QUICKGASM >> 10.31.06

quickgasmBecause time isn’t always kind: economic reviews in a world full of waste!

deaths dominion reviewUK horror author Simon Clark rebounds in a big way from the singularly wretched THE TOWER with DEATH’S DOMINION, a modern-day FRANKENSTEIN update. In Clark’s imagined near-future, the dead can be resurrected and used as virtual slaves, doing the bidding of their masters without being able to harm them, thanks to some transformation coding. But somehow that last part is lost on Dominion, a monster who clobbers several “Sapheads” (as the humans are called) as he sets out on a revenge-laden journey with fellow “God Scarers” Elsa (subtle, no?) and Dr. Marias in tow. As soon as Dominion revolts – which happens quickly – DOMINION the book takes off and bolts. It may run out of steam before the end, but fright fans will appreciate the straight-ahead horror take as opposed to Dean Koontz’s police-procedural approach.

batman gotham county line reviewWith Steve Niles at the helm, you just know BATMAN: GOTHAM COUNTY LINE is going to go to some strange places. And it does – can you say “zombies”? Aided immensely by Scott Hampton’s gritty visuals, Niles’ tale starts out as a pure mystery, with Batman doing Commissioner Gordon a favor, looking into serial slayings. What he finds goes against the rules of reality. I won’t spoil the reason, only to say it makes sense and addresses an issue I’ve long wondered regarding superheroes’ ability to be only one place at once. Expect not one, not two, but three surprise cameos. And expect a great read. This marks Niles’ first association with DC Comics – hopefully one of many more to come.

dawn of the dead reviewAlso by Niles is IDW’s DAWN OF THE DEAD, a comic-book adaptation of George A. Romero’s landmark zombie epic, coming a long 25 years after the source material. It sticks (with the consistency of blood, mind you) awfully close to the film, earning its status as a straight adaptation. Is such a thing even needed? Not really. Is it cool even still? Pretty much. It has more gushing fluids, flying limbs and exploding heads than … well, just about anything, and Chee’s art does not shy away from the gore, providing perhaps more detail to the grue than you’d ever want to see, in bright, four-color format. Faithful to the film and yet very much up Niles’ viscera-strewn alley, it’s good for horror-comic fans if not exactly what I’d call original.

monopoly reviewYou know how a game of Monopoly can turn from excitement to boredom as it draws on and on? I had a similiar experience reading MONOPOLY: THE WORLD’S MOST FAMOUS GAME & HOW IT GOT THAT WAY by Philip E. Orbanes. Though he clearly knows this enduring board game’s history in and out – and who knew it even had one this convoluted? – his writing style is rather plain, ultimately failing to excite. The upfront history is hampered by too many real-life characters, which causes confusion, but later chapters are better, as when he details how video games threatened to send Monopoly to the grave until an electronic version helped save it, not to mention brand-extension efforts that includes the ongoing McDonald’s promotion. Points for the extensive photographs of the game, from its hand-drawn inception to the endless anniversary editions, but the near-anal focus on other aspects makes me want to send Orbanes directly to jail.

science fiction century volume 2 reviewEdited by David G. Hartwell, THE SCIENCE FICTION CENTURY: VOLUME 2 is the new trade-paperback companion brother to last spring’s VOLUME 1, both just halves of an out-of-press hardcover edition. But any self-respecting sci-fi fan who doesn’t already own that edition needs to own these. Hartwell is an expert at assembling anthologies, and this short-story roundup is no different, even if its lineup isn’t quite as strong as the previous volume. I attribute that to this one’s heavier reliance on the new stuff, with the roots ignored. Still, there’s an impressive mix of authors here, including Cordwainer Smith, Roger Zelazny and Robert Silverberg. You also get William Gibson’s original “Johnny Mnemonic” (which I find baffling, in a bad way) and Harlan Ellison’s legendary “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman” (which I find baffling, in a good way).

book of renfield reviewNot content with just writing essays on and reviews of B-cinema, VIDEO WATCHDOG top dog Tim Lucas does his best Bram Stoker impression with THE BOOK OF RENFIELD: A GOSPEL OF DRACULA. This novel – more a gap-filler than a sequel – retains Stoker’s structure of telling the story through journals and transcripts as he focuses on Renfield, the righthand (and not of right mind) man of one Count Dracula. As observed by Dr. Seward – when he’s not romancing Lucy Westenra, that is – Renfield snubs the food of the asylum and, unbeknownst at first, provides Drac with the figurative key to domination. Lucas cleaves to the throne of Stoker, capturing his very voice (and even lifting some his text outright). This sometimes results in a narrative that is purposely dry, but necessary to preserve the illusion. It works. –Rod Lott

