Saturday, December 26, 2015

Death-School by J.N. Williamson

(pb; 1982: third book in the Lamia Zacharius quadrilogy)

From the back cover:

"Tonight, under the full moon, her shadow emerges from the black pits of hell. . . her icy breath cuts the night like a deadly blade. . . her fiery eyes pierce the darkness hunting for prey and fresh human blood.

"Tonight, she returns to the small, quiet town of Thessaly, which has been rebuilt from the bones and burning ashes of the dead. The new inhabitants have no idea of the horrifying evil that lurks in their midst, that their beautiful, young neighbor, the new schoolteacher, is Lamia Zacharius, Queen of the Vampires.

"Tonight, the children of Thessaly are snug in their beds. Tomorrow they enter the death-school."


Review:

Caveat: possible (minor) spoilers in this review if you have not read the first Lamia Zacharius novel, Death-Coach.

Nicole Michaels, cousin of  Mary Graham, moves into the house that Mary and her children left behind at the end of Death-Coach -- Nicole and her daughter (Lisa) are trying to escape from Nicole's abusive husband (Darrell), and Mary, thinking Thessaly deserted after the events of the first book, gives her cousin and niece a place to hide.

Thing is, Thessaly is not deserted. Lamia, now going by the name Miss Z, has been bringing  people to the town with offers of low-cost living and accessibility to nearby Indianapolis. And Lamia, dark and vampiric anti-heroine of the human race, has ambitious plans for these clueless people -- plans to educate and reform them in the old, timeless ways only she is familiar with.

Death-School is an almost-solid, drawn-out entry in the Lamia Zacharius series. As always, there is plenty of sex, blood and Greek-based philosophical horror, with constant underpinnings of B-movie quirkiness and humor, so it is not a boring read: it is an uneven offering that would benefit from either being trimmed to novella length, or combining key elements of its storyline with those of the next novel, Death-Doctor.

Death-School
 is worth owning* for those readers -- like myself -- who are curious to finish the quadrilogy, and cannot borrow these sometimes hard-to-find books from their local library.


[*If purchased at a cheap price]

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Apeshit by Carlton Mellick III

(pb; 2008, 2012: prequel to Clusterfuck)

From the back cover:

"Friday the 13th meets Visitor Q.

"Apeshit is Mellick's love letter to the great and terrible B-horror movie genre. Six trendy teenagers (three cheerleaders and three football players) go to an isolated cabin in the mountains for a weekend of drinking, partying and crazy sex, only to find themselves in the middle of a life and death struggle against a horribly mutated psychotic freak that just won't stay dead. Mellick parodies this horror cliché and twists it into something deeper and stranger. . .  If you are a fan of Takashi Miike, Evil Dead, early Peter Jackson, or Eurotrash horror, then you must read this book."


Review:

More than a shock-for-shock's-sake splatter novel, Apeshit is one of the most wryly hilarious and boundaries-crossing work I have read in a long time. Nothing is sacred in this nihilistic story, with its abortion-themed kink, ultra-gory cinematic scenes and sly twists. Apeshit is not for those who find Stephen King and Dean Koontz disturbing, or those who need to like the characters they are reading about -- it is, however, for those readers who like their splatter and terror works fresh and fearless, unafraid to offend with its waste-no-words (and otherwise well-written) prose.

This is worth owning, if you are a fan of the films and directors mentioned on the above back-cover description. If you are not, and still insist on trying to read it, buy a cheap used copy or try to get it from your local library.

Followed by Clusterfuck.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Essential Iron Fist Vol. 1 by Chris Claremont, John Byrne and others

(pb; 1974 -1978, 2004: graphic novel, collecting issues of  Marvel Premiere #15 - 25, Iron Fist #1 - 15, Marvel Team-Up #63 - 64, Power Man #48 - 49, and Power Man & Iron Fist #48 - 50)

From the back cover:

"Thirty years ago, Marvel's top talents created one of herodom's ultimate martial artists and set him against foes ranging from crazed cultists to alien automata! Now, look back on the days when kung fu was king, and witness Iron Fist's progression from naïve newcomer to hero for hire! Featuring Sabretooth, Luke Cage, the X-men and more!"


Review:

Storyline: When Danny Rand's parents are killed by his father's treacherous business partner (Harold Meachum), the nine year-old boy is taken into K'unlun, the nearby, mystical Himalyan city he and his parents had. been ascending to.

Years later, Danny -- an adult, who has become a martial arts master -- decides to leave K'unlun. The reason: he wants to avenge his parents' deaths by killing Meachum, whose business has flourished in the decade or two since the Rands' murder. Danny should have little problem doing so, having learned how to direct his energy -- his chi -- directly into his right, hard-as-steel fist, thus earning his titular hero name.


