Book Review - In And Down

25
Jul

In And Down
Brett Alexander Savory
Brindle & Glass (September 30, 2007)
Hardcover, $17.95
Reviewed By David Simms

Did you ever wonder what would emerge if one was to shove The Bad Seed, “lost boy lost girl,” and “A Christmas Carol” down the rabbit hole? Neither did I until Brett Alexander Savory’s novel unfolded before me like Alice had shackled herself to me, after first sharing a wicked mushroom.

Michael and Stephen exist as brothers in a womanless world created by an abusive father. Their mother had abandoned the family long ago, citing the father’s son, not hers, as the reason for her departure. Cryptic letters, apparently from her, begin surfacing throughout the house after Stephen, who appears to harbor hostility towards the younger brother, saves Michael from drowning.

Savory pulls the plug on reality with prose reminiscent of T.M. Wright, Straub, and Ramsey Campbell, slowly circling the drain as the reader is pulled “In and Down” into his sick little world. A “quiet horror” that seduces with subtlety, this story doesn’t aim to frighten with typical scares. Instead, it simply leans in close and whispers its tale, holding us captive with a tender, unflinching grip.

Once Michael ventures into the attic, the plot introduces the characters which give In and Down its life. Only when Stephen locks him in does he begin to funnel his way into the freedom from the mysteries of his life via a Dante-esque elevator. The enigmatic Hob serves as an unreliable tour guide through levels of his psyche that help him unravel the horrors that lie within. Others take the baton when Michael travels deeper, but it’s only when Marla, the lone female in the story, arrives, does he realize the depth of his delusions.

This novel may not appear to the reader as horror, initially, but if that connection Savory itches to make is made, he or she will enjoy a very dark ride, sitting uncomfortably close to a talented new writer.

To pre-order through Amazon.com: In And Down

Book Review - The Shore

16
Jul

The Shore
Robert Dunbar

Delirium Books
Hardcover Limited Edition, $50.00
Reviewed by Nickolas Cook

At the tail end of the horror boom of the 80s and early 90s, Robert Dunbar presented to the genre a book of moody, bleak terror: The Pines. Over the years, this novel has rightfully gained a rabid cult following. Fans of the novel (myself included) speculated why no sequel. This was a man who could, after all, craft engaging and atmospheric fiction, a true master of the art of horror.

Well, we can thank Robert Dunbar and Delirium Books for finally giving the world The Shore, a sequel of sorts, involving characters from The Pines. Dunbar, internationally renowned for his expertise on the Jersey Devil legend, has appeared on multiple documentaries, and written several academic articles in reference to the legend and the environment in which it has survived since the 17th century. This time Dunbar returns to the legend from a different angle, setting the story on the shore of Edgeharbor, a tourist town in its last death throes, where shadows and cold hold wet sway.

In The Pines, Dunbar created a palpable atmosphere of dark humidity, replete with sodden rot and swampy stench - one of the elements that most fans agree made the book a modern classic of the genre. This time around he has created a chilly, blue world of cold, salty wind and lashing icy rain, which may have you wrapping up in a blanket by book’s end. Those rainy scenes will haunt you, especially the forlorn ending. The plot is deliberate and tight, the characters emotional and full, and Dunbar approaches even the most dastardly with a rare empathy and compassion. There are several surprises along the way, where evil and good may not be what you think they are; the twists are entertaining and emotional.

In short, The Shore is every bit as classic as The Pines, and perhaps even more so, as it helps to build Dunbar’s mythos, and accentuates how much more masterly he’s become at his craft in the intervening years. As with his first novel, it would be easy to write a ten-page essay of all the little details that make his work stand out and why these works transcend genre labels and shelves, but I’ll let you, dear reader, discover these things for yourself.

And let me take a moment to mention Mike Bohatch’s cover art, which masterfully bolsters the book’s theme of cold and wet and shadows.

Delirium, keep up the good work in bringing these modern classics to genre in need of true craftsmanship.

