The Waiting by Hunter Shea

Hunter Shea is a new author to me but one with a growing reputation as a writer of paranormal thrillers, so when the offer to read and review his latest novella arose I leapt at the opportunity.

Cassandra Pagano falls desperately ill on her wedding day leaving her in a semi comatose state and kept alive by life support machines. Her new husband Brian decides to take her out of hospital and care for her in their new home along with mother-in-law Alice. If this scenario wasn’t nightmare enough there is an entity in the house, a phantom of a boy which appears to show particular interest in Cassandra who is trapped in limbo between the worlds of the living and the dead.

Shea writes a taught chilling little thriller and his characters are so well drawn that you viscerally feel their anguish. We particularly feel for Brian who with the strong support of his mother-in-law and Cassandra’s nurse tries desperately to maintain a normal existence against the odds, hoping that his wife will start to recover and that they may begin their life together anew. If this were not more than enough to cope with he has to contend with the spectre whose presence pervades their home. By grounding his tale firmly in such a awful and tragic scenario and populating it with believable and sympathetic characters Shea deftly makes the incursion of a supernatural more believable and terrifying.

As the plot unfolds and the terrible secret and purpose of the sinister child is revealed the tension and palpable dread mounts towards a climax which will haunt you for a long time after you put the novella down.

Shea delivers a classic ghost story with a refreshingly fresh feel, well and concisely written with a delightfully spooky child and enthralling plot which chills its reader to the bone. This may be the first I have read by him but will certainly not be the last.

Stuck On You by Jasper Bark

STUCK ON YOU coverWith a tag line by the publisher that actually says “Warning! Do not buy this book, gentle reader”, how the hell can I actually stand here (I’m totally sitting, guys) and say that you shouldn’t buy this book?

Because you know what? You should really buy this book.

If you like slashers, you should buy this book.
If you like Deadite Press and their nasty nastiness, you should buy this book.
If you like flesh dripping, genital torturing, disgusting prose, you should buy this book.
If you like Nora Roberts and those Evanovich books, you should… um… not buy this… fuck it, you should totally buy this book.

Why?
Because you’re never going to read something both horribly disgusting, and so brilliantly written, ever again. Ever.

So yeah, I am fully supportive of you all buying this book. It’s horrendously disgusting, and actually made me write to the publisher and ask “What the hell was that?” (Check that with Joe. He’ll back me up.)

Warning! Do not buy this book, gentle reader.

No really, we mean it. Move along, click away from this page and go look at some Dino porn instead. We’re not kidding. The only reason we published it is because award-winning author Jasper Bark has got some serious dirt on us. Honestly, there’s no other reason to put out something this depraved.

This is the sickest, filthiest and most horny novella you’re likely to read this year. It will turn you on even as it turns your stomach. Think you’ve seen everything there is to see in horror and erotica? Think again! Just when you think this story can’t get any lower it finds new depths to plumb.

Why are you still reading this?! Oh God you’re going to buy it aren’t you? You can’t help yourself. You’re going to click on that purchase button and download this little bad boy.

Well don’t say we didn’t warn you…

 - from crystallakepub.com

Flo realz, people. This is the real deal.
Okay… enough talking like an idiot.

The synopsis basically says nothing about the piece itself, but tell you everything about the nature of the style and the delivery of the story. It’s gritty, nasty, depraved, and highly sexually charged. I wouldn’t even hesitate to say that this could be the forefather of a true erotic horror movement, albeit very extreme “horrorotica”.

The story centers around a husband, Ricardo, who has been sent on an errand to Mexico by his wife, Ellen, to pick up a few odds and ends for their “artisan trading” business. The biggest problem with this? Whether or not Ellen can trust Ricardo to behave himself while in Mexico alone. Recently, Ellen had caught Ricardo in an attempted affair, uncovered more past indiscretions, and confronted him violently. Though she still allowed him to cross the border in search of items to sell as their booth in Arizona.

And that’s when he met Consuela. And everything gets worse from there.

When I say “everything gets worse”, I really mean it. Well, everything but the writing.

This sick puppy of a novella, ringing in at 58 digital pages, starts at disturbing, and takes an escalator up to the next level of the weirdo shopping center, to the over-the-top grossness store, and restocks its shelves with cans of whatthefuck pasta (with extra sauce) and vomit flavored Ramen noodles.

