have even realised he was being offensive. Writing fiction about abortions seems like a hazardous venture for any writer, and I can’t imagine any sensible adult with any kind of stance on the abortion debate actually wanting to read a novel about aborted fetuses. Couple this with the fact that the two main characters are disfigured, developmentally challenged, traumatized victims of abuse. The whole thing is in very poor taste. The saving grace of the book is that there is clearly no message to it. Hutson is not trying to force his views on anyone.

Unfortunately though, the book is actually pretty fuckin’ shit. I found myself skimming large chunks of it. The characters are so flat that I wasn’t able to give a damn about them, and the suspenseful scenes were formulaic and uninteresting. The book is 288 pages long, and I reckon a good third of it could have been edited out

All that being said, I was entertained by this piece of deplorable, degenerate trash, and I am entirely certain that I will read more of Shaun Hutson’s work in the future. I know he wrote a sequel to this just a few years ago, but I probably won’t bother with that one.

Another great cover. W.H. Allen, 1983

Valancourt’s Paperbacks From Hell: Part Two

When it comes to paperback horror, I am a sucker for silly covers and titles. This leads me to reading some utter garbage. Left to my own devices, I have chosen to read books about evil fish, an evil suit and an evil spring. Fortunately, there are lots of people out there who know the horror genre far better than I do, and 2 years ago, a bunch of them got together to put out a series of then out-of-print horror classics. The first wave of Valancourt’s Paperbacks from Hell series convinced me that there are gems out there waiting to be discovered, and I was delighted to allow that prestigious publisher curate my reading with their second wave from Hell.

The Pack – David Fisher
Originally published – 1976

Of the 13 Paperbacks from Hell that Valancourt has put out, only two of them fall into the ‘Animals Attack’ subgenre. (Maybe 2 and a half if you count sasquatches as animals.) I’m not hugely interested in this particular brand of horror, and when I started reading The Pack, I was a bit surprised to discover that like The Nest, the series’ other bad animal book, this book is also about a group of animals that don’t usually attack people attacking people on a small island off the coast of the Northeastern United States. This time it’s abandoned dogs rather than mutant cockroaches, but the results are pretty similar. It was a bit harder to dislike the antagonists in this one. What kind of piece of shit would abandon their puppy? I thought The Pack was a pretty good read overall.

Black Ambrosia – Elizabeth Engstrom
Originally published – 1988

I really liked Elizabeth Engstrom’s When Darkness Loves Us and I was looking forward to reading Black Ambrosia. I absolutely loved the first half of the book, but I was getting kinda bored by the end. It’s about a girl who realises she’s a vampire. Not a bad book, but a little drawn out. From what little I have read, Engstrom’s writing seems better suited to novellas, but I’m probably wrong, and I would gladly read more of her if anyone has recommendations.

Nest of Nightmares – Lisa Tuttle
Originally published – 1986

This is the series’ only short stories collection. My immediate response to finishing the first story was to utter to myself, “That’s fucked up.”… always a good sign. One story, ‘The Memory of Wood’, really creeped me out. It’s about a family who buys a haunted box at a yard sale. The family is pretty similar to my own, and I couldn’t help but imagine it happening it to us. CREEPY.

Nightblood – T. Chris Martindale
Originally published – 1990

When I first read Paperbacks from Hell, I made a list of all the books in it that I absolutely needed to read. This was the only one on that list that was also reissued by Valancourt. I’ve seen this described as Rambo meets Salem’s Lot, but I thought it has a certain amount of Home Alone in it too. A heavily armed, mentally unstable Vietnam veteran arrives in a town with a serious vampire problem. This was a bit like reading a William Johnstone horror novel only it was more focused and better written. It felt drawn out towards the end, but it was good fun overall.

Let’s Go Play at the Adams’ – Mendal W. Johnson
Originally published – 1974

I felt so strongly about this book that I did a separate post on it here. More of a Paperback like Hell really. Truly horrid.

The above novels made up the second wave of Valancourt’s series. I was originally going to do the third wave in a separate post, but there’s only 3 more, so I decided to throw them in here.

The Auctioneer – Joan Samson
Originally published – 1975

A lad moves into a small country town and starts holding auctions. He gets the stuff he sells from the local townspeople. They quickly lose their say in what he takes from them. This was quite a strange book, and I still feel like I haven’t made up my mind about it a few weeks after reading it. It’s an extremely tense and suspenseful read. I’ve seen people describing it as the greatest book about “groupthink” ever written, but while I have no illusions about the frailty of human beings’ abilities to think and act for themselves, I felt that there was something else going on here. It’s not just that the townspeople are too weak and afraid to stand up for themselves; there’s also something diabolic about the auctioneer. He’s a real bad dude.

Stage Fright – Garrett Boatman
Originally published – 1988


I have written about this book extensively. Here is my original review, and here is my interview with its author. The fact that my interview is mentioned in the introduction to the new edition brought a tear of pride to my beady little eye.

Familiar Spirit – Lisa Tuttle
Originally published – 1983

This might be my favourite book in the series. It starts off with a girl being attacked by a demon that she has summoned. The first chapter is exactly what I was afraid of happening to me when I started reading and collecting occult books. This is an occult horror novel, but as with the other Lisa Tuttle book in this series, it also features good writing and characterization. It’s as much a story of the end of a relationship as it is a ghost story. This one was really good, and I am already planning to read more of Lisa Tuttle’s books in the future.

I probably could have milked this for 6 separate posts, but these books are hot stuff at the moment, and you’ll find them discussed on lots of other sites. They’re really great. I recommend them to anyone who likes reading. The only downside is that this series might make people think that all “Paperbacks from Hell” are of this quality. Not true. These are forgotten masterpieces that should never have been out of print. This publisher has put out plenty of other great horror too, and I’ve enjoyed all 30+ of the Valancourt books that I’ve read in the past year. Go to their site and buy some books so they can keep republishing books that I want to read.

