Review Summer — Week 4

Up this week, reviews of Berzerkoids by M.P. Johnson and Vortex by Ray Garton!

Title: Berzerkoids
Author: M.P. Johnson
Publisher: Bizarro Pulp Press

Warning label on the front – though not a choking hazard, I notice – “collect ‘em all” on the back, cover art to resemble tacky-fun toy packaging, and of course lots of GROSS! SLIMY! little monsters … how can anybody resist?

Heck, I think I still have some of these kinds of toys stored somewhere in my stuff (1). Bright neon blue/pink/orange/green, that rubbery plastic, a menagerie of grotesqueries right out of cartoon marketing department nightmares. Not actual Berzerkoids, sadly, but I’d buy those if I could.

This book is the literary equivalent of getting a whole case of blind packs, and tearing them open in a gluttonous chortling binge of glee. You know each one will be a different, unique, wonderfully horrific experience … disturbing, even damaging, but oh-so-addictive.

A scan of the table of contents alone is brain-bending. “The Final Failure of a Professional Small Animal Inside-Outer.” “I Summoned a Demon with a Vagina Mouth.” “Looking Fab and Fighting Scabs.” “I Think I’ll Donate this Severed Head to the Salvation Army.” Those are titles, a sampling of story titles, just the TITLES. The stories more than do them justice.

You will find vengeful teddy bears, alien time travel, drag queens, sharks, severed fingers and diabolical manicures, punks, bugs, and of course, plenty of Berzerkoids. It’s every bit as wacky and weird as anybody could want, and then some.


Title: Vortex
Author: Ray Garton

You know how some new show will do a really cool two-hour pilot episode and then have to see if it gets picked up by the network? That’s the feeling I had when I finished this book. I’m ready to binge-watch the entire first season right now.

Only, there isn’t one, and that is maddening to the point of tooth-grinding frustration. I want more. Everybody, go get this book, read it, and we’ll arrange some sort of peer pressure push-mob, or … do the Annie Wilkes thing … something!

Well but gee, Christine, you might be asking, what’s the fuss? What’s it all about? I’m glad you asked. See, Ray Garton’s a Northern California writer, by which I mean the actual northern end of the state, not the middle. This time, he’s giving some sinister loving attention to the Mt. Shasta region.

The story begins when a simple homebody finds what at first appears to be a lost or feral child, but isn’t. Soon, shady agencies are involved, the place is crawling with secrets, locals are behaving strangely, and operatives keep bringing in other, actual children … many of whom are never seen again.

Enter our intrepid investigators of the weird, Karen Moffat and Gavin Keoph, veterans of previous books. Veterans of vampire and werewolf encounters, so, you know they consider themselves fairly savvy and ready for anything. They’re hired to surreptitiously check out whatever’s going on, but surreptitious doesn’t last long when they land in the thick of it.

The book has strong Koontzian-in-a-good-way elements, with precocious kids and hidden truths (missing only the saintly dog and overblown prose-bloat, really), and also reminded me of the one Patterson book I most enjoyed.

It’s fast-paced and exciting, rolls right along, doesn’t let up, hints at layers and layers of tantalizing other-story – I want to know more about Pyk, I want to know more about Penny, I want to know more about the Academy, I want more!


(1) — found ’em! monsters

Coming up next week, reviews of Hannawhere and I Am Providence.