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• BIGFOOT by Steve Niles, Rob Zombie and Richard Corben
CHRISTMAS STARS edited by David G. Hartwell
THE CRYPTICS by Steve Niles and Benjamin Roman
FUSED by Steve Niles
THE NAIL by Steve Niles and Rob Zombie
30 DAYS OF NIGHT: RUMORS OF THE UNDEAD by Steve Niles and Jeff Mariotte
• THE TOWER by Simon Clark


bullets broads blackmail and bombsHappy Halloween, everyone! Since it’s the scariest day of the year, we delve into the horror catergory. I could have taken the easy route by covering Stephen King and Clive Barker, but I’m not a fan of either. Dean Koontz does nothing for me, and the less said about Anne Rice, the better. If only I hadn’t already read all of H.P. Lovercraft’s stuff, this column would have been a lot better. So instead, I present three horror books that don’t really live up to the promised horror.

ladies of holderness reviewTHE LADIES OF HOLDERNESS by Dennis Fowler – In this 1976 novel, a young woman named Carol Long is trying to put a bad relationship behind her. This means taking what little money she has and buying a bus ticket to the furthest place she can go. She ends up in some little town in Upstate New York. Since she has no real skills (she was a French major in college), she finds a housekeeping job in a home full of 13 old ladies.

As life goes on, she gets a sneaking suspicion that the women share a dark secret. Wow, was I shocked — it’s not like the cover gives it away. Sarcasm mode off. Yes, this book is total escapist Gothic horror, but it also telegraphs plot points like Samuel Morse wrote it. Anyone who has read any kind of horror fiction will be able to figure out what’s really going on long before Fowler tells you. He does well in the Gothic genre, not overstepping boundaries and going over the top at the end, which is a problem with this type of book. But he should have had a conversation with his publishers for giving away so much before page one.

white ship reviewTHE WHITE SHIP by Ian Cameron — Setting a spooky story on a mass of just snow and ice has only really been done once really well, and that was a film: John Carpenter’s version of THE THING. Because the cover promises a cool wrecked-ship discovery in a similar deserted locale, but it never happens.

The only thing that does happen in this 1975 book is that six researchers go to Candlemass Island, where slowly over time, they die by unfortunate circumstances. I could go on about the plot, but there isn’t one – kind of like some episodes of LOST. Literally, pages go by with them taking their temperature and hashing unimportant scientific info. In a word, boring.

The only “spooky” part is that the lead female character, Susan, is somehow channeling the spirit of a girl from the 1800s whose ship crashed there years ago, causing Susan to have that chick’s flashbacks every once in a while.

Geez, was this book a turd of a read. It goes nowhere, took forever to finish and the resolution is such a bore. Damn you, book cover artists. I thought the ship would be haunted by ghosts or something. Nope, there was more action in the film GERRY.

curse of kalispoint reviewTHE CURSE OF KALISPOINT by Mozelle Richardson – Finishing off our Halloween column, we delve into the word of Southern Gothic novels with this 1971 offering. What starts out really promising finishes very lamely.

Anne Corbett has been hired to turn an old Gothic castle in the South into a museum, per the instructions of a will. But once she arrives, she is meet with some resistance from one of the occupants. Slowly, Anne gets the feeling she is not welcome at all, with someone listening in on her phone calls, then finding secret chambers in her bedroom being used to spy on her.

There are spooky elements in the story: The castle seems haunted and is decorated in honor of some witch cult. It really hits the mark when the cook turns up dead upon the rocky shores, with no explanation. But from there on out, the book gets incredibly confusing and weighted down. Anne stumbles upon a blood sacrifice room with another dead person in it. Then there are the mysterious diaries that she has to keep hidden. Once the resolution comes about, however, you just feel cheated; here’s a book promising a ghost story when, in fact, it was more of a crime story.

Next time, I’ll show you a pretty good poker hand. –Bruce Grossman

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historian paperbackDetermining our five winners of a paperback copy of Elizabeth Kostova’s debut novel THE HISTORIAN was too easy: Because only five people got the answers right.

