Monday, December 31, 2007

VAMPIRE SLAYERS edited by Martin H. Greenberg & Elizabeth Ann Scarborough

This is a review I wrote in 2005—it was published in the Fall 2005 issue of the small press magazine Night to Dawn. The review feels more like a college essay than most of the reviews here at Gravetapping, but I still think about several of the stories contained in Vampire Slayers and absolutely agree with my analysis. It feels good to agree with myself.

Enjoy, and have a great new year. I’ll be posting some new stuff soon—maybe even a photograph or two of our Death Valley trip.

In this eclectic anthology of vampire stories it is the hunter, the human vampire-killer, who is highlighted and developed. The vampire is a lesser entity. They have no value, except as a scourge against humanity. The vampires prey upon not just the blood of humanity, but humanity itself. They must be destroyed, beheaded, burned, or staked, to save mankind. The stories cover a broad span of vampire literature from the early writings of the legendary Hugh B. Cave and his excellent story “Stragella” published in 1932, to a more modern take on the vampire story as gory sex-fest that only the late-Richard Laymon could write in his story “Special.”

The style of each story is unique. They seemingly represent the evolution of the vampire hunter tale from its earliest modern inceptions to the contemporary. The arc of substance that these tales feature is fascinating—the characters of the early tales are caught in a nightmare of events that are beyond their control, and very often belief, while the modern tales tend toward the vampire slayer as a merciless professional who not only believes what is happening, but thrives on it.

The stories that represent early vampire literature, “Revelations in Black” by Carl Jacobi, “Nellie Foster” by August Derleth, “Stragella” by Hugh B. Cave, and “The Last Grave of Lill Warren” by Manly Wade Wellman, have the feel of the classic tale Dracula by Bram Stoker. They evoke the feelings and the mythology of the great novel with one major difference: They are written in third person. There are no letter or diary entries to remove the reader from the action as in Dracula. The story unfolds before the reader in real-time. It is told with a suspense that cannot be obtained from the older “letter” style novels, yet they have much in common with their predecessor Dracula.

The stories move forward into a middle ground between old and new with “Duty” by Ed Gorman and “Midnight Mass” by F. Paul Wilson. They both contain the classic mythology, but are written with a stronger sense of unease and corruption than the earlier tales. They also lack the easy simplicity of good versus evil. Gorman uses a spectacular sparse noir style that emphasizes the humanity of the slayer, the angst that is felt as friends and neighbors clamor for his services. His protagonist takes the emotional burdens of the death he causes, the guilt of murder from each slaying as though the vampires are not animals, but living, breathing humans.

“In a while it began to rain. He was still thinking of the little Dodds girl, of her innocent eyes there at the very last.”

With passages like this, Mr. Gorman seeks, and finds more than just the generic vampire slayer story. He creates an image that is more than mere horror, but is also very much relevant to the human experience. A story that makes the reader ponder death, and more importantly life.

The final group of stories is fashioned in the most modern sense of the slayer. They have much in common with the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. They have hard-nosed slayers who look at the world of vampires as nothing more than something to be killed. They are professionals who enjoy the act of slaying. These stories are best represented by the detective story “God-less Men” by James Kisner and the vampire as vampire-slayer story “This Town Ain’t Big Enough” by Tanya Huff. These are edgey stories that have the vibrancy of modern noise and craze. The heroes and heroines push through the streets with the tough, and at times, pious sense that they are absolutely right and will survive, and with their survival humanity will also be saved from the an unbelievable onslaught of the undead.

Vampire Slayers is a welcome addition to vampire literature. It gives the reader a brief primer of the vampire slayer story in the Twentieth Century. The stories are related only by their theme: The Slayer versus the Vampire. The storylines and styles are vastly different, but each, in its own right, works and adds to the growing canon of vampire literature.

Friday, December 21, 2007

NIGHT CALLER by Daniel Ransom

In the 1980s and 90s Ed Gorman wrote several novels under the pseudonym Daniel Ransom. The novels tended towards horror and science fiction—two of my favorite genres—but like everything Mr. Gorman writes there were heavy elements of both suspense and mystery; I should disclose that I haven’t read many of the Daniel Ransom novels, but the few I have read have been vintage Ed Gorman.

I recently read Night Caller by Daniel Ransom and I had a really good time with it. Sally Baines and her daughter Jamie are on vacation in the Midwest when their car breaks down on a rural stretch of highway. It isn’t long before a farmer gentleman rescues them with a ride into the nearest town: Haversham. He seems like a nice man, but he looks at Jamie strangely, and even more disconcerting, when they arrive in town Sally and Jamie see him eagerly pointing them out to another local. Their unease continues to mount when they are told their car won’t be ready until the following day. And things really begin to feel strange when they go to the local hotel—The Royal—looking for a room.

I’m not an expert—or even well read—when it comes to 80s horror, but Night Caller very much has an 80s feel about it. It’s small town horror with a twist of psycho, and maybe just a touch of Stephen King. The characters are amusing, especially a local doctor and a disgraced national television news reporter. The mother-daughter team of Sally and Jamie are central to the plotline, and they hold up well as the story unfolds. There is a large cast of local characters who keep the story fresh and Ed Gorman, as usual, adds more than a little mystery and suspense into the mix to keep it interesting.

Night Caller is, simply put, damn fun. It is a fast read—maybe 90 minutes of reading time—and fits the bill perfectly if you’re in the mood for light horror. And, if there are any producers out there, it would make a terrific television movie. Maybe something similar—in production values and theme—to one of those semi-campy Stephen King television movies of the 90s.

Zebra Books published Night Caller in October 1987; it was a paperback original.

P.S. Gravetapping is going to be quiet over the next week. I'm going on a much anticipated vacation with the added benefit of little to no Internet access. I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Book Trailer: The Good Guy by Dean Koontz

I'm usually a little slow in getting any kind bookworld news other than the latest titles coming out from my favorite writers and publishers, so most of you may have seen this, but I really liked it. It's a book trailer for Dean Koontz’s novel The Good Guy. I haven’t read it, but the trailer really makes me want to.



I’m really just discovering book trailers, and if there are any out there you would recommend please do.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Zingers 4: More First Lines with Grab

I’m a sucker for a good first line—one that grabs me by the throat and pulls me kicking and screaming into a story. It not only sells the novel—or short story—but it sets the mood, tone, theme, and damn near everything else that makes a story a story. And how I love a good story.

In this fourth edition of Zingers there are, as usual, three opening lines, or paragraphs as the case may be, that were especially appealing when I picked these books up. I’ve been in a thriller mood of late, and two of them show my mood, but the third is straight mystery.

1.

Creepers.

That’s what they called themselves, and that would make a good story, Balenger thought, which explained why he met them in this godforsaken New Jersey motel in a ghost town of 17,000 people. Months later, he still would not be able to tolerate being in rooms with closed doors. The nostril-widening smell of must would continue to trigger the memory of screams. The beam from a flashlight wouldn’t fail to make him sweat.

This is the opening paragraph to David Morrell’s Bram Stoker winning Creepers. It perfectly sets the stage for the story that quickly develops on the pages, and if you can put it down after an opening like that, you’re a braver man than I.

2.

He woke up scared.

Worse than that: he was terrified. His heart was pounding, his breath came in gasps, and his body was taut. It was like a nightmare, except that waking brought no relief. He felt that something dreadful had happened, but he did not know what it was.

He opened his eyes. A faint light from another room dimly illuminated his surroundings, and he made out vague shapes, familiar but sinister. Somewhere nearby, water ran in a cistern.

This is how Code to Zero by Ken Follett opens; the paragraphs create a terrific image of change. The character is off-balance, unsure, and scared. The character's feelings of unease permeate the prose, and very much make me want to read on. And I’m just glad someone else wakes up that way too.

3.

When ranch owner Opal Scarlett vanished, no one mourned except her three grown sons, Arlen, Hank, and Wyatt, who expressed their loss by getting into a fight with shovels.

