The Kill Riff – David J. Schow

the kill riff schowThe Kill Riff – David J. Schow
Futura – 1990 (First published 1987)

I wanted to like The Kill Riff. It has a cool name, it has cool covers, and it’s the first novel by the guy who supposedly coined the term “splatterpunk”. Everything about it seemed promising. Unfortunately, this was a fairly crumby novel.

It’s about Lucas, a dude who spends his time hunting down members of a rock group because his daughter died at one of their concerts. The narrative switches between his story and the experiences of Gabriel Stannard, the singer of Whip Hand. Regardless of his responsibility for the death of Lucas’s daughter, this Gabriel guy deserves to die for being such a damn poser. Somewhere in the second half of the book, it becomes apparent that Lucas is also a huge arse, and by the end of the book, I was really hoping that both of these lads would die horribly.

The main characters are obnoxious, and the secondary characters are described in a frustrating amount of detail. There are whole chapters on characters that have no bearing on the actual story. There are also embarrassingly lengthy discussions of psychology that do nothing but slow things down. The book does contain some scenes of brutal violence, but they’re lost in a frustratingly slow plot. The Kill Riff weighs in at 400 pages. It would have been far more effective and enjoyable at 200.

David Schow does his best to let his reader know that he is actually a rock fan. He doesn’t care for post-Roth Van Halen, and he includes a paragraph on the Mentors for no reason. It’s usually a novelty when an author name-drops a band I like, but Schow does it so often that it actually seems a bit desperate. We get it bro, you like guitar solos.

I’m being pretty negative here. I have read books that were far, far worse than The Kill Riff. I just think this was a wasted opportunity. It’s a solid idea for a book, but it literally needed more killer and less filler. I’ve got a few more rock’n’roll themed books lined up that I’m hoping to finish by the end of the year. Stay tuned.

Kevin – A Short Story about Customer Service

(It has been quite a while since I wrote any fiction. I came up with an idea for a short story on my way into work on Thursday and had finished writing it before I went to bed that night. It’s based on a guy I used to work with. He was a good friend. More of this is true than you might want to believe. I hope you like it.)

Kevin, a carpark attendant at Mundrum Shopping Centre, is facing an extremely rude and irate customer. The customer is complaining about a parking coupon that she believes to have malfunctioned. Kevin calmly delivers the rote explanation of how the system works – the coupons deduct two hours off the parking, not two euros; if you’ve stayed longer than two hours, you still need to pay. The customer’s rage has overpowered her ability to think rationally, and she predictably demands to speak to Kevin’s boss. When the boss arrives, he comes down on the customer’s side and gives her free parking with a smile, apologising for Kevin’s attitude. Without making eye contact with the employee he has just stabbed in the back, the manager tells Kevin to wipe down the ticket paystations and withdraws to his office.

The service corridors that run behind the carpark walls are almost always empty. There’s a turn at the end of one of these corridors that leads to an emergency fire-exit. About 3 metres before this turn, there’s a door to the garbage-collection area. This small section of the corridor is a safe haven for slackers. There’s no security cameras, and on the off-chance that an intruder enters this realm, the echoey nature of the corridor will provide ample warning to the truant worker and allow them to escape in the opposite direction. This little patch of land is where Kevin has established his snail farm.

Every now and then, a car drives into the carpark, sheltering a snail under its fender. Sometimes the snails fall off and end up on the carpark floor, and whenever Kevin finds one of these forsaken gastropods, he takes it to his snail sanctuary. There are 7 snails on the wall here, growing fat on a diet of mayonnaisey lettuce from the turkey sandwiches that Kevin buys in the shop upstairs. He feeds them every day.

