Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Buckingham Palace Gardens, by Anne Perry

(hb; 2008: twenty-fifth book in the Charlotte & Thomas Pitt series)

From the inside flap:

"The Prince of Wales has asked four wealthy entrepeneurs and their elegant wives to the palace to discuss a fantastic idea: the construction of a six-thousand-mile railroad that would stretch the full length of Africa. But alas, the prince's gathering proves disastrous when the mutilated boyd of a prostitute hired for a late-night frolic (after the wives have retired to bed) turns up among the queen's monogrammed sheets in a palace linen closet.

"With great haste, Thomas Pitt, brilliant mainstay of Special Services, is summoned to resolve the crisis. The Pitts' cockney maid, Gracie, is also recruited -- to pose as a palace servant and listen in on the guests' conversations, scan their bedrooms, and scrutinize their troubled faces for clues to hidden rivalries and attachments that could have led to murder. If Pitt and Gracie fail to find out who brutally murdered the young woman -- as seems increasingly likely -- Pitt's career will be over, and the scandal may just cause the monarchy to fall..."

Review:

Good entry in the Charlotte & Thomas Pitt series. Perry skillfully weaves most of the series' key characters (at least peripherally) into the storyline, though the set-up for the murders [and by extension, the identity of the killer(s)] are somewhat obvious.

It's not for the lack of feasible suspects, or red herrings: it's simply that, as an ongoing Perry reader, I was able to spot her plot set-up.

The denouement, quietly dramatic and ripe with future-novel animosities and twists, is a stunner.

Check this series out!

Followed by Treason at Lisson Grove.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Manitou by Graham Masterton

(pb; 1975, 1976: first book in The Manitou series)


From the back cover:

"For Karen Tandy the terror is over. Her wracked and spent body lies on the abandoned floor of a Manhattan hospital. A strange sac-like growth hangs limply from her back, a discarded cocoon.

"The lights are out in this part of Sisters of Jerusalem. The area is blanketed by a dense, icy fog. Somewhere within this murky black shroud lurks a terrible Indian spirit, born from the shriveled remains of innocent youth, returned to avenge the lost souls of his red brethren.

"For Dr. Hughes, Harry Erskine, and Singing Rock, the terror has just begun. These disparate souls, one a healer, one a trickster, and the third a shaman, will need all their wit and courage to combat four centuries of Indian sorcery. The life of Karen Tandy has not sated the Manitou's bloodthirst for revenge: he will make the streets of New York run red.

"Can modern technology defeat the black forces of ancient Indian magic?"


Review:

Tightly-plotted, unequivocal, recreative horror novel. The characters are at once familiar and idiosyncratic (especially Harry Erskine); the story moves fast, at a no-frills clip, leavened with casual, character-true facetiae.

The open-ended finish reads like real-life, given the characters involved (e.g., Misquamacus, the titular manitou, who's really powerful, magically-speaking).

Great b-movie novel -- worth your time, this.

Followed by The Djinn.

#

The Manitou was released stateside as a film on January 24, 1979. Tony Curtis played Harry Erskine. Michael Ansara played John Singing Rock. Susan Strasberg played Karen Tandy. Stella Stevens played Amelia Crusoe. Jon Cedar played Dr. Jack Hughes. Ann Sothern played Mrs. Karmann. Burgess Meredith played Dr. Snow.

The film's screenplay was co-authored by Manitou-director William Girdler, Jon Cedar (who played Dr. Jack Hughes), and Thomas Pope.


Saturday, May 23, 2009

Revenge of the Cootie Girls, by Sparkle Hayter

(hb; 1997: third book in the Robin Hudson Mystery series)

From the inside flap:

"Now that she's executive producer of Special Reports, Robin Hudson is feeling (relatively) settled. She is fairly content to be a sympathetic ear to her insane girlfriends and to be in a steady non-relationship with several sometime boyfriends (it's not too hard when none of them lives in New York all the time -- and when you fear of commitment is slightly greater than your desire for emotional security.) Okay, she's bored. In an effort to feel useful, she has taken under her wing a new intern, wide-eyed small-town girl Kathy Loblaws, and invited her along on a Girls' Night Out -- a semiregular frenzy of female bonding meant to alleviate Robin's goilfriends' love crises and her own ennui.