There’s nothing else I can say about this that won’t be a spoiler, save for the fact that it’s one of the most imaginative and excessive horror/erotica stories I have ever read. When Bark’s collection hits the shelves, I’m going to be first in line to get my sticky little hands on it.

C.

Note: Being turned on by this story worried me a little bit, but the cover reminds me of a ham steak for some reason and I’m actually kind of hungry… and that’s really beginning to worry me more…

Dust Devils by Jonathan Janz

I’ve long been a fan of the Horror Western but for my money few writers manage to write them convincingly. When I discovered that Jonathan Janz’s next novel was a horror novel set in 1880s New Mexico I had high hopes for a wild ride and I was not to be disappointed.

Dust Devils is at its heart a story of revenge and redemption, its protagonist Cody Wilson is a young man who has married a wanton woman and ostracised himself from his own family into the bargain. After allowing a savage band of vampires who travel New Mexico masquerading as itinerant actors to seduce and slaughter his wife he saddles up in search of revenge, but he also has a few inner demons with which he needs to battle. Catching up with the vampires it isn’t long before the hunter becomes the hunted and joined by a young boy who is the soul survivor of another of the vampire’s rapacious attacks a desperate pursuit ensues. Seeking succour in the small town of Mesquite he finds himself trapped by the brutish and evil men who run the town, the clock is ticking and Adam Price’s feral gang of travelling vampires will soon descend upon Mesquite bringing hell along with them.

Dust Devils is a tense and riveting tale which reaches a ferocious and breathtaking crescendo in the towns saloon where all hell breaks loose. Janz’s vampires are thankfully not the simpering lovelorn creatures we have seen plague horror literature of late; instead they are relentlessly vicious and monstrously carnal. As with Janz’s other novels this fantastic story is grounded by wonderfully drawn characters and it is almost a shame to see even some of the evil ones ripped to bloody shreds.

First and foremost a traditional Western Dust Devils is also a gripping horror story suffused with terror and no holds barred bloody action. With this novel Jonathan Janz lets fly with both barrels blazing.

With its publication imminent I thought I would ask Jonathan a few questions about his novel.

DARK MARK: Why a Western? I felt a love of the genre shone through in the novel but what were your inspirations for the tale?

JONATHAN JANZ: That’s wonderful to hear! I’ve always enjoyed western films, but it wasn’t until about a decade ago that I got into western novels. Now I love them. I think what attracts me—and many people—to westerns is the lawlessness of the environment. Strangely, I think it’s similar to people’s attraction to the zombie subgenre. Essentially, both genres beg the question, “What happens when all threat of punishment is erased?” Outlaws thrived in the Old West because there was very little law to thwart them. Many people turned a blind eye to their crimes. Others joined them in victimizing innocent people. But just as there will always be people who choose the easy route, or even the despicable one, there will be good men and women who will do what’s right because that’s the kind of people they are. Because western stories plumb the depths of humanity, the heroes who rise up to stand against evil shine all the brighter. We like zombie apocalypse stories because we want to see who will loot and pillage and victimize in the absence of authority, but we also watch these stories to witness the revelation of the good within our hearts. So too do the best westerns distil good and evil and dramatize them in the most unflinching way. My inspirations for the novel were the works of Elmore Leonard, Cormac McCarthy, and Larry McMurtry, as well as the films of Clint Eastwood and the recent 3:10 to Yuma. For example, in Leonard’s Last Stand at Saber River, the protagonist has many opportunities to choose the easy way out. But he knows that in doing so he’d be compromising his beliefs, setting a bad example for his sons, and disappointing his wife. The protagonist of my novel grapples with some of the same issues, and I hope I do that internal conflict justice.

DM: I thought Cody Wilson’s relationship with his father had a ring of truth to it, was it based upon that of an actual father and son?

JJ: I can’t tell you how happy that makes me. That relationship might just be the most important one in the entire book. I grew up without a father in the house (at least, until my mom remarried when I was in junior high). A father was something I always longed for, and I felt that void acutely throughout my childhood. I often chose television dads who seemed kind hearted to become my imaginary fathers. They’d take me camping, play catch with me, and generally spend time with me. I think the father in Dust Devils, though he’s not perfect, is the kind of dad I wanted to have and the kind of father I want to be. Now, thankfully, I have a son of my own (as well as two wonderful daughters), and I get to experience all the things I missed out on as a child.