All you had to do was identify all nine films in the BOOKGASM Cinematic Vampire Cube® below, and you did, but everyone – except the lucky five, mind you – thought the first bloodsucker in question was ol’ NOSFERATU. Wrong! It was ‘SALEM’S LOT. Honestly, we weren’t looking to trip you up there, but thanks – you made the selection process painless!

historian contest downloadThe correct answers, in order, were: ‘SALEM’S LOT, THE LOST BOYS, QUEEN OF THE DAMNED, BLACULA, VAN HELSING, FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, TALES FROM THE CRYPT PRESENTS BORDELLO OF BLOOD, DRACULA and NOSFERATU. C’mon, you didn’t really think we’d put NOSFERATU twice, did you? (And can we please take this opportunity to say how creeped out we were as a kid by Klaus Kinski?)

Anyway, these guys and gals are going home with THE HISTORIAN:
• Benjamin Bourke – Boise, Id.
• Greg Cox – Oxford, Penn.
• Eileen Jermaine – Norman, Okla.
• Danielle Lewis – Pittsburgh, Penn.
• Justin Power – Ontario, Canada

The rest of you can just buy it at Amazon.
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Grave Descend

grave descend reviewJohn Lange’s GRAVE DESCEND, the latest crackerjack thriller from Hard Case Crime, practically writes its own review with a line of dialogue straight from page 24: “It is, after all, a very good story — bizarre sinking of a luxury yacht, with mysterious beautiful girl on board.”

Truth be told, that should be all you need to hear to grab your interest, but I’ll spill a little more. In this 1970 novel, resurrected for its first American reprint, the hero is McGregor, a freelance diver hired to salvage secret cargo from the titular downed yacht, which he’s told went down mysteriously the day prior. Something doesn’t quite up in McG’s mind, however, and when he does some sniffing around a few hours before an agreed-upon, pre-dive helicopter flyover, his suspicions are confirmed: The yacht hasn’t sunk at all.

That’s only the start, but to reveal more would be unfair, especially since DESCEND runs less than 200 pages. With such frugality, this mystery/adventure moves with the speed of a hammerhead shark – which, incidentally, McGregor encounters.

If the Lange name rings a bell, there’s good reason why. And DESCEND exhibits the trademarks of the author’s similar early works, particularly A CASE OF NEED: a blunt, to-the-point protagonist; very short, no-nonsense scenes; quick flashes of action; and, at its heart, a puzzle that’s truly puzzling and at least two steps ahead of the reader. –Rod Lott

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louis series issuesScouring out the weekly singles scene … in comics!

Welcome, Issueists! It’s been two weeks since the last SERIOUS ISSUES and some of you have asked if it’s supposed to be bi-weekly, weekly or what. Now that I’m fully acclimated to my new job and the scheduled rigors therein, I’m aiming for weekly.

darkman vs army of darknesss reviewDARKMAN VS. ARMY OF DARKNESS #1 (Dynamite) It’s good to see Darkman back in action. The movie is, to this day, still one of my favorites and it kinda seems like a no-brainer to team him-up with that other Sam Raimi creation, Ash, from the EVIL DEAD series. This first issue is all set-up: Darkman’s ex finds the Necronomicon, and accidentally summons some demons and Ash as well. It’s a bit of an obvious way to start things off, but to see Darkman fighting off Deadites is just too cool. I only hope Dynamite draws the line here to prevent other Raimi team-ups, sparing us FOR LOVE OF THE GAME VS. ARMY OF DARKNESS.

AMERICAN SPLENDOR #2 (DC/Vertigo) I’m not sure if this is a limited series or not. Some sites mention that it’s a six-issue run, others are saying it’s ongoing. Dear Lord, please let it beongoing. The brutally honest, darkly funny stories from Harvey Pekar’s life continue, this time with art work from Richard Corben, Chandler Wood and Leonardo Manco, among others. Pekar’s stories – in this issue dealing with a clogged toilet, finding a pair of glasses, passing inspection at a service station – are definitely an acquired taste, but delicious nevertheless. Always recommended.

irredeemable ant-man reviewTHE IRREDEEMABLE ANT-MAN #1 (Marvel) For the past few months, Robert (THE WALKING DEAD, MARVEL ZOMBIES) Kirkman’s take on Ant-Man as being the ultimate a-hole superego has been hyped as the next SHE-HULK. Is it? No. It wants so bad to be funny, but it falls flat on its face repeatedly, to the point where you feel kind of embarrassed for all parties involved. Basically, the Ant-Man costume is stolen by a S.H.I.E.L.D. sentry who wants to be a superhero, except he has low morals. That should be great fodder for laughs, but it constantly slips into routine backstory and confusing twists that do not benefit a book like this in any way. I don’t know if I’ll buy a second issue.