This is one of the best opening lines I’ve read. It has everything. Bite. Mystery. Appeal. Humor—dark as it is. And it’s just damn intriguing. This line is how C.J. Box’s In Plain Sight begins, and oh how it makes me want to read on and on.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Barnaby Skye Novels by Richard S. Wheeler

In July Forge released three older titles in the Barnaby Skye series written by Richard S. Wheeler. The covers are unique in the Western novel world—they each have a beautiful landscape photograph that captures the rugged wild places of the Western United States, and they fit the stories Richard Wheeler writes perfectly. Mr. Wheeler doesn’t write about trail herds, gunmen, Sheriffs, or any of the other stereotypical themes—he writes about Mountain Men, Native Americans, miners, and the harsh, beautiful landscape that created the legends of the West.

The Barnaby Skye series is a beautifully rendered landscape of the early explorers of the West. Mr. Skye is a man of his time and of the land. His wife is Crow, and together they build a life in the vast wilderness. The novels can be read in any order—at least that is how I have read them—and the three that have been re-released with new covers are: The Far Tribes (the third novel); Wind River (the seventh novel); and Dark Passage (the tenth novel).

The synopsis for each novel was taken from the Barnes & Noble website.

Synopsis for Dark Passage:

It is 1831 and Barnaby Skye, the deserter from the Royal Navy turned Rocky Mountain trapper, joins his wife, Mary Quill Woman of the Crow nation, in a journey to her village on the Yellowstone. "Victoria", as Skye calls her, is unhappy with her husband. He drinks too much, and seems afraid to help fight her people's enemies. She falls under the spell of Jim Beckwourth, the wealthy mulatto war chief of the Crows, and in a raid against the Blackfeet, ancient enemies of her people, she is abducted.

Now, Skye must come to her rescue in the Canadian wilderness, win her back from the deadliest of all the mountain tribes, and win her heart again.

Synopsis for Wind River:

Barnaby Skye, the former Royal Navy Captain turned trapper has been offered a lucrative proposal from the US Government. His intimate relations with many Indian tribes, and his marriages to their women, have landed him a job as scout and translator for the government’s Indian Affairs. The proposal he must present to the natives: a lopsided treaty in favor of the colonists or certain annihilation.

Torn between the two nations, Skye makes his decision when a powerful army officer threatens his wives and vows to destroy Skye for betraying his country.

Skye must face off against rogue factions of the US Army in hopes of seeing a peaceful and fair treaty through, and the survival of his family and the Great Plains tribes.

Synopsis for The Far Tribes:

There are many legends of great mountain men, hunters and trappers who manage to survive on their own in the harsh landscapes and forests of the West. The frontier is full of adversity, from blood-hungry natives to the vicious beasts of the mountains, and the one name that all men of the frontier praise and whisper as if in prayer is Barnaby Skye.

Elkanah Morse came west from Lowell, Massachusetts with one goal in mind: to study the ways of the far tribes. But entrance into their world is not easy. Only one man is capable of bringing him to the natives safely, only one man who knows exactly what to bring for trade.

But Skye’s advice is not enough. When rumors begin to spill that Morse is being held captive by one of the most vicious tribes in the mountains, Barnaby Skye feels compelled to take to the mountains and rescue the man . . . but he must face his most brutal battle yet.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Masters of Horror: "Sounds Like"

I watched an episode of Masters of Horror—a Showtime anthology series—a few weeks ago that has stayed with me. The title: “Sounds Like.” It was directed and written by Brad Anderson—he also directed the 2001 horror film Session 9; a film that really scared me, and absolutely terrified my girlfriend. His work since has mostly consisted of television episodes; he directed an episode of The Shield, Surface, and two episodes of HBO’s overrated series The Wire.

“Sounds Like” is a quiet film—it tells the story of Larry Pierce, a manager at a customer service call center who, at the death of his son, develops hypersensitive hearing. He can hear whispered conversations across crowded rooms; small sounds that we all ignore—dripping water facets, the clinking of glassware, nervous fingers playing on cloth and tables. He can literally hear everything, and at first it doesn’t bother him, but as the film progresses Larry becomes more and more isolated from the world. He is more an observer of his surroundings than a participant, and the crushing noise of humanity quickly threatens his sanity.

“Sounds Like” is a terrific film that drips with melancholy, isolation, rage, and a forbidding loneliness that exists in us all. Chris Bauer, who plays Larry, is perfect for the role. He exudes tired desperation. The sadness of the character seemingly haunts the screen, and as the film moves toward its climax the audience can’t help but feel a mixture of empathy and horror at what the man becomes.

Brad Anderson has created an atmospheric film that not only tells a great story, but also says something about society, loss, and the human condition. "Sounds Like" is the best episode of the very uneven Masters of Horror series, and very much worth the price of rental.

“Sounds Like” is based on a short story written by Mike O’Driscoll.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Best of 2007

It’s December again, and that means two things; another year is nearly in the books, and it’s time for another installment of the year’s best books. It was a terrific reading year for me, and not because I read any one thing that changed my life, but the overall quality of what I read was very high. There were just a few novels I read that didn’t sit well, and of the rest I found it difficult to narrow the field down to the mandatory five best. The most difficult choice was for fifth place—there were several novels I easily could have chosen, but I settled on Camp Ford by Johnny D. Boggs simply because it was the most original; or that it’s about baseball.

I know you’ve been waiting all year to read my best of 2007 list, and so to satisfy your hunger, here it is. But first, a few remarks: 1) These titles weren't necessarily published in 2007, but rather I read them in 2007; 2) I tend to re-read some of my favorite authors / titles, and to keep the list fair, a book has to be new to me to be included; 3) I completed 61 novels this year, up from 52 last year, and a little below the 77 I read the previous year.

Drum roll, please. And picture your favorite celeb at the podium in their best dress / tuxedo with a modest smile and outrageously expensive haircut. Ready? Here goes. (They are listed in ascending order, and order in this case does matter.)

5. Camp Ford by Johnny D. Boggs. Camp Ford won the Spur Award for best novel in 2005, and it is the best western novel I’ve read in recent memory. Mr. Boggs adroitly weaves together two storylines—an aged former baseball player watching the 1946 World Series in St. Louis, and that same man as a boy surviving a Confederate prisoner of war camp. It is a Civil War novel filled with the folklore and beauty of baseball on a backdrop of war.

4. Time to Hunt by Stephen Hunter. Time to Hunt is one of the best thrillers I have read. The plot is flawless, the characters are strong, and the forward momentum is astonishing. Hunter ratchets the tension with the finesse of an old pro, and with Bob Lee Swagger, he has created one of the most likable, able and well-drawn action characters ever created. He is all man—intelligent, tough, and more than able to take on the bad guys. Simply put, Stephen Hunter is the best writer of thrillers still practicing the trade.

3. Scavenger by David Morrell. Scavenger is an action novel with a complexity that is seldom found in the genre. David Morrell explores issues of identity, love, and self-awareness while entertaining the reader well beyond expectations. It features the hero from Mr. Morrell’s Creepers, and while it isn’t a sequel, it has a similar feel and pace. It is tight and so well executed that it passes almost too quickly.

2. Blaze by Richard Bachman. I can’t say enough good things about Blaze. It is an old style novel. The voice is crystal clear and the theme is very much like an old noir. Blaze, the protagonist, is a good man who has never gotten an even break. He has never been at the right place at the right time, or any other clichĂ© you can think of. He is likable, chummy, and in his own way one hell of a good person. His father beat the intelligence out of him and the unfairness of life took everything else. Blaze is a novel about love, need and just plain bad luck.

1. The Road by Cormac McCarthy. The Road won the Pulitzer Prize for literature this year, and for good reason. It’s a damn fine novel. It is a post-apocalyptic novel that has something to say about hope, love, and even evolution. I don’t know what to say about The Road that hasn’t already been said, except it is science fiction, sharp, and good beyond comprehension.

Worth the wait? I hope so.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

New Ed Gorman Release: A KNOCK AT THE DOOR


UPDATE: I received an email yesterday from a reader who actually placed an order for A Knock at the Door with Amazon.com, and she forwarded a letter she received from Amazon notifying her that the book's release date had been pushed back to the end of December. The letter, in part, reads:

Unfortunately, the release date for the item(s) listed below has changed, and we need to provide you with a new delivery estimate based on the new release date:
Ed Gorman (Author) "A Knock at the Door" [Paperback]
Estimated arrival date: 12/27/2007 - 12/31/2007

Thanks Mary!