Sitting on an upturned shopping basket, facing the creatures he considers his closest friends, Kevin comforts himself with a large bag of crisps. He does his best to ignore the rancid stench from butcher’s dumpster that’s just around the corner, a stench exacerbated by the hot weather. Kevin is thinking about the events in his life that have led him here – dropping out of high-school, emmigrating in the hopes of a new life, taking the first job he was interviewed for and staying in it despite it making him unhappier than he has ever been. This job is awful. Not only are the customers cruel and the shifts long and dull, but Kevin is 350 lbs and the heavy steel-toe leather boots he is required to wear are Hell on his feet. Daily bouts of prolonged mental anguish and physical pain have recently been leading him to thoughts of suicide. He concedes to himself that tonight might be the night that he goes home and overdoses on pain medication. He doesn’t want to face another day at the carpark.

He gets a call on his radio telling him to help a customer that has gotten stuck at the exit, but the radio signal is bad in this corridor and after a delayed response, he takes another five minutes to journey to the exit to free the distressed soul. He opens the gate without question and waves the car on. The exiting driver rewards Kevin’s effort with a vulgar comment about his weight and mental capabilities.

Kevin is called to the office afterwards and the boss asks him where he was when he was being called and why he had taken so long. Kevin claims that he had been using the toilet. “You have to ask before going to toilet!”, the boss informs him. Kevin later jokes with his younger coworkers about how he would promptly soil himself if the boss ever denied such a request. He claims that he would gladly disregard his own discomfort and hygiene and finish out the day’s work with a turd in his britches if doing so would cause offense to the customers and dismay to his boss.

There’s soon another rude customer, this one is looking for his car – “You don’t know what you’re talking about. I’ve already checked Level 1.” But Kevin does know what he’s talking about; he goes through this routine several times an hour. He tells customer again that his car is actually on Level 1M, the level between Level 1 and Level 2. The customer informs Kevin that it is stupid to have two Level 1s. He’s right, but he’s speaking as if it was Kevin who had been in charge of naming the levels of the car park. Kevin, doing his best to maintain the appearance of sympathy tells the customer that he will show him a shortcut to the right level. They head into the corridor that leads to the snail farm. When they are near the end of the corridor, Kevin points to the door that opens onto the garbage-collection area and tells the customer to go ahead. As soon as the customer has his back to him, Kevin takes the shoelaces that he has removed from his heavy, leather boots from his pocket, lunges forward and swiftly wraps them around the customer’s neck. Pulling tightly, in an act of seething, malevolent hatred, Kevin’s face reddens in synchronicity with the customer’s. His eyes are open so wide that they seem to be stretching his sockets. His greasy lips are pursed tightly in a delirious grimace. After 30 seconds of intense struggling, he has to remind himself to breathe, his conscious mind overcoming his self-loathing and extinguishing his deathwish vicariously through the demise of his victim. During the attack, Kevin’s mind is aflame. He acknowledges to himself that what he is doing is terribly wrong while simultaneously contemplating the factors that have led to this – is this the end-result of not being breastfed as a baby? These thoughts follow each other in quick succession, the idea of breasts encouraging his already growing erection. It has been a long time since he has been this close to anyone. The tinge of sexual excitement now fully unhinges his mind. “Mama, Mama!” he whispers in the dying man’s ear, his breath still reeking of cheese and onion crisps, “I just want you to love me. Please, Mama, I need you to love me!”