Book Review - The Ascension

07
Jun

The Ascension
Michael G. Cornelius

Paperback: 244 pages
Publisher: Breakneck Books (March 30, 2007)
Reviewed by Rick Spearman

Michael G. Cornelius, author of the award wining novel Creating Man, is back with his latest novel from Breakneck Books. The Ascension is well crafted with believable characters, and riveting action with a twisting plot. Cornelius combines religion, horror, and occasional humor, in just the right mix leading the story into an apocalyptic struggle between good and evil.

Detective Caldwell Evans, a recovering alcoholic, guilt ridden from the crib death of his infant daughter, is released early from rehab to take part in a murder investigation. He is flawed like all of the characters in this novel, and he reacts to situations with the emotions and actions that a reader would expect. The author takes the same attention to detail and description with each character, even if they are only in the novel for a few pages.

Detective Evans and ATF agent Velvet Rabinowitz investigate the ritualistic murders of local religious leaders, including a butchered Bishop, a mutilated Methodist and an entire congregation of sliced and diced Seventh Day Adventists. The investigation leads to a group of black robed, members of an ancient snake handling cult that can strike at any time and appear to be invincible. Cal and Velvet are aided by a comical graduate student Abe Ruth, and a mysterious Catholic priest named Father Padua.

As the novel nears the end, the odds against them stopping the ancient rite mount. Tension builds to a fever pitch as the ability to guess where the author is leading becomes blurred, and the end for all mankind looks inevitable.

Overall, Cornelius proves that religious themed horror does not have to be stripped of the humanity and emotion that makes characters more than just a flock of sheep waiting for the hand of God to pluck them safely from harms way, and delivers a story that keeps the reader on edge from start to finish.

Book Review - Omens

22
May

Omens
Richard Gavin

Mythos Book
Trade Hardcover $30
Reviewed by Kent Knopp-Schwyn

In a lively introduction to this short collection of stories, author Richard Gavin likens the creation of his narratives to penning dream terrors for the reader - or as he calls them, Gnostic Nightmares. This description proves apt as his lush language, facile wordplay, and open ended conclusions combine to give many of the tales a quiet, haunting quality that propels the reader into an almost dreamlike state.

Mr. Gavin excels in the longer pieces that give his prose room to stretch out, set the stage and imbue the story with otherworldly elements so the reader has an opportunity follow the cadence and pattern within the words into the unreal land of nightmares. The shorter pieces in this collection are somewhat less successful as they sometimes feel rushed, without the stage dressing or room for the prose to open up and therefore beckon the reader into to the dream.

Of the longer tales in the collection, the first standout is “The Pale Lover”, a lyrical tale about a succubus and how men will go to great lengths to prove or deny her existence in the real world and who will then go to further extremes to either be with or avoid her. Next up, “The Bellman’s Way” is a standard but nonetheless enjoyable bogeyman tale that slowly builds to a haunting crescendo much as the tales told around a dying campfire do at summer camp. “What Blooms in Shadow, Withers in Light” moves back and forth between timelines and viewpoints presenting individuals attempting to unlock the gates of ultimate evil and the sad lonely vigil kept by those who attempt to thwart their efforts. These shifting viewpoints are very successful in evoking the dream state in the reader throughout this tale.

The two finest tales in the collection are “Strange Advances” and “Daniel”. While possessing a slightly overlong setup, “Strange Advances” is a ghostly tale concerning the yearnings of one very lonely man and his chance encounter with a being that may or may not be the embodiment of the spirit of death in one of the world’s great cities. His brief fling with this entity give him the all to brief illusion of joy only to have that flicker of hope roughly flung back at him as if his existence mattered not at all.

The best story, “Daniel” concerns the passing on of a curse or gift to ones offspring and the lengths a parent will go to in order to protect his or her child. The emotions in this tale are clean and raw, the prose crisp and the narrative is more forceful and forward moving that any of the others in this collections. “Daniel” wondrously plunks the reader into a terrible situation and asks … if this were your child, what would you do?

If you prefer the quieter tales championed by Charles Grant; stories that give you a shudder or that moment of pause at the end instead of the stomach crunching visceral jolt often employed by today’s modern prose masters, then pick up a copy this book, sit down on the front porch or lie back in a hammock and read it cover to cover to be transported to the dream realms of Richard Gavin where omens and portents abound.

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