Dreadful Tales Book Club – June 2013 Edition

Pork Knuckles_Apocalypse CowMeat is murder at Dreadful Tales and The Mortuary this month! Or, more accurately, meat is murdering.

We have two kick ass titles to read for June that both involve farm animals striking back at humans. We have the slime-spewing psychic psycho pig Pork Knuckles in MP Johnson’s novella The After-Life Story of Pork Knuckles Malone (Bizarro Pulp Press, February 2013). And we also have cows out for blood not cud in Michael Logan’s novel Apocalypse Cow (St. Martin’s Press, May 2013).

porknucklesYou can pick up Johnson’s novella The After-Life Story of Pork Knuckles Malone here in paperback format or for Kindle. I’ve already read this one, but I plan on reading along with y’all again. Here is the review I posted yesterday on Dreadful Tales. The short version is I love this story. It’s bizarre but sweet, disgusting and hilarious often all at the same time.

You can friend MP Johnson on Facebook, follow him on Twitter, and check out his website (which is also a DIY zine) Freak Tension to keep up with all his fiction and non-fiction shenanigans.

This is my first time reading Apocalypse Cow, but I apocalypse cowcan tell at only the 50 page mark that this will be a fun ride. I mistakenly read this at lunch today. Right at the point where an abattoir worker is describing how this epidemic started – with a cow gnashing its teeth, chewing its mouth into a pulpy mess, and shooting bloody snot rockets at the slaughterhouse worker – I was biting into a delicious Meatloaf Manhattan. A beautiful, thick piece of meatloaf resting atop a soft slice of white bread with mash potatoes on the side and drowned in gravy. Despite feeling just a little sick after reading that passage I pressed on and finished my meal like a good girl. Hope it doesn’t kill me!

You can pick up a copy of Michael Logan’s Apocalypse Cow here. Doesn’t look like it’s available for cheap on kindle, but the paperback is quite affordable.

Like Mr. Logan on Facebook, follow him on Twitter, and check out his website.

I hope you will join us for this fun filled month of meat and mayhem! Don’t forget to stop by The Mortuary to chat with the gang about this month’s books here.

-Meli

The After-Life Story of Pork Knuckles Malone by MP Johnson

porknucklesDid you ever have a pet for a best friend? Maybe a lil’ cat you would watch morning cartoons with? Perhaps you had a dog that followed you everywhere, ate your table scraps, and truly lived up to the catchphrase “man’s best friend?” That’s the premise of MP Johnson’s first book The After-Life Story of Pork Knuckles Malone about 12 year old Daryl and his pet pig Pork Knuckles published by Bizarro Pulp Press (February 2013). Daryl treated Pork Knuckles, also known as PK, as if he were a person, sewing outfits for the pig and spending all his time with PK. They were inseparable and Daryl expected it would always be this way. “When he thought about the future, PK stood beside him through everything: helping him study his way through law school, handing him the ring on his wedding day, traveling the world with him and hand-gliding from the tops of fuming volcanoes. Everything”

Doesn’t that sound sweet? Of course, I’m sure you can guess that since we’re reviewing this story on Dreadful Tales, and being published by Bizarro Pulp Press, this is no sweet boy-and-his-pet coming of age tale.

Here is the synopsis from Amazon.com:

What’s a farm boy to do when his pet pig becomes an evil, decaying hunk of ham with slime-spewing psychic powers?

After Daryl Malone absconds to Green Bay with the remains of his pet, Pork Knuckles, strange things start to happen. Why is everyone around him so hungry for ham? And why is green ooze pouring from their orifices? When he finds the answer to these questions, he’s forced to choose between his best buddy and a family that has only existed on the periphery of his life. That choice will send him and the ones he loves barreling nonstop through a labyrinth of cannibal hippies, Nazi flies, rabid drag queens, brawling grizzlies and punk rock muck fests.

The After-Life Story of Pork Knuckles Malone is a trippy, punk-inspired, weirdo tale. Even though this is a bizarro story with bat-shit crazy characters, insane twists in plot and viscera squirting from every damn orifice imaginable, this tale has heart. As one would expect from the bizarro genre, this story is over the top, but it’s not a constant one-upping of gross-outs and camp to shock the reader; young Daryl is a good kid trying to do the right thing by his friend and I white-knuckled my Kindle until the very end hoping he would make it out in one piece, pig or no pig.