"It's Halloween, and Kathy doesn't show -- but telephones from a strange man's closet. Aided by her pals, Tamayo (now a full-time comic), Claire (ever the rising star), and Sally the bald witch, who has a Princeton degree and monitors everyone's karma, Robin must track down her errant charge through one long night of murder and mayhem, costumes and concealed weapons, men who are not what they seem (are they ever?), and unsettling déja vu. For Robin slowly comes to realize that the search for her missing intern is really a deadly trip into the past, fueled by an old curse."

Review:

Less a whodunit than a what's really going on here? novel, readers are treated to a half-remembered, less-than-illustrious dash down Robin's memory lane, specifically her childhood friends and enemies, and her first time visiting New York, some years before: somehow, because of mysterious somebodies, these not-so-distant elements of Robin's past may dictate whether she and her friends will survive the Halloween present.

Off-kilter and character-interesting as the first two Robin Hudson novels, this is another worthwhile read from Hayter.

Check it out.

Followed by The Last Manly Man.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Dark Hollow, by Brian Keene

(pb; 2008)

From the back cover:

"Something very strange is happening in LeHorn's Hollow. Eerie, piping music is heard late at night, and mysterious fires have been spotted deep in the woods. Women are vanishing without a trace overnight, leaving behind husbands and families. When up-and-coming novelist Adam Senft stumbles upon an unearthly scene, it plunges him and the entire town into an ancient nightmare. Folks say the woods in LeHorn's Hollow are haunted, but what waits there is far worse than any ghost. It has been summoned. . . and now it demands to be satisfied."

Review:

Kooky, outstanding horror offering, this. Told from the chatty, first-person perspective of "midlist mystery" writer Adam Senft, the novel begins in an amiable, there's-odd-things-going-on-near-the-suburbs fashion. It's not long before the odd events turn serious, grimly so -- disappearances, outbreaks of priapism among the residents of LeHorn's Hollow, and murder.

The last hundred pages, peppered with quotable, intentionally laugh-out-loud dialogue, is spooky and riveting, with over-the-top kookiness highlighting the violent, briefly-sexual, action. (At one point, Adam utters a Charles Bronson-esque action-flick line, while everything around Adam has gone bacchanal-bonkers.)

This is a distinctive, reader-absorbing work, one that fans of horror, especially those who love Sam Raimi 's Evil Dead films, ought to snap up and enjoy.

One of the funnest horror novels I've read in a long while.

Check it out!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Behind the Mask of the Horror Actor, by Doug Bradley

(pb; 1996, 2004: cinema/biography)

From the back cover:

"Doug Bradley -- the actor who portrays the terrifying Pinhead in Clive Barker's Hellraiser film series -- provides his own unique and personal perspective on cinema monsters and the men who play them. He also briefly examines the cultural and dramatic history of the mask, from cave art through Greek theater to trick-or-treat.

"In addition to the classic horror actors Lon Chaney and Boris Karloff, Bradley covers such unforgettable characters as The Wolf Man, The Phantom of the Opera and The Hunchback of Notre Dame in detail. He also discusses the European tradition, such as Jean Marais' Beast in La Belle et la Béte, the work of Vincent Price and the Hammer films of the fifties and sixties.

"Bringing the subject up to date is the resurgence of interest in modern-day movie monsters, which has spawned recent horror hits Halloween: Resurrection, Freddy Vs Jason and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, among others. With commentary from the actors behind The Texas Chainsaw Massacre's Leatherface, Freddy from A Nightmare on Elm Street, Jason from Friday the 13th and Michael from Halloween, along with his own experience of the creation of Pinhead, Bradley creates a vivid picture of exactly how it feels to be the man behind the mask."

Review:

With warmth, dry wit and knowledge born of long experience, Bradley charms as he writes about how the job of acting came to be, and how it changed as it went from shamanistic showmanship to plays to Christianized rites, then back to plays, to movies (which have visually and stylistically evolved with CGI and other technologies).

His first few chapters, about cave art, the all-important development and meanings of masks, and the evolution of plays are well-written and informed. Bradley regularly cites his information sources and goes out of his way to state that he isn't an expert on these things. What he knows is acting, and the long hours masked horror actors, as well as make-up and special effects artists, put into creating the molded illusions known as cinematic monsters.

