Thursday, March 31, 2016

Dracula by Bram Stoker

(pb; 1897)


Told through a series of various characters' journals, notes and cables, this nineteenth-century, milestone novel of vampirism, slow-burn horror, desire and other emotions is an enthralling, descriptive work, one that deservedly has been acknowledged as the blueprint for most vampire-themed art and writing. Stoker crafted the perfect bloodsucker book when he wrote this (I rarely use the word "perfect" to describe any writing); for this reason, this is one of my all-time favorite reads.


Dracula has inspired so many other works, visual, literary, aural and cinematic, I will not even attempt to show the creative strands stemming from it.

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Diver's Clothes Lie Empty by Vendela Vida

(hb; 2015)

From the inside flap:

". . . a woman travels to Casablanca, Morocco, on mysterious business. Almost immediately, while checking into her hotel, she is robbed, her passport and all identification stolen. The crime is investigated by the police, but the woman feels there is a strange complicity between the hotel staff and the authorities—she knows she’ll never see her possessions again.

"Stripped of her identity, she feels both burdened by the crime and liberated by her sudden freedom to be anyone at all. Then, a chance encounter with a film crew provides an intriguing opportunity: A producer sizes her up and asks, would she be willing to be the body-double for a movie star filming in the city? And so begins a strange journey in which she’ll become a stand-in—both on-set and off—for a reclusive celebrity who can no longer circulate freely in society while gradually moving further away from the person she was when she arrived in Morocco."


Diver's Clothes is a love-or-hate novel. Vida not only tells the story through a second-person point-of-view (told in the present tense, with lots of "you"s), but her protagonist -- a flighty, irrational woman -- often makes bizarre, ill-advised decisions that may be off-putting to some readers. (The reasons for the protagonist's irrationality are eventually, somewhat revealed.)

Normally, a book like this would not appeal to me. What compelled me to read Diver's Clothes was that I am a fan of Vida's work, which consistently has an exotic surreality, an dangerous dreaminess to it, as well as her swift-paced, turn-on-a-dime storytelling. Also, this book has the feel of Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley, where the protagonists plunge headlong into unpredictable situations whilst panicking -- and trying not to think too long on the consequences of their wild, criminal decisions. (I am not the first person to note this; the same person who made the Vida-Highsmith connection also suggested an Alfred Hitchcock link, which makes sense: Hitchcock filmed a loosely adapted version of Highsmith's Strangers on a Train.)

If you can get past the second-person POV and the protagonist's bad decisions (which threaten to bury her even as their repercussions amass), this is a hard-to-put down read. The tale's finish is open-ended, keeping with the tone of what precedes it, with Vida providing sufficient foreshadowing to suggest that this, too, while a bad choice, is also an exhilarating (and character-true) one.

Borrow it or check this out from a library before you buy it, if you are iffy about Diver's Clothes: better to spend money on something where you are fairly certain you will like it, right?

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Cannibal Island by Michael Faun

(pb; 2014: novella)

From the back cover:

"In the 1920s, a British expedition sets out to investigate a crater caused by a meteorite on an uninhabited island in the Zanzibar archipelago -- a four-week-long journey by boat that culminates in a nightmare. But when they finally arrive at the island, no nightmare could compare to what they discover."


This entertaining, fast-moving homage to men's adventure magazines and cannibal films is a short and to-the-point read, one worth owning. Characters are well-sketched (familiar caricatured meat puppets who are funny, sometimes in a horrible ways), the sense of calamity ever-present and the gore (while intermittent) effective and vivid enough to pay proper respects to the genres which Faun clearly is smitten with. Fun, brief work, this -- worth your time and cash.


At the time of this writing, Faun has posted several exuberant Facebook posts pertaining to his current authorial endeavor: a sequel to Cannibal Island. When more information is available, I will update this review.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

High-Rise by J.G. Ballard

(pb; 1975)

From the back cover:

"Within the walls of an elegant forty-story tower block, the affluent tenants are hell-bent on an orgy of destruction. Cocktail parties degenerate into marauding attacks on 'enemy' floors, and the once-luxurious amenities become an arena for technological mayhem. In this visionary tale, human society slips into violent reverse as once-peaceful residents, driven by primal urges, re-create a world ruled by the laws of the jungle."


High-Rise is a timely, could-be-mistaken-for-prescient novel whose tone of almost-antiseptic, sociological distance consistently maintains a fine balance of  showing gradual, deteriorating civility  while simultaneously mimicking the form of an effectively paced thriller. Its multiple characters, who get varying amounts of 'air time,' are well-sketched out and their motives are understandable and clear, even when their behavior seems quirky and inconsistent -- that is, after all, an aspect of individuals, of human nature.

Fans of William Golding's Lord of the Flies and Ballard's Crash may well appreciate High-Rise's subtle underlying and black-hearted mirth even as the tenants enact escalating savagery and other tribal-minded displays. Those who like their thrills light-hearted and optimistic should avoid this book (as well as the movie) -- for them it may feel like an insufferably long nightmare of pointless nihilism.

This is a great book, one that may resonate well with those who are fascinated by (and sometimes horrified by) the darker corners of human nature and society, as well as tightly-written prose penned by a forward-looking wordsmith.


The resulting film is scheduled for stateside release on April 28, 2016. Ben Wheatley directed the film, from Amy Jump's screenplay.