DORK #11 (Slave Labor) Evan Dorkin’s non-linear, rapid-fire collection of bizarre twists on the usual jokes has been the funniest comic book ever for the past five years. Nothing but series after series of unrelated, side-hurting hilarious strips, done in a sort of post-apocalyptic Bazooka Joe way. Not only is the re-reading value of this infinite, but it’s the type of book you pass along to friends to introduce them to.

road to hell reviewROAD TO HELL #2 (IDW) Boy, am I fucking lost in this one: A group of kids gets stuck in a town that doesn’t appear on a map. It’s got kids playing with corpses, always-shifting roads and billboards for variations of products we’re familiar with. And zombies of a sort. Is it literally Hell? Is it a post-apocalyptic time-warp? I don’t know. Maybe it’s like that town in that Chevy Chase/Dan Aykroyd atrocity NOTHING BUT TROUBLE. That’s it. That’s gotta be it. A $3.99 an issue, that better be it.

A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET #1 (Wildstorm) I guess DC’s WildStorm imprint is now doing the Freddy comic, taking it off of Avatar’s hands. Boy, this license gets passed around more than a stripper at a Duke lacrosse party, But, at least in this case, it seems to be paying off: The price has dropped a dollar, the artwork is vastly improved and the arc written by Chuck Dixon seems to be aiming for something higher than “let’s get some girls in panties then slice them up.” It’s a promising new title. –Louis Fowler

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The Cellar

cellar reviewPopular mass-market horror novels come and go, unless they’re written by someone calling him/herself V.C. Andrews, and then they just come and come and come…

You could be forgiven for thinking that the late Richard Laymon (1947-2001) is almost as prolific after death as Andrews is, but his website assures us that he left only three unsold manuscripts behind and that the previously unknown titles Leisure Books has been issuing originally had seen publication in other parts of the world. Laymon fans must wish these novels were better than they are. I suspect they remained unsold because they needed one more pass through the rewrite machine.

Not so with one of Laymon’s earliest novels, a book that can truly be called “infamous.” It’s 1980’s THE CELLAR, which has just been revived by Leisure.

On the surface, it’s about a youngish redhead named Donna who escapes with her daughter Sandy about 24 hours before her ex-husband Roy shows up on their doorstep. Roy has just been released from prison where he’s done six years for raping the girl. The two gals take off up the California coast. Running off the road in a thick fog — nicely described by Laymon, who was excellent at taking familiar tropes from horror stories and getting more from them than you’d ever expect anyone could – Donna punctures her car’s radiator and is forced to stay in a small town until it can be replaced.

She and Sandy meet Larry and Jud, two men who are there to kill a monster. This town is the home of Beast House, a place that makes most fictional “bad places” look like Pollyanna’s dollhouse. People get murdered there like doughnuts get scarfed at Krispy Kreme. Larry, who was attacked by the beast when he was a kid, has hired Jud to help him slay the dragon. The narrative shifts around from Donna and Sandy, to Larry’s bad memories, to Roy’s murder-and-arson rampage as he kidnaps a 10-year old girl named Joni to be his girl-toy and works his way along the coast in search of Sandy, for whom he has very special plans.

That’s the surface story, and it’s as brutal, ugly and vicious as an Eli Roth/Rob Zombie double feature. That kind of thing may not be every horror fan’s cup of industrial waste, but if you like it, you’ll like it. If you’re coming to this book for the first time you may be surprised that anyone was writing such hardcore stuff 26 years ago.

Under the surface, but just slightly, the book is about the varieties of sexual experience and how closely some of them border the horrific. It’s all here, folks – a garden of Sadistic delights: incest, pedophilia, rape, bestiality and just plain old rough sex. Add the constant threat of psychopathic violence, and you have the book that opened the door for Clive Barker, Skipp and Spector, Shaun Hutson, Poppy Z. Bright, Michael Slade, Rex Miller and any number of others.