DM: The vampires are rapacious and brutally nasty was this a conscious effort to make vampires scary again? Is there a beast within the mild mannered horror writer that must find release?

JJ: Hah! You’d have to ask my wife about the “beast within the mild-mannered horror writer” part, since she knows me better than I know myself. I’m very happy you found the vampires to be brutal and nasty. I certainly wanted them to be frightening. I don’t hate any book or movie, necessarily, but I know there have been depictions of vampires as angsty, less-than-monstrous creatures. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a vampire who can be seductive—in fact, I think that can be a good thing. But for me, there needs to be that other side. That duality. It’s the darkness that makes the seductive side more frightening. I thought Chris Sarandon did a great job in the original Fright Night of capturing both the allure of the vampire and the viciousness of its true nature. His character (Jerry Dandridge) was one of the inspirations for Price, my lead vampire in Dust Devils. Having said that, the bestial, ravening creature hiding behind the human mask is my favorite aspect of the vampire. 30 Days of Night is a film that I thought did a great job of showing how frightening and inexorable vampires could be. So, for me, the best vampires feature a combination of intelligence, seductiveness, ferociousness, and sadism. I hope my vampires exhibit those traits in Dust Devils.

DM: I thought the book would make a great movie, which of your novels if any would you like to see on the silver screen?

JJ: Thank you! I’m biased, obviously, but I think it would make a great movie, too. I think my most recent two Samhain Horror releases—Savage Species and Dust Devils—would make excellent movies. Both would require moderate budgets, but I don’t think they’d be difficult to adapt into screenplay form. One of the tests I present myself as a writer is the Movie Scene Test. Essentially, I go scene by scene through my stories and make things as visual as possible. If the scene isn’t immediate enough to be imagined on film, I either cut it or rework it until I can see it playing out on screen. Even if a scene is a flashback or a dream sequence (though I rarely do those), it needs to contain action, dialogue that crackles, or some other magnetism that makes it unspool like a feature film. I’m not saying I accomplish that every time, but it’s something of which I’m always cognizant. My other novels would also play well on film, particularly The Darkest Lullaby, which wouldn’t need a robust budget. That one could be a small, independent picture. The Sorrows and House of Skin would be great movies, but the screenplays would be very tricky due to the Gothic format of the books. My superhero novel Bloodshot: Kingdom of Shadows would be a blast on screen, but it (like The Sorrows) would require a ton of money. Obviously, I’m a total unknown to Hollywood, so I won’t hold my breath for those to be adapted. In reading back through my answer to this question, I realized my words could be interpreted as being self-aggrandizing. I didn’t mean them to be. I just love movies and want my stories to be easy to visualize.

DM: What can we expect next? Can I hope for a sequel to Savage Species for example?

JJ: I’m really excited about the prospect of writing the sequel to Savage Species, but I’ll likely have to wait until, at the earliest, the summer of 2015 to write it. This year I’ll have Dust Devils in February and Castle of Sorrows (the sequel to The Sorrows) in July. There’s also something else coming in July that—to my knowledge—has never been done before, but I’m not allowed to talk about it until the contracts have been signed. But it’ll be a pretty awesome thing. I’m working on my seventh Samhain novel now (to be published in January 2015); I also have two really big and awesome projects to write and complete this spring and summer. So…it’s a busy time, but it’s the best kind of busy. I’m just thankful that people want to read my stuff, and I hope my readership continues to grow in 2014. I’m also thankful for places like Dreadful Tales, which is a place that champions horror and helps make the genre stronger.

Dust Devils will be published on February 4, 2014 by Samhain Publishing and will be available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble or direct from the publishers here as well as from where all good books are sold.

- Dark Mark

Violet Eyes by John Everson

The theme of nature attacking has long been a staple of horror literature and the idea that often seemingly innocuous creatures may become ravenously lethal nightmares has been used countless times but Bram Stoker Award winning author John Everson shows with his novel Violet Eyes that the theme still has legs.

A hideous abomination lies in wait on the island of Sheila Key, but it’s contained by geography until hapless tourists explore the idyll and discover unspeakable terror and death.

