Slither – Edward Lee

edward lee slitherSlither – Edward Lee
Leisure Books – 2006

I recently finished John Halkin’s Slither, and it instilled me with a ravenous hunger for books called Slither about killer worms. One simply wasn’t enough. Luckily for me, I’ve had another Slither waiting on my shelf for the past few years. I remember buying this and thinking it looked pretty gross. I knew of Lee’s reputation, and the blurb on the back sounds sickening.

Yep. This was a nasty one. Since the coronavirus lockdown started a little over a month ago, this is the 8th novel I’ve read about mutant infestations. This wasn’t a conscious decision, but I don’t think it was a coincidence either. I’m sure a psychoanalyst would be able to explain my current fascination with genetically modified insects and why reading about them commiting acts of repulsive violence seems preferable to monitoring the rising death rate of the pandemic. While I’ve enjoyed these books, I think I’m going to give this kind of stuff a break for a while. Lee’s book seems to be a good one to end with. This was by far the most disgusting out of all of them, and it was also a lot of fun to read.

The only other book I’ve read by Lee is The Bighead, an infamously disgusting work of splattergore. That book has such a reputation that I expected Slither to be less gross. Surely Edward Lee isn’t that gross all the time? Well, here he is. In John Halkin’s Slither books, a creepy crawly will occasionally chew through an eyeball. In Lee’s Slither, masses of worms are constantly spilling into and out of every human orifice. Oh, and Lee’s worms don’t just eat humans. These worms also mutate humans, lay their eggs in humans, and secrete a chemical that turns humans’ insides to liquid.

This book was fucking gross.

I did really enjoy it though. The characters are fun, and there’s a great plot twist. I had a lot of fun reading this. It’s definitely not for the squeamish though. Seriously. Blech!

 

Clive Barker’s Books of Blood

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

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

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

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

 

A History of Chainsaw Terror (Come the Night) by Nick Blake (Shaun Hutson)

I have spent the last few months obsessing over the infamous Chainsaw Terror, but finding a copy seemed impossible. A few weeks ago, I read a review that made doing so significantly easier. There’s quite a few reviews of this novel online already, but I am far more interested in the story behind this book than the story in it. In this post, I want to present the most comprehensive account of the publishing of Chainsaw Terror/Come the Night to date.

chainsaw terror come the night nick blake hutson

In 1984, Shaun Hutson agreed to write a novelisation of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Star, his publishing company failed to get the novelisation rights for the movie, but they encouraged Shaun to write a chainsaw novel anyways. Who doesn’t love a bit of chainsaw violence?

Shaun spent a few weeks (either 15 or 20 days) writing a manuscript titled Chainsaw Terror. A week after sending it in to his publisher, he got a call telling him that parts of it had to be cut out. The extent of these cuts varies depending on Shaun Hutson’s mood. He has claimed it was 20 pages, 25 pages and 30 pages during different interviews.

Apparently Bookwise, the biggest book retailer in England, had banned the book from their stores because of the word ‘chainsaw’ in the title. (By Hutson’s own account, other retailers, including W.H. Smith did not have a problem with the book’s title, but Hutson later claimed that the novel was “banned outright.”) The cut manuscript was retitled and all future copies were published as Come the Night.

Ok, so the small number of copies of the first printing of book that were originally sent to and sold by non-Bookwise vendors were titled Chainsaw Terror, and these are the ones that we see going for 300+ dollars on ebay today. The reason that copies of Chainsaw Terror go for so much money is that the people buying them believe that they include the 20-30 pages that were cut from the original manuscript.

But Chainsaw Terror and Come the Night are the same book. Yes, they are the exact same. Come the Night is not shorter, and it’s not less graphic. It’s literally the exact same. (Somebody made this claim on a forum in 2017, but Olly C’s review confirmed it with certainty.) All of those people who review their copy of Chainsaw Terror online and gloat smugly about how weak Come the Night must be compared to the sheer brutality of Chainsaw Terror are fools.

So who is responsible for all of the confusion over the different editions of this book? I’m pretty sure it’s Shaun Hutson. I’ve already pointed to a few instances where he has contradicted himself on elements of  the story, but most confusing of all is the following quote which is currently found on Hutson’s own website:

“…CHAINSAW TERROR and COME THE NIGHT are both the same book. CHAINSAW TERROR was originally published in the US but was banned over here by W.H. Smith because it had ‘chainsaw’ in the title. It was then re-released (heavily cut) as ‘Come The Night’. Actually, make that very heavily cut…”

Ok, so the first sentence and the last sentence of that quote directly contradict each other. Which part are we supposed to believe Shaun? Not only that, but in this quote, Hutson is claiming that it was W.H. Smith that banned the book while he has elsewhere stated that “W.H. Smith who were more conservative in their views [than Bookwise] didn’t have a problem with CHAINSAW TERROR even though they’d later go on to ban my own novel DEADHEAD in 1994.”

