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.

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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.

Fu Manchu’s Vampire by Guido Henkel

Welcome to Meli Monday’s cont…wait, that’s only partly right. It is indeed  Monday, but I am not Meli. Apologies to our readers, but Meli is actually in the Florida bayou wrangling gators (honest, the postcard had bite marks). Don’t worry, CORRUPTS ABSOLUTELY will continue next week, and we apologize for the miscue.

Meli’s one of the most metal chicks I know, so it’s only fitting that I post this particular review today, being that Guido and I have had a few chats about the merits of metal, more specifically guitarists. Without further ado, here’s the review:

Guido Henkel is a name that many of you are probably unfamiliar with. He writes the Jason Dark: Ghost Hunter series, which takes place in the Victorian era seemingly alongside the escapades of Sherlock Holmes. In fact, many parallels are drawn between the two sleuths, most notably their use of Inspector Lestrade as a liaison with Scotland Yard. In the latest installment Fu Manchu’s Vampire, Jason Dark goes toe to toe with a familiar adversary, with some familiar backup. From the website:

When ordinary measures are no longer enough, criminal mastermind Fu Man Chu is making use of a supernatural henchman to get his way. Soon, Scotland Yard is confronted with a series of unexplainable deaths that unsettle Victorian London, and Inspector Lestrade turns to occult detective Jason Dark and Siu Lin for help.

But as they look into the case, little do the ghost hunters suspect that the evil crime lord has already made them the vampire’s next target!

Filled with enough mystery, drama and suspenseful action to transport you to the sinister streets of gaslit London, your encounter with the extraordinary awaits as a new nightmare emerges and an old nemesis returns.

The story is a return to form for Henkel, having already given his readers a dose of the romantic undead in book #2 Theatre Of Vampires (which was this reader’s personal favourite of the series.) Along for the ride, as always, are Jason Dark’s sidekick/assistant/love interest Siu Lin, and in lesser roles are Herbert and Lady Wellsely. Dark’s mission initially involves investigating two murders, though in rather typical Henkel style, that mystery is solved rather easily in order to set up the larger, more involved plot.

While the initial murder is predictable (the story wouldn’t go anywhere if we didn’t find out whodunnit) Henkel inserts a rather nice twist in that both Dark and Fu Man Chu are duped by a second antagonist. This serves to break the otherwise formulaic approach that Henkel has adopted throughout 11 books. That’s not necessarily a negative, readers are accustomed to certain authors following a pattern, I’m simply pointing out that Henkel has his own style.

That style often involves a two-pronged subplot regarding Siu Lin. On one side, she is Dark’s aide and confidant, and on the other she is a love interest. The amorous tension between the two had been building for almost the entire series, and I’m not going to spoil anything but this book adds a sense of finality to that subplot.

Fu Manchu’s Vampire is somewhat of a return to form for Guido Henkel. The story isn’t without flaws, but the prose feels fresher than some of his earlier works, and the double-twist in the plot is well done and unexpected. For more on Guido Henkel as well as purchase links for Fu Manchu’s Vampire and the whole Jason Dark series, visit his website.

Catch My Killer: The First Sam Truman Mystery by Ed Kurtz

First off, anyone who’s anyone knows I have a literary hard-on for Kurtz’s writing style. The man has a flow that just leaves me humming like a lady in a Billy Idol song (wanting more more more, for those of you who live under a rock). But how the hell was I to know that he’d be throwing down with a hardboiled/horror crossover when I read Bleed and Rust & Blood?

I had no freakin’ clue. But damn was I excited to see what this man might pull out of his hat next.

From the first word of this series hitting the streets I was sold on it. But truth be told, I can also tell you that the potential for this venture scared the shit out of me. Here’s an author that I admire; two genres that I adore; and a whole lot of “what the hell is gonna happen if I hate this?” roaming around in my head. It made for some semi (but only figuratively) sleepless nights in camp-Colum-land, I’ll tell ya.

But goddamn was I happy when I cracked this sucker open and read the first few “pages” (I’ll explain my hatred of the Kindle “pages” some other time, dear reader). Not only does Kurtz’s style survive the time travel to the 1960s, but it almost seems like it belongs there. The man can throw his punches in different eras, folks. At the end of this little novella, I was left stoked and (again) jonesing more. It’s a good thing this series is planned to go on for a while, cause I haven’t had enough yet.

Sam Truman is a disgraced and unlicensed former private investigator without a proverbial pot to piss in. During a morning mission to scrape up enough bread to pay his rent at the flophouse, Sam intervenes in an attempted armed robbery and ends up shooting the thief to death with a gun he isn’t legally permitted to possess. In the aftermath of the shooting, Sam is visited by the bloody corpse of the dead robber, which is now being inhabited by the spirit of a murdered woman who charges Sam with the task of solving her murder.

Now Sam is up to his neck in a dark underworld of walking corpses, black magic, and Hell’s own army, and all because he agreed to a dead woman’s plea to “Catch My Killer!

– from amazon.com

This premise sounds very familiar if you’re a frequent flier in the mystery or serial detective stories of yesteryear. The main difference here is… well… it’s modernized, but it’s also a throwback. Let me explain that statement.

