James Lowder’s ‘The Corpse’ Stories

In the shadowy underworld of Prohibition-era Chicago, where mobsters run rampant and crime bosses rule the roost, one mysterious vigilante will stand against them. They call him the Corpse, and whether he’s living or dead, man or monster, nobody seems to know.

He appears and disappears like a specter, he leaves grave worms as a calling card, and those who’ve seen him — and survived to tell the tale — report that his tattered cloak and bullet-riddled clothing cover a cadaverous form, his face pallid, his eyes haunted as the eyes of the damned.

His solitary dark crusade against the forces of evil unfolds through several stories by acclaimed editor (and no slouch of an author either) James Lowder.

“King of the Frozen Men” — short story in Sojourn 2

“Orphans of the Air” — short story in Peel Back the Skin

“The Crooked Smile Killers” — novelette in Genius Loci

“The Night Chicago Died” — illustrated novelette in Pulp Zombies

I recently read them all back-to-back, and can say with certainty that these need to be a collection, especially as I’m told there are more stories on the way. They hit all the right notes for me, great characters and action, the wonderful sense of historical accuracy, the angst and pathos, the rough justice of the street.

Moody and broody, atmospheric and gritty, hearkening back to the classic pulps and cliffhangers … if Daredevil had been made like an old-timey radio drama or black-and-white serial, it would be this.

Review — Apologies to the Cat’s Meat Man

I got an early look at this one, and now it’s available for you to experience!


Title: Apologies to the Cat’s Meat Man

Author: Alan M. Clark

Publisher: IFD Publishing

Website: http://www.ifdpublishing.com

Back in August, appropriately enough, I read and reviewed another in the author’s victims-of-Jack-the-Ripper series, A Brutal Chill in August. It blew me away, historical fiction done right, so you’d better believe I was ready for more!

Oh, and if you’re one of those brats saying yeah but they all must be the same because of how they ended, like someone I knew once refused to watch La Bamba because it’d have the same ending as The Buddy Holly Story, well, *raspberries* to you; that’s totally not the point and you know it!

These were real people. With their very own real lives, pasts, hopes, fears, dreams, and feelings. Different people. Individuals with their own stories, who deserve to be remembered as something other than statistics.

Sure, on the surface, there might be similarities between Annie Chapman in this book and Polly Nichols in Brutal Chill – both were underprivileged women of their time, struggling to get by in a difficult world. They had their flaws and weaknesses, they made their mistakes.

In Annie’s case, she was plagued by what we might call ‘being a sensitive soul.’ It’s hard enough even these days to be squeamish and easily upset, in a world with modern hygiene and conveniences. She had troubled relationships with her family and friends, and with alcohol as so many did and still do.

The real horrors of this book have nothing to do with the Ripper and his knife. They have to do with futility and hopelessness, the devastating legacy of realizing you’re becoming just like a loved/hated parent, the desperation, the loss of control.

For me, the most harrowing scenes by far, still haunting me even now as I write this, have to do with the move-along policies directed at the city’s legions of homeless. Not allowed to rest more than a few minutes in any given spot, hundreds take to the streets in an unending, plodding, circular trudge through the long hours of the night. It’s a cruel purgatory, and I couldn’t help thinking that too many places in this day and age still haven’t come very far, in terms of how society treats its least fortunate.

Once again, Clark’s skill shows through in terms of bringing the era and setting and characters to vivid life. Not a feel-good read, not a fun read, but another powerful one, and a stirring memorial for a woman who was more than a mark on a killer’s scoresheet.


Review — Confessions of an English Psychopath

Title: Confessions of an English Psychopath

Author: Jack Strange

Website: https://www.amazon.com/Jack-Strange/e/B01F9Q50RM

That moment when you contact the author to ask who he’d cast as the main character, so as to better help get a mental picture and audible voice in your head … and the author comes back with the answer “Jude Law” and your brain goes *whoof* and your glasses fog up …

Nor does it hurt that the premise is a bit like that absolutely delightful Kingsmen: The Secret Service movie, done with similar British-style cuttingly polite wit. It’s brisk and clever, hilarious even as it’s reprehensible — the guy’s a serial killer, after all, a psychopath just like it says right there in the title.

