Haunted house stories have been run into the ground and, in most cases, should be boarded up due to the tropes that lazy writing cannot fix. In recent years, only a few have managed to introduce something new. Examples include House of Leaves, The Unseen, and The Haunted, each bringing a new wrinkle to the subgenre.
Tim Lebbon knows how to spin a tale that envelops the reader in a world they know, and then twists that reality into a unique playground for his characters to battle monsters and create stories which always sidestep cliché.
After a couple of straight-up thrillers, Lebbon returned to the land of weird horror with Relics last year, a novel that detailed the hidden world of the Kin, creatures who existed alongside humans yet are rarely seen. Fairies, nymphs, and monsters beyond description fought for their survival against enemies both human and supernatural.
Cold Cuts by Robert Payne Cabeen
Omnium Gatherum Media (July 2017)
228 pages; $12.99 paperback; $4.99 e-book
Reviewed by C.W. Briar
Monster stories generally work best when approached in one of two ways. The first is to have a well-executed tale where intriguing characters clash with a unique creature. The other is for the story to double-down on clichés and formulas, preferably with a more tongue-in-cheek tone. Cold Cuts by Robert Payne Cabeen is squarely the latter.
Noir fiction can be a mixed bag in today’s market. Many of the writers seem content to channel Raymond Chandler and roll through a murder-by-numbers plot with the most clichéd characters. Thankfully, a few breathe new life into the mix. Sam Wiebe is one of them. Last year’s The Invisible Dead introduced private investigator Dave Wakeland in the underused but vibrant setting of Vancouver. Coupled with the PI’s journeys into northern Washington State, the book feels fresh and avoids the pseudo-early twentieth century language and tropes.
Sonya and Callie just want to go out for a date. What they don’t want is to find themselves surrounded by men who seem incapable of doing anything but spout lame pick up lines and force themselves on anyone or anything they come across. What follows is a surprisingly harrowing ordeal of survival that reminded me quite pleasantly of Jack Ketchum’s Ladies’ Night.
In her first collection in several years, Elizabeth Massie returns with a thrilling collection of short stories. The Bram Stoker-winning author has put together eighteen tales, several of which are new to readers, and there’s not a clunker in the bunch.
You know what I was just thinking we don’t have nearly enough of? Hyper-violent, dystopian, post-apocalyptic sword and sandals-style fantasy with a hefty seasoning of Shakespearean drama. Luckily, we have Jess McHugh’s Nightly Owl, Fatal Raven swooping in to pluck out our eyes.
And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe by Gwendolyn Kiste
JournalStone (April 2017)
210 pages; $15.95 paperback; $3.95 e-book
Reviewed by Dave Simms
Remember this name. Gwendolyn Kiste will one day rule the world of dark short fiction if there’s any justice. Every once in a while, a new voice emerges and takes the genre by storm. Several have broken the surface lately and shown tinges of greatness to be, but rarely is one “born” with a style and substance this mind-boggling.
The release of Alma Katsu’s new historical horror novel brings with it comparisons to The Terror by Dan Simmons, even including both of them in social media ads. Do not be fooled. Yes, both authors bring impeccable research to fine stories and put you right there in the moment with ease. Both examine the human condition and how people can easily be turned to embrace their shadow selves, the monsters within the person.
Yet, there are a couple of major differences.
Betty Rocksteady appears to be a bit of a newcomer on the scene. I hadn’t seen her name or work prior to this year. However, if Like Jagged Teeth is anything to go on, she’s kicking the door right off its hinges.
Read enough horror, and you start feeling like you can predict where a book or story is going to go within a few pages or chapters. I’m not saying that all horror is predictable or formulaic; just that enough of it is that some reviewers (like me) might find themselves getting a little cocky after a few successful predictions. Then someone like Chad Lutzke comes along with a novella like Stirring the Sheets, and gleefully knocks you off your high horse.
Reality is Thin Ice
The Outsider by Stephen King
Reviewed by Bev Vincent
One of the themes of Stephen King’s 1986 novel It was the notion that adults lose the ability to believe in the kinds of things they embraced as children. Mike Hanlon contemplates this issue when he’s planning to summon his childhood friends back to Derry to confront the monster they defeated but did not destroy nearly three decades earlier. He wonders if they’re up to the task because their former ability to believe in the power of certain talismans gave them the strength to hurt Pennywise.
The inability to believe plays a major part in The Outsider.
Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.
While The Godfather Part III is not the most revered entry in that series, that Al Pacino line is one of the franchise’s most memorable quotes. The idea behind it—the notion that people play certain inescapable roles in their life, no matter how hard they may try to change—is the basis for quite a bit of crime fiction, and it forms the backbone of Laird Barron’s new novel, Blood Standard.
Those fans who are hoping to find the swashbuckling heroics of the Joe Ledger novels or the zombified madness of the Rot and Ruin series will be in for a big surprise with Glimpse. Maberry has penned a decidedly different book here, a thriller that delivers for that genre yet still hits on the edges of reality, stretching the imagination in a manner that is utterly human, but entrenched in a Twilight Zone-type story.
Greg Nibler and Sarah X Dylan with Funemployment Radio may not be totally household names, but Sarah’s art has appeared on the cover of Cemetery Dance magazine, and their great and funny podcast with over 2,000 episodes is a must-listen.