In the 1800s, it’s easier to kill and get away with it—if that’s your thing. Walking into a saloon, collecting body parts, and leaving out the front door doesn’t exactly trigger sirens and a team of forensic scientists, but there’s always someone you’re likely to run into that’ll try and put a stop to your slaughtering ways.
Let’s skip the synopsis. The title and the cover say it all. And it was the cover that sold me.
Is the ’80s retro VHS/tattered book cover thing a dead horse? Not for me. I love nostalgia. I’m all about it. The ’70s, the ’80s. Anything that takes me back to carefree days, void of responsibility. Give me extra helpings please.
In 1990-1993 I was a skater girl groupie. I wore high-top Converse sneakers, ripped jeans, a flannel shirt tied around my waist and garage band tees. After school and on the weekends, the boys would skate and a few other girls and I would watch. They let us sit on their old boards and we would smoke weed or cigarettes and laugh when the boys ate it and cheer when they landed something.
We listened to The Dead Kennedys, NOFX, the Sex Pistols and the Pixies (theme song: “Where is My Mind”). So when I say that I could immediately relate to Chad Lutzke’s coming-of-age novella, The Same Deep Water As You, it is because I lived that lifestyle and in that same era.
Jonathan Janz’s name is everywhere lately. With Flame Tree Press sneaking up out of nowhere and snatching his back catalog, and his most recent effort The Siren and Specter making the rounds of Twitter feeds and Instagram posts alike, he’s hard to ignore. It was only a matter of time before I broke down and read my first Janz. The Nightmare Girl was the book that deflowered this Janz virgin.
Right up front, allow me to get past the part of the review where I’m forced to write something cliché—a statement proclaimed in reviews since the beginning of time. Well, since the beginning of Goodreads and Amazon at least:
This is my first by this author, and it won’t be my last.
I picked up this book for review at just the right time. Horror has bored me as of late. I’m seeing a lot of the same tropes. Blood here, blood there. Running from monsters, maniacal cannibals, and other dead horses. These things do nothing for me. They’re good on the screen when you’re in the mood for a body count, but in the written word, for me, it’s trudging through mud I’d rather have walked around. My eye starts to wander toward my small shelf of Nicholas Sparks and Louis L’Amour spines — none of which I’ve read, but have wondered if I’m missing a good time. I’m okay with losing horror points for that little confession. For me, there are no guilty pleasures. Just good books, good music, good movies.
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.
Once in a while I’ll start a review with some poetic prose plucked from the pages to give the reader an idea of the skills the writer may possess. The Boulevard Monster has none of that. Instead, it’s a straightforward, entertaining story with a thrilling Koontz-ish vibe…and the best book I’ve read so far this year. There’s good reason it was nominated for a Stoker award. Hepler’s no-filler prose is designed to simply tell a story with no literary glitter, which makes perfect sense considering the protagonist.
Mr. Jones doesn’t know it yet, but we have a lot in common. When writing, we both dig deep for the little boy inside that’s packed full of maybe too much emotion, then put him in a situation where maybe we could never survive ourselves; maybe we wouldn’t want to even try. Then dig deeper still for all that hurt and confusion from our own lives invested in this and that, take it and use it in stories that are meant to do much more than entertain, but to touch people, make them consider. Mapping the Interior does that perfectly.
Those Who Follow by Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason
Bloodshot Books (July 2017)
206 pages; $14.99 paperback; $3.99 e-book
Reviewed by Chad Lutzke
The moon was rising over the desert on the other side of the doorway, casting its long yellow fingers over the treetops, reaching out to the dilapidated church.
The above passage depicts the main location for the horrors that lie within. The church acts as a prison in another dimension for a group of women who have found their way into the hands of an evil “traveler”—one who has been given other-dimensional property to call his own.
First, a word about the introduction by Lansdale himself––a backstage pass to Mr. Lansdale’s writing method and history of The Magic Wagon. There’s a chance I liked it so much because we happen to have the same view on what makes a story and how to have fun writing and how pantsing (for us) is what keeps the fun going. The discovery as we write. Personally, it was like a nice little validation from the man himself that there ain’t nothing wrong with writing words down and just letting them take you wherever.
I stood on our rickety old porch, looking out towards the peeling paint on the back shed as the sunset drained like a stuck pig, bleeding out red all over.
In this first-person, coming-of-age novella, a warbler is a winged creature that isn’t welcome. And after young Dell and his family try to ignore the pack of them, it turns out they’re rather dangerous, too–-–even tearing apart poor Dell’s dog. So Dell and his father set out to rid their back shed of the beasts, but the means to which they do so could prove even worse a predicament than what they’re already up against. Not just for their family, but maybe for the whole town.
The reality is this: Life is just a balloon floating dangerously in a roomful of lit cigarettes.
A lonely truck driver sets out on a desperate course to find the one who killed his wife. A path that leads to mingling with the oddball, the grotesque, and the surreal in this weird fiction trucker tale by an author who is certainly no stranger to offering heartbreaking stories, of which Spungunion is above par.
Quiet Places: A Novella of Cosmic Folk Horror by Jasper Bark
Crystal Lake Publishing (September 2017)
123 pages; $12.99 paperback; $3.99 e-book
Reviewed by Chad Lutzke
Quiet Places opens with a prologue presenting mysterious goings-on in the small village of Dunballan. Right away we’re given a potentially exciting premise as a lone woman aids local residents in their vegetative states, picking random citizens to assist while they stand slack jawed and wide eyed, empty bellies and soiled clothes.