Leaving it as late as possible, Kevin calls into his boss at 9.30 pm and reports a potential gas leak by one of the fire-exits. At this stage, all of the customers and most of the mall’s staff have gone home. A few carpark attendants are kept on site to help cinema-goers and restaurant diners as they exit. The boss is about to head home but decides that a potential gas leak sounds serious enough to necessitate a check. He reluctantly follows Kevin into the service corridors, bringing his stuff from the office so that he can leave directly once this is sorted. Once they get to the snail farm and the boss notices a large mound by the wall that has been covered with a tarp, Kevin takes the fire extinguisher from its mount beside the fire-exit and uses its rounded edge to viciously wallop the back of his boss’s head. With the boss’s body now lying parallel to the corpse under the tarp, Kevin slips off one of his own laceless boots and peels off a slimy, hot sock. The stench from this sock is more vile than anything he has witnessed today. He stuffs it into his boss’s unconscious mouth. Kevin takes off his other boot and sock and drops them to the floor. Next, he removes his trousers and underpants, leaving his sweaty, hairy ass completely exposed. His penis remains out of sight, hidden behind his sizeable paunch. Kevin steps one foot over his boss’s head, squats and begins to push out a hot loaf. “Please sir, may I go to the bathroom, please?”, he softly murmurs as the first log slides out solid, followed by a fart-powered spray of hot shit-chunks. He stands up and grabs two snails from the wall, quickly chucking them into his mouth and chewing violently. Shards of shell dig into his gums and his mouth fills with blood and snail guts. He lowers himself back down, suspending his head directly over the boss’s shit besmeared face and lets the disgusting  mixture in his mouth pour out, covering the chocolate cake like an exotic sauce. “Breakfast is served”, he chuckles to himself as he stands up and picks up his remaining sock to wipe his horrid ass. After calmly putting his pants and boots back on, he places one foot on the dirty man’s throat and exerts all of his weight on it. The man’s trachea is crushed instantly and he dies.

Tidying up is a surprisingly simple operation. The shops are long closed, and there’s nobody about to hinder the work. Kevin strips the corpses, puts their clothes into plastic bags and then puts these into his backpack. He drags the bodies a few meters and loads them into the butcher’s dumpster. This will be collected in the morning and emptied at a depot far away. The bodies might be discovered once it gets there, but they’ll probably just be minced up and turned into fertilizer.

Driving home that night in his boss’s Mercedes, Kevin feels good. He stops off at the off-license and buys a bottle of expensive brandy. When he gets home, he orders a tasty pizza. He sits on his bed, enjoying his feast. For the first time in months, Kevin is not dreading tomorrow.

 

 

Ghoul – Michael Slade

ghoul michael sladeGhoul – Michael Slade
Signet – 1989 (Originally published 1987)

I bought this book at a library booksale last year because it had a spooky name and it only cost 25 cents. I don’t think I have ever made such a fortunate purchase.

After a prologue which describes a gang of teenage boys burying their friend alive while listening to Black Sabbath and talking about H.P. Lovecraft, I put the book down and took a deep breath. A novel about teenage mischief, heavy metal, and classic horror? This had to be awesome.

I read a few chapters more. After some remarkably graphic violence, the narrative moves to a rock club in Vancouver that is “Situated on the main floor of a rundown skid row building” with “no sign to mark its presence for those not in the know”. Now, most of my readers won’t know this, but aside from reading and reviewing spooky books, my other main hobby is attending and playing concerts in unmarked, rundown buildings on Vancouver’s skid row.

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At this point, I wondered how a text, written by another person, could be so specifically relevant to my interests. I first considered if the author had stalked me and then gone on to write a book tailored to my tastes. I was only one year old when the book was written though, so this seemed unlikely. No, this book was not written for me to read. I was born to read this book.

The rest of the novel is a fast paced thriller about a collection of insane, depraved murderers, at least two of whom play in a Lovecraft themed rock band named Ghoul. The horror here is of the bloodthirsty, slimy, two-headed freak locked in a cage variety. I’d be afraid to call anything splatterpunk because I’m not really sure what that means, but this book defines itself as such, and the label seems quite fitting. It has guitars, mohawks and a lot of blood and guts. I’ve read books that describe horrendous acts of violence before, but don’t think I’ve read anything quite as grossout gory as this. One scene describes a man disemboweling another individual, cutting a hole in his skull, debraining him, and then proceeding to fill the victim’s cranial cavity with his own internal organs. Cool.

Just because a book is about cool things doesn’t mean it’s going to be a good read. Ghoul, however, is a mighty enjoyable novel. It’s extremely well researched and plotted out. The authors are a pair of lawyers who specialise in the criminally insane. They are also clearly fans of classic horror. One wouldn’t have to be a horror buff to enjoy this novel, but I was glad to be able to understand the bits about Lovecraft’s stories. The only aspect of the book that I felt the authors could have researched more thoroughly was rock and roll stuff.

