Category Archives: horror novels

Rabid Reads: "Benjamin’s Parasite" by Jeff Strand

Benjamin’s Parasite
223 pages
ISBN 9781934546123
Purchase via: Amazon / Book Depository
It’s been a little while since I read a book that nearly made me retch. If I was keeping a daily tally on how long it’s been since the last time a book managed to make me a bit queasy, I’d have to set it back to zero now. It’s not a gore fest, mind you, but there were just a couple scenes that really made me cringe. Body horror has a way of doing that to me. What kind of horror fan am I?
So, this is a novel about Benjamin Wilson–and his parasite. Well, technically it’s not his, so much as it’s the property of a top secret project, and it just happens to wind up inside Benjamin after a tangled series of events, which is capped off with him having to shoot one of his students in self-defense when the boy goes on a seemingly random psychotic rampage. After that traumatic event, he begins to experience some strange cravings and inhibitions are lowered. Basically his every latent compulsion and desire is coming to the surface, sometimes when he’s not even aware of it.
Then there’s that searing pain in his stomach.
This novel is a quick, crazy read. And, it’s not just a horror novel, as there is a wild kind of road story to it, too. That’s because Benjamin is saved early on from certain death by a femme fatale bountyhunter who abducts him and tries to get him to the folks responsible for the parasite, so they can get it out of him. There are others who are aware of the parasite too though, and will stop at nothing to get it–whether Benjamin lives or dies in the process. Gunfights, car chases, double crosses, etc.
Benjamin is an amiable character and easy to root for, but there are moments when he is hip deep in the action and it feels like he is just taking it all in stride. Like, he’s in such an incredibly unheard of onslaught of circumstances and he still maintains an aloof sense of humor at times. Most of the time he is freaking out and scared shitless, so that helps, but his wisecracking feels overdone once in a while.
Other than that gripe, this is great pulpy horror/action novel, and it served as a great sample of Jeff Strand’s work. I’m eager to read more of his work down the road.

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Filed under Benjamin's Parasite, book review, comedy, horror novels, Jeff Strand, monsters, Rabid Reads, sci-fi novels

Rabid Reads: "Come Closer" by Sara Gran

Come Closer
by Sara Gran
Soho Press (2003)
168 pages
ISBN 1569473285
Sometimes a book recommendation is a real eye-opener. In this case, Robert Dunbar (author of The Pines and most recently Willy) recommended Come Closer in a comment thread in the Literary Horror group on Goodreads.com. I’ve never heard of Gran before, but I’m a sucker for a good haunting story–and Dunbar is a man of discerning tastes. As evidenced by what turned out to be a very quick, but highly engrossing tale of horror.
Amanda seemingly has it all. She’s married to a loving husband, Ed, has a great burgeoning career as an architect, and just moved into a wonderful fixer-upper of a home. If only that infernal tap-tap-tap would stop.
The signs are all there to tell Amanda she is possessed apparently, but she doesn’t recognize them. It starts with unexplainable occurrences. Her boss receives an obscenity-laced memo from her that she doesn’t remember writing. She and her boss pass it off as a cruel prank played by someone else in the firm. She and Ed hear a phantom tapping noise in the walls that they cannot trace. They pass it off as as rattling pipes, or maybe even a mouse, but the noises only occur when Amanda is in the house. She starts having strange dreams too, about her childhood imaginary friend, Pansy, who served as a kind of security blanket in the wake of her mother’s death. Pansy is back in her dreams now, but goes by a new name. Naamah.
Amanda is the one telling her story, all the while insisting that the danger Naamah posed was only visible in retrospect. It’s easy to see things from her perspective, and placing yourself in her shoes, it’s hard to say you could do things differently. Especially when the specter of a malevolent spirit hangs over her shoulder at all times. The mounting isolation and deprivation of her will is a slow and heartbreaking story to watch unfold–and Sara Gran tells it with great precision and panache.
The novel is short, easily finished in a single evening, and reads not unlike a diary. But it’s told in such a way that you see things not only from Amanda’s perspective, but from Ed’s as well, as he is an unwitting witness to Amanda’s possession, thinking it a mental breakdown. The disintegration of their relationship as the possession worsens may be the most terrifying part of the tale.
I’m not sure if Sara Gran is an author who has since more supernatural tales, but not matter what she writes, but thanks to Robert Dunbar’s recommendation I want to read more.  