Following chapters about workaholics Lon Chaney and Jean Marais, alcoholic Lon Chaney Jr. (sometimes billed as Lon Chaney), "easy-going and patient to a fault" Boris Karloff, and patron-of-the-arts Vincent Price are entertaining, with fun anecdotes thrown into the informative recollections.

Interview bits in following chapters are made up of: Gunnar Hansen (actor who played Leatherface in the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre); stuntman Kane Hodder (who played Jason Voorhees in several Friday the 13th films, Parts VII: The New Blood through Jason X); Robert Englund (who played Freddy Krueger in the Nightmare on Elm Street films. . . quick side-note: Englund and Doug Bradley co-starred in Killer Tongue).

These interviews, coupled with Bradley's kind, practical and clever observations (one chapter is titled "Finding Pinhead Or. . .With Nails and I"), makes this an utter joy to read. I plan to own this, soon.

Clive Barker's short introduction is as warm and smart as Bradley's book. (Barker and Bradley have been friends with, and worked with, each other since they went to High School together, so Barker, like Bradley, should know what he's writing about.)

Check this out!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Nice Girls Finish Last, by Sparkle Hayter

(hb; 1996: second book in the Robin Hudson Mystery series)

From the inside flap:

"At thirty-seven, with one failed marriage and several lousy dates behind her, Robin Hudson is working on a new attitude -- a Positive Mental Attitude. Sure, she's still toiling away in the tabloidesque Special Reports unit at the All News Network for her loathsome boss, Jerry Spurdle. But, amidst rumors of cutbacks and a new company ban on smoking even outside the office, this beautiful, opinionated, and rather clumsy third-string reporter thinks a good attitude might improve her karma. Besides, she's added to her personal defense system a new favorite weapon -- a hot-glue gun with two settings, stream and spray -- so what could go wrong?

"Then her gynecologist is murdered, and Jerry sends a reluctant Robin to do a Special Units investigating a link with the S&M sex-club underworld. In the meantime, nutty fans may be on their way to New York, and someone is taking potshots at ANN's male talent. Are the shootings connected to the murder of the doctor? To Robin? Her Positive Mental Attitude hanging by a thread, Robin must solve this mystery -- or she may never have another date."

Review:

More off-beat characters and action, along with Robin Hudson's quirky first-person observations, make this a laugh-riotous follow-up to the superb What's a Girl Gotta Do?. The killer, once again, is believable, and difficult to spot, a bonus as far as this reader is concerned.

Check this series out!

Followed by Revenge of the Cootie Girls.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Pygmy, by Chuck Palahniuk

(hb; 2009)

From the inside flap:

" 'Begins here first account of operative me, agent number 67 on arrival Midwestern American airport greater [blacked out] area. Flight [blacked out]. Date [blacked out]. Priority mission top success to complete. Code name: Operation Havoc.' "

Thus speaks Pygmy, one of a handful of young adults from a totalitarian state sent to the United States, disguised as exchange students, to live with typical American families and blend in, all the while planning an unspecified act of massive terrorism. Palahniuk depicts Midwestern life through the eyes of this thoroughly indoctrinated little killer, who hates us with a passion, in this cunning double-edged satire of an American xenophobia that might, in fact, be completely justified. For Pygmy and his fellow operatives are cooking up something big, something truly awful, that will bring this big dumb country and its fat dumb inhabitants to their knees.

"It's a romance. And a comedy."

Review:

Palahniuk, for the most part, "nails it" with his as-usual black humored, subversive work about the perils of sending a teenager to do an adult's work. The first-person POV of Agent 67, aka Pygmy, takes some getting used to -- Pygmy speaks in fragmented English, with strange-but-fitting nicknames for those around him. If you, the reader, can get past the first few adjustment-period chapters, then you're in for a hilarious tale of how even an oblivious country, via mixed-media and sheer numbers, can protect itself.

My only nit with Pygmy is that some of the flashback chapters on Pygmy's training seemed unnecessary, and that some of the present-time descriptions were overly long. Palahniuk established most of the characters and by-now-familiar situations earlier in the novel, so a few of the lengthier, later descriptions in this otherwise short novel seemed superfluous.

Palahniuk, even at his book-chattiest, is still focused, when compared to other writers, so it's a minor nit at worst. Great, Palahniuk-consistent dovetailing of all the elements and characters at the end, with a finish that's not unexpected, but makes still makes sense in a satisfying way.