A psychopath recruited and trained by a clandestine agency to carry out discreet ‘cleaning’ missions; well, naturally he’s a natural. But, one problem with people like that is, they have this thing about rules and authority not applying to them. An operative like Lawrence Odd may be among the best in the department, but he’s also going to push, or outright ignore, boundaries.

Locked doors and secret files within the agency office? Oh, that just won’t do. Company policies against fraternizing socially after hours? As if that’s any reason not to strike up a relationship with an attractive co-worker. As far as Lawrence is concerned, even those who technically may be the boss of him aren’t, well, the boss of him.

The first-person conversational POV really puts the reader right there in his head, which is simultaneously fascinating and uncomfortable. He’s a bad guy, he’s fundamentally bent on some deep human and empathic level, yet, you kinda gotta like him and feel sorry for and root for him. Beyond his surface charm and arrogance, he has an almost childlike bewilderment, as if sincerely perplexed why others just don’t understand.

Times like these are when the bad-guys-vs.-worse-guys thing comes in handy. When Lawrence goes rogue, he has reasons. There’s a certain guilty-pleasure quality to it all, and when you also get to envision Jude Law in the role? *whoof*

Book Review: Behind Her Eyes


Title: Behind Her Eyes

Author: Sarah Pinborough

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Website: http://www.flatironbooks.com

I picked up this book at one of the author’s recent Portland appearances. Knew very little of it beforehand, but I’d been most favorably impressed by everything else of hers I’d read, and people were saying good things, and the whole growing breakthrough best-seller take the world by storm buzz. Besides, signed copy, I’m often a sucker for a signed copy!

Anyway, so, there I was at the reading, and during the Q/A someone mentioned the ending in a “no spoilers but holy wow that ending!” kind of way, which further intrigued me. I dove right in and was instantly engaged, instantly immersed.

The story’s about secrets, and obsession, and love, and betrayal. Louise is recently divorced, doing the working-mom / shared-custody juggling act, which leaves her little time for herself or a social life. When she does meet an interesting guy, he then turns out to be not only married but her new boss, making extra awkwardness all around. To step it up even further, Louise then finds herself becoming friends with his wife … without letting on to either that she knows the other … and the more she gets to know them, the more enmeshed she becomes, the more thoroughly entangled in their the complex turbulence of their marriage.

A situation like this could have the makings of a light-hearted farce or rom-com, one of those hilarious Shakespearean cases of mistaken identities and misunderstandings, where after some tribulations, everything sorts itself out and works out okay. It could, but, this is not that situation. This is a situation of pain, torment, temptation, agonizing choices, troubled pasts, and slowly-unveiling threats of physical danger.

Fascinating stuff, intense human drama, even without the other less-normal elements … the characters are presented so well, so multi-faceted and true … I’d find myself believing and sympathizing with one, then another, then having distrust and second-guessing, then chastising, then rooting for, then wanting to smack them … around and around, just like real people, nothing one-dimensional here.

I was also rolling along feeling fairly smug and pleased with myself because I thought I’d figured it out, I thought I knew what was going on. Oh, pride before the fall! THAT ENDING was a wallop, a rug-pulled-out-from-under. Not an utter shock of an out-of-nowhere blindside; all the clues really had been there … but the way they fit together … it was like one of those optical illusions where you know there’s something, but you don’t see it, but you know it’s there, and then something CLICKS in your brain and THERE IT IS.

Wow. I mean, wow. I mean, I had to drop a note to the author just ALL-CAPS HOLY *BLEEP* to get it out of my system before attempting a serious review. Yet, here I am doing that serious review and I’m still ALL-CAPS HOLY *BLEEP*. My head is full of thunderclap fireworks, just all concussive sonic boom and flash-dazzle afterimages, even now a few days later.

Other reviewers have said, and I add my voice to theirs, READ THIS NOW. NOW NOW NOW. Don’t let anybody spoil it for you. Not only is the read itself a remarkable experience of building and deepening psychological terror, not only is it a vivid and inescapable drawing-in to the twisted dark complexities of emotion and relationships …

THAT ENDING! That wallop! That moment where suddenly, and, as the kids say, you just can’t even. I just couldn’t even. I still can’t even. I mean, I read a lot; I reviewed 120 books last year; I’ve been a reader all my life; I sometimes feel like I’m getting old and jaded … and still. Still. Wow.

