house peretti dekker reviewBoth known for supernatural thrillers, authors Frank Peretti and Ted Dekker team up for the first time to bring you HOUSE, a well-designed horror novel with built-in wide appeal.

Jack and Stephanie are an on-the-rocks married couple whose car is sabotaged by road spikes, stranding them in the middle of nowhere (aka Alabama backwoods), but conveniently near an old inn, where they seek help. So do Randy and Leslie, an unmarried, selfish pair whose car also mysteriously was felled. Their hosts are an inbred family of three, the son of whom is mildly retarded and wants to make Leslie his wife. HOUSE immediately subverts your expectations by making these kooks into “Jesus freaks”; true, plenty of horror novels do the same, but given Peretti and Dekker’s allegiance to evangelical themes, it’s a bit of a surprise. However, they actually have a reason for doing so.

Our castaways’ hope for a safe and pleasant evening are summarily dashed and then outright shattered with the appearance of the Tin Man, a local serial killer so named become of his jagged-metal mask. He wants to play a game: They have until dawn to give him a dead body, or they all die. The foursome retreats into the basement for safety – a bad move, since it’s a cavernous maze of pitch-black tunnels, demons, dopplegangers and strange rooms in which the impossible comes true.

Early on, HOUSE elicits a major case of the creeps. That power is diminshed somewhat by an overlong chase (roughly two-thirds of the book), which further serves to underwhelm the ending. Still, its premise and pacing recall some of the down-and-dirty thrillers of Dean Koontz (not to mention elements of SAW and DELIVERANCE), and predictable it is not, partly because the authors withhold as much information from us for as long as possible, lending the events in the basement a surreal, nightmarish quality. Their writing style is simple but effective, drawing you in early on and refusing to loosen its grip.

The mark of any good scare story is whether it can rack the nerves. HOUSE certainly does, even if its nihilism-free outlook and outcome is more positive than others. This metaphorical good vs. evil tale is still violent, with lots of bloodletting, so it’s sure to please fright fans. If so, the supplemental material allows you to sample the authors’ other recent solo works, SHOWDOWN and MONSTER. And if that’s not enough, the publishers have handily supplied a DVD full of trailers, behind-the-scenes material and trivia games for Hollywood’s Peretti and Dekker adaptations (HANGMAN’S CURSE, THE VISITATION and THR3E), a club to be joined by HOUSE in 2007. –Rod Lott

Buy it at Amazon.

Prior Bad Acts

prior bad acts reviewThe new Tami Hoag book PRIOR BAD ACTS returns to Minneapolis and features the likable detective duo of Sam Kovac and Nikki Liska, previously seen in DUST TO DUST. Before they get on the scene, we open with the discovery of a truly brutal and heinous crime that involves the death and violation of a woman and two foster children. Hoag really isn’t a member of the gross-out group, those writers who lovingly detail every single aspect of a gruesome crime, but she is damn creepy. Her set pieces all have this cinematic feel about them, and the visual payoff is often wildly disturbing and intriguing at the same time.

The police force likes a drifter named Karl Dahl for the crime and they have a ton of circumstantial evidence against him, including a pattern of past criminal behavior. But Judge Carey Moore states that Dahl’s prior bad acts cannot be used as evidence in the trial, hence the title. This infuriates the force and the community, and the judge is threatened. As she heads to her car, an assailant strikes and beats her badly. Right around the same time, Dahl gets into a prison fight and is taken to hospital. With a remarkable stroke of luck, he escapes from the hospital and is now at large. Not good times for the judge, the cops or the city.

This would be enough for most novelists to work with, but Hoag has a lot more surprises in store for her readers. And I don’t want to ruin the fun you’ll have reading the book, but they include things like a busted marriage, a budding romance, more than one homicidal maniac and an uneasy feeling for just about everyone associated with the case. Everybody’s got something going on. You might be able to see a few of the twists telegraphed, but not all of them at the same time.

What makes the story work is Hoag’s craft with her characters. She provides an emotional certitude to the whole proceeding. You believe that Judge Moore acts the way she does for a reason, and you understand why and how Kovac and Dahl are acting the way they do. Their motivations and behaviors are proper and exact, with the sole exception of Judge Moore’s husband David, who seems a little inconsistent and doesn’t always act in his own best interests.