According to Hutson, the cuts were demanded just days after he submitted the original manuscript, but while Chainsaw Terror came out in March 1984, Come the Night was only published in December 1985, almost two years later. If Hutson’s claim that “It [Chainsaw Terror] was then re-released (heavily cut) as ‘Come The Night'” was true, this would mean that there are three different versions of the story: the original manuscript, the cut version (Chainsaw Terror) and the cut-cut version (Come the Night). But if Come the Night is a “very heavily cut” re-release of Chainsaw Terror, how is it that every known copy of both books is 173 pages long? Hutson’s claims are full of holes.

I don’t know how deliberate it was, but I can’t help but think that the author has consciously obfuscated the publication details of Chainsaw Terror to add to its infamy. In pointing this out, I want to clarify that I have nothing but respect for Hutson if this is truly the case. Nothing gets my juices flowing better than the mystique of a banned and unattainable horror novel. I’d do the same thing if I was in that position.

I pieced together the above account from different interviews and reviews, and while I’m sure it’s not completely accurate, I think it’s at least the most complete version of the story of the publication of Chainsaw Terror online. (Hutson’s contradictory accounts make it very difficult to suss out who was actually responsible for the title change and where the copies of Chainsaw Terror in circulation were actually sold – was it W.H. Smiths or the United States?) If anyone has any further information on either of these books, I’d be happy to know about it. Shaun Hutson, baby, give me a call and let’s talk.

hutson come the night abduction visitation
Just to clarify another point; while paperback versions of Chainsaw Terror and Come the Night are both fairly scarce at this stage, the entire text of Come the Night (and hence Chainsaw Terror) was rereleased as part of a collection of three novels by Hutson that is still widely available. I bought a copy for less than two dollars a few weeks ago. There was also a French edition called La Tronconneuse de l’Horreur put out in 1985. I actually bought a copy of this before I knew that Come the Night was the same as the published version of Chainsaw Terror. I had planned to learn French rather than paying 300 quid for a copy of the English version, but I don’t have to any more. I don’t regret my purchase though, as I think the cover of this version is the single greatest cover art in the history of horror fiction.

La Tronçonneuse de l'Horreur - nick blakeI can verify that the text is the same as the English version. It’s cut too. Still though, look at that cover!

Ok, as for the actual plot of Chainsaw Terror… It’s pretty much what you’d expect: an incel cuts up a bunch of prostitutes with a chainsaw. It shames me to say this, but I thought it was quite enjoyable. Everything is pushed a few steps further than is sensible. There’s some nice touches – whenever somebody is cut up, they always seem to shit or piss themselves. Also, the chainsaw maniac has the weird (yet admittedly sensible) habit of taking off all of his clothes before he dismembers his victims.

There is one part of the book where the killer is about to ram a drill into a prostitute’s eyeball where the text cuts off with an ellipsis. When the next paragraph starts, she is dead. I assume this is the scene of one of the infamous cuts. There’s also a tense scene where the killer is left alone with two small children. Nothing happens, but in a later interview, Hutson mentioned that “Killing kids in print is always a tricky area” directly after mentioning the ban on Chainsaw Terror, leading me to believe that the that the killer may have returned to those kids in the original manuscript. Hutson has also mentioned the omission of a scene involving chainsaw rape, but the published versions do actually contain a scene that I thought suggested as much. In truth, none of these omitted scenes would have made a huge difference to the final product. As it stands, the published manuscript is plenty violent and gross. (There are rumours of a pdf copy of the uncut manuscript of Chainsaw Terror that was being sent around the internet years ago, but I doubt we’ll ever see it again.)

In conclusion then, finding a copy of Chainsaw Terror is actually pretty easy despite all the nonsense that has been written about it online. The omnibus containing two other Hutson novels is the way to go my friends – you don’t need to spend 300 dollars. As of today, the 2nd of February 2020, there are more than 50 copies available online for less than 20 dollars, many costing less than half that. The book is enjoyable in a very direct, horrible way too, and I recommend you check it out if you’re at all into violent, mindless horror novels.

severed head decapitated by chainsaw

Oh, and if elusive and weird paperback horror is your thing, make sure you check back here soon. I’ll be posting a review of The Voice of the Clown, a real rarity, by the end of the month.

