Wednesday, 5 September 2018

The Best Laid Plans...

I’d hoped to post a review of each of the books I’d read as a result of their mention in the essential Paperbacks from Hell, but after doing four, life got in the way. To catch up, here are some capsule reviews.

by Sandra Scoppettone
I really liked this book in which a schizophrenic son turns on his family. Varied characters, each with their own storyline, all headed off in their own directions until orders from SOLA take the Christmas holiday in the wrong direction. Some surprises during its climax, and well worth reading. 

by Thomas Tryon
The author of The Other turns his attentions to a small New England town that operates according to ye olde principles. A fine novel that would make a good companion piece/counterbalance to The Stepford Wives.

by Gene Thompson
I had this “evil kid” book when I was an evil kid, and to be honest, I only read the sex and violence bits back then. Reading the whole thing as an adult, I found it entertaining but silly, and the main character is irritating, coming across as wishing washy and whinny. Her husband also does a 180 part way through the novel that feels beyond forced. A decent time waster, but not a particularly good book.

by Andrew Neiderman
The author of Pin torments a family when their brainy daughter decides to use them as a behavioural science experiment. Creepy and recommended. 

by Joan Samson
Based on its positive reviews I had high hopes for this one, but I found it a slog. An auctioneer rolls into town and starts taking more than what is reasonable from the locals. I liked the premise, but I was so frustrated by everyone’s refusal to act that it lost me. Because this book has so many fans I recommend that people give it a go and make up their own minds.

by Elizabeth Engstrom
The version I read contained two Engstrom novellas, the titular story and Beauty is…. I loved them both. Darkness centres around a pregnant teenager who is trapped underground and the aftermath of her plight, while Beauty tells the story of an intellectually challenged woman with a facial disfigurement who begins to develop her intellect. What really struck me in both stories is that the true horror is found in the way the people around both women react to them.  

by Ken Greenhall
A fan of Greenhall’s Elizabeth, I was looking forward to his follow up Hell Hound. It wasn’t a disappointment. Hell Hound tells the story of a psychopathic bull terrier - from the dog’s perspective - who makes his way from owner to owner until he meets his teenage equivalent. A terrific novel.

by Anne Rivers Siddons
Nicely crafted novel about a cursed(?) house that is built next door to the home of Colquitt Kennedy and her husband, Walter. Lots of surprises and tension as the next-door neighbours come and go. Recommended.

by Graham Masterton
In this novel by the author of The Manitou, a traveling food critic attempts to bond with his distant teenage son by taking him on the road with him. A series of really unsettling surprises awaits them, including a well-connected cult of cannibals. Some silly bits don’t diminish its impact.   

by L.A. Morse
Based on the infamous and perhaps only fictional 16th century Scottish cave-dwelling cannibal family of Sawney Beane, this thin novel is a fast read that unfolds likes a list of depravities. Though reading it doesn’t make you feel like a pervert like reading Eat Them Alive does, whether or not you should get your mitts on a copy depends on how much the subject matter fascinates you. To that end… I read it. The Sawney Beane legend was reportedly the inspiration behind Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes. 

by James Herbert
Not to be confused with John Carpenter’s flick of the same name, this UK-set novel by the best-selling author of The Rats revolves around a government-devised gas that is released from the earth and leaves a trail of unfortunate and insane vapor-huffers in its path. A scramble to contain the fog and find an antidote for its effects ensues. Enjoyable, with a couple of truly gruesome set pieces, but I recommend the aforementioned rabid rodent book over this one. 

by Kathe Koja
Short on plot, but tall on character, atmosphere and dread, The Cipher is a beautifully written novel about a hole that appears in the floor of an apartment building’s unused storage room, and the metaphysical transformations that occur when objects descend into it. Not only that, but what are the conditions necessary for these transformations to take place? At times this debut novel from Koja, which perfectly captures a certain kind of 1990s slacker lifestyle, reads like modern poetry, and I mean that in a good way. Recommended.     

Friday, 2 February 2018

From the Pages of Paperbacks from Hell: Elizabeth

Author: Ken Greenhall, Year: 1976

Elizabeth was the first Paperbacks from Hell mention I read that was really something special. I had enjoyed Smart as the Devil and Rooftops – they are the kind of books I was there for – but this was something else. A terse novel (I like ‘em that way) at 127 pages, this only means that author Greenhall is precise in his storytelling, seeming to choose his words carefully.

In telling the story of a fourteen-year-old girl who may be the recipient of some supernatural life coaching via an image in a full-length mirror (then again, she may just be your average teenaged psychopath), Elizabeth is creepy more so for what it hints at than it is for what it states explicitly.

After her parents die in an accident (maybe), Elizabeth moves in with some relatives and discovers the aforementioned mirror that reflects the image of Frances, a long-dead witch. Soon, the family's dealing with almost as much illegal sex as they are tragedies.

As I have never been a fan of the “haunted mirror” trope, I’m happy to report that it’s merely a device here, a means to an end. Much of the story is revealed through the inner thoughts of its main character, and Greenhall does an outstanding job of bringing us into Elizabeth’s head.

It’s that story that Elizabeth and Greenhall have to tell here, as well as the way in which the author tells it, that makes a lasting impression, and it’s a shame that the late Greenhall hasn’t received more recognition before now. Thanks to re-prints of this and others of his works from Valancourt Books, however, all of that could be rectified. 


Tuesday, 23 January 2018

From the Pages of Paperbacks from Hell: Rooftops

Author: Tom Lewis, Year: 1981

The lurid promise of a psychopath stalking kids in NYC and leaving their corpses on rooftops was what lured me to this book. What I got, rather than a straight forward psycho-on-the-loose story, was more of a focus on a young, idealistic cop trying to catch the killer before his next mess, falling in love, and confronting a terrorist bloc, as well as the corrupt forces that arm them for a fee. Turns out, the book is all the better for it.

A fast read with more than enough surprises to keep the reader engaged, author Tom Lewis also gives enough depth to each victim to create impact, and he populates the book with people – Black, Puerto Rican – that are still underrepresented in genre fiction today. Worth seeking out.