Rust and Blood by Ed Kurtz

Why is it that sometimes when you come across a name, no matter where you turn, they’re always there seemingly laughing at you from the cabbage bin? Seriously. The past two pieces I’ve reviewed have had something to do with Ed Kurtz, Abattoir Press, or something else that I can’t remember but wanted to add because I like to work my descriptions in groups of three.

This offering, this splendidly varied cornucopia of horrific horror, is Kurtz’s first collection of short stories. Albeit one of the shorter collections I’ve recently read… thankfully… it still packs a wallop of a punch, and fills time without making me wish I’d have YouTubed past glories from So You Think You Can Dance. I will warn you, though, Kurtz does throw out a few pieces you just can’t un-see, but they’re sell worth it. Well, everything but Pearls. That one’s just fucking gross and I really never want to read it again.

From Amazon:

Love and cannibalism, retribution and madness, the horrors people commit in the name of goodness and the abominations that await behind closed doors. RUST & BLOOD collects nine stories of horror and crime where the tables are always turned and no one ever gets out unscathed.

Kurtz opens up this collection with Hunger, and immediately makes a reference to Arsenic and Old Lace. This, in turn, garners him many points in my book, and thus indemnifies him from a negative review. That said, go buy this book.

From here on out, we’ll talk about the mating rituals of the Alaskan Deer Whale-Prawn… uh… what?

Oh. Sorry, Meli.

Okay folks, it seems that I missed something during my absence from DT over the last few months. I’m just receiving word from the powers that be about a memo that went around? Apparently I actually have to review the book before I go on about anybody or anything’s mating habits.

(Ah, a segue in poor taste, Colum… as usual… *groan*)

Hunger starts off with by introducing Matthew, a young man that was morbidly obese as a child who, through the marvels of biology, grows into his fleshy self, and finds newly awesome opportunities with the opposite sex. After several relationships and a desperate addiction to “the next lay”, he finds himself unemployed, disaffected, and eating like it’s going out of style.

Fast forward a bunch of years and a few thousand snack-cakes later, and we see Matthew working at a motel and eventually into the bed of a “professional” named Carla. I won’t give up the rest of it, but look at the title, the set-up of the main character, and you can hopefully see where this is going. And here’s about the point in the review where I’ll put the little idea about mating habits on the table, and leave you to lose your appetite and feel all sorts of uncomfortable. Yep. The reader is fortunate that Kurtz does a wonderful job playing with the story here, and makes this a great opener for what is promising to be a fun little collection of stories. Even if I’ve just put some things in your head that you wish weren’t there.

And then came Sinners – a story that opens with a bit of mystery and grows to become what the reader understands is a sort-of after school special on a bender with Satan. Well, that may be a little excessive, but we’re on a ride in the Kurtz-mobile, so it’s pretty damned on target, if you ask me.

As the story unravels, Kurtz lays out the story of a young man who, upon witnessing or acting in, a brutal experience, is let out of the hospital after a 14 year visit, only to return to the scene of the crime – his home town. But Dean and Lee have it in mind to fix the sitch by finishing what they think should have been finished all those years ago. They mean to kill Billy Thorpe in a sort of small town justice.

Kurtz then takes all of the readers’ expectations and turns them on their head, crafting a deliriously creepy climactic scene, and ensuring a wicked quick page turning end. This is a keeper, for sure. It’s fast, it’s twisting, and it’s chock full of the author’s now trademark style. If you weren’t a fan of Kurtz before, you’re sure to be won over by this one right here.

Slowpoke is up next, making this animal loving reader question the author for a moment, and then deciding to just give the guy a chance to lay out his tale.

Okay… hold on. “Animal loving reader”, as in: I think animals are awesome and should be treated well… not the other way. Carry on.

Two drunkards, and apparently gamblers from the sounds of it, are deep in the sauce when one decides it’s time to kill himself a horsie. Why? A losing bet, I’m supposing. Regardless, they kick off the stools and get to the driving in search of vengeance and a weapon. What they get instead is a pain in the ass from “cousin Ike”, and a great scene full of hilarity that Kurtz pulls off expertly.