Iron Fist is a fun, 1970s kung fu-focused comic book series, with Blaxploitation thrown into the mix with the arrival of Fist's action partner, Power Man (a.k.a. Lucas Cage, who calls women "sweet mama," etc.). The artwork is excellent, the fight scenes well-choreographed, the storylines formulaic; that last trait could be a criticism, depending on the reader, but for this reader it was fine because the talent involved (Claremont, Byrne, others) kept it entertaining despite its cheese-flirtatious limitations. Not only that, but Danny's character matures during his two-year (post-K'unlun) journey, from a vengeance-minded loner to a less naïve man who now is part of an extended family, which includes the aforementioned Lucas Cage.

This is worth owning, if you are fan of the above-acknowledged Seventies elements and characterizations. For everyone else, it might be best to borrow it from the library before committing cash to it.

Below is the back cover of Essential Iron Fist Vol. 1, which was also used as the front cover for Power Man & Iron Fist Vol. 1.


Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Death-Angel by J.N. Williamson

(pb; 1981: second book in the Lamia Zacharius quadrilogy)

From the back cover:

"At night she can be anything.

"She can be a sleek black raven or a large vicious dog hunting for human prey.

"She can be a menacing female hawk rising into the starless sky or tall slender woman with deep hypnotizing eyes into which a man might lose himself forever.

"She can be all of these things and more.

"As long as she quenches her three-thousand-year-old thirst for blood. As long as she returns to her long-forgotten coffin. As long as she remains queen of the vampires. As long as she is the death-angel."


Review:

Warning: possible (minor) spoilers are present in this review if you have not read the first Lamia Zacharius novel, Death-Coach.

Plot: Lamia, one of the only survivors of the cataclysm that destroyed part of Thesaly, Indiana, has moved on to Indianapolis, where she is working with a scientist (Frank Triladus) who is conducting experiments in psychic phenomena -- particularly psychometry, where a psychic can tell what the history of an object is by simply touching it. Lamia's work with Triladus is no idle endeavor, for with his help she can get what she needs to destroy the voracious, slaughtering Aether, a dragon-like creature freed from its underworld prison (the Vale of Aphaca, located on the outskirts of Thesaly) at the end of Death-Coach.

The Aether desires -- and can bring about -- the end of mankind and vampirekind, something Lamia may play a vital role in preventing*.


Death-Angel, like its source book, is a mixed-genre B-movie work. It brings together kaiju-style monster fighting, psychic phenomena, sex- and blood-based horror and an anti-hero whose abilities and outlook are distinctive. Judging by the over-the-top humor and sudden tonal and genre shifts, Williamson must have had fun putting together this intentionally cheesy, sometimes overly-chatty and always strange novel. It did not grab me like Death-Coach did, but it is still fun, and, more importantly, its own beast.

Death-Angel is worth owning, as an odd, entertaining work, and a continuation of the story begun in its source book. Followed by Death-School.

[ *Note: Whoever wrote the back cover blurb for Death-Angel did the book a disservice by misrepresenting it as a typical sex, blood and vampirism offering. Rather, this is a quirky, tonal jump-cut work, with a protagonist (Lamia Zacharius) who -- while a predator on a smaller scale -- intends to save the world (by and large) by preventing a larger predator (the Aether and his ilk) from running rampant through it. When deciding whether or not to read Death-Angel, try to look past its overly familiar back cover blurb. Even if you end up not liking it, at least then you will have given it a fair shot!]

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

The Burnt Orange Heresy by Charles Willeford

(hb; 1971)

From the inside flap:

"When Jacques Debierue, the world's most renown painter, secretly emigrates from the French Riviera to the Florida Gold Coast under the name of Eugene V. Debs, it inspires one of the most ingenious dramas and provokes the most intriguing crime of passion ever conceived in the world of art.

"One of the truly influential artists of all time, Debierue has kept his work from the public, allowing few critics ever to set eyes on his paintings. Why? What has made him single-mindedly shun recognition and refuse to open his collection and share the magnificence of his creative endeavor?

"This is the mystery that James Figueras tries to solve. Figueras is an art critic -- a rhetorical magician in the domain of aesthetics, a manipulator of taste, and an arbiter of judgment. Into his exemplary life arrives the ultimate professional opportunity: a chance to interview the subject of his own lifetime research, the mysterious painter Jacques Debierue. Joseph Cassidy, wealthy, powerful lawyer and art collector, has arranged the meeting, and in true Faustian fashion, Figueras is forced to tarnish his pristine critical soul in exchange -- to commit a crime. . ."


Review:

Burnt is a fun (in a could-get-sleazy, fast-talking way), humorous and ultimately good-hearted story, told from the point of view of James Figueras, whose belief that the ends justify the means dictates his actions and (by extension) their consequences. The same character-quirkish feel that so often colors Willeford's other neo-pulp works is evident here, as well as his deft use of character-based nuance -- even when events turn dark and (briefly) nasty.

This is an excellent read, worth owning.