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Filed under book review, Come Closer, demonic possession, demons, horror novels, Rabid Reads, Sara Gran

Rabid Reads: "Ring of Knives" by James Daniels

Dead Man: Ring of Knives (The Dead Man #2)
by James Daniels
Adventures in Television, Inc. (2011)
ASIN: B004ULVRKC
Purchase for Amazon Kindle
I read and reviewed the first novella in The Dead Man series, Face of Evil, back in March and thoroughly enjoyed it (click here to read that review). I basically summed it up as a book version to a strong season premiere of a very promising TV show. So, now that I’ve read the second book in the series, Ring of Knives, does the series hold onto its momentum, or does it falter?
Matthew Cahill is now a vagabond, following the events of Face of Evil, with an innate sixth sense that allows him to literally see the evil simmering in people under the influence of an evil force he knows as Mr. Dark. It’s not exactly a gift though, since he seems to be a magnet for evil now, and the evil people in the world appear to him with rotting, festering, disgusting features. And, when Matt winds up at the Carthage Mental Health Center, he finds himself surrounded by evil.
He’s there to meet with a doctor who treated a patient with a similar ability to Matt’s, though the other guy was labeled crazy and placed in a padded room. And, Matt half-wonders if he might be crazy, too. When he arrives at the health center though, the patient has been transferred and the doctor is up and gone. After forming an unlikely–and temporary–bond with one of the employees, Matt learns that the doctor isn’t gone–he’s been committed.
While I’m not sure how well Ring of Knives works as a stand-alone, it is definitely a strong follow-up to Face of Fear. James Daniels tapped into the Matt Cahill character quite well, and offered up a great dilemma as Matt investigates a mental patient with a similar affliction to his own and the ominous facility where he was housed. An insane asylum isn’t exactly a unique backdrop for a horror or suspense tale, but there was enough there in a tightly woven novella to give it its own flavor.
There were moments where it felt a bit by the numbers, but that was during the first half of the book. By the time the story passed the halfway mark, all bets were off, and the climax was a nice pay off.
If Ring of Knives accomplishes one thing without question, it is the fact that The Dead Man is a book series worth reading, with a base level established in terms of tone and quality. I won’t go so far as to say it’s as good or better than Face of Fear, but it’s close enough to make a satisfying read and hungry for the next installment The third book in the series, Hell in Heaven, will be out very soon–if it’s not already released–with Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin back in at the helm, and I am definitely on board for that one.

CymLowell

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Filed under book review, horror novels, James Daniels, Lee Goldberg, Rabid Reads, Ring of Knives, The Dead Man, thriller novels, William Rabkin

Rabid Reads: "The Dead Man: Face of Evil" by Lee Goldbert & William Rabkin

The Dead Man: Face of Evil (Book One)
by Lee Goldberg & William Rabkin
Adventures in Television, Inc. (2011)
ASIN: B004NNV48W
The Dead Man blog


The new release is described as “… the first in an exciting new series of original short novels that blends the horror of Stephen King’s THE GUNSLINGER with the action/adventure of Don Pendleton’s MACK BOLAN: THE EXECUTIONER.”


I have not read Pendleton’s work, but I have read King’s Dark Tower series. And while Face of Evil does carry an unrepentant amount of horror within its pages, though not to an imposing degree, the tone of the story is considerably different from The Gunslinger. It’s far more grounded in our world with a protagonist far easier to relate to when reading. Perhaps this is where the Pendleton side of things comes into play.


On a cold February day, a body is discovered frozen under the snow at a ski resort. The body is that of Matthew Cahill, a man declared dead after he’s lost in an avalanche three months prior–but he’s not dead. Somehow, defying medical reasoning, Matthew survived. His ordeals, however, are just beginning as a malevolent force is waiting in the wings, ready to torment him and everyone he holds dear. What’s worse, Matthew has crossed paths with this entity before and lost his wife in the process.


The book carries a blue-collar charm that provides a nice counter-balance to the more fantastical and gruesome elements of the story. Matthew is a sawmill worker, or was rather in the wake of layoffs, and is a precursor to his fateful encounter with the avalanche while on vacation with his new girlfriend, Rachel. Their budding and tragic romance provides a lot of the backbone to this story, as Matthew has to cope with the loss of his wife, the antics of his best friend, the loss of his job, and the subsequent resurrection from the ice and snow.