Let’s Go Play at the Adams’ – Mendal W. Johnson

Let’s Go Play at the Adams’ – Mendal W. Johnson
Golden Apple Books – 1984 (Originally published 1974)


I read Let’s Go Play at the Adams’ because I wanted to write a post on the Valancourt Paperbacks From Hell reissues. I knew full well what this book was about, and other than a morbid curiosity, I had no desire to read it. I got through half of it in one evening and then decided that I wasn’t going to finish it. I read the second half when I woke up the next morning. I wasn’t surprised by anything, but I was disturbed. None of the seedy literature I’ve read compares to the pain of this book. It’s 290 pages of anguish.

The story of Let’s Go Play at the Adams’ publication, scarcity, author, reputation and its effects on its readers are all part and parcel of its infamy. Bloggers were pouring their souls out about this one long before I got the internet. The level of research and detail that has gone into some of the posts about this book puts my blog to shame. Some of those posts contain spoilers, but the plot of this novel is hardly complicated, and if you don’t already know what the book is about, I would actually suggest you read a plot summary before starting it. This book is definitely not for everyone.

I certainly didn’t enjoy Let’s Go Play at the Adams’, but I can’t deny that it was well written, and despite how utterly horrible it is, I wasn’t able to bring myself to not finish it. I don’t know how Mendal W. Johnson was able to maintain his focus on suffering for however long it took him to finish this novel. With all due respect, I can’t say I was surprised to find out that he drank himself to death within 2 years of finishing it.

Reader beware: you’re in for a horribly pessimistic journey of agonizing misery and abject bleakness.

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.

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. (Edit: I waited 7 months to read it.)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.

The First Wave of Valancourt’s Paperbacks from Hell

Last year, Valancourt books teamed up with Grady Hendrix and Will Errickson to reissue some of the better books featured in Paperbacks From Hell. After reading Paperbacks from Hell, I made a list of the books featured therein that I thought sounded cool and tried to hunt them down. Some of the books I read were amazing, but some were utter shit. In truth, I wasn’t super excited when the Valancourt reissues series was announced. My experience with “Paperbacks from Hell” had been pretty varied, and none of the books in Valancourt’s series had the Devil or a guitar on the cover. However, soon after the series was announced, I bought a cheap copy of The Tribe in a used bookstore. I read it soon thereafter and was so impressed that I knew I’d have to read the rest of these books.

the reaping bernard taylorThe Reaping – Bernard Taylor
Originally published 1980

This was a very entertaining novel. The writing is excellent, and I found it difficult to put down once I got a few chapters in. The sense of mystery that Taylor develops is awesome, and my only complaint about the book is that it’s too short. I reckon you’re better off not knowing anything about this one, so I won’t give any plot details. I will recommend that you pick it up if you get the chance. Valancourt have put out a few more books by Taylor, and I am looking forward to reading more of his stuff.

whendarknesslovesus valancourt

When Darkness Loves Us – Elizabeth Engstrom
Originally published 1985

Woah, I wasn’t expecting this. Don’t let the doll on the cover of this fool you. This is kick in the bollocks horror.

This is actually a collection of two novellas. The first one, When Darkness Loves Us, is about a woman who gets trapped in a cave. A few months ago, I read an utterly awful novel about a bunch of kids getting stuck in a cave, and this story puts that one to shame. This is twisted horror. Engstrom doesn’t rely on a spooky monster to frighten her reader; she uses the frailty and shortcomings of humanity.

The next story, Beauty is…, was a little harder to get into for me. The protagonist is a victim of brain damage, and I didn’t want to read about anything bad happening to her. Again, I don’t want to give away details here, but I will say that this turned out far darker than I had expected.

This was a good collection. Engstrom’s horror is unsettling, but I enjoyed the ride.

the nest douglas

The Nest – Gregory A. Douglas
Originally published 1980

The Nest was incredible. Excluding Cujo, the only ‘animal attacks’ horror novel I had read before this was the underwhelming yet ludicrous Fleshbait. My complaint with that novel was that it never went far enough, always shying away from a potentially gory good bit. I can only say the opposite of The Nest. There were a few scenes here where things probably went too far, gloriously grisly scenes of visceral carnage. This book had me squirming every time I sat down with it. Cockroaches are fucking gross at the best of times, and they are particularly frightening after developing a taste for human meat. I consumed this one in audiobook format, and each night I would sit up alone listening to it with all the lights off. This was an excellent way of making myself feel uncomfortable. I thoroughly recommend this book.

the spirit thomas page

The Spirit – Thomas Page
Originally Published 1977

I got around to The Spirit last, and this was a bit unfortunate. Of the series, this is the one I enjoyed least. It’s about a killer sasquatch, and unfortunately I had only finished reading Jack Kewaunee’s Psychic Sasquatch book a few days before picking this up. I was well and truly sick of Sasquatches before I even started this one. It’s nowhere near the worst horror novel I’ve ever read, but I just didn’t enjoy it as much as the others in this series.

the tribe bari wood valancourt

The Tribe – Bari Wood
Originally published 1981

I actually reviewed The Tribe for a different post last year. It was great. I loved it.

This post covers only the first wave of this series, but by now Valancourt have put out a second wave and a bonus title. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of this awesome collection. You may have noticed that I’ve been reviewing a lot of books from Valancourt recently. This publisher specializes in underappreciated horror novels, and they have been doing some pretty spectacular promotional offers recently. If you’re reading this blog, you’ll probably be impressed with their catalogue. Go buy some books from them and support this awesome publisher.

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  Valancourt’s Paperbacks From Hell series.  (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 Errickson 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.