First off, Ghoul’s music and how it sounds isn’t very important to the book at all. Whether it’s punk rock, goth rock, heavy metal or some other genre of cacophony is unclear. I’m going to refer to it as heavy metal based on other bands that are mentioned in the book.

Iron Maiden, Alice Cooper, Motley Crue, Twisted Sister, Black Sabbath, Grim Reaper and AC/DC are Ghoul‘s musical influences. Aside from Grim Reaper, these bands are all household names. Heavy metal fans might listen to all of these groups, but within any underground metal scene, it’s standard practice to champion lesser-known bands. Bands who play in the venues that Ghoul play in and who act like Ghoul usually make a point of letting people know how esoteric their tastes in music are. I know this book was written more than 30 years ago, but even at that stage Venom and Mercyful Fate had put out several albums each and been brought to the attention of the public by the PMRC, the Misfits and Grave 45 had put out a bunch of horror themed punk records, Metallica had recorded and released several songs about Lovecraftian entities, and Death and Black metal were starting to take off. Instead of researching and referencing this stuff, the authors chose to go backstage at a Motley Crue concert for their insight into rock’n’roll. The novel was presumably written to appeal to lots of people and referencing bigger bands might make it more accessible to the masses, but seeing that the authors worked pretty hard to make the detective stuff believable, I thought they should have put a bit more effort into the rock’n’roll side of things. The version of rock that they present is the imaginary rock of which evangelical parents are afraid.

At one point, they refer to Highway to Hell as a Grim Reaper song. Grim Reaper have lots of songs with Hell in the title, and I wouldn’t hold it against anyone for getting them mixed up, but confusing Grim Reaper and AC/DC is a sin against rock.

That being said, some of the trends in heavy metal that these authors imagined soon became reality. It was only a few years after the publication of Ghoul that the shit hit the fan in Norway’s Black Metal scene and heavy metal band members started murdering people and burning buildings down. Also, Lovecraft’s mythos has become an extremely popular topic for death metal bands to write songs and albums about. Most prophetic of all though, would be the authors’ idea of a band called Ghoul that put on elaborate stage shows and sing about death and violence.

Ghoul (the real ones) are a metal band from Oakland that have been together since 2001. Like the Ghoul of the novel, this band also have a hyper-violent horror theme going on. I can’t say for certain how deliberate their choice of name was, but I can’t help but presume that at least one of the members has read the book. Their song lyrics are about sewer dwelling maniacs (Sewer Chewer), axe murders (Maniaxe, Bury the Hatchet), catacombs, crypts, graveyards (Into the Catacombs, Forbidden Crypts, Graveyard Mosh) and torturing freaks (Mutant Mutilator). These are all important motifs in the book. The band even have an album (and song) called Splattertrash. A few years ago, I actually saw the real Ghoul playing a show in a rundown building on Vancouver’s skid row, almost exactly like the Ghoul in the novel.

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Written in the era of Video Nasties and the PMRC, Ghoul’s stance on rock music and horror is a bit confusing. One would think that the authors of an extremely gory, horror novel would do what they could to defend their creation, but the text seems to imply the potential culpability of both horror and rock. Not only are the dangers of reading horror fiction and attending rock concerts discussed at length and demonstrated by the characters, but a list of actual rock’n’roll-related acts of violence is given at the end of the book. Were the authors just trying to give their novel an extra edge by making it seem dangerous, or did they actually write it in an attempt to encourage violent acts? The latter option might seem ridiculous, but remember that the authors were both criminal lawyers. By encouraging acts of violence, they’d be setting themselves up to get more work.

I have never been so pleasantly surprised by a book. Ghoul is an awesome, awesome book, and I recommend that you read it immediately.