Book Review: Beneath Ash and Bone – D. Alexander Ward.

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Necro Publications have put out some really great stuff in recent time and I am becoming a big fan of their books. The quality of content and some great looking cover art makes me a happy reader. “Beneath Ash and Bone” marks my first journey into the mind of D. Alexander Ward. I went into this not knowing a great deal about it but was looking forward to reading it after seeing some great reviews.

It is a dark tale with a terrific southern gothic flavour that drips with atmosphere. This brooding tale takes place during a harsh winter in Selburn, Virginia. The biting wind and cold is felt instantly as the narrative takes the reader on a macabre tale that follows Sheriff Sam Lock. Lock seeks to uncover the truth behind the brutal murder of a young boy, found impaled and torn apart on an estate owned by shady character Horace Crownhill. As Sam digs deeper into the disappearance, dark images begin to appear that have the sheriff questioning himself and the people that surround him.

The dark, gloomy atmosphere that is prevalent throughout is what I loved about this book. Sam is a strong lead and Mr Crownhill is a monster in the truest form. The pacing is nigh on perfect, with the story gabbing hold right from the start and not letting go until the end, this book seriously gave me the creeps. The dialogue is crisp and the supporting cast each have their own personalities.  I love books that are set in harsh environments and that build a sense of dread as the story progresses. That is what this book has in spades; atmosphere. D. Alexander Ward has proved himself already as an editor and with this book it suggests he is no slouch with the pen either. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is dark, sinister and downright unforgiving in its ability to make you feel uncomfortable. If you’re looking for a nice, heart-warming read to help you sleep then perhaps you should go someplace else. What lurks beneath these pages is a demonic slice of gothic horror straight out of the top draw. “Beneath Ash and Bone” comes highly recommended from this reader.

You can get a copy of this book from here.

Book Review: Alter – Philip Fracassi

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“Alter” is my first read from Philip Fracassi. It is a wonderful slice of dark, cosmic horror. The terrific cover art is actually a little deceiving, but helps give the novelette more of an impact. I am a big fan of Lovecraftian influenced cosmic dread and “Alter” is a fine, fine example of the sort of quality work that is out there. I love how Fracassi turns a family trip to the swimming pool into something bleak and terrifying.

The story is told through Gary, as he, his older sister and mother embark on a trip to the pool for some fun in the sun. We find out about the mechanics of the family, mother Martha’s battle with the bottle after the breakup of her marriage, Gary’s love for his older sister Abbey and how this is a family held together by the thinnest of threads. Fracassi works wonders with the characterization here. It is such a short book, but you feel deeply about these people and this is testament to some great writing. The setting of the local swimming pool is fantastic. You will wonder where the hell it is going, then, just when you think you have it all figured out…BOOM!, the skies darken and things take a dramatic turn for the worst.

One of the lines in this book was “when did it get so dark?” this is exactly what I was thinking as I read “Alter”

If you haven’t read anything by Philip Fracassi then you need to fix this. “Alter” is a perfect novelette featuring great characters, stunning imagery and a dread filled atmosphere. There are a few images that will remain engraved on my brain for some time to come. Pass me the mind bleach, please. Bravo Mr Fracassi, Bravo. Highly recommended.

You should be buying a copy of this fine book from here.

Book Review: Hunter Shea – I Kill In Peace.

After the disappointment of my last read I was looking to get back on track and Hunter Shea’s ‘I Kill In Peace’ was just the sort of quick fire book I was looking for. I have enjoyed a number of Shea’s other works such as ‘They Rise’, ‘The Dover Demon’ and ‘Island of the Forbidden’. He has that classic American horror voice that provides good scares, solid characterisation and great storytelling.

I had heard a few things about this novella, mostly about how it was very different to the sort of horror usually associated with the author and it turned out to be right. What I did discover  was a thoroughly entertaining read. We follow the journey of Peter Blades (appropriate name given the circumstances of the book) and what happens after he is made redundant from his job. Peter begins receiving strange text messages from an unknown source telling him to commit brutal murders with an ancient blade that mysteriously appears. Peter travels around in an even more mysterious red mustang carrying out these unspeakable acts of violence. Most of the perpetrators deserve all they get and you will begin routing for Peter as his journey unfolds.

