backlashBACKLASH is the second Lynda La Plante novel I’ve read starring Detective Chief Inspector Anna Travis. The Travis series extends to nine novels of which BACKLASH is the eighth, and I could definitely see these making a fine collection for the aficionado of the police procedural.

The book, almost 500 pages in length, takes on the story of one Henry Oates, a man arrested for driving erratically. When the cops look in his van, they are surprised and mortified to find a young woman, raped, murdered, and wrapped in black plastic bin liners. The author then takes us, grueling step-by-step, through the methods used by police to not only confirm that Oates killed this woman, but that he has been a serial killer, connecting him to body after body of missing persons.

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Italian Gothic Horror Films, 1957-1969

italiangothicHaving written the so-far-definitive book on Eurocrime with 2013’s ITALIAN CRIME FILMOGRAPHY, film critic Roberto Curti sticks within Italy’s borders — and the McFarland publishing family — to deliver ITALIAN GOTHIC HORROR FILMS, 1957-1969. And damned if it isn’t the best book I’ve read on that subgenre, too, despite being much smaller in physical size and page count.

As with that book, Curti tackles the titles individually, year by year, from ’57’s I VAMPIRI, arguably the boot-shaped country’s first horror film, to the takeover of the giallo. Before doing so, however, his preface serves to break down Italian Gothic’s 10 key elements. The man clearly knows his stuff — and not just because he’s one of the few writers who actually spells Edgar Allan Poe’s middle name correctly, although that certainly goes a long way in credibility.

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The Solitary House

solitaryhouseThere is a certain … heftiness to Lynn Shepherd’s THE SOLITARY HOUSE, the second in her series of Victorian-era mysteries featuring an early private detective named Charles Maddox. Shepherd is an absolute master of the descriptive paragraph. Her thick and chewy discussions of the filth and squalor of urban London makes you actually feel the dirt, the rot, the rancidity of the town’s most dark and dank alleyways and hovels. And she does this without making these paragraphs too ponderous or purple, which is a difficult thing to do.

In this work, Charles Maddox is hired by a very powerful lawyer to ascertain who has been sending threatening letters to an equally powerful financial baron. Through clever legwork, Maddox finds out the name of the letter writer. Then, he discovers the very next day, the letter writer, and eleven other completely innocent people who happened to live in his boarding house, have been murdered through the act of arson.

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The Affinities

affinitiesThere are no extraterrestrial aliens in science fiction author Robert Charles Wilson’s latest novel, THE AFFINITIES. The conflict and threats in this story are created by and carried out entirely by humans.
But that doesn’t make the novel any less compelling or startling. It is, in fact, as classically science fiction as any aliens-versus-Earthlings story, and probably the most thought-provoking and unsettling work Wilson has yet produced.

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unleashedDavid Rosenfelt’s UNLEASHED is the eleventh entry in the series featuring lawyer Andy Carpenter and the various dogs that inhabit his life. Coupling a wry, sarcastic sense of humor with courtroom drama and throwing in a dollop of violence serves as the hallmark of the series, and it’s certainly in evidence here.

Andy’s longtime accountant and computer hacker friend Sam Willis tells Andy that a certain friend of his is in need of a criminal lawyer. Sam goes to visit this friend but is delayed because he accidentally hit a dog on the road. After arranging care for the dog, Sam finds that his friend has already left on a plane trip and Sam has missed the chance to accompany him. Good thing. He finds out later that the plane crashed, killing the man. Maybe hitting that dog on the road saved Sam’s life.

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Strip for Murder

stripformurderdoverComic-strip syndicate house detective Jack Starr is back in STRIP FOR MURDER, Max Allan Collins’ follow-up to the enjoyable old-school mystery A KILLING IN COMICS.

That 2007 whodunit was set in the world of comic books, while this one sets its sights on comic strips. Who knew the Sunday funnies were such serious business? I’m guessing Dover Publications, which has reissued the 2008 STRIP in a sturdier paperback edition with a less cartoony cover and under the banner of “Dover Mystery Classics.”

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The Keepers of the Library

keeperslibraryThe weirdness. The mysticism. The End of Days. Let’s hope there are no Knights Templar in Glenn Cooper’s THE KEEPERS OF THE LIBRARY, a terribly ridiculous but fairly readable potentially apocalyptic thriller that should appeal to the Dan Brown crowd. Here’s the premise: it’s the year 2026 but everyone is waiting for the date of February 9, 2027, 394 days away.

Why? Because in the year 777, a child started writing down the names, dates of birth and dates of death of everyone in the entire world. A monastery took him in, recruited women to breed with him and their progeny, and all of them kept writing down names and death dates twenty-four hours a day. Needless to say, the dates were always correct. Until.

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Death and the Olive Grove

deatholiveMarco Vichi’s DEATH AND THE OLIVE GROVE is one in a series featuring Inspector Bordelli of the Florence, Italy police force. There are at least five books all told, all of which seem to be translated by Stephen Sartarelli.

Author and translator work together smoothly to provide a fascinating, somewhat sad and drab, depiction of the Florentine setting in the 1960s, but also there’s a strong counterbalance of the vibrancy and emotion of the life-loving Italians who live within the book’s pages.

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The Dread of Difference: Gender and the Horror Film — Second Edition

dreaddifferenceWhen ALIENS was days away from hitting theaters in the summer of 1986, I distinctly remember reading a piece about it in ROLLING STONE. In particular, I recall a reference to the original ALIEN’s Nostromo ship designed as vaginal, while the creature was a phallus.

How this oddball kernel of film theory snuck in such a mainstream mag escapes me, but it struck me as odd: something I had never thought about before and something that has stuck with me ever since. I was pleased to see the subject merits its own chapter — plus half of another among a full 23 — in the University of Texas Press’ second-edition release of THE DREAD OF DIFFERENCE: GENDER AND THE HORROR FILM, edited by Barry Keith Grant.

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positiveWhy, you might wonder, would horror author David Wellington write another novel about zombies? After all, he dealt with zombies in his MONSTER ISLAND trilogy in the mid 2000s — long before they became the most popular subject of horror fiction. Then he reminded us how fascinating – and truly frightening – vampires are in his Laura Claxton series (starting with 13 BULLETS), and even resurrected the long-neglected subject of werewolves in a few novels after that (FROSTBITE and OVERWINTER).

So why zombies again? Probably because it occurred to Wellington how few novels are told from the perspective of someone who has no memory of life before the “Zombie Apocalypse.” That’s what sets POSITIVE, his latest, apart from the shelf full of zombie novels.

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