Apr 162014
 
The second story in ZOMBIES FROM THE PULPS!, the fine new anthology edited by Jeffrey Shanks, is Henry S. Whitehead's "Jumbee", which originally appeared in the September 1926 issue of WEIRD TALES. As Shanks points out in his introduction, it's one of the earliest zombie yarns. Following the lurid "Herbert West: Reanimator" by H.P. Lovecraft, it comes off as a little on the mild side, as the
Mar 212014
 
My general dislike of H.P. Lovecraft's work, while still acknowledging its influence and historical significance in the field of Weird Fiction, has gotten me in trouble on more than one occasion in the past. But for some reason, every so often I get the urge to read something by him, maybe in the hope of finding a story that I like. And whaddaya know, I finally did. I'm fudging a little with
Jan 222014
 
THE INCIDENT OF THE HARROWMOOR DOGS is the first thing I've read by Daniel Abraham, who's becoming well-known as an author of science fiction and fantasy under his own name and a couple of pseudonyms. This is a novella featuring a couple of characters who have appeared previously in some of Abraham's short stories. Balfour and Meriwether (we don't find out their first names) are a pair of tough Englishmen in the 1880s who carry out dangerous assignments for a secret intelligence agency headed by a nobleman who reports directly to the Queen.

This time they're asked to track down a fellow agent who has disappeared while investigating the case of an explorer and war hero who is locked up in a sinister sanitorium after suffering a breakdown of some sort. It seems that this unfortunate patient has been having nightmares that somehow reveal information the British government would prefer to keep secret.

Balfour—whose weapon of choice is knives—and Meriwether—who carries a brace of pistols and is good with them—pursue different lines of investigation that ultimately lead them to the same place, a warren of tunnels under the English countryside that contain a horrifying secret.

THE INCIDENT OF THE HARROWMOOR DOGS is a well-written, very entertaining blend of mystery, espionage, adventure, and horror. There's a little Conan Doyle, a little Robert E. Howard, even a little Robert Louis Stevenson. There's a late twist in the plot that seems a little forced to me, but hey, it's Abraham's story, not mine. And overall I had a fine time reading it.

The earlier Balfour and Meriwether adventures are available here. I liked this one enough that I've already bought them and look forward to reading them.
Jan 132014
 
Any book with the phrase "jungle-shrouded island" in its description on Amazon is bound to be pretty good. I think we can take that as a given. Christopher Fulbright's novella RED CHALICE certainly doesn't disappoint in that respect. It's a pulp-inspired horror/adventure yarn that's rip-roaring fun.

Ex-con Layne Drover hires out for dirty jobs, and his current one fits the bill. Even though the setting is contemporary, RED CHALICE's set-up is very much like something out of a Weird Menace pulp. Layne is hired to accompany a beautiful, mysterious woman to that jungle-shrouded island I mentioned above, where the crumbling mansion of the woman's late uncle is located. She's inherited something very valuable from him, and she has to journey to the island to retrieve it.

No sooner do they get there, though, than a hurricane roars in, the boat captain they hired double-crosses them, ruthless gunmen show up, and things get even weirder, bloodier, and more dangerous as Layne and his client are trapped in a labyrinth of caverns under the old mansion.

The action hardly ever slows down, and when it does that's only because Fulbright has another nasty plot twist to spring on the reader. He packs a lot into this relatively short tale, and that's just the way I like 'em. I had a great time reading RED CHALICE, and you should check it out.


Jan 092014
 
There's been a surge in popularity for horror Westerns in recent years, and author John M. Whalen has come up with a good one in VAMPIRE SIEGE AT RIO MUERTO. The protagonist is bounty hunter Mordecai Slate, who makes his living tracking down outlaws who happen to be vampires, werewolves, and other supernatural creatures.

Slate is hired by a wealthy rancher in New Mexico Territory to capture the vampire responsible for the death of the rancher's daughter. Slate manages to do that, but as he tries to return the prisoner to his employer, the vampire's brother and the rest of their gang are on Slate's trail. Then he runs into an unwanted complication in the form of a beautiful blonde with troubles of her own, and they all wind up stuck in the little settlement of Rio Verde, which has been renamed Rio Muerto because it's turning into a ghost town. By this time there's a small army of vampires after Slate, which leads up to an epic showdown.

Whalen has created a fine protagonist in Mordecai Slate, and his other characters are interesting, too. There's plenty of well-written action and considerable suspense. Whalen does a good job blending the Western and horror elements. One thing I found surprisingly effective is that there's not a lot of elaborate world-building to explain why vampires and other supernatural beings are roaming the Old West. They simply are, and people accept that, and that matter-of-fact attitude lends a hardboiled edge to the tale.

VAMPIRE SIEGE AT RIO MUERTO is a really entertaining novel. Horror fans should enjoy it, and if you're a Western reader who doesn't mind supernatural elements, you should definitely check it out as well.


Dec 052013
 
THE DEVIL BEHIND ME is a new horror novella from Christopher Fulbright and Angeline Hawkes, and it's a good, gory yarn. In an opening scene set in Germany that reminded me a little of Robert E. Howard's "The Black Stone", young Alex Brandt and three of his friends spy on Alex's older sister, who is bent on some secretive mission in the woods. When Ilona Brandt winds up in a clearing complete with sinister alter and robed, chanting acolytes of the demon Krampus (the German anti-Santa who punishes bad boys and girls on Christmas Eve), you just know something terrible is going to happen, and boy, does it.

From there the story jumps forward to when Alex is grown and living in Dallas, far from Germany but still haunted by what happened there on that night so long ago. He decides he has to go back to his hometown and put all those old memories to rest, and his girlfriend comes with him so they can make a vacation of it. I don't think it'll come as a surprise to anyone that the trip doesn't quite go the way Alex intended.

Fulbright and Hawkes add murder to the mix, along with an old witch, some kinky sex, and ultimately a dramatic confrontation with evil itself. THE DEVIL BEHIND ME races along at a very satisfying pace, and it's creepy enough to satisfy any fan of horror fiction. I enjoyed it and think it's well worth reading.


Jun 252013
 
Sadly, after an anxious day of rumors on Facebook and Twitter, it has been confirmed that the extraordinarily talented fantasist Richard Matheson has departed this plane at age 87 after a long illness.

Matheson has always been one of my greatest literary influences and inspirations, a man whose imagination knew no limits, who could see the fantastic in the mundane world around us, and paint vivid, indelible, unforgettable images with words. He was a master, and his influence on popular culture - from the Twilight Zone to The Incredible Shrinking Man to Roger Corman's colorful Poe films to Somewhere In Time (the movie theme was played at our wedding) to I Am Legend and beyond - is immeasurable. In fact, I was just watching the 1971 film adaptation of Legend, The Omega Man, last night.

When I was writing my Kolchak The Night Stalker comic book miniseries a few years ago, it was Matheson's teleplays for the original TV movies that I used as my guide to the character.


Rest in peace, sir.

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