At a scant 94 pages, there’s a limited amount of space for Johnson to expand on Daryl’s character and the relationship with his father Albert, but he successfully keeps them from being one dimensional. Johnson has an obvious talent for creating pitiful yet likable and relatable characters in a super short amount of time. This story would be a blast to read even without the family background, but the insight Johnson offers early in the story gives the action that follows more weight. Sure, the weirdo truck driver, the bus full of drag queens, the meat orgy at Meaty Pete’s Butcher and Deli, and crazy puking punk rock aunt and uncle are all entertaining, but the father-son thread at the heart of the story makes it all the more engaging.

At times, the story tugged at my heart strings a bit while I hoped for the father-son reunion between Albert and Daryl, but The After-Life Story… is all about a consistently morbid sense of humor. Johnson has a quirky way of writing and a distinctive style. Like in this passage when Albert is confronted by a rather large man: “The man packed at least three hundred pounds of meat onto his five-and-a-half foot frame. A significant percentage was nose, as if God had reached the end of a batch of humans and, instead of discarding the excess nose material, simply slapped it onto this guy. Waste not, want not.”  Then there is the finale at a punk show in which Daryl sings “Dead Piggies” which, ironically, the aunt notes “It’s not about the cops, but fuck them anyway!”

MP Johnson has an extensive background in non-fiction writing, his music obsession satisfied in reviews for his own personal zine and website Freak Tension and the punk music magazine Razorcake. Johnson doesn’t abandon his non-fiction world of punks, freaks, misfits, social rejects, and psychos (and I use all those labels in the most complimentary way) but instead uses them to fill his fictional bizarro world, albeit through a distorted funhouse mirror, infusing his own unique voice in an often trudged genre keeping things fresh. The marriage between Johnson’s own real life experiences with the bizarro world is one of the reasons the story so satisfying.

You can pick up MP Johnson’s The After-Life Story of Pork Knuckles Malone in both paperback format and Kindle format here or anywhere else cool books are sold. This will be one of the Dreadful Tales Book of the Month club titles, so be sure to get a copy and join us at The Mortuary to chat about it!

To follow MP Johnson and all his fiction and non-fiction shenanigans, friend him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter, and check out his website Freak Tension. While you’re at it, check out this post which offers some insight into the origins of Johnson’s story.

-Meli

The Girl on the Glider by Brian Keene

Glider-e-book-2-662x1024It’s veritably impossible, right now, to go through the usual intro/pre-review spiel that I’m wont to do with every single blabbering piece that I write. There’s really no need for it here.

You’re either familiar with this author’s previous work, or you’re not.

Most average horror/speculative fiction readers that inhabit the hallowed, stinky halls of this genre can admit to reading one, if not at least a few, of Keene’s novels, but there are a few of us who have followed his work for a long time who finally get to a piece that we aren’t familiar with, or that doesn’t tie into something else he’s done… something larger and more “labyrinthine”, for lack of a better word.

Simply put – The Girl on the Glider is Brian Keene’s best piece of work to date – something I would hate to see going unnoticed in the awards circuit. A piece this powerful deserves more recognition beyond the Keene brand, and very well could be one of the modern classics of our time. Continue reading

In Memoriam by Brent Abell

In Memoriam

I had no idea what to expect from In Memoriam because Brent Abell and I exchanged stories on a whim. What I received is a novella full of despair, death, gore and manifestations. Does Abell’s debut novella etch itself into memory, or does it fade away like the ghosts of the past? Continue reading

Alone by Brian Keene

When it comes to Keene’s fiction, it’s usually hit or miss with me. I’m not a rabid fan, nor am I a hater, and the man has some serious chops, that much we all know. It’s not often that I don’t like a piece of the man’s writing, mainly ’cause he’s got the genre in the palm of his hand, but when his fiction is a “miss” in my eyes, it’s usually his shorter fare. This, thankfully, is not the case with Alone. Well, that’s not true. I didn’t dig the ending so much, but the first two acts of the novella are borderline brilliant.

Insomuch as Keene’s signature voice is very strong in this tale, he’s coming from a place of loneliness and despair, hinting at the fact that the man knows what it is to go through some serious pain. It also just so happens that I read this book during a very tough period of my life (which I’m still not even halfway through), and so it hit home in so many different ways. Loss, desperation, separation, and the overwhelming sense of being alone… sigh… such is life. And Keene does a great job of taking a story and embedding the emotions right into your heart, giving you no choice but to feel what the main character is feeling – even if you’ve work oh so damned hard to stomp that shit down into a corner of your soul.