Moving forwards Rachel Riordan and her ten year old son Eric relocate to the isolated Florida town Passanaette to flee an abusive ex-husband and begin a new life together. Their new neighbour Billy is a survivor of the attack on Sheila Key and has brought back with him a virulent new species which is unleashed upon the unsuspecting town. Before long family pets begin to go missing and a swarm of biting flies and viciously aggressive spiders descend upon the burg. These creatures are hideous and insidious by design and by the time Passanaette wakes up to the peril it may be already be too late…

Everson has created a wonderfully nasty creature with a lifecycle and feeding habits that are voracious and terrifying all of which he describes with unflinching glee. This novel will cause even the hardened fan of horror literature to be filled with skin crawling dread but the real strength of this tale is the believable characters whose actions and motivation ring true. It is the human element which sells a story of this nature and no amount of wonderfully described horror and gruesome slaughter mean much unless the characters are well drawn. Thankfully Everson has crafted a convincing cast and environment upon which he unleashes a truly abhorrent plague.

Evoking old school horror from the 80’s and 90’s Everson’s novel is also refreshingly creative and suffused throughout with palpable dread and gruesome carnage which will have hardcore horror fans squirming and arachnophobes looking for a chair to stand on assuming they survive the first chapter.

People Live Still in Cashtown Corners – Nightmare Fuel

The edges of my vision are flickering as vertigo climbs my legs. This is normal. My diet has been out of whack and I’ve been fighting a head cold for, oh, maybe three weeks. It seemed like a good time to settle into reading “People Live Still In Cashtown Corners” by Tony Burgess. Or, maybe it was the worst time. Who knows.

After picking this up at the last ChiSeries Ottawa night – which was the last reading I did on October 9 for the launch of Postscripts To Darkness IV – I resolved to move it to the top of my reading pile. “Pontypool” was a favorite and with that reading night and launch, I was technically published alongside the man. As usual, I bought other books since then that leapt to the ‘top of my reading pile’ burying the book alive.

After wrapping another novel, I basically turned its last page into the first page of “Cashtown”. That was at ten o’clock this morning. I was finished by noon. On the button. I know this because the last line rung in my mind as I put the book down in order to come back to planet earth when the church bells began to sound off.

If I were to recommend not only the book, but the environment in which to read it, I’d have to say it must be read in one sitting at the very least. Perhaps adopt a bad diet a few days before hand. If you drink, stop for a week. Be ill. Influenza, a cold, it doesn’t really matter. Be confused. A little social drama brewing in a circle twice removed will help. Be out of sorts. Feel weird. This will only help to heighten the experience.

Sure, the experience will be different for everyone, but I must say this one chilled me sufficiently. Looking for short but very hard-hitting horror? This is a good bet. I like true-crime so the images included did the fun job of building the story for me. All in all, the look and feel of the book helped. It is not average book size. It is not average book length. These are more things that take you out of the ordinary and sell Cashtown Corners to your imagination, other than the fact that the physical location actually exists. I enjoy the first-person point of view which is done extremely well in this case. I also enjoy finding one barely noticeable typo in good books. I found one, and it has a typo too. 

Sadly, I can’t imagine this being shoe-horned into a screenplay let alone made into a film. Since Burgess is also great at scripting, he’d be the obvious choice but I just can’t let go of the story in my mind to trust anyone to bring it to life in just the right way.

Take one part ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’, your favorite Saladfingers episode, and kill scenes from the film ‘Maniac’ then stir until you are well shaken and that is what reading “People Live Still In Cashtown Corners” is kind-of sort-of like. While it does have quiet parts and revolting parts, the storytelling is where this grabs you by the throat with both hands to whisper in your ear. Hearing the inner dialogue of Mister Clark and nothing else is a trip through a dark, dark madhouse. You can’t help but put yourself in the head of this man since you are led there with a beautifully set up world crafted by a gifted author.

“Bob Clark owns the Self Serve in Cashtown Corners. It’s the only business there and Bob is the only resident. He’s never been comfortable around other people. Until he starts to kill them. And murder, Bob soon discovers, is magic. People Live Still in Cashtown Corners is Bob’s account of a tragedy we all thought was senseless.” – ChiZine