The Dreadful Tales Book Club is a celebration of horror fiction. The club affords genre fans the opportunity to share our enthusiasm for macabre tales and genre talent with like-minded readers and chat about our experience in the virtual hangout, The Psychopedia Necronomicon. Just as members cracked open Greg Lamberson’s zombie road novella Carnage Road for May’s Book of the Month, the horror fiction community lost one of its most talented members, Michael Louis Calvillo, after a long and arduous battle with cancer. Lamberson joined as a guest member to pick our June title and there was no question that the most appropriate choice was to honor the late Calvillo’s legacy with a reading of his posthumous release from DarkFuse Publications, Lambs.
From DarkFuse Publications:
Plagued by a trio of murderous ghosts, Arthur has bigger problems than your average teenager. Young love, wild hormones, and The System haunt him, but those phantoms are nothing compared to the concern he has when watching the darkened corners and deep shadows around him. These spaces are now consumed by a spectral evil seemingly hell-bent on destroying everyone he loves.
As the bodies pile up, Arthur distances himself from his roommate, Connor, a pyromaniac crack-baby with destructive tendencies, and his girlfriend, Melanie, an all-American Satanist with a hidden agenda. He embarks upon a grisly odyssey of self-discovery in hopes of burying the past, cleansing his soul, and obliterating the blood-thirsty spirits once and for all.
Calvillo’s Lambs features three separate tragic stories – that of Arthur, the main protagonist and center of the tale; Melanie, the unlikely girlfriend; and the lamentable Connor, Arthur’s mentally disturbed roommate – that culminate into one connected narrative. The 3 ghosts of Arthur’s past have returned, as they always have every 3 years. As the injuries of their violent deaths manifest on his body, wounds only he can see, Arthur grows increasingly distant from Melanie and Connor. Meanwhile Melanie prepares for various Blood Rituals, in which she will become a woman in the eyes of Satan that threaten her future with Arthur. Connor too gathers the necessary tools and finalizes the stage for his big moment when he can eradicate his enemies once and for all.
Initially, Arthur is the main focus of the story and in fact he is the driving force of the drama, but Melanie and Connor undeniably win over the reader as their own struggles with right, wrong, and all the in between surface. Despite unlikable characteristics for both Melanie and Connor, they are easily relatable in their ultimate helplessness in this world. Melanie juggles social expectation unsuccessfully, from her parents and friends, with her irrefutable love for Arthur. Connor, on the other hand, has been neglected and cast off by all but Arthur. His only quandary is whether to trust Arthur and spare him from his destructive plan.
As we get a further acquainted with Melanie and Connor, Arthur almost becomes an after thought although he is the center of the plot. Melanie’s actions seem increasingly less malicious and more the product of her confused desperation. And Connor, well, who can blame the poor little bugger considering all he’s been through. From a crack-addicted, abusive mother, to endless ridicule and torture from his peers, it’s hard to blame Connor for his course of direction.
While I found all three characters sympathetic and endearing I became particularly worried about Connor. Even brief moments of joy for Connor offer a dark glimpse into his pitiful existence. “Pure, unadulterated joy was a feeling uncommon to Connor. There were small pleasures. Cards with Arthur. Favorite foods. Videogames. Planning destruction.” That last line forced a giggle out of me even though it reflects the sad underpinnings of Connor’s state. Connor is a ticking time bomb, dangerous and destructive, but his pitiable disposition renders him unintentionally charming and you hope that no matter what things will work out in his favor.
Calvillo’s Lambs offers more than engaging characters. There is an abundance of blood, violence, and satanic ritual. There just might be more bloodshed in the first quarter of this novel than anything else I’ve ever read… maybe. As I mentioned, the injuries of the 3 ghosts haunting Arthur manifest on his body. The worst of the 3 are the slits up his wrists. “…the red stuff continued to pour from his mutilated wrists and soak everything in a slick, slippery downpour.” Since he is the only one that can actually see the mutilations on his body, Arthur tries desperately to hide his unease. Even in situations like this: “In PE he ran the track, blood spraying behind him, misting like a red vapor trail, and he thought about thinking about nothing.”
Perhaps the best part of Lambs is that Calvillo manages throughout to surprise the reader, lifting a rug here and there to expose a secret shelter, offering a new perspective on the story. To me, Arthur and Melanie and Connor were not characters, they were real people, vulnerable teenagers manipulated by a corrupt system I desperately wanted them to beat.
Whether a longtime Calvillo fan or newbie, all readers consistently agreed that this is an outstanding genre entry from an exceptional talent taken from this world all too soon. While his passion for life and warmth of character will live on in the hearts of his family and friends, his well-crafted art will live on in the words of his work for generations of fans.
Be sure to check Michael Louis Calvillo’s website as his wife will keep it updated with reviews and news as well as information regarding 8 completed novels and 4 novellas yet to be released.
You can pick up your copy of Lambs from DarkFuse Publications in eBook or paperback format.