Thanks for dredging this stuff up, Dr. Keene. I hope someone has a couch appointment available for me soon…

When Daniel Miller wakes up one morning, something has gone terribly wrong. The power is out. The phones are dead. The house is silent. The street is shrouded in fog. Both his partner and their adopted daughter are missing. So are their neighbors. And so is everyone else in the world. Daniel Miller is the last person left on Earth… or is he?

So, in the midst of a separation and a brutal case of the blues, I ventured forth and started reading a story titled “Alone“. Smooth move, Poindexter. And no doubt, it had to be written by one of the kings of lonely, beaten down characters, Brian “more metal than your mom” Keene. Seriously, what was I thinking? I’ve read his work before. I knew what I was getting into.

He kicked my ass with Dark Hollow, one of my favorite books this genre has to offer; whooped me silly with Dead Rising and City of the Dead; did a number on me with the short story Burying Betsy; and played with my emotions through a few other pieces of genre mastery (even his entry in the hard to find Excitable Boys, Full of It, which is just wonderfully disgusting). Granted, I wasn’t so much a fan of Ghost Walk, Urban Gothic, An Occurrence in Crazy Bear Valley, or The Damned Highway, but most of what this man has to offer hits me in a place that usually stays quite well hidden. It’s literature like this that speaks to the blue-collar boy in me, and evokes something that I try to keep out of the public eye for the sake of retaining some semblance of composure. Something that was utterly torn out of hiding with Alone.

See, when Keene wants to talk to you about being alone, being scared, or being separated from that which you love, you have no choice but to identify with it. That’s what this novella does without blinking – it makes you feel.

Now, I know my usual snarkiness and sarcastic banter is what keeps people coming back for more (if only to figure out how not to review a book), but I’m going to have to put that on hold for a minute and tell you why this story is so goddamned different from all of the other pieces of horror fiction you’re apt to find out there.

First of all, Keene opts to introduce a main character in a homosexual relationship – something I can’t possible applaud louder for. Growing up on Poppy Z. Brite and Clive Barker, being a huge fan of LGBT horror fiction, and being one of the most sexually secure man-droids you’ll ever meet, I have to give it to Keene for taking the initiative to step outside of the boy’s club suppositions and do something else with the character in this work. And what’s more is the fact that Keene writes his character without a single stereotype or misgiving about the man’s sexual orientation. This is a big and down-to-earth move for such a notable fixture in the genre. Why others can’t do this, and that includes authors that are heavily into the LGBT scene, I don’t know.

When I started reading this novella, I wasn’t really sure what I was heading into, but it started off feeling a little like Darkness On The Edge Of Town. I dug the hell out of that book, and was sure that I was in for a good old Levi Stoltzfus kind of tale. I was wrong, as I’m usually told by the ladies, and was instead treated to Dan’s silent torture and mental collapse.

Keene uses the idea of suspending one’s disbelief well with this one, creating scenarios and rules that make a helluva lot of sense in his world, and not a lick of such in reality. It’s not until the end where you find out just why things happen the way they do, and by that point it doesn’t even really matter what’s going on. I felt like my ears were plugged, by breath was catching, I was claustrophobic, and sure that Keene had watched the last 4 months of my life from behind a tree – creepy Bollywood style.

The ending played out a little too easily for me, but it still rings true with the intention put forth for the entirety of the story. You can tell where the tale is going, but if you’re like me, you read for the sake of absorbing, and not for the whole “what happens at the end” crap that some other folks do. Keene’s got his swagger on high, but it’s this ending that makes things feel a little rushed. Regardless, he writes a mean story of heartache and loss when he wants to, making this reader feel a little uncomfortable when things hit this close to home.

Not to say that I’m stuck in a muffled, grey covered world or anything. I can just empathize with poor old Dan’s “what the fuck is gong on”, is all.

For a buck or two, Alone is a brilliant tale that will kick your heart’s ass, and beautifully exemplifies Keene’s ability to write you into a state of awe and woe, and keep you coming back for more.

C.

Soft Kiss, Hard Death by Tobin Elliott

It’s always wicked to me to see how a particular type of character can have so many different faces when taken on by different creative minds. Think of the original Hulk vs the two subsequent film portrayals. Hell, look at vampire fiction and werewolf fiction, or even mystery and suspense. They all broker in folks who stalk the pages of uniformity, and create a recipe or formula that gives the reader what they want.