Perhaps the book’s most shocking revelation is that anyone may discover fun in the pain and humiliation of aberrant sex and violence. It takes all kinds, and that means you.

Laymon added two more books to the Beast House saga (BEAST HOUSE and THE MIDNIGHT TOUR) and here’s hoping Leisure decides to reprint them as well. Let’s show these “Splat Pack” horror movie directors how it’s done when you don’t have to worry about MPAA ratings. –Doug Bentin

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• AFTER MIDNIGHT by Richard Laymon
• COME OUT TONIGHT by Richard Laymon
• ISLAND by Richard Laymon
• THE LAKE by Richard Laymon

WEEKEND REGASM >> 10.29.06

weekend regasmOur end-o’-week roundup of what you missed while working for The Man!

Greeting, book adventurers! If you’re reading this, congratulations for surviving the annual Daylight Savings highway massacre. There’s about a million too many sleep-deprived drivers on the road for my taste on this fine, pre-Halloween Sunday, and it’s best to just stay at home, unless you’ve got an optometrist appointment or something. While you’re lounging, check out these book reviews we cooked up for you o’er the last five days!

x-men 160MONDAY >> 10.23.06
I don’t really understand the Marvel Ultimates line. I mean, I understand it, but WTF? Anyone who gets confused by the backstory that comes with a classic character’s history doesn’t deserve to be reading. The first comic I ever bought with my own money, UNCANNY X-MEN #160 (August 1982), was full of backstory and complicated drama that I didn’t understand, but it hooked me anyway, and I have every issue from then until 300 or so. So many of today’s writers are such screaming ninnies that they won’t even touch a book unless they get carte blanche to mess with a hero’s basic legend. In my day, we only let Alan Moore and his ilk do that. What was I talking about? Oh, yeah — BOOKGASM Grand Poobah Rod “Cupcakes” Lott (as Doug Bentin calls him behind his back) thought ULTIMATE MARVEL TEAM-UP ULTIMATE COLLECTION was far from ultimate, though it was uneven and sometimes even uneventful.

Doug Bentin took a look at THE WIDOW OF SLANE AND SIX MORE OF THE BEST CRIME AND MYSTERY NOVELLAS OF THE YEAR, and, besides being prone to inclusion in a wide variety or run-on (or seemingly run-on) sentences, he finds it to be a solid, workmanlike effort. Is it surprising, then, that one of the work’s co-editors is none other than Martin H. Greenberg, the Anthologist for the Ages? No.

Whereas THE WIDOW OF SLANE (et al) had two solid editors (Ed Gorman was Robin to Greenberg’s Dark Knight), WICKED KARNIVAL HALLOWEEN HORROR needs some help in the editorial department. Rod liked the volume anyway, especially at this time of year, but here’s a hint for next time, guys: Just because the guy at Kinkos says he knows how to make a book doesn’t mean he’s telling the truth.

yma sumac xtabay reviewTUESDAY >> 10.24.06
Music-obsessed Dylan and Stones fans will totally go nuts for Brian Hinton’s BOB DYLAN COMPLETE DISCOGRAPHY and Alan Clayson’s THE ROLLING STONES COMPLETE DISCOGRAPHY, but that doesn’t mean Rod Lott will. Oh, no. Lott prefers Yma Sumac, or something appropriately Charotic.

Some comics are so bursting with ideas that a spin-off or two doesn’t hurt a bit; one of these is FABLES, and Rod said FABLES: 1001 NIGHTS OF SNOWFALL is a great complement to the regular book, for noobs and FABLES veterans alike. So click the link already.

With all the criminals “murdered” by off-the-books paperback vigilantes on a monthly basis, how can we still have any? Since the Spider started offing people by the bushel in the pulp era, these guys must have killed at least 2.3 billion lowlives, and this week’s BULLETS, BROADS, BLACKMAIL & BOMBS, looks at another trio of gun-wielding sociopaths with anger management issues: The Death Merchant, the Executioner, and the obviously impotent Penetrator. Bruce Grossman weighed these vigilantes’ crimes against literature, and only one was found worthy. Can you guess which one?

