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.
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.
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.
There are relatively few new authors in the horror/speculative field today who can make a reader both disappear into a book and later sit back in awe of the pure storytelling and the ease in which the language flows in such an enthralling, dark manner. John Langan is one. Sarah Pinborough is another. Victor LaValle ranks near the top of the list.
This breakout novel has been hailed as the book of 2017. Karen Dionne decided to leave the high concept science thriller behind (the wonderful Freezing Point and Boiling Point) in favor of something much more organic and disturbing. The Marsh King’s Daughter succeeds on all levels because of what it sets out to do—simply tell a story without all the bells and whistles. Dionne’s writing features a songstress’ voice and rhythm, yet doesn’t overwhelm the reader with the love of language. It embraces the feel of the setting and story, pulling the reader deep into the marsh’s realm, only relenting when the final page is turned.
Peter Dudar hit the scene hard with his Stoker finalist A Requiem For Dead Flies, offering a style that evoked the best of Bentley Little and Rick Hautula. He returns with The Goat Parade, a novel that hits the gas full throttle in a thrilling supernatural tale that might remind readers of some other guy from Maine.
Last year’s surprise thriller by K.J. Howe, The Freedom Broker, hit the field hard, introducing both a razor sharp writer and a series featuring Thea Paris, a character tough enough to stand toe-to-toe with Reacher and Repairman Jack. The kidnap and rescue team delves into dark territories that combine the thriller aspects with a character development rarely found in the genre.
Where Nightmares Come From: The Art of Storytelling in the Horror Genre by Joe Mynhardt & Eugene Johnson
Crystal Lake Publishing (November 2017)
368 pages; $16.99 paperback; $3.99 e-book
Reviewed by Dave Simms
Books on writing usually bring on the snoozes, even from the authors who read them. Of course, exceptions exist, like the one from the King guy and Morrell and Steve and Melanie Tem, but reading most of these kinds of books feels like dragging eyeballs across sandpaper.
Down There & Others by Keith Minnion
White Noise Press (2017)
206 pages; $10.99 paperback; $3.99 e-book
Reviewed by Dave Simms
Sometimes, people excel in multiple creative fields, displaying talents many would kill for. Folks such as Neil Gaiman, Joe Hill, Clive Barker, and the author of this collection, Keith Minnion. Those familiar with the iconic magazine Cemetery Dance will recognize the name as the most innovative illustrator in each issue. Those who picked up the Stephen King/Richard Chizmar bestseller of last year, Gwendy’s Button Box, might notice the illustrations in that book look familiar.
Alexandra Sokoloff has never strayed away from the controversial in her work, whether it be in her Stoker-nominated horror titles or in her Huntress stories. Plenty has been written about this, the fifth in that series, and it will be pretty easy to figure out why once the final page is turned.
Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant
Orbit Books (November 2017)
448 pages; $18.57 hardcover; $15.99 paperback; $13.99 e-book
Reviewed by Dave Simms
Mermaids? Scary? Nope, this isn’t a joke, and if you’re familiar with Mira “Seanan McGuire” Grant, queen of the Feed series, you know she’s capable of some horrific storytelling. Imagine if Michael Crichton and Stephen King mind-melded with someone brave enough to tackle a creature that most readers would not take seriously. The result would be a novel that’s scientifically based, utterly plausible, and with enough rich characters to make you cringe every time a dark corner is turned. Add to that the sheer lyricism of Grant/McGuire’s prose and Into the Drowning Deep is born, a horror novel that’s as frightening as Aliens and mind-bending as Jurassic Park (the concepts, not the dinos themselves).