Check it out.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

What's a Girl Gotta Do?, by Sparkle Hayter

(pb; 1994: first book in the Robin Hudson Mystery series)

From the inside flap:

"Nothing is going right for Robin Hudson, a spunky, sexy, 'slightly rumpled, third-string reporter in Rita Hayworth's body.' Her husband has left her for a prettier and much younger woman; she's been demoted to the tabloidesque Special Reports unit at the All News Network after an on-air faux pas at the White House; and a blackmailer knows some of her worst secrets. To top it all off, Robin becomes a suspect in a brutal murder. Gathering her wits, her perfume atomizer spiked with cayenne pepper, and her Epilady, she turns reluctant gumshoe to find the real killer and clear her name -- all this while doing an undercover assignment at a sperm bank with her loathsome boss. But Robin is going to need more than wisecracks and makeshift weapons to solve this murder and not become a corpse herself."

Review:

A wacky- and earthy-humored main character (Robin), along with her cat (Louise Bryant), make this a fun, breezy read. Hayter throws enough variant characters and red herrings in the smart, always-entertaining plot mix to make the killer hard to spot, and the ending is laugh-out-loud stunning.

Worth your time, this.

Followed by Nice Girls Finish Last.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Dead City, by Joe McKinney

(pb; 2006)

From the back cover:

"Battered by five cataclysmic hurricanes in three weeks, the Texas Gulf Coast and half of the Lone Star State is reeling from the worst devastation in history. Thousands are dead or dying -- but the worst is only beginning. Amid the wreckage, something unimaginable is happening: a deadly virus has broken out, returning the dead to life -- with an insatiable hunger for human flesh. . .

"Within hours, the plague has spread all over Texas. San Antonio police officer Eddie Hudson finds his city overrun by a voracious army of the living dead. Along with a small group of survivors, Eddie must fight off the savage horde in a race to save his family. . .

"There's no place to run. No place to hide. The zombie horde is growing as the virus runs rampant. Eddie knows he has to find a way to destroy these walking horrors. . . but he doesn't know the price he will have to pay. . ."

Review:

Solid entry in the well-shuffle-leg-dragged, zombie-horror genre. Dark wit and the everpresent humanity of the characters (who are familiar and distinctive) keep this adrenalin-read from being a mere first-person-shooter-game-put-to-paper work.

McKinney also gets additional points for avoiding the usual nihlistic, sequel-courting denouement that's so popular in chomping-undead novels.

Not a genre-juddering read, but worth your time.

Check it out.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

'K' is for Killer, by Sue Grafton

(pb; 1994: eleventh book in the Kinsey Millhone mysteries)

From the back cover:

"When Kinsey Millhone answers her office door late one night, she lets in more darkness than she realizes. Janice Kepler is a grieving mother who can't let the death of her beautiful daughter Lorna alone. The police agree that Lorna was murdered but a suspect was never apprehended: the trail is now ten months cold. Kinsey pieces together Lorna's young life: a dull day job at the local water treatment plant spiced by sidelines into prostitution and pornography. She tangles with Lorna's friends: a local late-night DJ; a sweet, funny teenaged hooker; Lorna's sloppy landlord and his exotic wife; her all-business boss; the wealthy nurse whose house and elderly father Lorna babysat. But to find out which one, if any, turned killer, Kinsey will have to inhabit a netherworld from which she may never return. . ."

Review:

Echoes of Chinatown resound throughout this Kinsey Millhone outing, as she attempts to figure out what it was that waterworks employee/prostitute Lorna Kepler was killed for. Was she murdered for knowing too much about a possibly-dirty land/water political deal? Did it have something to with her sidegig as a prostitute/porn flick actress? Or was it something else?

Grafton, excellent writer that she is, deftly avoids hewing too close the Chinatown template, putting out a tale that's decidedly Millhone-ish. The bad guys aren't too obvious, the writing is reader-hooking, and the chilling conclusion is one that's sure to cause plot- and character-ripples in future Millhone outings.

Check this series out!

Followed by 'L' is for Lawless.

<em>Phantom</em> by Jo Nesbø

(hb;  2011, 2012: ninth novel in the Inspector Harry Hole series. Translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett .) From the back cover...