 

Kill for Satan – Bryan Smith

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Kill for Satan – Bryan Smith

Grindhouse Press – 2018

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Splatterpunks Anthologies: Extreme Horror and Over the Edge

splatterpunks extreme horror over the edge sammon.jpg
Splatterpunks: Extreme Horror – Paul M. Sammon (Ed.)
Xanadu – 1990

The first Splatterpunks anthology was published in 1990. It’s a collection of extremely violent stories, most of which had previously been published elsewhere. Some of the stories are quite enjoyable and some are fairly shit. The most remarkable feature of this collection is the editor’s attempt to delineate Splatterpunk as a separate entity from regular horror fiction.

Every review I have read of this collection has commented on the fact that most of the authors included herein reject the splatterpunk label. Sammon himself acknowledges this fact several times throughout his introductory notes. Let’s face it. Splatterpunk was never a revolutionary literary movement; it was a label created by David Schow to describe a small group of his writer friends who were writing gory stories. The authors in this anthology repeatedly refuse the splatterpunk label because it’s too limiting, and they feel that it would only apply to a small portion of their output. If we’re calling writers Splatterpunks because they’ve written a couple of gross-out stories, surely Stephen King fits the bill too. His story Survivor Type is easily as extreme as most of the stuff in this anthology. (My point is not that King should be included here; it’s that the editor’s posturing is ridiculous. In the next anthology he goes on to claim that Bret Easton Ellis, a writer who is parodied in this collection, is actually a Splatterpunk too.)

The book includes a lengthy epilogue that I was unable to finish. Paul Sammon’s attempts to make Splatterpunk seem like a really important cultural phenomenon were genuinely embarrassing to read. I was going to include a quote from the introduction here, but after rereading the first few lines of it, I found myself cringing too hard to continue. He literally compares his authors to Burroughs, De Sade and Baudelaire in the second sentence of this book. Some stories in here were decent, but I had forgotten most of them only two weeks after finishing the collection.

 
Splatterpunks: Over the Edge – Paul M. Sammon (Ed.)
Tor – 1995

The second Splatterpunks collection came out 5 years later, and this book is far, far worse than its predecessor. Actually, I really liked some of the stories in here, but there’s way more in this one, and some of them are absolute shit.

The really dislikeable part of this one wasn’t the awful stories or even Paul Sammon’s embarrassing introductions; it was the non-fiction pieces. Aside from Sammon’s bullshit, the only non-fiction piece in the first collection was an essay on ultra violent films. I watched most of the movies it mentions when I was a teenager, so I actually quite enjoyed reading this piece. Although it was about movies, it didn’t feel hugely out of place in a collection of ultra-violent stories. There’s an article in Spatterpunks II by Martin Amis on the movies of Brian De Palma. Martin Amis is not a horror author, and while De Palma has done a few horror films, those aren’t the movies being discussed in the essay. Sure, some of De Palma’s movies are violent, but they don’t compare to the other stuff in these collections. There is absolutely no reason for this essay to be in this collection other than having a famous author’s name on its cover. Fuck off Martin Amis.

There’s also an interview in here with Anton LaVey, the founder of the Church of Satan. My favourite pastime is reading about Satanic occult orders, but I skipped this section after about 2 pages. It was excruciating. Not only does LaVey come across as an embarrassing dildo, but the interview is performed by Jim Goad. Jim Goad, for those of you who don’t know, is just about the edgiest edge-lord in town. He beats women and believes that white people are oppressed. He also published a magazine in the 90s that included pages of rape jokes. When it was first published in this same magazine, the LaVey interview was followed with an interview with David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Together, LaVey and Goad are unbearable. Again, this piece has absolutely nothing to do with horror, and can only have been included because Sammon saw it as edgy and in-your-face. (There’s also a particulary embarrassing “rant” from Goad’s wife. I actually felt sorry her after reading it. Total loser.)

And I think this edginess is the big problem with these collections. Times have changed in the last 30 years, and being edgy isn’t cool any more. Pushing the boundaries of taste isn’t a difficult task, and today’s teenagers throw about the phrase ‘edgelord’ with derision. These kids have grown up with the internet. By the time was I was finished school, I had seen video footage of executions, extreme S&M and tonnes of stuff that’s worse than the stories in this book. (Can you guys remember rotten.com?)  I don’t think it’s possible to make literary gore as shocking as what kids see on their phones every day. Brutal violence is fine and dandy when it’s used for effect, but it’s rarely interesting when it’s presented as the main attraction.