I literally (in the literal sense!) had to put it down when I was done and just go walk around for a while, my mind full of those thunderclap fireworks. I was speechless. I was awestruck. If anybody had been there to try and talk to me at that time, all I could’ve done was blink and shake my head and mutely gawp like a goldfish.

Basically, yeah, every good thing anybody’s been saying about this book? Truth. More than worthy of its spot on the best-seller lists. I know it’s only February, but for this NOT to be the best book I read all year, someone is going to have to come up with something pretty damn amazing. The bar has been set way high. Way, way high. Because … wow. Just wow. Thunderclap fireworks, rocked to the core. Wow.

Bonus Reviews!

Not everything I read is a good fit for the HFR, for various reasons … sometimes it’s not technically horror, sometimes it’s a novella or short, sometimes the HFR has already covered a book by the time I get to it. When that happens, I still want the world to know what I think because I’m megalomaniacal that way, so, I bring them here!

Up this week: On the Bricks by Penni Jones, and The Head by Brian Barr!

Title: On the Bricks

Author: Penni Jones

Publisher: Pandamoon Publishing

Website: http://www.pandamoonpublishing.com

I don’t know if “gritty chick-lit” is a thing, or if this would be it if it was, but if it isn’t it should be, and that’s the phrase my mind kept wanting to call it. Because it certainly isn’t your usual yuppie or sassy sex in the city gets her groove back kind of thing … the main character here just finished a ten-stretch for murder, and moves in with her struggling rehab sister who runs a halfway house for juvies, prosties, druggies, and abused women.

But, by similar token, neither is it the hurr-hurr women’s prison cell block hot mamas 70s-style ‘sploitation all for the titillation of the guys. Having still not seen that OitnB show, I can’t say for comparison there, but if the show is tonewise like this book, I should bump it up on my list.

Anyway! Our protagonist, Cass, finally gets parole after serving her time for the murder of her then-boyfriend’s ex-wife. A murder she didn’t commit, but somehow got swept along into taking the fall for. All of a sudden, she’s leaving her cellmate (best friend and more), going back to the real world. Back to a small part of the real world, where plenty of people know her and remember. Not far from where her now-remarried former boyfriend, and the kids Cass had hoped to adopt, still live.

The smart thing to do would be to keep her head down, let the past go, and get on with her life. But it seems fate, with a cruel sense of humor, keeps throwing twists and obstacles in the way. The biggie is that her father left her a big chunk of money, on the condition she prove her innocence.

Gee, thanks Dad. She could really use that inheritance, not least of all to help save the halfway house from foreclosure. How’s she supposed to prove her innocence NOW, when she couldn’t a decade ago? When the people with information are far from inclined to help? When some, in fact, are inclined to stop her nosing around by whatever methods necessary?

Meanwhile, there’s her libido to consider, a problem further impacted by a hunky parole officer and some chance run-ins with her old flame. And there’s her struggles getting along on the outside, where prison social skills don’t go over so well … there’s added responsibility when her sister backslides into bad habits …

Most of all, what this book really does well is depict just how damn complex, complicated, mercurial, contradictory, and convoluted relationships between women can be. How love and hate, contempt and admiration, being willing to go to the mat for someone while also wanting to claw her eyes out, how all these can exist simultaneously.

It’s a solid good read, gripping, well-written, believable even in its moments of incredible frustration (when other characters know stuff, and Cass KNOWS they know stuff, and can’t just grab them and shake until truth-words fall out). Thumbs up, would certainly read more from this author!


Title: The Head

Author: Brian Barr

Website: https://www.amazon.com/Brian-Barr/e/B010Y0MEJU

This one’s a short story all out in the big world on its own, the whimsical adventure of a lady who finds a severed head in the yard … wait, what? Yes, that. A severed head, but it gets weirder. The head is alive, the head can talk, the head belongs to a very nice seeming guy named Bill.

In a sense, it’s a fairy tale; there are elements here of The Frog Prince and of Bluebeard, but through a warped kaleidoscope lens. Whimsical adventure, yes. Love story, even, because once Elizabeth takes Bill’s head home and they chat and talk, well, hey, romance can happen in unconventional ways.