A lot for one guy to deal with, and it only gets heavier.


The book is a short novel, running probably closer to novella in length. And that’s kind of a kick in the teeth, since the book only offers a small measure of closure in the time the story is told. This is the first book in a series, though. As such, it feels like the season premiere to a very promising show. Since it’s a book, I’ll have to wait a wee bit longer than a week for the next installment, but I’m a patient guy. Actually, the second installment is due to be released in a few weeks: The Dead Man #2: Hell in Heaven, which is again co-authored by Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin, with the series shaping up to include nine books in total.


I think this will end up being one to keep on eye on throughout the year.

CymLowell

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Filed under book review, Face of Evil, horror novels, Lee Goldberg, Rabid Reads, The Dead Man, thriller novels

Rabid Reads: "Zombie, Ohio" by Scott Kenemore

Zombie, Ohio
by Scott Kenemore
Skyhorse Publishing (2011)
240 pages
ISBN 9781616082062
What does an author have to do to breathe a little life into zombies these days?
In Scott Kenemore’s case, he focused a little less on the zombie hordes and keyed in on just one member of the undead, and told his story. Peter Mellor wakes up with amnesia inside his car, which has been in a serious accident. He wanders his way back into town to find everyone else is dealing with a crisis of their own–a full-blown world-wide zombie apocalypse. As for Peter, amnesia is the least of his worries. After a rather blood-soaked demonstration of how to exterminate zombies outside a compound in town, he discovers while cleaning himself that there’s a chunk of his skull missing from under his cap. Oops, Pete’s a zombie too.
From there, Peter tries to hide his affliction from everyone, but it’s an impossible task as his body is starting to decompose just like every other zombie walking around. Only, he’s the only one that is sentient. Things become even more complicated for him when he realizes that his car accident wasn’t an accident at all–his brakes had been cut. And with a huge chunk of his memory missing, figuring out who would want to kill him is not going to be easy.
With elements of horror, comedy, mystery, and even a pinch of romance, Kenemore does a really good job in finding a balance. The story flows fairly well and feels like a genuine blend of genres, though there is a bit of a speed bump in the pacing about midway through, that’s carried by a very likeable and sympathetic character in Peter. Pete’s no paragon of virtue though, as he discovers the complications and advantages of being a sentient zombie, as well he is brokenhearted to find the very few people in life he does hold memories of are falling victim to the catastrophe that’s befallen them. The mystery surrounding who killed him felt a bit tacked on at first, but through the whole of the novel is works and winds up being one of the key undercurrents to the novel.
Even though I’m not as well read in zombie fiction as the more ardent fans of the genre, I do believe I’ve hit a kind of saturation point. A motley crew of flawed characters battling a relentless horde of the undead isn’t going to hold my attention the way it would have a few years ago. I need something that walks to the beat of a different drum, and that is certainly what Kenemore’s novel does. The zombies are slow, shambling creatures and don’t set themselves apart from any other Romero-esque monster, except for Peter Mellor of course, but the story in which they populate does feel original as it journeys through familiar territory.
My main criticism of the novel stems from Peter’s journey through the countryside as a zombie, after removing himself from the human side of things, hunting down humans he considers bad people like a man he stops from abducting a young girl early on. The trek from town to town, killing people and learning the zombie way drones on after a while, causing me to count the pages until the original story jumps forward again. It’s interesting to see things from the zombie horde’s point of view, like a Gorillas in the Mist for zombies, but it felt a bit too long for my tastes.
If you’re a zombie fan, you’re definitely going to want to get your hands on this one. If you’re not a zombie fan, you might still want to give this one a chance. Peter Mellor came across as an interesting and genuine character set in extraordinary circumstances. It all depends on how much of the walking dead you can tolerate in your reading, I suppose.

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Filed under book review, horror novels, Rabid Reads, Scott Kenemore, Zombie Ohio, zombies

Rabid Reads: "The One-Percenters" by John Podgursky

The One-Percenters
by John Podgursky
Damnation Books (2010)
165 pages
Digital ISBN 9781615720132
Print ISBN 9781615720125

Reading John Podgursky’s novel, there were moments when I was reminded a little of Patrick McCabe’s Butcher Boy, mainly because of the first-hand account from the mind of a killer, and then moments when I was reminded of that movie Identity, because the protagonist Ed Caine’s journey through mourning, death, and discovery plays subtle and not-so-subtle jabs at his reality.