But that’s a minor quibble. The book is quite satisfying with a thrilling ending, and a hook that provides an opportunity for more Kovac and Liska books, which would be welcome. –Mark Rose

Buy it at Amazon.

Fun with Bookgasm (and monkey paws)

the monkey\'s pawAh, March. That’s the “in like a lion, out like a lamb” month, right? What a crock. Things around here are so fierce and hairy that we almost forgot it was time for our end-o’-month roundup of search terms that bring people to our fine corner of the Internet. You’ll notice we’re doing it a little bit differently now.

Is there some big-money contest going on I don’t know about? Perhaps one that hinges on arcane plot points from “The Monkey’s Paw”? Because that takes the top slot this month, followed by “Eleanor’s tit.” I don’t know who Eleanor is, but I hope she finds it. And speaking of, Mimi Rogers and Uschi Digard make their usual appearances, joined now by Kristin Chenoweth. And a scant few actual terms involving books. Enjoy, you pervs.

45 who was responsible for herbert’s death in the monkey’s paw by w w jacobs
30 eleanor’s tit
24 the last templar
21 uschi digard
17 kristin chenoweth fhm
15 24 declassified
14 bookgasm
14 john twelve hawkes
13 kristin chenoweth breasts
11 kristin chenoweth
9 scary movies
8 juggin joe
8 mimi rogers
8 sexy movies
8 evangeline lilly naked
7 snuff films women stomping men
6 kristin chenoweth nude
6 dean koontz’s frankenstein book three
6 chenoweth fhm
6 mimi rogers nude

Witness to Myself

witness to myself reviewParents! Talk to your children about sex! Lest they end up a WITNESS TO MYSELF!

Alan should know. In Seymour Shubin’s newest crime novel, he was a good but overprotected kid, being an only child. Girls were an utter mystery to him when he hit puberty 15 years ago. On vacation in Cape Cod with his folks, his sexual curiosity gets the best (or worst) of him when a chance encounter in the woods leaves a 12-year-old girl dead. Or at least he thinks so. Never caught nor questioned, Alan is haunted by the memory of that day half his life ago.

Now a lawyer and falling in love for the first time with a sympathetic nurse (they meet cute as he recovers from gall bladder surgery), he can’t rest until he finds out what exactly happened to the girl. Did she die at all? And if so, was he really to blame? Despite the nagging guilt he already harbors, Alan will wish he’d left well enough alone.

His paranoia slowly but markedly escalates, and I felt it as well every step of the way. WITNESS TO MYSELF is literally a pulse-pounder. Narrated by Alan’s loving cousin Colin – a crime writer – the novel has a shuddering, you-are-there intimacy made all the more uncomfortably close as it deals with all-too-familiar pangs of adolesence. In that aspect, it’s a different shade of noir for Hard Case Crime; their books are always harrowing, gritty and even violent … but poignant? Shubin’s sobering tale is definitely that, full of very real emotions, while also earning high marks for highest-order suspense. This demands to be read in a single sitting, and earns it.

Despite his huge childhood mistake, I really felt for Alan, who is otherwise a good person. Certainly this was Shubin’s intention, and he does a masterful job of making you think the story will go this way, or this character will do that. Instead, he arrives at a heartbreaking end that’s a sucker-punch to the groin, and I mean that as a compliment. Few writers can make you feel that kind of pain. For that, I call WITNESS TO MYSELF as the finest book Hard Case has issued so far, new or old. –Rod Lott

Buy it at Amazon.

Mr. Monk Goes to the Firehouse

mr monk goes to the firehouse reviewTony Shalhoub is a tremendous actor. Whether he plays Antonio Scarpacci in the old WINGS TV show, or as Primo the chef in BIG NIGHT or now as Adrian Monk in the USA Network series MONK, Shalhoub brings a vulnerable quirkiness to every role. His range is surprising, and his attention to detail is what can make a relatively minor character (like Scarpacci) into a vital part of the whole. The subtle touches he provides, especially to a damaged character like Mr. Monk, make you watch him and become engrossed in the story.