The thing is, though, Bill would rather have their romance happen in somewhat more conventional ways, ways involving the rest of his actual body. That’s where the adventure comes in, the classic fairy tale quest. It may not be a looming castle in the dark wood, it may be a rundown old house at the end of a dirt road, but the effect is much the same.

And, like many fairy tales used to be back in the good old days, that happily-ever-after doesn’t always work out so well for all concerned.

My only problem was a minor matter of copy-edit type nits, homonyms and such that slipped through. But, all in all, an entertaining and fun messed-up little bedtime story!


And don’t forget, you can always find more of what I think over at The Horror Fiction Review!


At the end of 2015, I was feeling pretty pleased with myself for having done 79 reviews over the course of the year. So I decided to try and better that record in 2016. Then, when it looked like I was going to, I decided to might-as-well shoot for 100.

And then, as things do, it ran away with me a little.

Here’s what I reviewed in 2016. This list does not include projects I beta-read or proofed, reading/editing anthology subs, and the couple dozen books I read for research or re-read for personal pleasure along the way.

All that and I wrote some stuff too. That’s a lot of words.

Amazing Punk Stories
Author: David Agranoff

Cut Corners I and II
Publisher: Sinister Grin

The Midnight Creature Feature Picture Show
Author: David C. Hayes

A Town Called Suckhole
Author: David Barbee

I Knocked Up Satan’s Daughter
Author: Carlton Mellick III

The Greatest Fucking Moment In Sports
Author: Kevin L. Donihe

The Traveling Dildo Salesman
Author: Kevin L. Donihe

All Souls Day
Author: Martin Berman-Gorvine

Skullcrack City
Author: Jeremy Robert Johnson

Ghost in the Cogs
Editors: Scott Gable and C. Dombrowski

Author: Ryan Harding and Jason Taverner

Author: David W. Barbee

I Will Rot Without You
Author: Danger Slater

Paper Tigers
Author: Damien Angelica Walters

A Coin for Charon
Author: Dallas Mullican

Monsters Don’t Cry
Author: Shane McKenzie

Tribes of Decay
Author: Michael W. Garza

None So Deaf
Author: Pete Mesling

Live-Action Hentai
Author: Kerry Lipp

Undead Fleshcrave
Author: Jim Goforth

Texas Chainsaw Mantis
Author: Kevin Strange

Rock ‘n’ Roll Head Case
Author: Lee Widener

Tomorrow’s Cthulhu
Editors: Scott Gable and C. Dombrowski

Author: Adam Cesare

The House That Death Built
Author: Michaelbrent Collings

The Complex
Author: Brian Keene

Mister White
Author: John C. Foster

Sacrificing Virgins
Author: John Everson

Every Time We Meet At The Dairy Queen Your Whole Fucking Face Explodes
Author: Carlton Mellick III