A lot of this crap is boring and predictable. Think about it:

How can you make a murder more offensive? Hmmmm, make the victim more innocent and vulnerable. Who are the most innocent and vulnerable members of society? Well, women are certainly more vulnerable than men, and there’s plenty of women dying in these books, but children are more vulnerable than women! Oh wait, one of these stories is about a child dying in a car accident. Yeah, but babies are more innocent than children. Sammon’s got you covered fam; one of these stories features a baby being sexually abused. Ok, hang on! Fetuses! Fetuses are even more vulnerable than babies! They’re the most innocent and vulnerable of all! But no author would ever have the balls to write about somebody killing fetuses, would they? Actually, yeah. quite a few of these stories involve people killing fetuses. A lot of Splatterpunk seems to involve this kind of punching down, and as I am no longer 13 years old, I have no interest in this kind of crap. I far prefer gore, brutality and violence when it’s directed at somebody who deserves it.

Also, just to amp up the cringe factor, Paul Sammon filled the last few pages of this book with a list of bands that he likes. I did the same thing with my homework journal when I was 15.

All this being said, there were some great stories in the second collection. Gorman Bechard’s Pig was deadly, and I quite liked the weird ones by Petoud and Koja. There are a few duds in here for sure, but just as it was with the first collection, this book would be far more enjoyable if it was just a collection of stories with no bullshit in between. Give me gore and brutality, but don’t try to make it seem clever when it isn’t.

Flesh – Richard Laymon

flesh - richard laymon.jpgFlesh – Richard Laymon
Tor Books – 1988

A few months ago, I found a bunch of Richard Laymon books in my favourite second hand book store. I had heard of him, but I wasn’t sure which of his books were worth checking out. I bought this one because it had a cool cover. After reading Flesh, I deeply regret not buying all of the Laymon books that were there.

A gross slug thing burrows into people’s flesh, attaches itself to the back of their skull and then takes control of their body. The plot of this novel is remarkably similar to Brain Damage (one of my favourite movies, also released in 1988) and a later episode of the X-Files. The slug like beasty of this novel is special though, as this one only takes control of humans so that it can satiate its need for human flesh. It turns its victims into cannibals.

Let me put that another way. The monster in this book eats through people’s flesh so that it can use their bodies to eat through other people’s flesh.

The central premise of this book doesn’t make sense, but I didn’t even realise that until I started writing this review. It’s such a cool idea for a book. There were, however, a few other issues that were more difficult to swallow. Most of the characters in Flesh are either exceptionally stupid or remarkably intelligent. The victims make absolutely terrible, terrible choices, but the police officers on the case are able to deduce the exact nature of their bizarre adversary after examining one of its victims. They immediately figure out that they’re dealing with a with a psycho-parasitic worm with a lust for human flesh. Finally, the women in this book have such sensitive nipples that I can’t imagine how they go about their daily lives. Every time a woman does anything in this book, her nipples’ reaction is mentioned, whether she be taking a shower, greeting a friend, or enjoying a pleasant summer breeze.

Despite these issues, I found this book to be immensely entertaining. It is absolutely full of gore, a real bloodbath. The writing is decent too. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not Faulkner, but it’s not bad. Laymon tells a good story. Flesh is 400 pages long, but I read it in only a few days. I advise you all to hunt down a copy too.

The Bighead – Edward Lee

the bighead edward leeThe Bighead – Edward Lee
Overlook Connection Press – 1999
Edward Lee’s The Bighead has a reputation for being one of the grossest books ever written. After reading it, I can confirm that it is truly disgusting. I had to put it down after certain chapters and wait a while before I read more. The ordeals faced by the characters in this book are so repulsive that the reader suffers along with them. This book literally made me squirm. It’s the kind of thing that you’ll be reading and then start to think “What kind of sick perverts read this stuff?”, only to realise that you yourself belong to that group of sick perverts. Honestly, if I saw someone reading this book on the bus, I’d probably get off at a different stop from them.