I was playing around the Internet the other evening and I stumbled across a scheduled Borderlands Press release of an Ed Gorman novel titled A Knock at the Door. It had a release date of October 15th, but it isn’t available yet. I was unable to find any mention of the title on Borderlands website, and Aamzon.com shows a delivery time of 1 – 2 months.

I did do a little digging—okay, I emailed Ed—and found out A Knock at the Door is a reprint of Nightmare Child published by St. Martin’s Press in 1990 under the pseudonym Daniel Ransom. This title is difficult to come by and I really, really hope it comes out soon. If anyone out there knows anything about when A Knock at the Door will be available send me an email, or even better, post a comment.

The plot summary at Amazon reads:

A young married couple plot to collect an inheritance by committing a terrible murder. They are unprepared for the payment they receive at the hands of the victim.

I’m not completely familiar with the work Ed Gorman published under the Daniel Ransom pseudonym, but I do know that it mostly ranged around horror and science fiction. I have a list of twelve Daniel Ransom novels and two short stories. The publication dates are between 1986 and 2001—all of them are currently out-of-print. And while I’ve only read one—The Fugitive Stars—I have a few others kicking around, and I’m reading Night Caller right now.

This is the list of Daniel Ransom novels and stories I’ve collected. If there are any titles missing, or any that are here and don’t belong, please let me know.

Blackmail & Lace; Foggy Windows Books 2001
Zone Soldiers; DAW 1996
Night Screams; Avon 1996
The Fugitive Stars; DAW 1995
The Long Midnight; Dell 1993
The Serpent's Kiss; Dell 1992
Nightmare Child; St. Martin’s Press 1990
The Babysitter; St. Martin’s Press 1989
The Forsaken; Zebra 1988
Night Caller; Zebra 1987
Toys in the Attic; Zebra 1986
Daddy’s Little Girl; Zebra 1986

“Loverboy” Futurenet; Berkley 1996
“Playground” Murder for Father; Berkley 1994

Sunday, December 09, 2007

"The Shadows, Kith and Kin" by Joe R. Lansdale

Joe R. Lansdale has near legendary status in the horror world—he has won an astonishing six Bram Stoker Awards and the British Fantasy Award. Three of his stories have been translated to the screen—the wonderful Bubba Ho-Tep, and Incident On and Off a Mountain Road for the Showtime series Masters of Horror, and The Job. He has published an impressive amount of short stories and he is also an acclaimed mystery writer.

Which makes me even more embarrassed that I haven’t read much of Lansdale’s work. I actually own a few of his novels including his most recent release Lost Echoes, but they haven’t arrived at the top of my to-be-read pile. So when I came across his short story “The Shadows, Kith and Kin” in the 2006 Edition of Horror: The Best of the Year I decided I better read it. And I’m glad I did.

“The Shadows, Kith and Kin” is the story of a lonely man. He is unemployed, married to a woman who no longer loves him, and even worse, lives with his in-laws. He sleeps during the day while his wife is at work, and at night he sits out on the porch and watches the shadows—shadows that he begins to associate himself with. To tell any more of the plot will spoil the story.

“The Shadows, Kith and Kin” is told in first person. The narrative is seamless. The pace is near perfect, and the prose is, at times, beautiful. One passage was particularly haunting:

Lying in bed later that night I held up my hand and found that what intrigued me most were not the fingers, but the darkness between them. It was a thin darkness, made weak by light, but it was darkness and it seemed more a part of me than the flesh.

The story builds slowly. The first half is dark, haunting, and surreal. Then Lansdale changes gears and swiftly takes the story to a place I wasn’t expecting. The narrative moves from introspective to explosive—the main character, while not changed intrinsically is forced into an action that changes his world.

“The Shadows, Kith and Kin” is a story that packs a wallop. It is what horror should be: meaningful, haunting, scary, and damn fun. It’s impact lasts well beyond the final page, and if this is an example of Joe R. Lansdale’s short stories, I need to read more of them.

“The Shadows, Kith and Kin” was originally published in the anthology Outsiders edited by Nancy Holder and Nancy Kilpatrick; it also appeared in Horror: The Best of the Year 2006 Edition edited by John Betancourt and Sean Wallace; it is also in Joe R. Lansdale’s most recent collection Shadows, Kith and Kin published by Subterranean Press in 2007.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

THE DEFENDER by Bill Mesce, Jr.

It's another busy week. I'm in the last week of classes; finals are quickly approaching--next Wednseday at about 11am I'll walk out of the testing center for the last time. I hope. And needless to say the week is slipping by, and I don't have anything to post. So here is a review of Bill Mesce's legal / military thriller The Defender. This review originally went live on January 26, 2007, and since most of you have found Gravetapping since then, it very well may be new to you. If not, come back in a few.

This nifty little legal thriller is advertised as “a novel of Word War II,” and it doesn’t disappoint as either a historical novel or a legal thriller. Lieutenant Dominick Sisko has been charged with disobeying an order and cowardice. Sisko took his unit off the offensive and retreated down hill 399 against the order of a senior officer. His defense? The commanding officer, killed in the offensive, gave him the order to retreat.

Lieutenant Colonel Harry Voss, a family friend to Sisko, is called in by the Judge Advocate General to act as the defense. The court martial is rushed, and Voss finds himself running against the clock, the prosecutor and the truth. The story is more than it seems, and Voss is uncomfortable with both the over zealous attitude of the prosecutor and the facts of the case. The characters all have divergent motives, and Voss is faced with more than just a normal defense. He his faced with his own conscience.

The Defender is a fast-paced, and thrilling novel. Mesce’s writing shines in the courtroom scenes—the dialogue is crisp, realistic and the story his characters testify is engrossing. The characters have the feel of realism without an overbearing reliance on description and back-story. The setting is well drawn with tight, understated images. The Defender is a winner, and I enjoyed every page.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

UNHOLY BIRTH by Andrew Neiderman

I’ve seen Andrew Neiderman novels in new and used bookstores for years. I’ve even seen a couple films based on his novels—Duplicates, and the big budget Keanu Reeves and Al Pacino film Devil’s Advocate—but I had never read any of his work until SFReader sent his latest novel, Unholy Birth, for me to review a few months ago.

Unholy Birth is a quiet horror novel—there is no gore, no scream-out-loud horror, or nail-biting suspense. The tension is built slowly, but steadily until the final climax. Mr. Neiderman creates an enjoyable world, populates it with people, for the most part, that I liked, and then spends the rest of the novel tearing their world apart. Unholy Birth felt like a stand alone episode of The X-Files, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

To read the entire review on SFReader click Here.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

BROKEN TRUST by William P. Wood

Timothy Nash is a prosecuting attorney turned Superior Court judge in the Northern California city of Santa Maria. He is a successful man, but he has never been able to escape the long shadow of his father, the respected and honorable judge Jack Nash. When a federal corruption task force asks Tim to help smoke out a few Santa Maria judges who are allegedly corrupt, Nash readily agrees. He does it for a few reasons, the most significant: He thinks his undercover work in the operation will finally separate him from his father’s reputation.

It doesn’t hurt that Tim is at a crossroads in his life. His wife left him, and took their young son to Los Angeles. He is lonely, discouraged, and the prospect of doing something different, maybe even important pushes Nash into action. He quickly jumps into the investigation and agrees to approach a few judges with offers of money to make a court case disappear. It doesn’t seem to bother him that the targets are his friends—he has known many of the judges he approaches since he was a child.

Broken Trust was a pleasant surprise. The plotting was swift—it kept me turning the pages long after bedtime more than once. The characters, while not developed much beyond cardboard, served the plot. I found myself wondering how the protagonist could so easily betray his friends, but I never doubted his motivations. The main storyline was complemented nicely by three nifty side-plots—two undercover Santa Maria detectives, a murder trial in Nash’s courtroom, and Nash’s personal life. They added to the overall storyline and its suspense, and helped build tension between the personal Nash and the public Nash.

I enjoyed Broken Trust more than I had expected, and if you enjoy a good legal thriller—anything from Scott Turow to Steve Martini to John Grisham—you’ll have a good time with it to.