The Specimen
Author: Pete Kahle

Wind Chill
Author: Patrick Rutigliano

The Death House
Author: Sarah Pinborough

Black Creek
Author: Gregory Lamberson

We Are Wormwood
Author: Autumn Christian

Blurring the Line
Editor: Marty Young

Alien Smut Peddlers from the Future
Author: Kent Hill

Header 3
Author: Ryan Harding and Edward Lee

Things Slip Through
Author: Kevin Lucia

Dreams of Ivory and Gold
Author: Kirk Dougal

Author: Karl Fischer

Bone Meal Broth
Author: Adam Cesare

Author: Kevin Strange

Wasteland Gods
Author: Jonathan Woodrow

Governor of the Homeless
Author: G. Arthur Brown

The Sanguinarian Id
Author: L.M. Labat

Ritualistic Human Sacrifice
Author: C.V. Hunt

Mayan Blue
Authors: Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason

Not Safe For Kids
Author: Kevin Shamel

DOA I and II
Publisher: Blood Bound Books

Into the Mist
Author: Lee Murray

When We Were 8
Author: Catt Dahman

Stale Reality
Author: John Urbancik

Eldren: The Book of the Dark
Author: William Meikle

Lost Signals
Editor: Max Booth III and Lori Michelle

Author: M.P. Johnson

Author: Ray Garton

Author: John McIlveen

I Am Providence
Author: Nick Mamatas

Long December
Author: Richard Chizmar

Editor: Rhonda Parrish

The Buddy System
Author: Brian Keene

Every Kingdom Divided
Author: Stephen Kozeniewski

Puppet Skin
Author: Danger Slater

A Brutal Chill in August
Author: Alan M. Clark

Exercise Bike
Author: Carlton Mellick III

Sword Chronicles I and II
Author: Michaelbrent Collings

Eternal Frankenstein
Editor: Ross E. Lockhart

The Terminal
Author: Amber Fallon

Author: Dani Brown

Cotton Candy
Author: Kevin Strange

Morbid Metamorphosis
Editor: Robert Nelson

Prince of Nightmares
Author: John McNee

Author: Paul Feeney

The Nightmare Project
Author: Jo-Anne Russell

Mother Fucking Black Skull of Death
Author: Matthew Vaughn

Through a Mirror Darkly
Author: Kevin Lucia

Rejected for Content 3 and 4
Editor: Jim Goforth

Stuff That
Author: Adam Millard

A Wind of Knives
Author: Ed Kurtz

Author: Peter Rawlik

With Tooth and Claw
Author: Jim Goforth

Celebrity Chef Zombie Apocalypse
Author: Jack Strange

The Forty-Two
Author: Ed Kurtz

Bad Apples 3
Publisher: Corpus Press

Oedipus Aroused
Author: Robert Devereaux

I Miss The World
Author: Violet LeVoit

Pretty Pretty Princess
Author: Shane McKenzie

Chasing Ghosts
Author: Glenn Rolfe

Silent Screams
Editor: Josh Strnad

Halloween Orgy Massacre
Author: Jeff O’Brien

Dinosaur Valley
Author: K.H. Koehler

Ghost Light Road
Author: Adam Light

Angel in the Abyss
Author: Ed Kurtz

Author: Adam Millard

Starr Creek
Author: Nathan Carson

Author: Ed Kurtz

Six Scary Stories
Publisher: Cemetery Dance

Island Red
Author: Matt Serafini

Author: Ed Kurtz

Body Art
Author: Kristopher Triana

Author: Lucas Magnum

Lake Lurkers
Author: M.P. Johnson

Bacon Fried Bastard
Author: David W. Barbee

Shit Luck
Author: Tiffany Scandal

The Terrible Thing That Happened
Author: Carlton Mellick III

Island of the Super-People
Author: Kevin Shamel

Author: Jack Strange

Tall Tales With Short Cocks Vol. 5
Editor: G. Arthur Brown

The Rib From Which I Remake the World
Author: Ed Kurtz

Nests: A Post-Apocalyptic Thriller
Author: Barry Napier

Celebrity Culture
Author: Duncan Bradshaw

Author: Ed Erdelac

Bonespin Slipspace
Author: Leo X. Robertson

almost insentient. almost divine
Author: d.p. watt

Death Confetti
Author: Jennifer Robin

Author: Rich Hawkins

Author: Nate Southard

Dark Reaches
Author: Shaun Meeks

Hopeless, One-Way Ticket, Dead and Buried, Devil Inside, Burnt Offerings (book bundle)
Author: William Cook

Final batch for the year!

With four hours (my time zone) to go before midnight, my wonderful tech-support roomie was finally able to recover enough stuff from my old laptop to get back my stranded reviews!

So, here to finish out 2016, my looks at:

almost insentient, almost divine by d.p. watt

Death Confetti by Jennifer Robin

Scavengers by Rich Hawkins and Scavengers by Nate Southard in a same-title head-to-head!

Dark Reaches by Shaun Meeks

and a William Cook book-bundle!


Title: almost insentient, almost divine

Author: d.p. watt

Publisher: Undertow Publications

Website: http://www.undertowbooks.com

My first impression upon opening the envelope was “damn, this is a beautiful book!” For presentation alone, artistry and production value and design, it had major points in its favor before I even began to read.

Then I began to read, and found the contents to be equally, if not more, artistic and stunning. Now, I do review a lot of (and I say this with affection) schlock, grossness, nastiness, and trash … but I can also very much appreciate the literary delicacies, the fine and intricate examples of the craft. That’s what you get in ‘almost insentient, almost divine.’