Tom Hiddleston played Laing. Jeremy Irons played Royal. Sienna Miller played Charlotte. Luke Evans played Wilder. Elisabeth Moss played Helen. James Purefoy played Pangbourne. Keeley Hawes played Ann. Peter Ferdinando played Cosgrove.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Mucho Mojo by Joe R. Lansdale

(hb; 1994: second book in the Hap and Leonard series)

From the inside flap:

"Under the blister of a Texas sun, you distract your mind or watch it die. For Hap Collins, slaving in the rose fields of July, the diversion is fantasies of iced tea and willing women. For Leonard Pine's Uncle Chester, the mental deterioration is too fatally advanced. Dying in the slums of LaBorde, he  no longer despises with the same passion his gay nephew Leonard. He ignores the crack house next door. And he forgets about what he'd buried under the floorboards of his house.

"He does remember to erect a forbidding 'bottle tree': a ragged post festooned with glass, designed to ward off black magic.

"When Leonard and his old friend Hap clean out Uncle Chester's house, they dig up a small skeleton, wrapped in pornographic magazines -- along with a grotesque link between an unsolved series of child murders and Leonard's late relative and guardian. Thinking white, Hap wants to call the police. But Leonard, intimate with the unwritten codes in his black part of town, persuades his partner to help clear Chester's name, sans outside reinforcement. Together, they unearth the deepest, ugliest truth of all."


Mucho builds on the Texas-based, neo-pulp-saturated world of Leonard Pine and Hap Collins (first introduced in Savage Season), resulting in another all-around entertaining and burn-through read in the Hap and Leonard series. As with Savage, Hap and Leonard's longtime friendship provides the banter-punctuated core around which the action revolves, the action this time perhaps more personal than that of the first book (Leonard's Uncle Chester may not have been as noble in his gruff worldview as he seemed).

This is another great read, an impressive, character-organic expansion in this series -- and, like its source novel, worth owning.

Followed by The Two-Bear Mambo.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Howling by Gary Brandner

(pb; 1977: first book in The Howling trilogy)

From the back cover:

"Karyn and her husband Roy had come to the peaceful California village of Drago to escape the savagery of the city. On the surface Drago appeared to be like most small rural towns. 

"But it was not.

"The village had a most unsavory history. Unexplained disappearances, sudden deaths.
People just vanished, never to be found."


Howling is a waste-no-words, excellent read, one of my favorite werewolf works in the horror genre. It illustrates, in a cinematic, lycanthrophic and terror-toned manner, the disintegration of a marriage in the wake of a brutal, no-one-is-safe-anywhere rape, even as the husband and wife (Karen and Roy) change in startling ways.

At the time of this writing, this type of story has become common (with varying degrees of quality) in the horror genre. What sets Howling apart from other shape-shifter-based tales is Brandner's superb focus and editing, which keeps its storyline entertaining and palatable, without sacrificing the efficacy of its underlying, disturbing and personal themes.

This standout work is worth owning, one of the best furs-&-fangs genre entries of recent memory.

Followed by The Howling II.


The loosely linked, resulting film was released stateside on April 10, 1981. Joe Dante directed it, based on a script by John Sayles and Terence H. Winkless.

Dee Wallace played Karen White. Christopher Stone played R. William 'Bill' Neill. Dennis Duggan played Chris. Belinda Balaski played Terry Fisher. Kevin McCarthy played Fred Francis.
Patrick Macnee played Dr. George Waggner. John Carradine played Erle Kenton. Slim Pickens played Sam Newfield. Elisabeth Brooks played Marsha Quist. Robert Picardo played Eddie Quist. Don McLeod played T.C. Quist.

An uncredited Roger Corman played "Man in Phone Booth". An uncredited John Sayles (mentioned earlier as the film's co-screenwriter) played "Morgue Attendant". An uncredited Jonathan Kaplan played "Gas Station Attendant".


For those interested in the entire book series, all of the The Howling novels have been collected into one omnibus volume, The Howling Trilogy.

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Immobility by Brian Evenson

(hb; 2012)

From the inside flap:

"When you open your eyes things already seem to be happening without you. You don't know who you are and you don't remember where you've been. You know the world has changed, that a catastrophe has destroyed what used to exist before, but you can't remember exactly what did exist before. And you're paralyzed from the waist down apparently, but you don't remember that either.

"A man claiming to be your friend tells you your services are required. Something crucial has been stolen, but what he tells you about it doesn't quite add up. You've got to get it back or something bad is going to happen. And you've got to get it back fast, so they can freeze you again before your own time runs out.

"Before you know it, you're being carried through a ruined landscape on the backs of two men in hazard suits who don't seem anything like you at all, heading toward something you don't understand that may well end up being the death of you.

"Welcome to the life of Josef Horkai."


Immobility is a well-written, mainstream science fiction novel with its stark themes of religious faith and the catastrophic evils that result from those violent myopic "moralities". Immobility is better than Evenson's The Open Curtain, with its taut, highly visual writing, as well as a worthwhile plot twist. Good read, this: worth owning for fans of the early works of Stephen King and Dean Koontz.

<em>The Freak</em> by Eleanor Robinson

(pb; 1980 ─ a.k.a. The Silverleaf Syndrome ) From the back cover “He was born monstrously deformed, a freak of nature. Possessed of ...