Broken Trust was originally published in 1991 under the title Court of Honor. It was re-released by Leisure Books in February 2006; Leisure has republished several of William P. Wood’s early novels, and a couple originals over the last few years. It was adapted into a made-for-cable movie—for TNT, I think—in 1995 starring Tom Selleck, Elizabeth McGovern, and William Atherton; and directed by Geoffrey Sax. I remember watching the film adaptation on VHS in the late-90s, but my only memory of its quality is: I enjoyed it. I wouldn’t mind finding this title on DVD and watching it again—heck, it couldn’t be too bad. It has Tom Selleck in it.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Book Trailer: Moonwalker by Rick Hautala

I found something pretty cool this evening—a book trailer for Rick Hautala’s novel Moonwalker. I haven’t seen many book trailers, but of those I have seen, this is the best. It has terrific music, great artwork, and really made me want to read the novel. Enjoy.



And if you want to read about it, the synopsis on Amazon.com follows:

In the potato fields of Dyer, Maine, lumbering, expressionless figures toil in the hot sun. They are relentless in the pursuit of their task, working without pause. As though mindless, they never slow, never stop...and never breathe. The potatoes must be picked. The small-town people of Dyer, happy with the way things are, never question the existence of the tireless workforce. They never discuss the horrid screams that rip through the night or the odd disappearances around town. Nor have they considered why the lights in the funeral parlor blaze like a beacon throughout each night. They simply look the other way. But for Dale Harmon, looking the other way is not an option. As a visitor to Dyer, the freakish events that plague the town are impossible to ignore...and he begins asking questions. Harmon and four others soon come face to face with a gruesome, unstoppable evil sent to consume them all. For the dead are living...and the harvest has begun.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

"Tunnels" by Rick Hautala

Rick Hautala was one of the better selling horror writers in the 1980s—a decade of horror that I mostly missed. I was still a wee lad, and most of my reading reflected my age—The Hardy Boys, Encyclopedia Brown, Wilson Rawls, and others that I can’t seem to recall just now.

The point? I haven’t read much of Rick Hautala’s work, and when I stumbled across Bedbugs, a collection of his short stories, I was curious. The first story I flipped to—I almost always read anthologies and collections out of order—was “Tunnels. It is the story of a young graffiti artist named Ace. The story opens with Ace making a run down into a subway station trying to elude the police. He doesn’t stop until he’s actually in the subway tunnels—he dodges trains, stumbles around in the dark, and as he’s scouting for a good location to tag Ace meets a stranger who seems to know more than he should, and Ace’s world quickly changes forever.

“Tunnels” isn’t a story that slams you with a surprise ending. It doesn’t give you chills long into the night. “Tunnels” is, however, the kind of story that keeps the reader thinking about it long after it’s been read. It is also the kind of story that is written well, involving, and difficult to put down—it doesn’t hurt that it’s only fifteen pages. The plotting is snappy, the characters are developed well within the confines of the story, and the ending, while not surprising, fits the story perfectly. I liked this one a lot, and I bet I find a few more just as good in this collection.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A World Without Used Bookstores

A few days ago Ed Gorman wrote a blog post about used bookstores and the writers who hate them. Apparently, and there is very probably some truth to this, many writers feel they are losing large amounts of royalty monies because used bookstores—both Internet, and brick-and-mortar—makes it easy for readers to purchase used books at discount prices. It got me to thinking, what would the world be like without used bookstores? I spent most of my youth, and, heck, most of my current adult life skulking through the dusty confines of used bookstores.

First I want to make it clear that I purchase new books, and probably too damn many of them—I won’t be able to retire until I’m 93. I can’t walk past a bookstore without going in, and most of the time I find myself pining for a bookshop I’ve never been in. I’m always certain if I found the right shop I’d discover a treasure that would change my expectations of reading forever. So the thought of a world without used bookstores is desolate, stark, and shameful. Especially when you consider that something like 99% of books that have been published are currently out-of-print, and I bet that’s a conservative number. It’s probably more like 99.9999%.

I usually don’t buy many books that are currently in print at used shops, but it has happened. I recently picked up Lost Echoes by Joe R. Lansdale at a Friends of the Library book sale, but that is the exception rather than the rule. At this particular sale I purchased a dozen novels—The Emerald Illusion by Ronald Bass, (Signet, 1984), The Red Fox by Anthony Hyde (Ballantine, 1986), One-Shot Deal by Gerald Petievich (Pinnacle, 1983), several old Alistair MacLean novels published by Fawcett Gold Medal in the 1970s—cover art so cool I want to hang them on the wall—and a couple old thrillers from the 1970s that haven’t seen print in thirty years.

I absolutely support writers of all stripes—fiction, non-fiction, etc.—to be able to make a living from their work. But get real. Can you imagine a world without used bookstores? Maybe Ray Bradbury had something when he wrote Fahrenheit-451. Or is that too harsh?

To read the Gorman post click Here.

Monday, November 19, 2007

HOLMES ON THE RANGE by Steve Hockensmith

I received a terrific email from a writer I wasn't familiar with, Steve Hockensmith, a few months ago about reviewing a mystery novel he had written titled Holmes on the Range. It took me far too long to review this title, but I finally did, and I enjoyed it a lot. It is a mystery-western hybrid that is not only entertianing and well-written, but is also humorous, wry, and very original.

The review is over at Saddlebums, and I urge you to not only take a look at my review of Holmes on the Range, but also take a look at the novel. It is well worth reading, and in my mind is a good representation of the future of mainstream western genre writing.

Click Here to read the review.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

FOOLS RUSH IN by Ed Gorman

It was the winter of 2002 that I discovered Ed Gorman’s Sam McCain series—I found a copy of Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?, the third novel in the series, at Borders one afternoon. I read it, loved it, and quickly went on an expedition to find the first two novels in the series. Since then there have been four additional Sam McCain novels and one novella. I’ve read each of them at least once, and I just read the most recent addition to the series: Fools Rush In.

It’s 1963. The civil rights movement is charging across the country. The townspeople of Black River Falls, Iowa are concerned about the tumultuous changes that are happening across the country, but their town has been insulated from the turmoil until a young black man is murdered. His name is David Leeds, and he is a motivated, attractive, and well-liked young man who is attending University in Cedar Rapids, and scandalously dating the daughter of a local Senator.

Sam is again heralded into action by Judge Whitney—the last of the gentrified Whitney family who came to Black River Falls in the 1860s after a disagreement with the Treasury department sent them running from the East coast. He is ordered to find out who killed David Leeds and stop Cliff Sykes, the incompetent local Sheriff, from fouling the investigation. Sam quickly finds himself in a mystery that goes beyond mere racism—he does discover plenty of hate, but he also finds corruption, blackmail, fear, and even a little love.

Fools Rush In is darker than the previous entries in the series. We find Sam in a new world—the beautiful Pamela Forrest is gone, Mary has returned to her husband and Sam feels himself getting a little older. His father is ill and his world is changing. He is still a wiseacre, philosopher, pulp reader, part-time lawyer, and part-time private eye, but the world is changing around him. Or maybe better said, he is losing his youth and his vision of the world is changing.

The mystery is top-notch. Mr. Gorman gives enough false leads to keep the reader guessing at what is happening, and when the climax arrived I was surprised by who did what, and why. I enjoyed Fools Rush In a whole lot. It is a worthy addition to one of the better private eye series still being produced, and I hope—oh how I hope!—there is another story or two still waiting to see print. But if there isn’t, Fools Rush In isn’t a bad title to go out with.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

New Hard Case Crime: Baby Moll by John Farris

I have great news. I was snooping over at the Hard Case Crime website this evening and stumbled across a title that has just been announced. The title: Baby Moll. The author: John Farris. I have never read this title, but John Farris is a favorite author of mine, particularly his thrillers.

I vividly remember reading his novel Solar Eclipse one hot August. I spent an exorbitant amount of time that summer on trains, waiting for trains, and generally cursing trains, but Solar Eclipse took my worries away for some 500 pages, and the scary thing is I wasn't ready for it to end. I have since read several of his titles, and I can't wait to get a copy of one of his early novels.

The cover art is terrific, and if you didn't know just by looking it is a Robert McGinnis.

Unfortunately it won't hit bookstores until August 2008. I can wait that long. I'm sure I can.

The description for Baby Moll at the HCC website reads:

Six years after quitting the Florida Mob, Peter Mallory is about to be dragged back in.

Stalked by a vicious killer and losing his hold on power, Mallory’s old boss needs help—the kind of help only a man like Mallory can provide. But behind the walls of the fenced-in island compound he once called home, Mallory is about to find himself surrounded by beautiful women, by temptation, and by danger—and one wrong step could trigger a bloodbath...