Doctors of the world: Susanna Clarke is ill. Get to work! THE LADIES OF GRACE ADIEU AND OTHER STORIES (which Rod Lott totally dug) is enough to tide me over for now, but this collection of stories set in the world of JONATHAN STRANGE & MR. NORRELL won’t last long in my “to read” pile. If you value my sanity at all, dear Hippocratic healers, please help Ms. Clarke get back to health (and the awesome writing that comes with it).

torrie wilson nude nakedWEDNESDAY >> 10.25.06
The online literary community is all over sleazy websites that give great reviews in exchange for advance reading copies, publicity and other “favors.” We don’t do that here at BOOKGASM; we judge books on their merits and their merits alone. That said, Rod Lott raved about the World Wrestling Entertainment-licensed BIG APPLE TAKEDOWN, which features the WWE superstars “taking down” a terrorist plot in, you guessed it, New York City. I wouldn’t even think the WWE would have anything that could corrupt an introverted, bookish, 30-something website editor living in central Oklahoma, but then I saw the BIG APPLE cover, and it all became clear. Rod still claims he like the book for the words, but I have my doubts.

The coffee table books produced by the Charles S. Anderson Design Co. and Michael J. Nelson make me wish I had more coffee tables. Despite my lack of tabular surface area I still totally want FLUFFY HUMPY POOPY PUPPY: A RUFF, DOG-EARED LOOK AT MAN’S BEST FRIEND, and Louis Fowler correctly labeled this book a must-own.

If you haven’t noticed, the volume of posts is going up here at BOOKGASM HQ, and with that, it seems, is an uptick in title length. THE STRANGE CASE OF HELLISH NELL: THE STORY OF HELEN DUNCAN AND THE WITCH TRIAL OF WORLD WAR II is Wednesday’s example, and Bruce Grossman thought the books was “totally wicked.” In other news, people attending séances in England felt the need to inspect female psychics in the nude to make sure they not using “trickery.” Those séance-goers are some sly bastards.

alan smithee creditTHURSDAY >> 10.26.06
If there’s one thing we’ve come to expect about Thursday’s FRAMES O’ REFERENCE column, it’s that Allan Mott isn’t bashful to tell us about himself, and I now know more about his college years than I do my own. Persistence pays off, though, in this case, as it al ties neatly together into a review of DIRECTED BY ALLEN SMITHEE, with, much like college, is totally overblown and pretentious.

If MARVEL ZOMBIES sucked, I would petition those chickens at the U.N. to classify it as a crime against humanity. You only get one chance at making a world in which all your heroes are zombies who want to eat Galactus, and thank L Ron they did it right. Louis Fowler, an expert on both zombies and globe-absorbing desires, is the perfect reviewer for this, and he deemed it good, so there’s no excuse not for you to buy it this afternoon.

Whereas I hate 99 percent of the forward e-mails I get from my various graying relatives, I do read the ones containing the Darwin Awards. These tales of deadly idiocy always warm my heart, showing me that yes, there is some justice in the world, and it’s catching up to the stupid people first. That’s the part of THE DARWIN AWARDS 4: INTELLIGENT DESIGN that the Marvelous Mark Rose liked; there are some crappy essays (oxymoron?) accompanying the main course here, but they’re worth it just for the eels in the rectum.

misfits famous monster mp3FRIDAY >> 10.27.06
Oh, crap. A few entries up, I made a joke about how essays are, by definition, crappy, and here I am, capsulizing Doug Bentin’s essay about Robert Bloch. This is a fine mess I’ve gotten myself into. Well, if anyone can make an essay more creepy than crappy, I guess it’s Bloch. Not only did he write PSYCHO, but he also inspired the Misfists’ awesome song “Mommy, Can I Go Out and Kill Tonight?” and that in itself is a good thing.

Unpatriotic supporters of presidential assassins will get their sick glee from LINCOLN’S ASSASSINS: THEIR TRIAL AND EXECUTION much in the way they giggled over James L. Swanson’s MANHUNT. Rod Lott – pinko-loving hummus-eater that he is — liked having this coffee-table supplement to MANHUNT, but he likes a lot of things real Americans don’t like (such as his unnatural obsession with naked Charo), so you’ve been warned.

