There are psychological thrillers and then there are books that dive deep into the psychology of the characters; into trauma, and the deep pits that therapy and grief can dig. Alice Blanchard drags the readers into the pit with A Breath After Drowning, a thriller that—while not terribly original—is as close to perfect as it can get in this genre.
It’s Alive: Bringing Your Nightmares to Life edited by Eugene Johnson
Crystal Lake Publishing (December 14, 2018)
280 pages; $3.99 e-book
Reviewed by Dave Simms
There are books on writing that inspire, ones that feed the muse, ones that teach, but rarely has there been one that encompasses all three aspects that result in a must-read, must-have companion for the writer’s lair.
The Crate: A Story of War, a Murder, and Justice by Deborah Vadas Levison
WildBlue Press (June 2018)
358 pages; $12.99 paperback; $6.99 e-book
Reviewed by Dave Simms
There are true crime stories and then there are books that delve so much deeper that they embed themselves under the skin and burrow into the psyche. The Crate is the latter — and beyond.
Fantastic Tales of Terror: History’s Darkest Secrets edited by Eugene Johnson
Crystal Lake Publishing (October 2018)
570 pages; $18.99 paperback; $3.99 e-book
Reviewed by Dave Simms
Sometimes an anthology accomplishes what it sets out to do and nails the concept perfectly. That doesn’t happen often in the glut of tired, generic tomes with the same old names rehashing the same old tropes and writing. But, what if someone suggested using those tropes in an alternate history, utilizing some of the most famous names, monsters, and personalities in the genre and creating fantastic tales that run the gamut from fun and entertaining to chilling and all-out weird?
Nature fights back. It’s a familiar theme that has been around forever. To make it special takes some tinkering and imagination, not to mention strong storytelling. David Benton brings something to the table that keeps the teeth gnashing and adrenaline pumping until the final page. He combines the visceral brutality of an Ed Lee or Richard Laymon with the globe-trotting skills of James Rollins, resulting in an exciting romp that evokes The Zoo by James Patterson, but with a message.
1951 isn’t the best time to be a teenage girl, especially if she doesn’t feel compelled to fit into the cookie-cutter demure housewife role that was the norm then. Talk about horror! Amy Lukavics follows up her frightening YA breakout The Wolves in the Walls with Nightingale, which readers may feel is on par with Sarah Pinborough with a plot that twists and turns until it constricts like a snake in the shadows.
Imagine if Michael Crichton penned The Thing or crossed writing styles with F. Paul Wilson; it might give an idea of what Michael McBride has accomplished in Subhuman. This novel begins a new series (UNIT 51) that looks to be one of the most exciting thriller/horror series in several years.
Last year’s dark fantasy underdog breakout, Hekla’s Children, brought the subgenre to life again with a mix of heavy action, horror, and fantasy, with a style that read quicker than a demon on a blood-slicked luge to hell. James Brogden became known in the mix of genres as a voice to be reckoned with, but second novels can be a downfall.
Straight from the success of last year’s The Forgotten Girl, Rio Youers bursts back onto the scene with another high-octane thriller that stretches the bounds of reality in a tale which blurs the lines between horror, thriller, mystery, and fantasy. Those familiar with his writing will be treated to another smooth ride that will keep the pages flying.
Every once in a while, a book comes along to remind you how much fun reading can be. Thrillers usually fill that void pretty well. Add in some darkness, and opening the covers can feel like a rollercoaster ride designed by Rod Serling when arguing with Clive Barker.
There’s something decidedly different about Joe Hill, besides the obvious relation. His novels and short stories defy categorization, often eschewing the conventions of horror and tropes of speculative fiction in favor of something much more… interesting.
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.
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.
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.