And then you have something like the Truman Mysteries – now 3 books into the series. The series is in its infancy, really, but you can tell right off the bat that the character at the forefront of the books is going to go through massive overhauls throughout the series’ span, but always land back on square one. Now, what makes this different for me is who’s writing the damned thing. Kurtz gave us a gravel voiced, love lorn hardass; Zuern came at the reader with a funnier, more slapstick kind of lead character, and now Elliott (the only author so far without a “z” in his name) is giving us a brick-punching, hard as nails, tough-man who might just make my top pick for frustratingly obscure Halloween costume this year.

Elliott’s version of this story starts with a bang (no pun intended) and, unfortunately, ends with a whimper.

From Amazon:

Sam is hired by a man whose extramarital dalliance has resulted in a lot more than he bargained for when the girl in question deposits something horrible inside his body and then promptly dies. Now Sam finds himself chasing the dead girl’s doppelganger all over the City, from seedy bars to the city morgue, in an effort to discover what she is and how he can stop her before she can spread her bizarre brand of lovemaking to another poor sap!

I’m sorry. I’m totally giggling about that pun. hahahahaha. Seriously. Go read the book and then reread that. Heh heh heh. Sorry.

Though it’s been said around the water cooler that, if (when) the Truman series sees a print version, the reader will be in for a brilliantly brutal ending that I’m quite positive Elliott can only deliver. See, of Elliott’s work that I’ve had the pleasure to read, one similar theme kind of jumps up and kicks me in the face every time. This is an author who likes to make people suffer. And no, it’s not because his writing is crap – it’s very much the opposite. Elliott has a command of the language in such a way that he is able to make use of less in order produce more. The man’s style is blunt and visceral, a tour de force of grotesque, jarring, and mentally scarring visions that will remind you at once of both Ketchum and Brandner. It’s not hard to make that comparison once you’ve read Elliott’s chapbook, Vanishing Hope, and, if you can get your hands on it, his short story, Stealing Cory.

Elliott has a flair for the flesh… meaning that he really likes making his characters deal with things that they really shouldn’t have to.

Truman is no exception to the rule. Elliott whoops him a-plenty, but it’s the supporting cast that get got in all manners of shuddery grossness. I… ugh… I don’t even want to tell you. Let’s just say that our male readers are going to cringe, and our female readers, especially those who’ve passed children through their southern gates, will… well… yeah, they’ll cringe too.

Now, anyone who remembers me before I lost my mind and went traipsing through the tulips of insanity, knows that I love me some gruefully gross monster-things. The gnarlier the better, is what I say. Elliott offers a hideous platter of sick things in this story that remind me of a period in history when a younger Donald Sutherland had a reason to scream, and something came spew-lunking straight outta Craig T. Nelson’s mouth. Extra points if you can name the references there. If you can’t… what the hell is wrong with you? Seriously? Get out of my house. Now.

Moving on…

When Elliott marries the point of contact for our monsters to start a-killin’, and introduces their final destination, and then brings us to the stinky underbelly of what they actually are – the reader is left with a yearn for a nice hot shower, and a brillo-pad towel dry just to get the yuck off. The descriptions Elliott laces throughout this story are thick with realism and made this reader want to gag. I don’t really even want to describe this anymore. It’s just gross. Good gross… but gross.

Another thing Elliott is aptly suited to describe, apparently, is women. My lord, what I wouldn’t give to have a look at the woman he talks about in this book. The effect that she has on poor ole’ Sam doesn’t end there. Eve doesn’t just play her wicked little seduction out on Mr. Truman, but instead radiates outwardly and into the minds of whoever is reading it, causing our fascination to grow, and our distaste for Truman to grow along with it. Call me deranged, but I was hoping the bastard got all sorts of killed, just in hopes that there would be more Eve to spread around. And then Tobin went and took my “spread around” comment and realized it fully, and I started feeling ridiculous because I was coveting a freakin’ character in a book.

Like I said at the beginning of this piece, I found the ending to be a bit lackluster, especially for what I’ve become accustomed to with Elliott’s work. The whole of the story is very well paced, the dialogue is fun, and the gore is glorious. To have it end in such a BLAM!-and-now-the-story-is-over kind of way just felt like reliving my love life in my teenage years – a lot of talk and no great finale. (How’s that for TMI?) And again, the water cooler gossip says that this ain’t gonna be the case for long, but insomuch that I haven’t read differently, this is the way the cookie crumbled for me.