Fast forward to the ending, and what we have here is a wicked little ditty that teaches folks about the whole “what goes up must come down” mantra, and when it comes down, it’s probably going to ruin your t-shirt and kill your best friend. But the story isn’t finished yet, as Arnold, one of the two guys who tried to kill Mr. Ed, is put away, eventually gets out, and has to serve community service in a very embarrassing manner. And yes, there’s a great big LOL over here, and a LOL over there. When Kurtz wants to play with his characters and exhibit his wit, he does it well. Kurtz ends this story with a breezy, Tales from the Crypt feel, and again wins this reader’s continued attention.

So then we come to Family Bible, a tale that sees a sort of backwoods Romeo and Juliet, but not, thing going on. You know how these things go. One family is wicked strange, the other is… wicked strange. And two of these folks fall in love. This is a Kurtzified R&J version. So yeah… thar be blood.

Basically, what we see is a young Ezra falling in love with Annabelle, but their love is forbidden as per the Family Bible. Ezra is made to do a ridiculous amount of work in order to prove himself a man, as well as copy out, by hand, and entire bible’s worth of teachings. Ezra’s brother, Jonah, is a hard-case, and totally to the letter when it comes to his religion. When he finds out that Ezra and Annabelle have a thing going on, he goes nutso and makes with the biblical craziness, locking his brother in a room and reeking a sort of justice that is just… crazy. What happens after that is Kurtz proving that sometimes things don’t need to be tied up in a Hollywood kind of way. And goddamnit if he doesn’t do it with a kick in the teeth.

Next up comes the über fucked up W4M, that just had me howling with a wicked sense of “did he seriously just go there?” And yes, he went there.

Kurtz has a way of taking a conventional plot and making it all twisty and turny, ending way off in the cornfield and totally away from where you thought it would go. W4M is definitely not just that. It’s the extreme case of that. It’s a point in literature where you say “This writer fellow really does know a good story, chaps” in a fake English accent that your friends immediately make fun of you for because you actually sound like you came from New Delhi. At which point, someone pokes you and asks you to stay on topic, and you continue by saying that this story takes a tried and true serial stalker/killer idea and eats it up with a faba beans and a nice chianti.

Where Kurtz goes oh-so-very-right with this story is with his style and description. The delivery is sometimes stilted, but the description is just so juicy. Gorehounds will appreciate the delectably disgusting pieces offered up for the meal, and will shudder with delight as the main characters gets more than he bargains for. Beyond that, it’s like Kurtz channeled a wee bit of the old W.J. White nastiness, and created a creature I would love to see make an appearance in a longer work (hint, hint, Kurtz). This is a story that is disgusting, wrong, and twisted in every way. All the right ways.

Now Pearls, my dear friends, is another story altogether. It’s disgusting. I had a hard time reading it, have a hard time thinking about it, and seriously want to gag every time it pops into my head. And yeah… pun intended there. It’s gross-out fare, for sure.

I don’t even want to get into this one very deeply, but let’s just say that the main character suddenly gets a weird skin condition and has the unquenchable need to do something very, very gross. Ugh, my god.

Kurtz’s description is in overdrive here, making sure to remind people that horror isn’t just all about ghosts and goblins and monsters galore. Sometimes the horror is visceral, and sometimes it’s the strangest biological oddities that can make us cringe. Yeah, this is body horror, kids. A lá Ed Lee and all the nice folks outta Necro. Hell, I haven’t read something this gross since Night Shade Books’ Excitable Boys – a rarity that should appeal to anyone who enjoys puking in their mouth. Way to go, Kurtz. You owe me several drinks, dude. Yuck.

Roadbeds is a small pulp tale that first showed its wonderful face on Shotgun Honey’s website as a mystery short. I loved it there, and I still love it here. Kurtz is obviously able to jump around in several different genres, and this collection shows that fluidly. This tale, in particular, shows a side of the man that hasn’t really been seen before. His less visceral, and more straightforward style.

Maury and crew are working on a dig when two bruisers show up. Things get all Mob-like, and one thing definitely leads to another. This story is so short and has such a great formulaic ending that I can’t even describe it here. It kicks ass for a little 3-4 pager. You’ll have to check it out for yourself.

Kurtz decides to go a different route with the next story, Earworm. This one sees the man playing in a land of musical torture, making life very difficult for his main character, and pretty much anyone who happens to be infected by this deadly little ditty from hell. Shit, we’ve all been there. Just thankfully not in Kurtz’s world… cause then we’d be dead.