The writing simultaneously has an old-fashioned feel and a modern freshness. It’s clean and clear and gorgeous, the kind of thing that in another author’s hands might come off as cloying or pretentious but here is satin-smooth. I read with equal parts fascination and admiration, with touches of “ooh I wish I’d done that” envy.

The stories themselves span several eras, with subtle undertones and interconnections particularly in the form of a disturbing puppet-figure. Some are hauntingly poetic, some the kind of nightmares in which you can’t say for sure just what was the scary part but the overall effect is deeply chilling.

I am not a fan of the term ‘literary horror,’ and calling it ‘highbrow horror’ seems even worse. But this is the kind of horror I could see someone really elegant and classy – my idol Dame Maggie, for instance – enjoying with her tea.

So, yes, top kudos to d.p. watt and everyone at Undertow for putting together a truly exquisite, breathtaking piece of work.


Title: Death Confetti

Author: Jennifer Robin

Publisher: Feral House

Website: feralhouse.com

I am not sure how to categorize this book, and find that to be somehow eerily fitting. Because I’ve met Jennifer Robin. I’ve seen her perform. As a writer, an artist, and an entire person, she simply defies categorization. Is it any wonder her book would be the same?

The subheader reads: Pickers, Punks, and Transit Ghosts in Portland, Oregon. While I haven’t been a Portland resident long myself, so far what I have seen of it and what I’ve heard of its ‘essence of distilled weirdness’ reputation certainly seems to fit the tales appearing herein.

It is a look not at but into and through the peculiar angles of a peculiar city. But it’s more. There are elements that seem fictional, that seem as if they MUST be fictional … or are they? And elements that have to be non-fiction, or are they either? It’s an autobiography of a life both rich and twisted, intersecting like the junctures of a million spiderwebs with a million other such rich-twisted lives.

Does that help? I don’t know. But it’s good. Really good. Profound and piercing, lovely and sad. You feel for these people, these shapes and shadows and snippets of city life. You feel for the author, and for her mother, and wonder what in the world her mother would make of the revelations in these pages.

And the thing is, as brilliantly written (such a deft turn of phrase this woman has!), as cutting and concise and decadent the prose, it still barely holds a candle to the live readings, the performances. If you ever get a chance, do not pass it up.

On a tangential note, dang am I dowdy and sheltered … what a fantastic journey through experiences to which I wouldn’t even dream to aspire! I recommend reading it, though in smaller spread-out doses – the structure of the book, a series of mostly-brief vignettes, lends itself well to that – because these are provocative word-morsels to ponder and savor.


Title: Scavengers

Author: Rich Hawkins

Website: http://richwhawkins.blogspot.co.uk/

A weekend getaway with some people your wife knows from work … her bosses, in fact, with their toddler in tow … isn’t exactly Ray’s idea of a good time. He doesn’t know them. As a part-time store stocker and struggling novelist, he doesn’t have much in common with their more professional lifestyle.

As a couple who’ve been facing fertility struggles, being around someone else’s kids isn’t the most comfortable scenario, either. Not that little Molly is all THAT bad, but then, it turns out little Molly isn’t the one they’ll have to worry about.

The first sign of trouble is an abandoned car slewed across the road, and what bursts from the woods when Ray and Tim go to investigate. Ray’s no sooner found a lost toy in a puddle when the attack comes.

Needless to say, the vacation doesn’t exactly happen as planned. It’s death and carnage, a village with a secret, an adrenaline rush with a few sharp surprises, twists and turns and shocks along the way.


Title: Scavengers

Author: Nate Southard

Publisher: Sinister Grin Press

Website: http://www.sinistergrin.com

A lot of people think that, in event of zombie apocalypse, they’d be the gritty hardcase tough types, doing the epic cross-country journeys, racking up impressive headshot body counts and facing down rival enclaves of fellow survivors.

Here’s a book about the more realistic side of things, in which even a simple supply run can be a deadly fustercluck start to finish.

That’s the situation in the tiny town of Millwood, living population only a few hundred. Even though only a handful of refugees have come in, food is scarce and they know they’ll need more to get by. There’s a supermarket in neighboring Rundburg … population far higher and decidedly NOT living.