Have a Happy Halloween, everyone. Next week we’ll have a ton of reviews as usual, plus exclusive deets on the BOOKGASM All Hallows Eve party. –Ryun Patterson

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Lincoln’s Assassins: Their Trial and Execution

lincolns assassins reviewThose who wish James L. Swanson’s MANHUNT offered as much detail on the deaths of John Wilkes Booth’s conspirators as it did on Booth himself will find it in LINCOLN’S ASSASSINS: THEIR TRIAL AND EXECUTION. Co-written with Daniel R. Weinberg, ASSASSINS serves as a coffee-table companion to MANHUNT — still the best nonfiction book of the year — but don’t call it a sequel: Originally released in 2001, it’s being brought back to life in the wake of MANHUNT’s success.

The first 35 pages or so offer a text recap of the true-life tale MANHUNT so compellingly conveys: the murder of President Abraham Lincoln at the hands of Booth, a delusional madman, and his subsequent getaway, which lasted all of 12 days. Those who helped Booth – in planning the act, in botching similar assassinations at the same time and in helping him elude capture – all found themselves targets of an enraged nation calling for their heads to be tied with a loop of strong rope. They got it.

In the 100 pages that remain, Swanson and Weinberg largely let pictures tell the story. Boasting more than 300 images (Swanson has quite the collection of memorabilia), ASSASSINS gives you great insight beyond the standard textbook depiction of the Ford’s Theatre tragedy. This includes newspaper pages with woodcut illustrations, memorial cards (both well-intentioned and opportunistic), reward posters, photos of the conspirators’ weaponry, handwritten letters, court records of the trial and, most tellingly, photos of Booth’s crew. Their stoic faces say it all

Look to ASSASSINS to supplement MANHUNT, not replace it. –Rod Lott

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ESSAY >> Pulp and Circumstance: Looking Back at Robert Bloch

psycho reviewIn the coven made up of the mothers in my neighborhood when I was a kid, my mom was the only one who allowed copies of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND magazine into the house. This made me very popular — and it was the only thing that did — at least on the Saturdays after the new issue hit the street.

My pals and I loved looking at pictures from monster movies, and it didn’t matter whether or not we’d seen the flick, or ever would. In those pre-home-video days in that small town, we had no hope that we’d ever be in a position to see films like the silent THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI or even the Lon Chaney PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.

Which brings us at last to Robert Bloch, who frequently used FM as a bully pulpit to introduce us kids to the fading grandeur of silent horror films — or those pictures that passed for horror films before sound. I had no idea at that time that Bloch wrote fiction. I don’t remember now how I found out, but it was probably at the time Hitchcock’s PSYCHO came out and suddenly Bloch’s books were on every paperback spin rack in town.

Okay, here’s where I embarrass myself by admitting that I was too scared to see PSYCHO on it first run. Here’s why: I’d read Bloch’s novel on the assumption that no book could be as scary as a movie. Word circulated around the horror-movie fan underground in town that this movie was the goods, more terrifying than a William Castle picture, and that would make it scarier than all hell on a rainy weekend.

So my plan was to read the book so I’d know what the story was and I could bluff my friends into thinking I’d seen the movie, just in case I wasn’t, you know, able to see it. Damn good plan for an 11-year old, except for one thing: Bloch’s novel is not the standard mystery/thriller, like Hitch’s film is not the standard horror movie.

The book scared me. Badly. Profoundly. Everlastingly. So much, I was even more afraid to go to the movie than I had been in the first place.

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dog dialed 911 reviewEarlier this week, we announced a contest for THE DOG DIALED 911: A BOOK OF LISTS FROM THE SMOKING GUN. All you had to do was identify the three unlucky celebrity bastards in the hastily assembled mugshot composite below.

And you did! But half of you misidentified the top incarcerated famous person as Diana Ross, whereas it really is James Brown. You had no such troubles pegging Nick Nolte or Hugh Grant, though. This whole Diana/James confusion was news to us; we didn’t mean to trip you up.

smoking gun mugshotsOh, well. From the people who answered correctly, free books soon will be on their way to:
• Roberto Collins – Deer Creek, Okla.
• Debbie Gould – Wichita, Kan.
• Mark Guertin – Jewett City, Conn.
• Gerald Tilley – Decautr, Ill.
• Clare Toohey – New York City, N.Y.

Congratulations, you lucky bastards! Didn’t win? Rest easy, knowing these people aren’t eligible to win the next one, and that you can always buy it at Amazon.
Discuss it in our forums.

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