Former police detective Adrian Monk is a character not every one appreciates. An outstanding detective who lost mental focus after the murder of his wife – a crime he cannot seem to solve – Monk’s eccentricities devolve into full-blown obsessive-compulsiveness. He’s a clean freak. He’s obsessed with symmetry. He boils his toothbrush after brushing. He is freaked out by odd numbers. He is germophobic. In essence, he’s a brilliant mind wrapped in a protective shawl of fear, paranoia, inhibition and a committed belief that there is only one right way, the Monk way, to interact with the world. Spontaneity does not enter into the picture.

Based on a character by Andy Breckman, Shalhoub plays Monk perfectly. But there’s a little something missing in an hour-long show devoted to both an intricate mystery and the character’s oddness. There usually isn’t enough time to explore Monk and why he’s doing what he’s doing. So enter Lee Goldberg and another excellent TV tie-in book, the first in the series, entitled MR. MONK GOES TO THE FIREHOUSE. A book-length exploration of Monk is just so much more satisfying because we get to see more of the detective’s odd little world.

Monk’s house is being fumigated so he must temporarily move in with his long-suffering assistant, Natalie Teeger. The book is written from her point of view, a clever shift that allows us to be a voyeur on Monk’s behavior without the constraints that would come from having Monk explain his own obsessions. Teeger has an adolescent child and surprisingly, Monk and the child get along well, even though he notes to the mother that children are “walking cesspools” of disease. The child is upset because a local firehouse dog has been killed by some ax-wielding maniac. Monk takes the case.

And from there, the case gets progressively weirder, as do Monk’s habits. First, another body is found, then Teeger becomes romantically involved with one of the firemen, and all the while, Monk is slowly driving his assistant crazy with incessant demands and whacked-out behavior. But there is always a method to Monk’s peculiar madness, and the way he solves crimes and deduces facts throughout the plot is thoroughly entertaining. He sees more than we do, because he sees things that are out of place. We might see a mess, but Monk sees a catastrophe, and because of that vision, he is able to know when things are not only not right, but downright sinister.

While there are some rather contrived plot points, most of the book sails through on its good humor and the likeability of the protagonists. If you like the series, you’ll love the book, and if you’re just lukewarm about the show, the book is even better and stays true to the character that Breckman and Tony Shalhoub have helped to create. –Mark Rose

Buy it at Amazon.

Essential Moon Knight: Vol. 1

essential moon knight reviewMoon Knight is kind of like the poor man’s Batman. This white-masked, white-caped superhero is a multimillionaire bachelor who spends his nights protecting the city from evildoers. But Bruce Wayne would never spend his days masquerading as a cabbie when there are models to bang. But that’s not to say Moon Knight isn’t worth hanging out with. On the contrary, he’s an absolute blast, judging from Marvel Comics’ new ESSENTIAL MOON KNIGHT: VOL. 1, collecting his first 26 appearances.

Aiding Moon Knight on his adventures are his super-hot girlfriend, Marlene; a sassy black diner waitress; a homeless man who always has a cloud of flies around him; and his personal helicopter pilot, a Frenchman named (now pay attention, because this is awfully subtle) Frenchy. The man first appeared in a pair of WEREWOLF BY NIGHT issues in 1975, as an anti-heroic, former Solider of Fortune turned bounty hunter, on assignment by a shady corporation to capture the living lycanthrope.

After that – and a bite from the wolfman that only strengthened his powers – he moved on to the straight superheroics in the MARVEL SPOTLIGHT tryout title, as well as the obligatory battle with Spider-Man and appearance alongside The Thing in MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE. A heretofore just fine ESSENTIAL title gets truly essential from there, reprinting eight appearances from the black-and-white THE HULK! magazine of the ’70s. Because this mag was not technically a comic book (and thus not regulated by the Comics Code Authority), the stories are grittier and racier (i.e. Marlene sure does disrobe a lot), on a PUNISHER level.

These helped catapult Moon Knight into his own series, and the first 10 issues of that early-’80s title close out this collection. Commendably, the transition to it from the previous stories is seamless, because – with the exception of the aforementioned Spidey/Thing team-ups – all the issues were penned by Moon Knight’s creator, Doug Moench. You can tell he loves his own character, because the stories are invested with more creativity and imagination; they don’t often use the monthly “hero fights blank” formula.