Treasure Hunt: Cheap Book Style

Earlier this year—I’m thinking March—I stumbled across a batch of bargain books at a local department store. They primarily consisted of mass market paperbacks published by Leisure. I searched through the stacks like it was Christmas and went away with several new titles. Since then, every time I go to this particular store, I have to make a pass by the rack to see if there are any new titles—a search that has proven fruitless until a few weeks ago.

It was Sunday, three weeks ago, my girl and I were headed to the movie house when we stopped at this particular store for something or other. I made my usual rounds, and to my surprise there was an even larger rack filled to near bursting with new titles. Each priced at $2.99. Needless to say we missed our movie as I frantically rummaged through the stacks of books and I found a few treasures—well, at least a few pretty cool titles.

I found a couple Hard Case Crime titles I’m missing: Straight Cut by Madison Smartt Bell and The Vengeful Virgin by Gil Brewer, an HCC title none of my local bookstores ever ordered. I also found a title I nearly purchased when it was in my local B&N, but since it was out around the holidays last year I was strapped for personal book spending monies—damn holidays! The title: Causes Unknown by Leslie Horvitz. I’ve actually already read this one, and posted a review for it—go Here to read it.

I had to limit myself to three titles, which was not an easy proposition because there were so many. They had thrillers—including David Morrell’s Creepers. A title I already have, but can you have too many copies of anything Morrell wrote? They had horror—Douglas Clegg, Jack Ketchum, Graham Masterton. They had Westerns, mysteries—Andrew Coburn, Brian Pinkerton, Jeff Buick, and so many more.

One of the titles I put back was Broken Trust by William P. Wood. I’ve never read Wood, but as the weeks passed, far to quickly, I kept thinking about that title and wishing I had purchased it. So this past Sunday afternoon—a delightfully rainy day—we went back, under the guise of seeing a movie in the theater next door, and I picked up a copy of Broken Trust. It better be good, because we ended up skipping out on the movie again. And if it is, they also had a copy of Wood's Rampage that I can pick up next week. If it's still there.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Do Blurbs Sell Books?

I’m a blurb guy—I love to read them, especially the cut-up kind that have been mined from, very likely, a poor a review—Mr. X is…a…writer…[who is]…unforgettable. Or even better a blurb that someone thought was terrific, but when I see it on the cover I wonder why it is supposed to make me want to read the book—this book is almost readable!

I’ve been pondering blurbs for several days. I interviewed an editor over at Leisure Books—Leah Hultenschmidt, who said one of the deciding factors on taking a chance with a new author is whether the author has “quotes or awards to help readers decide to take a chance on an author they might not have heard of.”

My question: Do blurbs from reviewers or other authors actually sell books? I can only speak from my own experience—I have no empirical data, nor do I have a deep desire to collect said data. With that said, I’m not sure. I rarely purchase a book because of a blurb listed inside or out, especially a blurb from another writer. I assume the two are either buddies, or hell, maybe the same person. Don’t laugh. I’ve seen it.

I can be swayed by a blurb from a starred review from one of the larger review factories—Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, etc. And I’ve also been known to pick up a novel on the advice of a blurb—I actually discovered Richard Laymon’s In the Dark from a Dean Koontz blurb on the spine—but it isn’t the blurb that sells me the book. It’s the first few pages. If it catches my attention I’ll buy it, but otherwise it goes straight back on the shelf and I make a mental note never to believe Writer X again. I’m an untrusting sort.

If blurbs do sell books, what are the best to have? The blurbs fetched from other writers at conventions, or those that can be wrangled from genuine reviewers? Is it better to have Stephen King say your book—nowhere else other than the front cover—is great? Or is it better to have the same words delivered from a Publishers Weekly review? Or does it matter?

I’m not convinced either way.

Friday, November 09, 2007

The Mist -- Trailer

I haven't heard much--anything!--about the new film The Mist based on the novella by Stephen King. So I went into the cold darkness of the Internet and found the trailer on YouTube. It looks like it follows the King story fairly faithfully, and while it didn't reach out and grab me, I'll go see it. It stars Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, and Andre Braugher. It is directed by Frank Darabont.

The synopsis at Yahoo! reads:

"Following a violent thunderstorm, artist David Drayton and a small town community come under vicious attack from creatures prowling in a thick and unnatural mist. Local rumors point to an experiment called the 'The Arrowhead Project' conducted at a nearby top-secret military base, but questions as to the origins of the deadly vapor are secondary to the group's overall chances for survival. Retreating to a local supermarket, Drayton and the survivors must face-off against each other before taking a united stand against an enemy they cannot even see."

Sunday, November 04, 2007

THE MIST by Stephen King

I came to Stephen King a little later than most—I read a few of his novels in my early teens, and then pretty much forgot about him until seven years ago when I read The Stand. Since then I have been an avid reader of his work. I usually read two or three Stephen King novels a year, and at this pace I still have years and years of enjoyment to look forward to.

One of the books I read as a kid was King’s collection Skeleton Crew. It was filled with a more than twenty stories, a few of them novella size. The stories have faded with the passing years, but I remember I enjoyed them immensely—I can remember reading Skeleton Crew more than what I actually read. Silly, but that sort of things happens to me a lot. I see a book title I read years ago and it’s like a postcard from the past. I can see myself sitting in the school library, the park, my childhood bedroom, or anywhere else I read the novel, and what’s more I can feel the emotional vibrations of the time. If I was happy, sad, angry, scared—whatever was happening in my life at that moment is caught in what I read.

I’m getting side tracked here, because what I really want to talk about is Stephen King’s novella The Mist. The Mist was one of the stories published in Skeleton Crew, and it has been republished—in anticipation of the release of a new film version—as a standalone. I read it last week, and I enjoyed it more than I remembered. Heck I didn’t remember the story much at all.

David Drayton is a commercial artist who lives with his wife and young son on Long Lake in Maine. The story is written in first person with David as the narrator, and it opens with a brutal thunderstorm ravaging the community. The storm knocks down trees, and pummels its way across the area leaving a wake of destruction. When the storm clears the small town begins the slow process of cleaning up, and an odd fog bank slowly makes its way across Long Lake and quickly overcomes the town itself.

David and his son Billy are in town at the local grocery market when the fog reaches them, and it is unsettling because it is unlike any fog David has ever seen. It’s unreal—thicker than normal yet devoid of moisture. That’s when things start to happen. The people in the grocery begin to see strange things: large octopus-like tentacles snatch a bag boy out the back loading door, and large spiders and bugs are seen outside the front windows. The people begin to panic, and David has to do anything he can to protect his son.

The Mist is vintage Stephen King. It is a post-apocalyptic story that has as much philosophical tension as it does forward energy. Drayton is the son a famous painter, and he has trouble measuring up to his father’s legacy. A comparison can be made between Drayton and King—the townspeople constantly wonder when Drayton will create a serious work of art, which is the same notion that haunted King’s early career. Yeah, he writes a good scary tale, but when will the guy write something worthwhile?

The Mist is also a terrific read. It is part horror story, part philosophical melodrama, and very much in the tradition of truly great pulp literature. It speaks on multiple levels, and overall it is a nice reintroduction to Stephen King’s early work. It is different from what he writes today, which is to be expected because great writers are not static. Their work change as they progress and evolve as people. The funny thing is I’m not sure if I like King’s current output, or his early stuff better. It’s just different.

I do know I enjoyed The Mist very much.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

CAUSES UNKNOWN by Leslie Horvitz

Michael Friedlander is a prodigal son-type—he dropped out of medical school in the 1960s, and has been on the move since. He has lived on both coasts, and a few places in the middle. His younger brother Alan is a successful businessman in New York City. Alan earns enough to live comfortably, and it isn’t rare for Michael to find an envelope with a few hundred dollars in his mailbox.

Causes Unknown opens with Michael traveling from his current home in New Hampshire back to the City. His brother Alan is dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. Michael hasn’t been back to New York—his childhood home—in fifteen years, and he is feeling more than a little guilt as he recollects his brother, and contemplates meeting his parents for the first time in as many years.