There are enough clues scattered throughout the story for you to piece together what is happening. Readers familiar with the bible will pick up on what is happening pretty quickly I would imagine, but for myself  it was left until the end of the book before I was able to come to terms with what had preceded.

This will be Hunter’s final release for Samhain publishing and what a great way to go out. ‘I Kill In Peace’ is a very original story. It is different from Shea’s usual work, but a great and gruesome tale.  Thoroughly engaging, the pacing was perfect, Peter was a great character and it was highly original. I had a huge amount of fun with this novella and I bet Hunter did too. Great stuff.

You can pick up a copy of ‘I Kill In Peace’ from here.

Book Review: The Dark Age – Dallas Mullican

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Dallas Mullican arrived in 2015 with his debut novel ‘A Coin for Charon’ – a dark police procedural tale that introduced the world to Marlowe Gentry. This area of fiction is very crowded, so it’s important that if you are going to write in that genre you are able to deliver the goods. Joe Nesbo, Ian Rankin, Henning Mankell are all authors whose books grace my shelves. Some of my favourite novels of the past ten years have come from these writers-particularly the Harry Hole books from Nesbo.

I made a few comparisons to Nesbo’s Harry Hole with Mullican’s first novel. With ‘The Dark Age’ Dallas Mullican has breathed new life into his protagonist, Marlowe Gentry by showing us more of his human side and the relationships he has with his team members. ‘The Dark Age’ is the story of a man who has lost his faith in God and goes on a brutal killing spree, torturing and maiming people linked with the church in a plan that will ultimately see him come face-to-face with God himself (or, so he believes). The introduction of a new unit for Marlowe to manage and a new character in Kline keep things fresh and the exploration of the character Spence (Marlowe’s partner) are most welcome. As with the first novel there are some stomach churning scenes. These scenes are imperative to the narrative and are not simply thrown in there for shock value. I felt this book took a little longer to get going, but it was important in understanding the killers motivations. Marlowe has other problems outside of the murders (don’t we all?) but I will let you read and find out about these for yourself.

For me, it was always going to be a difficult task to follow up such a accomplished and well-written debut but Mullican manages to pull it off……just. I really enjoyed this, particularly the second half of the book where the pacing seemed to settle down a little more. I’d compare these two books written by Mullican to the classic Metallica albums ‘Master of Puppets’ and Ride the Lightning’……’Master of Puppets’ (‘A Coin for Charon’) has always been and always will be my favourite but sometimes I listen to ‘Ride the Lightning’ and say ‘Dang, this is actually the best Metallica album’

Putting my metaphors aside for a moment-this is another excellent book. It just goes to show that there are some incredibly talented writers out there and you don’t always have to go see the ‘Big 5’ publishers to get your writing kicks. Dallas Mullican is a class act. Big pressure now though to deliver with Marlowe book 3! Highly recommended.

You can pick up a copy of ‘The Dark Age’ from here.

I would recommend reading ‘A Coin for Charon’ first, although it is not essential.

Book Review: Granville – Alice J. Black & David Owain Hughes

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‘Granville’ by Alice J. Black and David Owain Hughes is the first book I have read by either of these two authors. Alice J. Black has recently popped up in a couple of anthologies and debuted with her YA novel ‘The Doors’ in 2014. David Owain Hughes likes to write a more visceral, bloody and gory style of horror (which I love!) He has been very busy of late with appearances in various anthologies as well as releasing his own works such as ‘Wind-Up Toy’.  ‘Granville’ is a slasher style horror featuring the transformation of young Stanley Reynolds from a bullied boy into a masked murderer. The main character is a sad sort; unloved by his mother, abandoned by his father and ridiculed by his peers. It is little wonder he becomes the monster Granville.