Instead, they’re about ideas and concepts, like Moon Knight’s powers waning during a full lunar eclipse, a bioterrorism attack on the Chicago water supply that turns people mad or a trip to St. Lucien where the locals are disappearing and turned into zombies. And when the issues do fall into the villain-of-the-month category, at least the situations are interesting, like placing Moon Knight and his foe on a lifesize chessboard, booby-trapped with explosives.

Prior to ESSENTIAL MOON KNIGHT, my experience with the character was extremely limited. Now, some 500 pages later, I feel like I’ve known him for years. With ace art from Bill Sienkiewicz and others, this is not to be missed by fans of Marvel’s more idiosyncratic heroes. –Rod Lott

Buy it at Amazon.

R.I.P. Stanislaw Lem

stanislaw lem obitPolish sci-fi writer Stanislaw Lem died of heart failure yesterday at the age of 84.

He is best known for the existential space novel SOLARIS, later made into the 1972 Russian classic film by Andrei Tarkovsky, as well as the 2002 underrated, misunderstood remake from Steven Soderbergh.

Planet of the Apes

planet of the apes boulle reviewWith the release of a 14-disc ULTIMATE DVD COLLECTION, BOOKGASM thought it apt to check out three books in the PLANET OF THE APES universe: the original novel, a tie-in and a non-fiction book about the whole phenomenon.

Recently I breezed through Pierre Boulle’s classic novel PLANET OF THE APES (originally titled MONKEY PLANET). It’s more than a bit different from the movie, though a few of the characters are the same, and more satire than science fiction. The first 20 pages are a drag, but I quite enjoyed the rest. Plus, it has not one, but two twist endings! Damn you, Pierre! Damn you all to hell!

In addition to a novelization of Tim Burton’s remake, author William T. Quick also penned two original novels tied to the remake, the first of which is THE FALL. planet of the apes the fallRemember the beginning of the film, where Mark Wahlberg’s character leaves the spaceship Oberon in pursuit of the monkey and falls into the time warp? The book stays behind on the ship, where Lt. Gen. Vasich decides to send more monkeys out in pods into the disturbance to rescue his lost astronaut. However, this triggers a massive implosion which rocks their mighty ship, sending it crash-landing onto a mysterious planet.

This is where you’d expect the downed crew to have adventures with all the intelli-ape characters from the film, but nope. Instead, Quick makes the menace be a snotty mass of flesh-eating insects that grow into scorpion-wolverine hybrids known as Brax. And these creatures are all linked so they can see what each individual one is seeing, making their forced extinction more difficult for our crew. Luckily, they have genetically engineered one of their test monkeys to give birth to a super-smart ape whose head his so big he busts his poor momma’s pelvis during delivery. This monkey learns to walk and talk just like a human, and if you smell “prequel,” you’ve got quite a nose on you.

Allowing Quick to further screw with the timeline and overall mythology is intriguing, but I’m afraid THE FALL simply fails when it ceases being about apes in favor of bugs. After all, the franchise is not PLANET OF THE INSECTS.

planet of the apes revisited reviewI literally waited for a book like PLANET OF THE APES REVISITED for years. Back in 1994, I had sent in my check for a copy; it was never cashed, as the title was canceled and shopped around from house to house before finding a home to St. Martin’s, thanks to renewed interest in the series (likely granted by Tim Burton’s version).

Overall, it was worth the wait, with authors Joe Russo, Larry Landsman and Edward Gross exhaustively covering each movie in the five-film franchise, with exclusive insights from the creative parties involved. The TV show and cartoon show also are discussed to good effect, but the chapter on Burton’s 2001 reimagining just reads like tacked-on PR fluff. The boys’ approach occasionally reads fanboyish, but not to an extreme that ruins their credibility or your enjoyment.

I thought that having seen the excellent BEHIND THE PLANET OF THE APES documentary, I might have learned all there is to know, but the book reveals plenty more, from Kim Hunter’s claustrophobic reaction to the ape makeup to the odd choice who almost directed the landmark original: Blake Edwards!?!

