Friday, June 29, 2012

Critique by Daniel I. Russell

Critique by Daniel I. Russell

Set the table for one lonely soul and prepare for an introspective horror story that attempts to tap into primal repulsion.  Critique by Daniel I. Russell is a journey into obsession that leads to unsettling self discovery.  Russell explores the shadows of a broken soul in a well written, gently paced novella that lets you savor his effort rather than have it shoved down your throat.

Sandy Devanche is the city’s harshest food critic.  He believes his tough words are aimed at improving the restaurants he visits, but the top chefs dread and fear his arrival.  One particular evening he visits an experimental eatery known as the House of Jacob.  The strange meal leaves him both disgusted and fascinated.  Slowly Sandy descends into isolation and obsession as he becomes consumed with savoring more of the chef’s unorthodox food.  His fractured life becomes more troubled as he thinks only of the exquisite flavors offered by the House of Jacob.  Finally, he crosses a line into a grim place of introspection that promises freedom from his pain in exchange for…

Russell attempts a moral tale, perhaps a fable.  Sandy is the misguided soul given a second chance at life if he can overcome his own demons.  The idea is powerful, but I didn’t feel that Sandy was developed as a character worth such profound intervention.  He was a self-centered asshole, without a doubt, but I didn’t buy him as deserving of his fate.  During the revelation of the final meal, Sandy was confronted with religious imagery that may put off conservative readers, but Russell treats  it with the respect it deserves in order to lend authenticity to his message.    

Russell worked very hard to varying degrees of success using food as a dark source of spiritual sustenance.  On one occasion my stomach turned with revulsion, but in others I was unmoved.  The uneven horrors of the meals detracted from the growing tension of the situation.
I’m sure this is an early effort in a long writing career that will blossom with the release of each new work.  I give Critique by Daniel I. Russell 3 severed heads clad in their bloody chef hats.

Heads Will Roll,

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Midnight Hour by Neil Davies

The Midnight Hour by Neil Davies is a plainly dressed horror anthology that could easily be passed by in the crowd of horror ebooks that walk the streets of  However, you would seriously miss out on a great read if you did that.  The 14 tales that comprise this book take the reader into delightfully, disturbing worlds of darkness.

Neil Davies was born in 1959 before the horror genre became the place we know today.  He was ten when Night of the Living Dead was released and probably nowhere near seeing it for years.  He didn’t have the epic novels of Stephen King and the other bestseller propagators to inspire his writing.  He had Hitchcok, Matheson, Bradbury, the pulp writers, and maybe the great Hammer films of his homeland.  Whatever his muse, these tales stand out as something excitingly refreshing in our zombie, vampire overkill world.

Short story is not really the best term for what Neil does.  I prefer “micro novel”.  Wrapped in these small bites are fully developed characters and plots that unfold in layers.  The pacing is a steady pagan drumbeat that keeps us turning page after page in a realm where terror stalks the innocent with cold indifference.

Twelve of the stories are straight on horror.  They’re bloody, they’re dark, and Davies writes with confidence in his storytelling chops.  He doesn’t seem to try and hook his reader’s attention, but he invites them to look into a peep hole for a glimpse of evil.  Turn away or look.  His stories are not meant for mass appeal.  He uses disorientation, over amplification of the mundane, and ambiguity with the subtlety of a magician.  Other times he charges straight on with a chainsaw to give us lovely gore.  I hope you like the scene with the coat hanger as much as I did.

 I give The Midnight Hour by Neil Davies five maggot-infested severed heads.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself.  Thanks Neil. 

In support of a five severed head writer below you will find a link to his other works.  I know what I want to review next.  I love winter horror.

Heads Will Roll,
Everette Bell

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Slander Hall by Matthew Tait

Slander Hall by Matthew Tait

Slander Hall by Matthew Tait is a slick horror novella that delivers on the genre’s basics while adding some metaphysical flair.  Cedar, the lone survivor of America’s largest mass suicide decides to return to where it all happened.  Only now, where it all happened is an abandoned suburb, a modern ghost town void of inhabitants (wink, wink).  Our pilgrim returns with a team of paranormal investigators, writers, and a psychic.
Tait created a wonderful atmosphere that extends throughout the entire novella.  The ominous environment is a constant presence that gets under your skin.  I never forgot I was in a horror novella.

Characters are well fleshed out for such a short work.  They all have their reasons for being there, and some have their suspicions about why Cedar is there.  You’d be right in guessing they face their demise one at a time, but the how is the fun part.

The story gradually unwrapped and flowed forward just like I was going room to room and building to building with the explorers.  The tension was awesome.  I was turning pages like a Tait junkie.    

The ending was more than I wanted.  I know a lot of people won’t mind but, I wanted more ambiguity.  Tait gives you way more than that.

I give Slander Hall by Mathew Tait four severed heads.  I look forward to more of this guy.

p.s. Just picked up a short story collection of his for free.  :)

Heads Will Role,
Everette Bell

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Ghosts Can Bleed by Tracie McBride

Ghosts Can Bleed by Tracie McBride

Speculative fiction lovers should be delighted with Tracie McBride’s short story collection, Ghosts Can Bleed.  The bio at the end of the book reports she won the Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best New Talent in 2007, and I certainly believe it.  Her words come across gracefully and confident.  Her writing is mature, and she knows exactly where to start and stop a plot to keep readers engaged.  Tracie has a sparse writing style that uses an elegant simplicity to convey darkness as well as humor.

The anthology is a mixture of poetry and prose that initially concerned me when I agreed to review it.  I have no skill or knowledge, for that matter, in the area of poetry, but her poems feel like stories set to a primal rhythm.  I was able to enjoy them for the dark images they evoked.

Tracie McBride’s stories can be divided into three categories, religious and social dystopia, the collision of the every day and the never day, and dark humor.  My least favorite was the dark humor.  I was blown away by her dystopic fiction and loved her straight dark fantasy pieces.  The humor stories were good, but she had already won me over with her more thought provoking works by the time I encountered the humor stories.

The dystopic works in the collection were like malevolent, black gems.  Tracie has an incredible knack for zeroing in on the perfect characteristic to build upon.  I found the first story in the collection to be very unsettling.  I truly believe that our world is moving in that dark direction.  And what she does with mermaids and religion is wonderful.  Two others in the dystopia category are light science fiction tales that take readers back to the counter culture sci-fi of the 1960’s.

The more traditional dark fantasy stories in the collection read easily and are thick with believable characters as well as grim circumstances.  The story about the mother trying to help her son with his bad dreams has a lovely ambiguous ending.  Her stranger in a bar story really shows Tracie McBride can be dark with the best of ‘em.  The title story of the anthology would have made an excellent episode for your favorite dark fiction serial TV show. 

Tracie McBride approaches dark speculative fiction from an experimental angel that is both thought provoking and entertaining.  I highly recommend it for the short story lover.

I give Ghosts Can Bleed by Tracie McBride 4 severed heads.  Thanks Tracie.  I look forward to more of your writing.

Heads Will Roll,
Everette Bell