His brother’s suicide is unexpected and difficult for Michael to comprehend. Alan’s life was seemingly perfect—he was successful, engaged to a beautiful woman, and had a deep pool of friends. And when Michael cleans out his brother’s apartment he notices a few things missing: specifically a computer and a VCR. This is where the mystery of Alan’s death takes on a slightly more sinister turn, and Michael isn’t satisfied until he uncovers what happened to his brother.

Causes Unknown was originally published in 1989—it was re-released by Leisure Books in November 2006—and it has the feel of an early Patricia Cornwell; including several grueling autopsy scenes. It is a unique blend of medical thriller, private eye novel, police procedural, and strangely enough serial killer drama. It opens with a flash—the story is interesting, entertaining, and runs along quickly. Unfortunately it hits a slow patch around two-thirds of the way through—the action fizzles a bit, and the author gets more interested in high-level cover-ups and shadowy figures than showing us a great story.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy Causes Unknown. It lost some of its early promise, and damn how I wish it hadn’t, but the pace was sharp enough and the mystery was deep enough to keep me interested until the end. If you enjoy Patricia Cornwell, or any of the late-Eighties and early-Nineties medical thrillers, you will probably like Causes Unknown.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Bubba Ho-Tep -- Trailer

A few years ago I mistakenly stumbled across a film that changed everything I ever thought about cinema—that is an exaggeration, but Bubba Ho-Tep is an outrageously entertaining film. It is everything horror should be; a little scary, suspenseful in places, and extremely humorous. It doesn’t hurt that Bruce Campbell is at his best, and I have to admit that I like Campbell even when he isn’t in top form. He is perfectly matched by Ossie Davis’ terrific performance as a black JFK—“I’m thinkin’ through sand here.”

If you haven’t seen Bubba Ho-Tep, you should. It is based on a story by Joe R. Lansdale, and directed by Don Coscarelli.

The Yahoo!Movies synopsis of the film:

Elvis Presley is still alive, now in his late sixties, but confined to a rest home in Texas. Here, he recounts how he escaped fame with the help of an impersonator--now left to wonder what could have been, all while trying to battle the "soul-sucking" mummy, Bubba Ho-tep, who enters the rest home at night and consumes souls.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Five Writers for Halloween

The end of October is in sight, and that means one thing: Halloween. Halloween is a favorite holiday of mine, and as it approaches I find myself filled with an unexplainable sense of excitement—it is the twelve year-old boy in me craving a past that no longer exists, but somehow it is also more than that. It is the excitement of autumn—the days are shrinking, the shadows are lengthening, and nights are deepening. I love the cool crisp air, the idea of coming winter, but mostly the spooky chill that is Halloween.

So in honor of Halloween I’m going to list a few of my favorite horror writers—five to be exact. The only rule in this selection of authors is: there are no rules.

1. Jack Ketchum. The work of Jack Ketchum is truly frightening. He generally doesn’t employ the horror norms of demons, goblins, and poltergeists, but instead he creates truly frightening evil in the form of humanity. He shows us the worst elements that can exist in us all, and then unleashes it on the characters of his stories. If you haven’t tried Ketchum, do it soon.

My favorite Jack Ketchum novels are: The Girl Next Door, Off Season, Red, and his short story collection Peaceable Kingdom.

2. Richard Laymon. I discovered Richard Laymon in the autumn of 2000, and I quickly found and read every novel that was available in the United States for less than the price of a small automobile, which at the time was about sixteen of them. His work can be gross, violent, and very nearly pornographic in places, but somehow—especially in his better novels—he lightens it with humor, and adolescent innocence.

My favorite Laymon novels are: In the Dark, The Traveling Vampire Show, One Rainy Night, Night Show, Into the Fire, and Among the Missing.

3. Stephen King. This is a writer who truly needs no introduction, but I’m going to give him one anyway. Mr. King writes with a power that few modern writers have—he creates working class characters so real and vibrant that when he eases mysticism and fantasy into the stories it doesn’t feel forced or unreal. It is simply part of the story, and very believable.

My favorite King novels—specifically aimed at Halloween are: The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, The Stand, ‘Salem’s Lot, and his short story collection Skeleton Crew. I have never read a Stephen King novel I didn’t like, but the aforementioned titles are spooky enough for any Halloween.

4. Douglas Clegg. Mr. Clegg probably has more raw talent than any other horror writer currently producing mainstream horror. His voice is strong, clear, and very frightening. His work runs from chilling ghost stories to vampires, to the more cinematic and gory. I have yet to find a Clegg novel I didn’t like.

My favorite Douglas Clegg novels are: The Infinite, The Attraction, The Hour Before Dark, and Nightmare House.

5. Dean Koontz. Mr. Koontz is another writer who needs no introduction. His work is difficult to categorize because he is able to mix and match genre elements with ease. His early work was mainly in the science fiction genre, but he also wrote in the suspense, horror, romance, and mystery genres—now all of these genres can be found in his work. I especially enjoy his work from the 1980s, but I really haven’t found a Koontz book I didn’t enjoy.

My favorite Dean Koontz novels—with a Halloween twist—are: Lightning, Midnight, The Bad Place, and Face of Fear.

A few honorable mentions: The Night Class by Tom Piccirilli, The Manitou by Graham Masterton, Cage of Night by Ed Gorman, I Am Legend by Richard Matheson, Curtains of Blood by Robert J. Randisi, and…so many more that I’m forgetting.

I hope everyone has a wonderful Halloween—I know I will.

Friday, October 26, 2007

EYES EVERYWHERE by Matthew Warner


Okay, here is another review that originally went live on SFReader, but since we're quickly approaching Halloween I thought it would be a great review to dust off and give new life.

I'm currently working on a couple reviews that should be up and running in the next week or two, but until then read this one. And maybe find a copy of the book, and read it to.

Charlie Fields is average. He has a wife, two children and a job he doesn’t like, but is terrified of losing. He and his family live in a tiny studio apartment in Washington, D.C., and are looking forward to purchasing a small home. Charlie’s world is a little uneasy, but acceptable. He loves his family and they love him. His job isn’t great, but at least he has one. Then he begins to suspect things.

Charlie believes his wife is cheating on him. He has the feeling a few of the bosses at the Law Firm where he works are plotting to get him laid-off. Then his feelings of unease escalate and Charlie suspects sinister plots to not only destroy him, but also destroy everything he loves. He loses his job, and then slowly everything he cares about is striped away. His family, his sanity, and in the end even his humanity.

Eyes Everywhere by Matthew Warner is not an easy novel to read. It is written well, the plotting is top-notch, but the subject matter is disturbing and dark. It follows the tribulations of one Charlie Fields as his sanity succumbs to the cold embrace of schizophrenia. The overriding theme of Eyes Everywhere is identity, and how fragile and delicate is its relationship with the outside world. Identity is built on perception, and once that perception is skewed we are nothing more than empty vessels waiting to be delivered from our own darkness.

Eyes Everywhere is a genuine tale of horror. It is different in that the protagonist is also the antagonist. There is no evil here, no deception other than Charlie’s unbalanced mind, and as the story unfolds the conclusion becomes obvious, but the author persuades us to keep reading as Charlie stumbles into his own destruction. He makes us care about Charlie and his family. He shows the story without preaching, he tells the tale without preamble or sentimentality, and in the process uncovers something about the human condition. In the end, that is where the horror lives, in the broken dreams, the destroyed lives, and the flawed humanity we see every day.

Eyes Everywhere is not a novel to be taken lightly. It is ghastly, unnerving, and has the feel of something that not only can happen, but does happen. If you want something different, literate, powerful, and horrifying give Eyes Everywhere a try. If you are squeamish and afraid of things that go bump in the ego, let this one slide by.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Outer Limits -- Main Theme

I’m probably going to get grief from this, but I’m a fan of The Outer Limits television series from the mid-1990s—I would probably be a fan of the original series, but I haven’t seen more than an episode or two.

The new series ran for seven seasons—from 1995 to 2002, according to IMDB. It, like Twilight Zone, was an anthology-type science fiction television series that had a good share of terrific episodes, and a smattering of forgettable episodes. It ranged from its science fiction roots to horror, and maybe what could be called urban fantasy. It featured recognizable actors like Robert Patrick, Amanda Plummer, Frank Whaley, Ryan Reynolds, William B. Davis—from the X-Files—and so many more that I could fill a book with them.

The point? I found the opening credits on YouTube today and thought it was cool all over again. Enjoy.