BOOK WHORE >> 3.28.06

da vinci code paperback reviewStrap on those belts, kids. There’s a lot of ground to cover in New Releaseland this week, and we’re going to make it quick.

• Anyone out there not read THE DA VINCI CODE yet? If so, Dan Brown’s thriller is set to take them prisoner as it hits paperback today, while the hardcover still rakes in it on the Top 10. It’s been almost three years since I read it, pre-success, pre-parodies, pre-movie, pre-lawsuits; what’s been lost since then is that it’s an extremely well-done read.

HIS MAJESTY’S DRAGON is the first book in a fantasy trilogy from Naomi Novik, about giant dragons fighting wars. BOOKGASM reviewed it last week here; it made our reviewer cry. Twice. In public. Must be damn good.

• Michael Gruber’s NIGHT OF THE JAGUAR is a supernatural thriller that serves as a follow-up to TROPIC OF NIGHT and VALLEY OF BONES. One review I read mentioned something about a shapeshifting jungle cat, which spells “intriguing” to me.

there are worse things i could do review• For those seeking behind-the-scenes dish on the films ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, SWAMP THING and CREEPSHOW, search no more! Buxom ’80s actress Adrienne Barbeau busts out with her autobiography, THERE ARE WORSE THINGS I COULD DO. We give the cover two thumbs up.

• Egyptology nuts could do worse than TOMB OF THE GOLDEN BIRD, Elizabeth Peters’ 18th entry in the Amelia Peabody mystery series.

GONE is where Jonathan Kellerman hopes his latest crime novel goes from store shelves. It’s the 19th in his Alex Delaware series. Suck on that, Peabody!

• Ruth Reichl recounts her experiences as an undercover food critic for The New York Times in GARLIC AND SAPPHIRES: THE SECRET LIFE OF A CRITIC IN DISGUISE. Part memoir, part recipe book, it made me all hungry.

• Hitting paperback is ONE SHOT, the most recent Jack Reacher thriller from Lee Child. Dig in before Reacher returns this summer in THE HARD WAY. Me, I’m still two books behind!

• The third book in Raymond E. Feist’s CONCLAVE OF SHADOWS series, EXILE’S RETURN, arrives in paperback to appease fantasy fans.

• From 2003, Jane Jensen’s DANTE’S EQUATION gets reprinted in this heady sci-fi thriller combining codes and the Kabbalah. Piece of red yarn not included.

The Water Room

the water room reviewAs the third book in Christopher Fowler’s ongoing Bryant & May detective series, THE WATER ROOM is such an exceedingly well-done mystery that I’m now anxious to read all the others.

The elderly, bickering, longtime partners Arthur Bryant and John May head up London’s Peculiar Crimes Unit, which takes on only the strangest cases around. This time, the unusual matter at hand is an old woman found drowned in her inexplicably dry basement. It seems to be an isolated incident until someone else on the same street dies in an equally bizarre manner. This revelation forces the duo to step up its investigation, all the while persuing a wayward professor in the underground sewer tunnels on a seemingly different case.

Imagine if the gang at CSI were replaced by cranky, anti-social old men, yet the strikingly odd cases remained the same, and you’ve got a pretty good idea what to expect from THE WATER ROOM. The characters are a big part of what I liked so much about the book; both leads are distinctive and good-humored, and each member of their support team – bumbling in his or her own way – stands out as well and serves an actual purpose (as do the many suspects). But no matter how strong the players are, a mystery just isn’t a mystery without the mystery, and this is one I couldn’t figure out for the life of me. And no wonder; it’s so complex, it takes Bryant about a dozen pages to explain it all.

In THE WATER ROOM (and, I suppose, FULL DARK HOUSE and SEVENTY-SEVEN CLOCKS which precede it), Fowler has crafted a thoroughly winning novel, both clever and charming. He’s made me an instant fan of a unique detective twosome I didn’t expect to warm up to. At a time when it seems the mystery shelves are overpopulated with entries from the feline-and-felony school, it’s refreshing to find a whodunit that follows the old-school formula in entirely original ways.

Next up for the Peculiar Crimes Unit is this summer’s TEN SECOND STAIRCASE, a preview of which is included in this paperback edition. –Rod Lott

Buy it at Amazon.

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