Friday, October 30, 2009


A more astute clichĂ© has never been uttered: The road to hell is paved with good intentions. It is as true in blogging as it is in the real world. I intended to write a post about the horror films I watched in October. I intended to write a review about a horror novel, or, at least, a short story. But I didn’t. In fact, I have nothing.
With one exception, and I hope you enjoy it. My wife and I discovered a little town—I use the word loosely—not far from the Utah-Nevada border when we first moved to Southern Utah. It appears to be an old railroad town that has nearly dried up and blown away. It is approximately one square block, with only a handful of the buildings occupied. The rest is a damn good example of a ghost town.
The town is called Modena, and it is located about nine miles east of the Nevada border—on the Utah side—on SR 56. It is a spooky place that is fitting for a Halloween journey; we visited again yesterday. It is the type of place where you can feel the history and decay flattened into a picture of broken dreams and heartache. It is desolate, lonely, and really, really cool.
Imagine coasting into town at dusk, a rattle in your engine and nothing for miles. Now imagine you hear a noise; see a flicker of movement; a baby cry; an old woman mumble. In the distance you can hear coyotes calling the night. The slither and rattle of snakes. The whimper of rodents.

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Another older review. I posted it about a year ago, but Leisure has just released Death Ground in a new edition. It should either be on bookstore shelves or on its way. It is a Western that anyone and everyone will enjoy. The cover art is terrific, and the novel is even better.

Leo Guild is an aging bounty hunter. He is a former lawman, father and husband, but that is all behind him. Now he rides alone. He is melancholy, intelligent and violent; when he needs to be. He also has a past that sticks with him. He killed a little girl. The courts forgave him, but he can’t find the heart to forgive himself.

Death Ground opens on the evening of Guild’s 54th birthday. In lonely celebration he makes a date at the local brothel with a young “straw-haired” girl. Things don’t go as expected with the girl and his birthday truly turns for the worse when he is summoned to the Sheriff’s office.

Two men are dead. One—Merle Rig—hired Guild as a bodyguard and the other—Kenny Tolliver—was technically Guild’s employee. He hired Kenny to protect Rig while he paid a visit to the "straw-haired" girl. As he looks at the cadavers on the heavy mortician’s tables he figures his job is gone and it is time to ride on, but first he pays a visit to Kenny’s mother. A scene that unsettles Guild and also piques his interest; Kenny’s mother knew Rig and Kenny palled around with a couple local deputies.

Leo Guild decides he can’t leave town until he figures who really killed the pair and why. He has a feeling it is not the violent mountain man being blamed by the Sheriff, but he doesn’t have many suspects. He doesn’t have anything but a hunch, really.

Death Ground isn’t a traditional Western. It, like all of Gorman’s Westerns, is a noir mystery wrapped in the trappings of the Old West. That is not to say that the historical element isn’t accurate or interesting, because it is. It is also central to the story, but an Ed Gorman Western is more of a historical mystery than anything else. A hardboiled historical mystery at that.

The prose is tough and tender in varying shades. It defines the story, action, and protagonist with a lean, smart and melancholy and literate style:

“Then he started digging snow up with both hands, and he covered them good, the two of them, and then he stood up and looked out on the unfurling white land. There was blue sky and a full yellow sun. Warmer now, there was even that kind of sweetness that comes on sunny winter days. It made him think of pretty women on ice skates, their cheeks touched perfect red by the cold, their eyes daring and blue.”

Leo Guild is an everyman. He is the man who does what needs to be done. He isn’t a hero, or a villain, but rather he is simply a man; a man who has seen much, done much, and lost much. Guild is an example of what makes Ed Gorman’s fiction so damn good: characters that are measured and three-dimensional; characters that act, feel and sound real. His male characters are strong and pitiful, lustful and scared, vain and dangerous, lonely and weak—generally all at the same time—and more importantly they are recognizable. And his female characters exhibit the same steady qualities. Neither wholly good nor bad, just human.

Death Ground is a Western that should have wide appeal. It will please the traditionalist with its rugged description of frontier life and the people who settled it. It will also introduce readers of hardboiled crime fiction to a new genre, but mostly it will please any reader who wants something tangible and meaningful mixed into a well-told, excellently plotted and immensely entertaining novel.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

"Nightmare Gang" by Dean R. Koontz

I found an old science fiction anthology at a thrift store a few weeks ago. It is titled Infinity One and it advertises itself as “a magazine of speculative fiction in book form.” It is a mass market published by Lancer in 1970. It has 18 stories, sixteen appear to be originals, and the story—or its author at any rate—that caught my attention was a nifty short titled “Nightmare Gang” by Dean R. Koontz.

The editorial introduction for Mr Koontz is also of note (to me at least)—“Dean R. Koontz is another of the younger generation of science fiction writers.”—because I have never lived (at least as a reader) in an era when Dean Koontz was considered anything but a veteran bestseller. But here, in this anthology, Koontz’s name doesn’t even make an appearance on the cover—front or back. How times change.

