The Least of My Scars

leastmyscarsSerial killer William Colton Hughes is doing quite well with the Bundy model, like a shark never stopping to sleep, moving from hunting ground to hunting ground. He’s not interested in the limelight and lurid spectacle. As he puts it, “if you’ve gone nationwide, you should be ashamed.

“To live on that screen is to die the moment the jackoff on the couch looks away. To really live is to waver at the edge of an open-eyed dream, so that everybody’s always jerking their head around, sure you’re there.”

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Dream of the Serpent

dreamserpentSome horror introduces a fantastic element into everyday life, producing shock and terror out of the intrusion. Some horror, however, simply peels back the skin to expose how close we are to terror at any given moment. Alan Ryker’s DREAM OF THE SERPENT ultimately introduces the possibility of supernatural shenanigans — an inscrutable force from beyond, a secret society behind the veneer of civilization — but its most visceral impact comes from the author’s initial compelling depiction of the consequences of an all-too-recognizable accident.

Cody is a driven business student on the cusp of major changes: He’s the first in his working-class family to be getting a degree; he’s a couple months from marrying his sweetheart; and that marriage opens the door to a big paycheck with the new in-laws’ high-stakes investment firm.

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Code Zero

codezeroFor all the thrills and inventiveness Jonathan Maberry brings to his Joe Ledger series, nothing compares to the unanticipated kick-in-the-head of PATIENT ZERO, the 2009 novel that introduced the character. No doubt that’s why CODE ZERO, this sixth title in the series, proclaims itself “The Sequel.”
But CODE ZERO is not a sequel in the strictest sense of the term. That is, it does not take place immediately or even shortly after that book’s events. The setting is the present day and many of the events of the previous novels are acknowledged. It’s the medically produced monsters from the first novel that reappear and are among the reasons why this latest is the strongest Ledger entry to date.

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Sleeping Bear / A Clockwork Army

sleepingbearSamhain Publishing has developed a nifty strategy for a small outfit: With a strong focus on developing or lesser-known writers, it produces short e-books that give authors a platform to build a fan base and give the audience an economical way to find (and support) new talent. Horror tapas, if you will.

I applaud the effort, and my reaction to two recent works is tempered by the stakes and objectives: It would be worth your time to track these down and sample, even if only to give the house room to keep playing with its experiment. And you are likely to find some degree of satisfaction, although — like any sampler plate — some tastes will be more to your liking than others.

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coldbrookHey, you know what you don’t hear much about? Zombies from other dimensions. Tim Lebbon’s COLDBROOK is here to scratch that itch.

Deep under the Appalachian mountains, a super-safe — really, triple-super-safe — laboratory is home to a gateway to an alternate version of our world. Protections in place zap any living thing that comes on through. But, see, there’s the rub, right? Any living thing. When some tattered undead human shambles through and snacks on a scientist, surely it’s okay, because protocol demands an instant lockdown, closing the lab tight to prevent a spread.

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The Troop

thetroopThe goal of a really good pop mash-up is not to forget that you’ve heard this riff, not to see past the repetition of that particular plot device, not to ignore all the bits stolen from this Stephen King novel or that one. No, some of the pleasure comes from the way the text invites you to revel in your own expertise, sets up a call-and-response with the geeky fan/reader.

With THE TROOP, Nick Cutter (a pseudonym barely even trying to serve as a disguise) puts on that fake, porny name and a confident snarling smile, and takes no pains to cover up the novel’s debt to various predecessors.

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snowblindNew England’s small towns sure do suffer from a surplus of shit going down. If you stick just to Stephen King, you find a map of dysfunctional communities stricken by vampires, aliens, ass weasels, invisible domes. And while his particular impact on the horror genre is acute, King is open about his own influences, from Shirley Jackson to Grace Metalious.

That last reference signals generic conventions beyond the supernatural, tilting toward the soap-operatic. And Christopher Golden’s SNOWBLIND seems more certain in its melodrama than as spookfest, offers more of a new spin through PEYTON PLACE, despite the paranormal plot.

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The Summer Job

summerjobIn the prologue to his latest novel, Adam Cesare sends a very likable — a quickly yet expertly sketched — retired couple wandering into the forest, happening upon a Dionysian campfire party populated by scruffy but polite young people. A bonfire roars and plastic cups filled with a potent alcoholic concoction are tossed back. The older couple first revel in the memories of a youthful energy and release, but as the dancing gets more frenetic and frisky, their pleasure shifts to apprehension.

And then things go south.

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annihilationThe narrator of Jeff VanderMeer’s unsettling, gorgeous ANNIHILATION is part of a four-person team sent into the maw of Area X. Years ago, something happened: A huge swath of seaboard territory (the Southern Reach) was invaded or transformed, all human inhabitants lost or out of contact, a pervasive and perverse strangeness altering the ecology of the place.

The government over the decades since has sent in expedition after expedition. Some of these surveyors disappear. Some return, but are stricken by a strange amnesia, uncertain of what happened or even who they are. The latest team knows some of what came before, although information about prior surveys is restricted — so they know that something happened, something undefinably awful (or awe-ful).

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A Necessary End

anecessaryendIt’s the end of the world as we know it and I’ll blame the flies. A NECESSARY END, a slim novel from co-writers Sarah Pinborough and F. Paul Wilson, brings us a new kind of apocalypse.

When is a plague not a plague? When it’s not actually a disease, but a reaction to some deadly African flies that have gone global. We follow investigative reporter Nigel as he comes home from digging into this deadly epidemic. Once he arrives, he has to deal with his wife, who believes that it’s the reckoning and she is ready for her destiny.

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