Kurtz does everything he can to set the tone and the vibe to match the era this story plays out in, but does so with today’s yearn for action, description, and flamboyant characters. As a character, Truman is truly a force to be reckoned with, but also shows a side that can be completely pitiable, and often times even laughable. Kurtz, while obviously caring deeply for his character on many levels, doesn’t shy away from kicking the crap out of him. I really haven’t seen a character this complex or likable in this sort of genre mash up since Lamberson’s Jake Helman Files, or Oliveri’s The Pack: Winter Kill.

Truman is a down and dirty ass-kicker with an attitude and set of skills that will make most envy his complete make up. I wish I had come up with this character. I really do. I’m envious as hell, and feel as if a new bar has been set in terms of main, anti-hero type characters. I can only imagine Truman taking on a Hawkeye Pierce kind of role in this genre, and look forward to seeing what the future authors of the series will do with him.

As for Kurtz’s bad guys… let’s just say that I was almost peeing myself when he brought them out in this badass little novella. Not in the “scared as hell” kind of peeing, but the “I’m so stoked that he went there” kind. Well, that’s if you catch my drift… let’s stop talking about pee, shall we?

The baddies are immense in this piece, playing on a level field to Truman’s larger than life persona and holding their ground well. I’m a huge fan of the Satanic Panic era of fiction and film, so the evil-doers in this book sat well with me, indeed. From evil shadows to body jumping demon-things, this book is filled with awesome supernatural oddities and more fun than you can shake a stick at. What I would have like to see more of, however, is Kurtz’s signature over the top style, which he’s toned down for what I can only assume is the limits of the time period. Kurtz more than makes up for this shortcoming with a healthy dose of go-go-go and a smattering of gloriously grotesque gore on the side (albeit as a small side dish). It’s really easy to get sucked into this one and find that your breakfast is forever ruined in the toaster. *sigh*

The Truman Series is a promising offering from Abattoir Press, and something I know will feature prominently in the horror literature landscape for years to come. When people ask what mash ups and cross genre fiction are supposed to read like, you can sure as hell bet that I’m going to be pointing them this way first. Kurtz has really hit his stride, and I can only see things going up from here.

Grab yourself a copy of the first Truman Mystery, Catch My Killer!, at Amazon in Kindle format, and keep an eye out for the second Truman Mystery, The Last Invasion, which drops on May 1st.

C.

Floating Staircase by Ronald Malfi

This review has taken us an eternity to write. Not only is Floating Staircase one of the best books we’ve read my this author, but it’s also one of, if not the, best book of 2011. It’s virtually impossible to detail exactly what it is about this novel that we loved so much. See, a powerful, beautifully written book is something that a reader should find solace in. They should feel overjoyed for having read it, maybe even saddened when it’s over. For us, whenever we come across a book like this, we tend to feel a deep connection. We feel like a part of the story. With Floating Staircase… it’s more than that. This story left us elated, heart-broken, terrified, tired, amazed, and completely in awe of the author’s work.

But we never expected anything less from Ronald Malfi.

To Travis and Jodie Glasgow, the house in the idyllic small town seems perfect, the surrounding wood and lake like a postcard. But soon after they move in, things begin to… change. Strange noises wake Travis at night. His dreams are plagued by ghosts. Barely glimpsed shapes flit through the darkened hallways – shapes bearing a frightening resemblance to a little boy. Footprints appear. Strangest of all are the wooden stairs rising cryptically from the lake.

The more Travis investigates, the more he uncovers the house’s violent and tragic past… and the secrets can’t be buried forever.

Where Malfi gets off being such a damned good writer, we’ll never know. Beyond that, having such a phenomenal press such as Medallion behind him, we can only expect the best, right? With Floating Staircase, Malfi brought his A-game to bear… and then some. It’s not every day that you experience so many emotions in the run of one novel, and Floating Staircase is almost the perfect example of how an author can drag the reader along all of them. When Travis is feeling low about the circumstances that surround a painful memory, Malfi makes sure that the reader feels exactly that. It’s just insane how absolutely effective this author’s prose is.

Once Malfi grabs the reader, he never gets go.  What makes this author so special is he has the uncanny ability to completely manipulate the readers emotions without letting them know.  He creates a paranoid world filled with movements caught out the corner of the eye, and noises that are just subtle enough to make us question what we are hearing. The world of Floating Staircase is filled with hidden rooms, dark secrets and constant heartache. This is the world that slowly begins to haunt the reader in much the same way that Travis is tortured by his own past.  It isn’t until the insanely satisfying finale when the reader feels the  emotional burden is lifted, finally realizing how truly helpless they were in grasp of Malfi’s wonderful prose.

It would not be an overstatement to say that Floating Staircase is a modern classic ranking among some of the best supernatural affairs ever committed to print.  The characters are so deeply textured while the story and setting sizzle to life through Malfi’s unparalled literary talent.  Again, this review took us an eternity to write because greatness is such a difficult thing to communicate to another person.  The only way that a reader can possibly understand the beautiful story that Ron Malfi has given us is to pick up a copy for yourself.

Pat and Colum