“Nightmare Gang” is something approaching dark fantasy. It is a motorcycle gang story with a dark twist told in first person narrative. It opens with a knife fight between the gang leader and a member who would like to be leader. It doesn’t last long, and the leadership hierarchy is left unchanged. The leader, a man simply called Louis—there are no last names—uses the fight as an “object lesson” to scare the other gang members into line.

Louis has other advantages over the bikers besides physical strength. He is the only one who knows who each of the members are; none of them have memories of anything before the gang. Their timeline begins and ends with their gang initiation. There have been members who wanted out, but strange and unexplainable (if not terrifying) things happened to stop them.

“Nightmare Gang” was an unexpected find. It is early Koontz, but it is really damn good. It is written in a simple and almost stark style. The cadence of language is crisp and tight. It is written more like a hardboiled suspense story than science fiction—

“Cottery was a knife man. He carried six of them laid flat and invisible against his lean body, and with these half dozen confidence boosters giving him adequate courage, he challenged Louis to a fight, for he envisioned himself as leader of the gang. It was over inside of two minutes. Louis moved faster than he had a right to.”

The plot is well conceived and it is capped with a perfect ending. Mr Koontz gives very little away, and gives it a twist and nudge at the end. I think he may even have winked. I do know I smiled. I also know I enjoyed the story a whole lot. It also made me wish for a more complete volume of Dean Koontz’s short stories. His Strange Highways collection is a start, but it isn’t nearly enough.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Halloween Reading

This is a post that went live in October 2007. It is far from a complete list, but I still really like the novels and authors I chose to include. If I were to do it over I would also include a few other authors / books that have brought a nasty bit of entertaining fright and horror since I wrote this. A few—Cage of Night by Ed Gorman; Stir of Echoes by Richard Matheson; Terminal by Brian Keene; and Afraid by Jack Kilborn.
Also, the numbering next to the authors name means absolutely nothing. It is simply a means to separate the authors into their own tidy category.
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 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, Twilight Eyes, and The Face of Fear.
An additional word on Dean Koontz. I have read several Dean Koontz novels in 2009, and with each reading I gain more and more respect for his work. He is the master of the big suspense novel. His style and ability allows him to write a large and complex novel without losing the intimacy of a smaller voice novel. He truly is the voice of modern suspense and his work, at least parts of it, should survive his and my generation. At least I hope it does.

Monday, October 19, 2009

FUGITIVE OF THE STARS by Edmond Hamilton

The name Edmond Hamilton is legendary in the science fiction genre. He originated, or at least popularized, the space opera style story, and he wrote several classic tales including the short story “The Man Who Evolved”. He was a stable writer for the pulp magazine Weird Tales where he published 79 stories between 1926 and 19481. He was one of the most popular writers of science fiction for decades, but since his death in 1977 his work has nearly been forgotten.

I recently read his novel Fugitive of the Stars—an ACE Double (M-111) published in 1965 with Kenneth Bulmer’s Land Beyond the Map. It is, according to, Mr Hamilton’s second to last published novel. It is a scant 116 pages, but it is pure adventure from the opening sentence to the final page.

Horne is the First Pilot for the Federation freighter Vega Queen. He is on a leisurely cruise to the distant Fringe Worlds—a place where the Federation’s influence is only sporadic and rumors of slave ships and abduction has caused a good deal of unrest and fear. When the Vega Queen reaches its second port stop at the small world of Skereth the second pilot and Horne find trouble. Horne makes it out okay, but his second isn’t so lucky, so with a new second pilot the Vega Queen continues its scheduled route through the Fringe.

Unfortunately the trip goes awry in a hurry. The Vega Queen is smashed apart in an asteroid belt. There are only eighteen survivors, and Horne is accused of drunken negligence. He knows he was drugged, but the investigation taps him as the responsible party. He isn’t satisfied with the verdict—he escapes the detention center in search of the second pilot and the truth behind the crash.

Fugitive of the Stars is pure pulp. It captures the essence of adventure and awe that was science fiction in the 1940s and 50s. The intended market was twelve year-old boys, and it hits square. The only problem, it was written and published in the 1960s; an era when science fiction was changing from its escapist adventure roots to a more serious form. An era that introduced writers like Philip K. Dick, Robert Silverberg, Harlan Ellison, and J.G. Ballard; Mr Hamilton was an old horse by then. His time and stories very probably viewed as archaic and trite by the genre elite.

But damn if it isn’t entertaining. The story is quick and competently written. The prose is smooth and clean, and surprisingly strong and attractive in places:

“To fall with a soundless scream through an empty chaos of contending forces, to be riven right out of your own dimensions and hurled quaking through alien continua…that was how it was, if you looked at it one way."


“The mountain was a skull and Horne walked within it, a micro-organism moving through the convoluted tunnels of the brain that filled its great domed hollowness.

The bottom line: Fugitive of the Stars is entertaining. It is escapist and fun. It is competent—the prose, the plot, the characters—and very well designed. It is a novel that anyone who enjoys a quick and exciting story will enjoy. Don’t break the bank acquiring it, but if you run across a copy—buy it!