Ed Caine describes himself as a One-Percenter in his first person account of life in the wake of his wife’s murder. A One-Percenter is a kind of enforcer for human nature and fate. Selected by almost divine rite it would seem, as Caine has a cataclysmic epiphany one day that sends his life on an irrevocable course of killing. He’s not killing indiscriminately though, as he and those like him target the mutations of humanity–the one percent on the other end of the spectrum, while the rest of us live mundane lives as the remaining ninety-eight percent.

Ed is one strange sonofagun. And as you read his words, you can’t be sure if what he is saying is truth, outright lie, or a psychotic delusion. A review I read for this book prior to reading it compared him to Bill Paxton’s character in Frailty–a distraught and driven man who kills in the name of God after his wife dies. It’s an apt comparison, but this book carries a high creep factor during the episodes of violence and their aftermath. Ed is lost, and the choices he makes don’t even make sense to him at times.

One thing I found lacking with the book though was a sympathetic factor to Ed. At no point in the novel did I like him or really ever root for him, and when I am reading a book I usually need to like the character whose head I’m floating in the whole time. He is a provocative character at times, however, and I didn’t give up on the book.

There is a moment towards the end where the direction the story seems to be heading swings wildly, and Ed winds up in a situation that is a bit anticlimactic given what he has been through. The last few pages do make up for that at least.

It’s a pretty good trek in the mind of a disturbed man, but I have a feeling the book may challenge readers to stick with it despite it being a quick read. I suggest readers who do give it a chance to keep with it through to the end. You might be glad you did.

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Filed under book review, Damnation Books, horror novels, John Podgursky, Rabid Reads, serial killers, The One-Percenters

Rabid Reads: "At the End of Church Street" by Gregory L. Hall

At the End of Church Street
by Gregory L. Hall
Belfire Press (2010)
ISBN 9781926912097
Kindle Edition

Vampires, man. Their popularity constantly ebbs and flows, but they never really go away. If there’s a problem it’s that there are countless vampire novels. Literally, is it even possible at this point to count them all? Well, here’s a novel that isn’t the same old song and dance.

Greg Hall’s At the End of Church Street isn’t a supernatural tale, though. This one has its feet firmly planted in the real world. Think The Lost Boys if Keifer Sutherland et al weren’t really vamps, but instead were a motley crew of disaffected youths with a penchant for all things vampiric. Then, place that group of teens in a setting like Orlando, the land of Mickey Mouse.

The Zombie Zoo, as they affectionately call themselves, call an abandoned theater home and spend their time foraging for food and getting their kicks by spooking tourists and pissing off the police. Otherwise, they’re pretty harmless and get by on what little reputation they have. When a runaway, Rebecca-Anne, winds up alone and desperate in Orlando, she finds herself welcomed into their underworld. She gets a new wardrobe, new attitude, and even a new name. Lilith.

But her arrival comes at a time when they are under threat from a killer in the city. Someone is killing the wannabe bloodsuckers, and apparently going about it as if they really were vampires. The novel is not without a number of suspects, either. The question is whether they can survive long enough to find out who is responsible before they’re all killed, or the police crack down on them as tourists seem to become targets as well and they become a reviled target on two fronts.

The cast of characters is varied and some are genuinely likable. Wolfy was a particular favorite of mine, a boy among the older kids who gets by as a would-be werewolf, replete with fake claws and mask which he dons during theatrical fits as if summoning Lon Chaney. Rebecca/Lilith was a bit harder to like, with her constant insecurity and rather wild swings in temperament when in the company of her love interest, Adam the leader of the pack. But, despite some jumpy switches in point of view, the cast of characters are rather easy to go along with and react in genuine ways to the ordeals thrown at them.

It’s not even close to your conventional teen vampire romp. This one approaches some subject matter than I doubt many of the more popular books would be bothered to tread. It’s not a perfect book, but it’s an impressive debut novel and a commendable switch in tone from Greg Hall’s jovial personality. The man can make you laugh, but it looks like he can also dish out the horror too.

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Filed under At the End of Church Street, Belfire Press, book review, Greg Hall, horror novels, Rabid Reads