A worthwhile venture, nonetheless, as The Sam Truman mysteries are always a blast and a wicked fast read to be enjoyed with a beer, or in my case a coffee, and the expectation that entertainment is secured for at least an hour’s time. Elliott has proven now, that he can swing his stick in a few different playing fields. Next up, hopefully, we’ll see the sequel to Vanishing Hope, and a few other stories from this Crazy Canadian Creep.

C.

The Last Invasion by Brandon Zuern

When Ed Kurtz gave birth to Sam Truman, a character I knew would instantly survive pretty much anything he threw at the poor bastard, I had no idea that he would be delivering a series featuring several different authors abusing the same person for a seemingly unlimited run. Now that I know, I’m doubly stoked about the prospect of watching this man bleed the same blood some of my other favourite PI’s bleed. Granted, if you’re a fan of the Hard Case Crime and other noirish/mystery/procedural pieces in this genre, you’ve probably not seen anything like this before. And holy sweet Jesus on a flapjack does Zuern offer up a weirdo of a concept with his entry – The Last Invasion.

From Amazon.com

Eager to put the bizarre, otherworldly events of Catch My Killer! behind him and resume working regular cases again, Sam Truman agrees to investigate a missing persons case when a pair of distraught parents seek his help to find their daughter. The city is being terrorized by a serial killer the cops can’t catch, and Sam fears the worst as his fearless instincts lead him not down the killer’s path, but to uncover a nascent alien invasion that threatens the existence of all life on earth! Sam’s shot at rescuing the girl becomes a race against time before the invasion starts, and all while the unknown killer’s body count rises all over the city. But the unlicensed P.I. is determined to return the girl to her parents and make damn sure that the aliens’ hostile intentions are THE LAST INVASION!

I don’t have any problem letting the reader know that there are killer giraffes in this novella. Why? Because there aren’t, and I’m lying. But there are aliens! LOADS of em! One even pounds people in a robotic search of root beer and any other nummy liquid sweetness it can gather. Mind you, if I was in Truman’s shoes and wanted a root-beer, I’d go around kicking ass and taking names as well. But in this case, well… a ginger ale just might have to do. I’m not going up against anything like this big bastard any time soon.

Zuern’s style of writing is succinct in some places, yet offers almost too much information in others. Case in point, the fact that Truman digs himself a good old root-beer while he’s thinking – that’s good info and connects the reader to the character. Explaining that the soda jerk has a wife and two kids, assuming it’s used to validate the character’s happy demeanor… not really useful. Hell, I know a lot of people who aren’t happy, and they have wives, husbands, kids, dogs, cats, fleshlights, those awesome automatic card shuffling machines, and all that junk. It doesn’t really matter too much to the story, and it really doesn’t validate things. But what it does do, and I have to give the author this one, is it kind of slams home just how damned happy this guy is. And seriously, I want to see this character on the big screen. He seems like one of those guys you’d either love to be around, or want to dragon-punch after five minutes of exposure to his inane gaieties.

Either way, fun will be had.

Now as for this incarnation of Truman, I found him to be a little bit more of an asshole than Kurtz’s version. He’s more likely to sock a dude for looking at him funny, seems a little more shady, a little less apt to follow the right lead, and a whole helluva lot more goofy. The one-liners in here are virtually priceless, and the whole attitude of the book has less of a black and white/sepia tone effect, and more of a Warner Brothers/Who Framed Roger Rabbit-styled color scheme. Which brings me to my next topic of discussion…

ALIENS! But not your normal “we came to poke you in the bum with these lightsaber dealies” kind of grey things. No no no. Zuern has something else in store for the reader. Let’s just say that these pretty little thangs ain’t so pretty, and they definitely won’t be hugging and squeezing and calling you “George” any time soon. Nope. They’re just gonna smell the place up before they shoot the place up. Which just basically makes for some awesome end-scene catastrophes.

Zuern is on top of his game when the action is hot, there’s no doubt about that. His wit, coupled with his deliberately shortandtothegoddamnedpoint scenes of comic book violence make this a wickedly fast read. While there are obviously some ups and downs in the delivery of this tale, it’s more than made up for with the fun the reader experiences at the end.

In fact, the only downfall for me was one key plot point that just needed to be played with a bit more. Hopefully Kurtz and company will delivery on this delightfully Dexter-esque story similarity, and show the goods with a regular cameo (and a tied up storyline as well) from this mysterious serial killer.

If this is the way the Truman Series plans to roll, this reader is in for the long haul. But now, as is my bookshelf’s greatest displeasure, I’m wanting a paperback… so we’re going to have band together and pressure Abattoir into producing something a little more physical in the near future.

C.