Monday, October 22, 2007

THE GENESIS CODE by Christopher Forrest

The Genesis Code is a thriller in the mode of Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code--it is swift, not terribly well-written, completely unbelievable, but somehow entertaining. It is a light thriller that is far from complicated, and perfect if you're in the mood. Which I was--it caught me at the right time, because I devoured this simple little novel in two sittings. It reminded me of a summer movie--heavy on action, light on reality, characterization, and complication.

I recently reviewed The Genesis Code for SFReader, and it is live and online. If you want to read the entire review click Here.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Catching Up

I thought it might be nice to do a little catching up today. I haven’t had much time to spend writing reviews, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading. I always read. I wouldn’t know what to do if I didn’t have a novel or two on my nightstand. I’d probably go crazy. So here are three quick and dirty reviews of novels I’ve finished in the last several weeks.

Now You See Her by Chris Shea McCarrick. This is an older novel—published in 1993 by Jove Books—that was actually written by Ed Gorman. I wish I had a scanner, because the cover is kind of cool. It looks like an older Dean Koontz title. There is an abandoned station wagon in front of a rising moon; the driver-side door is open with a purse and eyeglasses on the pavement below.

A young girl is kidnapped from the side of a deserted highway in Illinois, and there are no suspects. The small town Sheriff calls in the State boys, and anybody else he can think of because the girl is the daughter of a very wealthy and important man. Nothing is quite as it appears in this entertaining novel, and while it is not Gorman’s best, it does showcase many of his usual themes—working class versus upper class, a brooding protagonist and bad guys who surprisingly are just as bad as they should be. Not to mention a few surprises and plotting that keeps the story interesting.

The Money Gun by Robert J. Randisi. The Money Gun is a quick western novel by the master of the quick and entertaining western. It chronicles the careers of a bounty hunter and a money gun—they are both aging, and the story develops along two distinct threads. The first tells how the two met, and the second shows us where they have come over the years.

The Money Gun is fun and very entertaining. It isn’t Randisi’s best work, but it is told with his usual competence. The characters are fun, and the action is developed well. In other words, it is exactly what it’s supposed to be: fun, fast, and very escapist.

Sightings by Charles D. Taylor. Charles Taylor is a writer who I enjoyed as a teenager in the 1990s—he wrote military thrillers that were filled with exotic locations, tough men, and beautiful women. In December 1993 his novel Sightings was published by Pocket Books, and I can still remember purchasing a copy at Kmart. Unfortunately I didn’t get around to reading it until a few weeks ago.

Sightings begins when a man who is listed as Missing in Action is seen at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial taking a rubbing of his own name off the wall. This one sighting sets in motion a bevy of action that uncovers an international criminal enterprise that is very nearly beyond belief. It really is beyond belief! The action moves nicely between Washington, D.C. to Hong Kong to Bangkok, and while Sightings does have substantial bloat—seventy-plus pages could have been removed—it is a fluid, interesting, and readable novel. Although if you're looking to read Charles Taylor for the first time I would recommend finding Boomer instead.

I also have a new review of Luke Cypher's The Outcast posted over at Saddlebums.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Brave One -- Trailer

I was lucky enough to see the new Jodie Foster film The Brave One this past Saturday, and it not only entertained me, but it took me back to my childhood--it reminded me of all those, mostly not so great, vigilante films of the 1980s. The plotline was similar, but the look, the feel, and the quality was much better.

Jodie Foster plays the vulnerable yet tough and competent heroine better than anyone in the business. Which makes sense because she has been doing it since she was a girl. The film is violent, but there was nothing that turned me off, or made me wince away from the screen. The Brave One is one of the better films I have seen in 2007, and it's one that I will most definitely see again.

Monday, October 08, 2007

TERMINAL by Brian Keene

This review originally appeared at SFReader in July 2005—it doesn’t seem like it has been that long since I read Terminal because the story has stayed with me so well. I think about it more than I would like to admit, and as I’m writing this short introduction I want to read it again. It really is that good.

If you've never read Brian Keene, skip his zombie stuff and go straight to this one because nothing else he has written comes close to the power and vibe that jolts through Terminal.

Tommy O'Brien is an out-of-luck working class kid with a wife, a son and terminal cancer. The doctor gave him one, maybe two months to live. His employer, one of the last still operating in the small town of Hanover, Pennsylvania, laid him off. The bill collectors are clamoring for their money and Tommy's dying.

He doesn't have the courage to tell his wife about the cancer, or that he lost his job. Tommy loves her too much to hurt her like that. He can't stand to think of his family living like dogs in their double wide with no money and no future. It hurts to think about his kid, T.J., growing up without a father, without a chance.

Then Tommy has an idea. He's going to rob a bank. He can't lose. The money will help bury him and give his small family a shot to get out of Hanover and poverty. It will give them a future. If he gets caught, he's slated to die in a month anyway. There's nothing to lose, or so he thinks. Terminal opens with the edge of a crime thriller. The premise is simple--three buddies take down the local bank--but it changes, and changes in a hurry. Tommy and his buddies, Sherm and John, don't know what they are getting themselves into. They think it will be easy, a walk in the park. Sherm plans the whole thing and he promises Tommy there will be no shooting. No death, but everything goes wrong. John ends up with a bullet in his belly and the boys find themselves in a standoff with police. That's when things get strange-in a paranormal way.

Brian Keene (The Rising) creates a world that is wholly believable. His characters are fleshed out, the dialogue is rich and the prose is electrifying in its simplicity. It is written in first person and has a powerful working class narrative. You can feel the pain of the characters who are trapped in the fading American dream-shrinking opportunities as large corporations uproot to find cheap labor. It has the heavy atmosphere of noir: A gritty, fatalistic portrait of working class rural America. The story also probes into the dark and very frightening subject of death-its answers are not for the weak or timid. They are scary and very real.

Reading Terminal is like watching a train approach a blocked track. You know it is going to crash and burn, but there is nothing you can do to stop it. You can only watch and hope for good fortune, but from the first few pages you know there will be nothing but sorrow and lose. You know this, but still you have to witness it. Follow it through to the end page by page. Terminal is a gem. It is high-octane horror with a crime novel mentality. Keene is the future of American horror, and if Terminal is any sign, the forecast looks good.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Dean Koontz's Frankenstein Trilogy: DEAD AND ALIVE

I have a friend who loved the first two novels in Dean Koontz’s Frankenstein trilogy, and every once in a while she complains that the third book hasn’t been published. So I, finally, did a little research and thought I would share what I found.

The first two novels came out more than two years ago—the first was co-written with Kevin J. Anderson and titled Prodigal Son, and the second was titled City of Night and co-written with Ed Gorman. The third was scheduled for release—at least in the United Kingdom—this past May, but it never showed up. It’s title: Dead and Alive.

It turns out that Dean Koontz had some misgivings about subject matter and story location in our post-Katrina world. I found an interesting email quote—it is allegedly written by Dean Koontz—that gives me hope the third title will be released, and not too far in the future.

“After finishing the first two books, I decided not to try again with a collaborator but to plunge into the third novel myself. Hurricane Katrina presented an unprecedented narrative problem. After the tragedy and suffering endured by the citizens of New Orleans, I could not bring myself to set loose Victor and his creations to wreak more havoc on the city, so I had to figure out how to include the hurricane and work around it in a graceful way. This slowed things down. But I expect to finish Book Three soon, for publication in Spring 2008. No publishing date has been set.”

While I was doing the research I stumbled across a terrific website—the website I stole the Koontz quote from—that has a large (complete?) listing of the novels published by Dean Koontz over the years, including those hard to find science fiction novels he wrote in the 1970s. There is also a cover scan for every book listed, many of them I have never before seen. It is well worth checking out.

Click Here to go there now.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Veronica Mars -- Main Theme

Veronica Mars was one of the better P.I. shows on television over the past few years. It has been described as an updated and modern Nancy Drew, but the character and the show is so much more. It is admittedly a teenage show, but the storylines, direction, and writing holds up well enough so that anyone can and should enjoy it. Unfortunately Veronica Mars was canceled after its third season—the season that ended last spring, and so now all we have are the DVDs. Here is the introduction for season one. Enjoy.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

New Ed Gorman Novel: SLEEPING DOGS

I’m back, sort of—my posts will very likely be limited, and don’t be surprised to see a few reruns. But today’s post is new and about something pretty exciting. I recently had the honor of conducting an interview with one of my favorite writers: Ed Gorman. (You’ll be able to read the interview over at Saddlebums in the next few weeks.) And while I was doing a little research I bumped into the artwork for an upcoming novel of his titled Sleeping Dogs.