This is the story of two pretty girls from the big city coming to visit one of their aunts in the countryside. Unfortunately, their trip is interrupted by a rampaging backwoods mutant named the Bighead. There’s an video of Lee online in which he notes that many horror stories have a similar premise. I reviewed a book called Blood Rite a few months ago that was also about a girl trapped in the woods with violent redneck monsters. That book was awful because it was boring. The Bighead avoids this by taking an almost identical premise but pumping it absolutely chock-full of obscene, disgusting, perverse acts of depravity. There’s one part where a redneck empties a pensioner’s colostomy bag over her recently exposed brains, just for the fun of it. The tagline on the back cover reads “Rape. Murder. Brain-Eating…” That’s a pretty concise way of summing it up. Maybe ‘poo-eating’ could have been added to that list too. There’s LOTS of poo-eating.

I knew this book was going to be gross, but I wasn’t expecting it to be as entertaining as it is. The characters are nicely developed, and apart from the gory, disgusting bits, there’s actually some genuinely creepy stuff going on in here involving an abandoned hospice for dying priests and the ghosts of two of the sadistic nuns that used to work there.

the bighead erik wilsonEach chapter has a computer generated illustration. Maybe they looked good in 1999, but they haven’t aged very well.

Two versions of The Bighead have been published. The original publishers requested that Lee change some details of the book’s ending. The second edition restored the original ending. The latter version is referred to as ‘the author’s preferred text’, and it’s the one I read. I read somewhere that Lee actually changed his mind again and that he now prefers the first edition’s ending. (So the ‘author’s preferred text’ is actually not the author’s preferred text.) I was very mildly disappointed with the ending of the version I read, but I think I’d probably be saying the same thing if I had read the other one. As far as I know, the endings differ only in their explanation of the Bighead’s origins. Personally, I didn’t feel the need for explanations.

Overall, I was very impressed. The Bighead is sick, but it’s actually really enjoyable. There were a few parts of this book that had me laughing very loudly. I have two more novels by Lee on my shelf, and I am looking forward to reading both.
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The Scream – John Skipp and Craig Spector

the scream skipp spector.jpgThe Scream – John Skipp and Craig Spector
Bantam Books – 1988

A demon possessed, sadistic, post-metal cyber-thrash band attempts to raise Hell on Earth by sacrificing thousands of its fans in horrendous acts of brutal violence. The only people capable of stopping these monsters are a group of heavily armed Vietnam Veterans turned rockstars. How could a book with this plot be anything but amazing?

Hang on. I’ll tell you now.

The Scream is far too long, it has too many characters that don’t matter, and its characterization ratio is a mess. I felt like I knew far more about Pastor Furniss, an insignificant minor character who we get to watch masturbate in the shower, than I did about Jake Hamer, the books hero. Sure, I know that Jake went through Hell in the ‘Nam, but I never really cared. In fact, the entire Vietnam subplot of the book is an unnecessary distraction from the main story. When a book ends with (spoiler alert) an enormous monster stuffing human corpses into its hungry vagina with its own proboscular cock, the readers don’t need a good explanation of where this thing came from. Saying it originated in the jungles of Vietnam is a bit underwhelming. As it stands, The Scream reads like three distinct stories (Rambo, Spinal Tap and Peter Jackson’s Braindead/Dead Alive) that were hastily sewn together – there’s just a bit too much going on.

Like Ghoul (another late 80s book about an evil rock band), The Scream also presents rock music in a confusing light. The authors rail against evangelical attacks on heavy metal, but the real bad guys in this book are the musicians, not the clergy. I suppose that’s just the nature of the beast though. Nice boys don’t play rock’n’roll.

All that said, The Scream is undeniably entertaining. The gore in here is very enjoyable, and it gets more and more intense as the book goes on. The novel culminates in a true splatterfest. Also, this is the only book I’ve ever read, probably the only ever written, to contain the word “vomitcumshitslime”.

I wish that the eponymous band at the heart of the novel were real. I really wish I could hear their music. This book was published in 1988, before the world got news of those Norwegian metallers killing each other, and while the gore in this book is absurd, the notion of murder music presented in here seems prophetic in retrospect.

Despite the abundant gore and the inclusion of perhaps the coolest imaginary band of all time, The Scream is not a great book. It’s a bit like dinner at McDonalds – it’s mucho enjoyable while it’s going in, but it leaves you feeling slightly unfulfilled after you’re done with it. This book is trash, a perfect example of a Paperback from Hell, and I knew that it would be when I started reading it. While I can’t say The Scream was amazing, I also cant say it was disappointing.

Would I read another book by this pair of authors?

dead lines skipp spector.jpgDefinitely.

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.