The cover art for this book is great. It’s dark, scary and makes you want to dive in straight away! Although the plot isn’t perhaps the most original, the story moves along at a brisk pace, the characterisation is solid and the book features some harrowing scenes as Stanley becomes more and more comfortable behind the mask. I always find it interesting when two different writers come together on the same project. There have been occasions where the different styles haven’t quite worked out too well, but thankfully this isn’t the case here. You will at times find yourself almost routing for Stanley as he terrifies the community with his barbaric acts. The twist at the end of the tale was a doozy. I really didn’t expect it, and that’s always a good feeling when that happens.

If you like slasher style horror then this is the book for you. ‘Granville’ is well written, exciting in parts and has enough gore for extreme horror fans.  It’s only short (novella length) but it does pack quite a punch. Overall, I enjoyed this book. It can be easily read inside of a couple of hours and was just what this reader was looking for.

You can pick up a copy of ‘Granville’ from here.

Book Review: Dreaming at the Top of my Lungs – Israel Finn

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I took a bit of a punt on this collection of short stories from Israel Finn. I liked the title and had heard a couple of people say some nice things about it via Goodreads. Collections are one of my favourite things to read, in fact, I prefer a good collection of stories over a novel, but that’s just me.

I am pretty sure that this is Finn’s first published collection, and if so, it is impressive to say the least, not just the stories themselves but impeccably edited also. I have heard someone describe it as weird fiction, and it definitely has some strange elements running through it, though its feet are planted firmly within the dark fiction genre.

The first story ‘Stranded’ was superb. Always a great way to open a collection with one of the best stories within. A well-written, haunting tale about a man who gets what he wished for. There was something really quite beautiful about the way this was written. It reminded me a little of John F.D. Taff who is one of my favourite writers, so a huge complement there. ‘No Such Thing as Monsters’ was shorter and almost as impressive. I really enjoyed the ending to this one. It was only short but real punchy. The collection never really dips in quality and there is terrific variety on show. Other favourites were ‘Deadfall Lane’, ‘Stones’ and ‘Deathbed’. ‘To Catch a Fly’ is the longest of the stories and is a diary style narrative by a inmate at a prison, also very good. The final story ‘Ugly’ whilst also one of the shortest was my favourite. Again this was brilliantly written, a little strange but ultimately very satisfying. How often have you travelled on the bus to work and simply sat there people watching? Two bullies get more than they bargained for in this wonderfully strange tale.

Israel Finn has announced himself in some style with this great collection of dark short stories. The real scare lies in the fact that Finn will undoubtedly get even better!

Highly recommended.

You can buy ‘Dreaming at the Top of my Lungs’ here.

Book Review: Crawling Darkness – Adam Cesare & Cameron Pierce

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I live very near a small lake. The lake harbours a number of small to medium sized fish. But that’s not all…the lake is also home to some bloody huge eels. I often go down there to feed the ducks some bread with my kids. The eels like bread too! who knew? There is something about eels gives me the creeps. I don’t know what exactly it is…maybe it’s their slimy texture or deceptively big mouths….who knows. I don’t like them.

So, along come Adam Cesare and Cameron Pierce with ‘Crawling Darkness’ and, as you can probably see from the cover art, it’s about eels…These two collaborated last year on another creature tale called ‘Bottom Feeders’ a tale about giant catfish, weird cults and casinos! It had the trademark Cesare style horror mixed in with a little weirdness courtesy of Cameron Pierce. The book was great fun. As a keen fisherman I love these sorts of stories and am always on the lookout for more.

‘Crawling Darkness’ takes place in Philadelphia – the Schuylkill River that runs through it to be exact. When a jogger discovers a man being eaten by a group of blood thirsty eels the scene is set for some top notch creature carnage. These bioluminescent monsters aren’t your average eel. They seem to have a level of intelligence and cunning that makes them a deadly foe.

I really liked this. Shadowy government operatives, great one-liners, an explosive ending and eels that will do anything to get inside of you….and I mean anything (bathroom scene!) this is another fun romp from the Legion of Doom, tag team that is Adam Cesare and Cameron Pierce. Again, it has the trademark horror stylings of Cesare and the quirkiness of Cameron’s  writing. As with their last release together it doesn’t feel disjointed, despite two writers working on it. In fact it’s just great fun!

You can pick up this slippery sucker from here.