Information is a little difficult to find on this one, but I have it on good authority that it is a “political whodunit.” It’s nice to see Ed back in the mystery novel game—the last few years most of his work has been squarely in the western genre.

Speaking of Ed Gorman mysteries, his latest Sam McCain novel, Fools Rush In, is currently out in hardcover from Pegasus. (I received my copy a few days ago, and hope to get to it very soon.) It has been receiving some praise not only on the Web, but also in print: Jon L. Breen wrote a nice review in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and Bookgasm loved it.

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press Minotaur
Release date: April 2008
Price: $23.95

Friday, September 14, 2007

Hiatus

You have probably noticed--at least I hope you have noticed--that it has been deathly quiet around here this week. I have more things to do than time to do them, and unfortunately Gravetapping is at the bottom of my "to-do" list. So, I'm going to bug-out for a few weeks--two is the plan--and be back spry, chipper, and hopefully more interesting than the blank screen of your computer. Meet me back here around the end of the month.

Until then, you can still catch a glimpse of a review or two at SFReader.com, or Saddlebums--I just posted a review for James Reasoner's (published under the name Mike Jameson) Tales from Deadwood.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Masters of Horror: Incident On and Off a Mountain Road

This is a repeat post. It originally went live December 18, 2006.

This is another busy week for me, but I plan to get at least three posts up, and I'm hoping at least one of them will be an original review. To give you a taste of what might (I stress might) be in the works here at Gravetapping over the next few weeks, I just finished Steve Hockensmith's terrific novel Holmes on the Range, and last night I started Andrew Neiderman's latest horror novel Unholy Birth.

I recently discovered—or more aptly put, remembered—the Showtime series Masters of Horror. I know nothing about the actual series, other than it was created and is produced by Mick Garris, and airs on Showtime; I'm one of the remaining three or four dozen people without a cable or satellite connection in my home. (It's expensive, and hell, it leaves me more time to read.)

I have, however, been watching the individual episodes as they are released on DVD, and while the series is a little uneven, a few of the episodes have been terrific. One such episode is, Incident On and Off a Mountain Road. Incident is based on a short story written by Joe R. Landsdale and directed by Don Coscarelli, who also directed the wonderful Bubba Ho-Tep starring Bruce Campbell, which also just happens to be based on a Joe Landsdale story.

Incident is a tour-de-force horror film. It is part slasher, part psychological thriller, and completely and outlandishly entertaining. The cinematography is beautiful, the acting is better than competent, and the direction is great. Incident On and Off a Mountain Road is very nearly the perfect horror film--its length, at just under an hour, is ideal for the story, and the story is told with a sharpness and style that slasher films rarely exhibit.

While I have never read the Landsdale short story on which Incident was based, I can only bet the film served its interpretation well, and I hope, oh how I hope, to see Coscarelli and Landsdale team-up again. Rumor has it, they are in the process of putting together a sequel to Bubba Ho-Tep.

While the DVD-version of Incident On and Off a Mountain Road is a little overpriced at $16.98, you should make an effort to find it in a library or at your local video store. It's well worth the rental fee. At least, I think it is.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

"Scream Queen" by Ed Gorman

Jason, Spence, and Bill are in their early-twenties working dead-end jobs—they work at a locally owned video store, and after closing each night they fall back to Bill’s apartment with cheap beer and campy DVDs. They share the dream of escaping their boring Midwest lives to the excitement and glamour of Hollywood. The three know that if they could ever get the courage, they could make it big as directors.

Everything changes for the boys when one evening a woman who looks strikingly like the Hollywood actress Michele Danforth—the scream queen a few years back who disappeared from Hollywood without a whisper—walks into their video store. The boys quickly formulate a plan to discover if the woman is Michele Danforth, and it doesn’t take them long to go too far, and their actions reveal a seamy and dark underside that will betray not only their friendship, but very nearly their lives.

“Scream Queen” is a nifty little thriller of a short story—it is less mystery, and more dark suspense, but no matter where it is categorized, it is both entertaining and thought provoking. It is entertaining in that it kept me guessing until the very end, the characters felt real, and the atmosphere was perfect—it was dark and heavy without being morose and depressing. It also tackled a few deeply felt human emotions like sex, friendship, betrayal, and even perception. But mostly, it was a lot of fun, and very much worth the price of admission.

“Scream Queen” is in the current issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine (September / October 2007), and it can also be found in the anthology Midnight Premiere, published by Cemetery Dance and edited by Tom Piccirilli.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Buffy the Vampire Slayer -- Main Theme

I don't know if I should admit this, but I'm big a fan of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series; the first three seasons were terrific. The characters were well drawn, fun, and very likable. The plotlines ran from the usual--classical horror and science fiction fare--to something more original, and then there is Buffy. Who could ask for a better protagonist? She was tough, vulnerable, and super cool.

Here is the opening credit sequence from the second season.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Hubble Space Images: Nebulas

I recieved an email recently from a regular reader, or so I presume, who asked me why I don't follow a more usual pattern of reviews, book-talk, etc. My answer: I post what I enjoy, and while I do enjoy the world of fiction--both novels and film--I also enjoy a few other things. And looking at photographs of space objects is one of my favorite things; actually now that I think about it, looking at photographs of darn near anything is one of my favorite things.

So here are a few photographs I found on the Hubble Space Telescope website. This time I chose four of my favorites from their Nebulae section.

This first photograph is titled: Stellar "Eggs" Emerge from Molecular Cloud: Closeup of Evaporating Globules in M16



This one is titled: Star-Birth Clouds in M16: Stellar "Eggs" Emerge from Molecular Cloud. And my only thought is wow!




This is the Reflection Nebula NGC 1999.




This is the The Bubble Nebula NGC 7635. This one reminds of a special effects for Star Trek--can't you nearly see The Enterprise making ts way through this beautiful place?


To visit the Hubble photo gallery click Here.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

THE MASTER SNIPER by Stephen Hunter

I’ve been in a thriller mood recently, but most of what the current crop of thriller writers puts out doesn’t do much for me. Their writing seems flat, uninteresting, and their plots are full of holes and so unbelievable that I usually can’t get through the first fifty pages. It doesn’t help that many of them are 500 pages long or more. That’s why I recently read an older novel written by a thriller writer who has never disappointed me. The novel: The Master Sniper. The writer: Stephen Hunter.

The Master Sniper is an early novel by Stephen Hunter; it was originally published in 1980. It is a thriller of the Second World War—a sub-genre I love—and it reminded me just a little of Jack Higgins’ bestselling The Eagle Has Landed.

Captain Leets is an officer with the Office of Strategic Services, a paper-pusher really, who specializes in Nazi firearms. He, as everyone else, is waiting out the war. It is January 1945, and the Nazis are against the ropes. They still have enough muscle to do some damage, but the end of the war is in sight, and no one wants to take too many chances, and Captain Leets is no different.

That all changes when a strange report crosses his desk: a small shipment of Stermgewehr-44s—an assault rifle that was produced and requisitioned in the thousands—was sent from the factory to a place called Anlage Elf. Leets isn’t sure why, but something bothers him about this shipment of rifles. It’s not just the number of rifles being shipped, but no one has heard of the requesting agency, and why would the Germans risk shipping such a small amount of rifles across the country when the war is lost?

This sets up a mystery that Captain Leets will struggle to solve throughout the rest of the novel. He will go against his superiors, participate in a parachute raid of an enemy camp, discover things about himself that he doesn't like, alienate friends, and slowly, ever so slowly discover what the Germans are up to.

The Master Sniper is a rewarding read. The prose is quick and spry, while the plot is rich enough to keep you guessing until shortly before the end. Mr. Hunter ratchets the tension and suspense perfectly, and the characters are enjoyable and likable—Mr. Hunter does an excellent job of creating a likable hero, while also creating a villain who doesn’t seem terribly bad until the novel begins to unwind, and then he is unmasked as a truly despicable and dangerous person.