Going from a great premise that plays with the idea of songs kicking your ass, Kurtz waltzes back into a land of pain pain pain, deciding that his story puppets going crazy isn’t enough to satisfy his lust for death, and all probably because he’s had a bad day at work and wants someone to suffer for it. Okay, that last bit may be stretching the truth, but I wouldn’t put it past any horror writer to kill the ever loving hell out of anyone who pisses them off on a Monday. Well… except for John R. Little. He’s just always so happy when I meet him.

Kurtz has all the time in the world to drag you through what you think is going to be a fairly straightforward story, but obviously hasn’t the patience to put up with your constant jabbering for such a long car trip. Once he’s set the tone for this story, it’s GO!GO!GO! with no letting up. This, my good readers, is a Kurtz trademark. He ensnares you, beats you about the head with everything he’s got, and once you think it’s all over…

…he kills you in a story called Krampus. Well, not you… Me.

Yeah. We’ve been here before, haven’t we? Let’s just look through the DT posts here… won’t be a minute…

Doot doo-doo doo dooooooo….

Um… nope. Haven’t told you folks about this one yet, have I?

Okay. Well, here goes.

Krampus is a nice little Christmas tale about a young boy who hasn’t been very good this year. He’s made to spend the holiday with his Oma, and with the help of her friend Nicholas, she intends to show the boy what bad kids get for Christmas. Oh yeah, and she’s going to have me completely destroyed in a gory festival of awesome!

I was ridiculously stoked when I read this one. No joke. I’d checked it out back in December of 2011, when the skies were dark and my life wasn’t filled with so much… who the hell am I kidding. With four million kids running around and an empty bank account, this was pretty much the best thing that happened that whole holiday season, apart from seeing the kid’s faces on Christmas morning. So you can pretty much understand where I’m coming from if my whole review of this story consists of “buy this book… read this book… love this boooooook.”

In fact, you can go snag yourself a copy of Krampus for free if you’re diligent enough and know how to use google like the naughty little thing that it is.

Anyways, what we’re looking at here is a tried and true Kurtz tale, but with a holiday twist. Couple that with a scary, thick accented beast of a woman, a weird old man, a little Canadian jerk (me) and a boy who just doesn’t know when it’s time to throw in the towel and will yourself to die, and you’ve got the best story this side of Scrooged. The gore is a-plenty, the hilarity is as black as my soul, and the pace is set at a break-neck speed and refuses to stop. Until it stops. At which point… shit… I’m dead anyways, so it just stops.

And now that you’ve slogged through 2400+ words of insanity, you might as well go pony up the couple bucks and get a taste of someone who I’m sure is going to kick the genre’s ass in the coming years. Hell, I know he has a story or two out there waiting for publication. I think maybe it’s just a matter of time before Kurtz takes Control of the situation and brings this genre to new heights. And me, I’ll be sitting right here waiting. Bring it on, Kurtz.

C.

The Century’s Best Horror Fiction – Part One (1901-1910)

John Pelan and Cemetery Dance are releasing a master text comprising 100 authors, over 1700 pages, and over 700,000 words devoted to 100 years of horrific, shocking, spooky, and terrifying horror fiction. The Century’s Best Horror Fiction will bring together the best of the best in short horror stories, featuring the likes of Gary Brandner, Stephen King, H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, and many, many more.

And Dreadful Tales is going along for the ride.

Every Saturday for the next 10 weeks, we’ll be bringing you a breakdown of these two volumes, each article spanning 10 years, and 10 authors. Join the class, folks. Sit down, sit down. Make yourselves comfortable. This is the history of your beloved genre, and history in the making, for that matter.

Now relax and enjoy the scene…

…and let me bid you welcome to a very lengthy  part one of The Century’s Best Horror Fiction.

Continue reading

Thunderstorm Releases Ronald Kelly Essentials

Starting this past October, Thunderstorm Books is releasing the Ronald Kelly Essentials – a collection featuring all 8 of Kelly’s books published by Zebra in the 90s.

While Thunderstorm will not be publishing these in any particular order, the collection will be released with their original (pre-Zebra) titles, will boast the same top-notch production values as Thunderstorm’s Black Voltage titles, and will also feature the incredible art of Alex McVey. When complete, the spines of the collection will create a finished piece by McVey, a feature that I’m always really excited to see.