But someone’s got to try, so all the menfolks get their names put in for a lottery to accompany a couple of the town leaders on a desperate mission to see what they can scrounge. Nobody’s happy about the results, from the women who think they should be as eligible as anyone, to the mother whose teenage son is selected, to, of course, the teenager himself

Nor are Blake, who doesn’t want to leave his girlfriend behind, or Chris, who isn’t even from here and doesn’t see why he should have to risk his life for a bunch of hicks and rednecks. They are not the makings of a great team. They can barely get along with each other for a brief truck ride, let alone when the real trouble starts.

It makes for kind of a grim read, insane amounts of risk for very little prospect of reward, and lots of gore and terror and carnage. We get glimpses of the outbreak and events-leading-up, backstory via flashbacks and such, bits of the politics … but the main focus really is on this single outing, and its costs.


Title: Dark Reaches

Author: Shaun Meeks

Publisher: Inherit Press

One of the stories in this collection, I’d seen before in an anthology and managed to successfully block from my traumatized memory until I spotted my own words from the review in the front ‘Praise For’ section.

Then it all came crashing back in full flinchworthy squicking eeeeeeek. You’ll forgive me, I hope, if I wussily gloss over mentioning “Taut” this time around. Eeeeek. The hooks.

Moving on! Please. Moving on. So! Other stories! Of which, there are many … and as promised in the title, they reach to some pretty dark places. There’s a lot of death here, and a lot of undeath, and a few different flavors of the end of the world.

I found “Dreams of a Dead Man” extra-enjoyable because way long ago, my first pro sale was a zombie story called “Dawn of the Living-Impaired” about zombie rights and social activism; this could have been the same world, from another, grimmer, more tragic point of view.

But if you prefer your zombies nastier, you can find the full horror of war in “The Soldier,” and the depths of human perversion and depravity in “Body Bag.”

“Give Me Convenience” is a fun, gory little romp, a bloodbath disaster in microcosm … while “The Cleansing” presents the repercussions of a full-scale breakdown of civilization. “Mommy’s Little Demon” turns out to be far from the wry twist on Rosemary’s Baby I expected, and “Family Lessons” is its own kind of agonizing.

And those are only a few of the offerings. You’ll also get a story from the author’s “Dillon, the Monster Dick” detective series, and possibly even a bonus icky surprise lurking like the post-credits scene at the movies.


Title: William Cook Book Bundle – Hopeless, One Way Ticket, Dead and Buried, Devil Inside, Burnt Offerings

Author: William Cook

Publisher: King Billy Publications

Website: http://williamcookwriter.com

This bundle isn’t published as a single volume, or at least hadn’t been at the point I read them … these are five different books.

But I read them all back-to-back (times five), so it’s kind of like a collection, hey why not! We’ve got variety here, ranging from the more mundane-but-monstrous horrors of humanity to full-on living nightmares of the paranormal.

“One Way Ticket” is very much in the latter category, with a sins-of-the-past / small-scale-southern-gothicy feel, as a man whose family history catches up with him in the form of a diabolical railroad. The descriptions and atmosphere throughout the story are beautifully done, beautiful in their hideousness sometimes. My definite favorite of the bunch.

“Dead and Buried” starts off with a dismal domestic situation (poverty, alcoholism, abandonment, abuse), then adds violent schoolboy bullying, then gets even worse from there. Similar themes are visited in “Hopeless,” when a little girl just wants Daddy to stop hurting Mummy, no matter what it takes … and in “Devil Inside,” which features a boy whose fears of what lurks in his dark room become even greater … and “Burnt Offerings,” as a violated teen craves revenge on her stepfather.

Those are the feature presentations; among the bonuses are some additional short stories such as the eerily lovely “Anomalous Perigee” and a sordid karmic comeuppance in “Conceived by Death,” some really chilling poetry, enlightening author interviews, and an excerpt from the full-length serial-killer novel “Blood Related.”

All together, they make rather grim reading, kind of a marathon of mistreated kids. Maybe that’s partly why the train one was my favorite, not only for the terrific descriptions but as an escape into the more otherworldly from the too-close-to-real.