The Bughouse Affair

bughouseaffairMarcia Muller and Bill Pronzini, husband and wife, are well-known to every mystery reader. Their prolific body of work as individual authors and a smaller body of work written as a team, all display a smooth storytelling style, an attention to detail when it comes to characters, and a brisk pacing that moves the plot along without a lot of confusing red herrings or complications.

THE BUGHOUSE AFFAIR is the first in a new series set in San Francisco in the 1890s. The protagonists, Sabina Carpenter and John Quincannon, are partners in a private detective agency, and while Quincannon would like the partnership to be even more intimate, Carpenter prefers to keep the relationship on a professional level.

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Broken Monsters

brokenmonstersSince the publication of her debut novel, MOXYLAND (2010), South African-based author Lauren Beukes has established an acclaimed reputation for melding science fiction elements with other genres – most notably in THE SHINING GIRLS, a novel about a time-traveling serial killer published earlier this year.
 
The driving element in BROKEN MONSTERS, Beukes’s latest, is strikingly less science fiction and more horror. But rather than the supernatural, it is instead the horror humans inflict upon each other when our minds are controlled by a different and more urgent reality. While the narrative structure often works against itself, leaving as many questions unanswered as resolved, it is one of the most disturbing and unforgettable thrillers you’ll read this year.

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The Three

threeWhen you’ve swallowed as many horror novels as I have, you grow so familiar with the varied ingredients used that you tend to focus on a given author’s particular craft in cooking and presenting the same old meal, or get excited by the occasional flourish of a new spice (even if the dish hasn’t been fundamentally altered).

It’s that rare day when someone sets a plate in front of you and in a flash of excitement you realize how wholly unfamiliar the experience is. And when that novel is not just novel but staggeringly good, you want the meal to never end, and you want to call all of your fellow diners to bark that they have just got to try this.

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Whom the Gods Would Destroy

whomgodsDamien’s first strong memory recalls his mother dragging he and his half-brother, Cameron, to a remote forested location. She yelled at him to stay put, handcuffing him to the wheel of the car as she and Cameron walked off together. Damien’s envy and repulsion lock into place at this moment and underscore his narration throughout Brian Hodge’s tense novella. Who is this monstrous woman? And how does a child expressly exiled from familial love find his place in the universe?

WHOM THE GODS WOULD DESTROY, a finalist for the Shirley Jackson award for best novella, complicates that existential angst with echoes of Lovecraft, as Damien’s sense of otherness in his own home is complemented by an increasing dread about what Others might be lurking just beyond our consciousness, trying to find their way in. His first memory ends with him slipping the shackles and wandering into a glade to find his mother and brother circling a man lashed to a tree, the stars wheeling overhead.

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Lovecraft’s Monsters

lovecraftmonstersYou’re probably thinking: “What? Another Lovecraft-inspired story collection?” Indeed it seems every year brings more collections of original and reprinted stories demonstrating H. P. Lovecraft’s enduring inspiration and influence on horror authors.

So what distinguishes LOVECRAFT’S MONSTERS? Well, for one thing, it’s edited by Ellen Datlow, one of the most knowledgeable, prolific and reliable genre anthologists working today. Then there’s the overall approach which, as the title indicates, focuses on Lovecraft’s monsters rather than the larger view of his created mythos. And finally, it’s beautifully illustrated too.

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I Remember You

irememberyouYrsa Sigurdardottir has a day job as a civil engineer, a professional background that seems surprising for a best-selling author of procedural mysteries. And it’s not often that a successful crime writer will shift gears from a popular series to test-drive — with a confidence well-earned — a stand-alone ghost story.

But Sigurdardottir’s background should clue you in to the great strength of the gripping I REMEMBER YOU: This novel has a plot structure tooled with a rigorous, even ruthless clockwork precision that snaps like a bear trap and, chapter by chapter, ratchets up the anxiety and fear.

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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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