The attention to detail in this collection looks phenomenal, and includes everything from a “The Writing of…” feature, detailing the thoughts and process behind each novel, and a new novella/novelette using characters and settings from each story, in each volume. Any fan of Kelly can get behind this idea. If you haven’t heard of this author (because you live under a rock), you can (and should) start rectifying that right now.

The Essentials will be released on a quarterly basis, starting with Undertaker’s Moon and Fear, are limited to a print run of 125, and priced at $65 each.

As a bonus, direct customers who buy all 8 volumes, will also receive a free hardcover chapbook featuring new stories by Bryan Smith, Scott Nicholson, Nate Southard and James Newman. A fantastic incentive.

For more information, check out Thunderstorm Books and Ronald Kelly’s website.

C.

Fear In Words: Vol. 1 – The Stories by Jason Darrick

Jason Darrick comes out of nowhere with this, his first collection of short stories, and smacks the reader with his own brand of head trauma so severe that it will test the reflexes of even the most seasoned gore-hounds. As with most self published first-efforts, Darrick still has a way to go before one can truly say that he has honed his craft to the sharpness of a surgical scalpel, but sometimes a slightly duller blade makes for a better show.

Included in this book are five short stories that represent part Darrick’s first year as a writer. Each is unique in the fear that it brings, some cerebral, some visceral. (Paraphrased from Amazon.com)

- Drip sees Brian unable to see what’s right in front of him

- The Figure stalks Peter and Rebecca in their own home. How do you kill what can’t be seen?

- The Forest hides more than a group of tourists ever fathomed. What happens when a man’s wife goes missing?

- Hanna has been taking Vincent’s abuse in every way imaginable. She’s had enough. How will she exact her revenge?

- Mr. Vore wants to help you lose weight, but his methods aren’t found in any textbook.

Basically, as you can probably gather by the truncated synopsis available on Amazon, the stories in this volume are really quite short. The same thing cannot be said for the action and/or the violence presented herein, though. I, for one, didn’t expect this level of attention and detail from a first time, self-published piece – but that’s probably why this collection was so damned effective. I just wasn’t expecting it.

First out of the gate is Drip, a very short story that shows Darrick’s ability to throw down right out of the gate. When I say short, I literally mean half of a page, with one line at the end that will have almost any reader cringing. A great introduction to what is yet to come.

The author then delves into what one can only assume is about as close to a noir styled story as Darrick is ever going to get, but with his own brutal twist. The Figure starts off at a slow, taunting pace, eventually coming to a boil with such an “oomph” that it’s hard not to imagine the author beating the hell out of his keyboard, whilst laughing maniacally in the process.

Any reader can tell very early on that Darrick takes pleasure in physically destroying his protagonists, and not just inflicting psychological pain on them.

Next in line is The Forest. I’d venture to say that this is the darkest piece in the collection. Written under the guise of a tale about a group of tourists stranded in a remote location, this story feels more like a recounting of war atrocities than it does a simple vacation gone wrong. Darrick travels into more emotional territory with this one, choosing to hurt his characters’ hearts as well as their bodies.

Now, the next story up is where Darrick really shines. The author struts his stuff with Hanna, a story set deep within the BDSM scene, and shows that Darrick is both unafraid of taking a story to sordid places, but also that he knows his stuff down to the very last detail. While not the most action packed story in this collection, Hanna does contain some of the most graphic scenes of violence one might come across in today’s horror fiction. This one, as can also be said about the next, is not for the faint of heart.

Darrick ends the collection with an interesting piece that begins with a premise that feels comfortable, lulls the reader into an idea as to where it’s going, and then BANG! slaps them into place with a well aimed slice of punishment. Mr. Vore borders on bizarro horror, but still retains enough drive to satisfy those not familiar with the sub-genre. Fair warning, this one is graphic and disgusting. This is physical/body horror.

Fear In Words – The Stories, is a grand gesture of an introduction into the mind of the author. I’m pleased that this first effort worked so well, as most know that there is a steady influx of poorly edited material out there in the self-publishing spectrum. That Darrick manages to keep his stories interesting, original, and graphically visceral, without pandering to amateurish tendencies, is a welcome relief. As I’ve stated so many times already, this collection is not for those with weak stomachs. Some of the gore in this volume can barely be contained, and will surely prove to divide camps throughout the horror literature landscape.

Darrick can be contacted at his website and on Twitter, and Facebook. You can purchase his first collection at Amazon and other online retailers.

C.