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Four Elmore Leonard Trailers

Elmore Leonard recently turned 84. 84! This guy has been around for a long time. He started out writing westerns and really made his mark--as far as sales go--in the crime genre. I tend to enjoy his earlier work better than his later work, which is not to say that his later work is bad. But his early stuff, including the westerns, is marvelous.

So here, for your viewing enjoyment, are trailers to four films based on Mr Leonard's early work...

1967. Hombre

1971. Valdez is Coming

1972. Joe Kidd

1974. Mr. Majestyck

Monday, October 12, 2009

VLAD THE IMPALER by Jacobson & Colon

I don’t read many graphic novels. I enjoy the occasional Spider Man, and the odd post-apocalyptic series—The Walking Dead, although the dialogue has become depressingly poor at best, and a little Jonah Hex. But my fiction taste trends toward prose rather than graphic and I usually try to keep it that way for the simple reason that a novel lasts longer and costs less.

I received a graphic novel in the mail for review (it happens, why?, I don’t know) and I was pleasantly surprised—surprised that it was sent, and also surprised at how enjoyable it was. I opened it late this past Saturday and finished it in one sitting. I had intended to go through the first several pages, but the story captured me and I shuffled through the entire book—all 115 pages of it.

The title: Vlad the Impaler; written by Sid Jacobson and artwork created by Ernie Colon. It is a historical piece about Vlad Dracula. A fifteenth century prince of Wallachia—Southern Romania—known for his brutal and cruel reign; he was called “the Impaler” because of his propensity to impale his enemies and showcase the victims to the public.

Vlad Dracula’s modern legend is one that is much more literary than factual. His name was borrowed by Bram Stoker for his legendary vampire Dracula; probably a case of the man more evil than his literary counterpart. Vlad sat upon the throne of Wallachia no less than three times. As a boy he was a captive of the Ottoman Empire and as an adult his overriding concern was power.

Vlad the Impaler covers the terrain of Vlad’s life with a powerful simplicity. He is portrayed as a monster. The language is simple and the dialogue competent. The artwork runs from colorful and bold to dark and muted depending on the deeds of the characters.

Vlad Dracula is neither antagonist nor protagonist. He is simply the story, and the people around him—a faithful friend and advisor, a wife, a brother—serve as the humanity. He is a monster filled with rage, lust, hatred, and paranoia. A man with great boldness, but a man burdened with a lack of decency.

Vlad the Impaler is a disturbing yet intriguing story. It only grazes the man’s life, but it is startling. It tells a story of barbarity, love, faith, and betrayal. It is told with style, but it creates more questions than it answers. It is a story that will entertain, but also lead the reader into a deeper survey of a man whose name is known, but who—as a man—is mostly unknown.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

A Couple Movies

The summer was a dismal movie season this year—mostly duds with a few “it was okay” movies. But the autumn has been a little better so far. We—my wife and I—have seen two movies that I am unabashedly recommending. The first is the Matt Damon film The Informant! It is the story of an ADM executive—during ADM’s notorious price fixing era—who acts as an FBI informant. The entire movie is a surprise and the less you know about it the better. Go see it.

We also saw Zombieland over the weekend and it really made us laugh. It is a zombie film with more than just a touch of humor. It is everything you want from a Zombie/horror movie—suspenseful, humorous, and damn fun.

The Informant!


Thursday, October 01, 2009

"A Killer in the Dark" by Robert Edmond Alter

It has been too long since I have posted an original review, but here, finally, today, I have one. The story is older—published in 1963—and the author is new to me: Robert Edmond Alter. Alter died young. He was born in 1925 and died in 1966. He wrote two Gold Medal novels that were reprinted by Black Lizard in the 1980s (Carny Kill and Swamp Sister) and a myriad of short stories.
I read his short story “Killer in the Dark”—Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, August 1963—and while it has its share of flaws, it is nevertheless entertaining and enjoyable. I read it in Alfred Hitchcock’s Grave Business anthology.

Peter Dawson has a daughter and a wife. He is enjoying a warm summer evening when a neighbor interrupts him. Her son glimpsed a Diamondback rattlesnake scuttle into Pete’s basement through a broken windowpane.

Pete is dubious, but he decides he better take a look. Unfortunately nothing quite goes right—his daughter and her friend are in the basement playing the monster game, the basement light is burned out, and the flashlight doesn’t have batteries. And it gets much worse before the story ends.

“A Killer in the Dark” is a dark suspense story with a chilling and downright frightening premise—an angry rattlesnake lurking in the basement with two young girls who are not only unaware of the danger, but oblivious even to its potential. Mr Alter masterfully creates suspense by measuring sharp and harrowing setbacks to the protagonist, but, unfortunately, he goes a little too far with the climax. The scene quickly loses its fear and dread and crosses that thin line into silliness.

With that said, I enjoyed "A Killer in the Dark," blemishes and all. The prose is tight and simple. The story is dark and fear inducing. It is a professional tale that is entertaining and fun. It is horror with a chill and a laugh; in other words, it is escapist fiction of the first order.