Friday, July 29, 2016

The Venus Complex by Barbie Wilde

(pb; 2012. Cover painting by Daniele Serra.)

From the back cover:

"A man rises out of an abyss of frustration and rage and creates works of art out of destruction, goddesses out of mere dental hygienists and beauty out of death. It's also about the sickness and obsession that is love.

"Enter into Michael [Friday]'s world through the pages of his personal journal, where every diseased thought, disturbing dream, politically incorrect rant and sexually explicit murder highlights his journey from zero to psycho."


Venus is an unsettling, wry and humanity-based-horror serial killer novel, one that details the emotional path of its clever protagonist, Michael Friday, as he evolves into an almost-relatable killer, trying to work his way into the affections of Elene Sheppard, a professor of psychology and profiler of serial killers.

This is a quiet-landmark work, one that builds upon Brett Eason Ellis' American Psycho (with better editing and better writing) while layering on its own distinctive personality and not-quite-psycho lead character, whose alchemy- and art-based sexual kills explicitly spell out his path to imagined love.  Venus, a sly, excellent (and not for the squeamish) book, is worth owning if you can stomach disturbing cultural insights, snuff scenes and smart-minded death.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Long Tomorrow by Leigh Brackett

(pb; 1955)

From the back cover:

"Two generations after destruction rained down upon America's cities, the population is scattered into small towns. Cities are forbidden by law, as is scientific research.

"Rumors abound of a secret place known as 'Bartorstown', where science is untrammelled by interference or hatred. A youth named Len Colter, developing an unhealthy thirst for knowledge exacerbated by the discovery of a forbidden radio, sets out on a long road. During this journey, he will change his mind many times before determining the correct direction for himself, and the benighted America in which he lives."


Tomorrow is a mostly excellent, intriguing and sometimes surprising (in a good way) science fiction novel that illustrates, in fast-moving and non-flashy fashion, the struggle between religion and science. Brackett's writing is effective in showing the benefits and drawbacks of both sides of the spectrum. While its ending feels somewhat lackluster, it is solid and logical, a minor nit for this otherwise superb book.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Devil Red by Joe R. Lansdale

(hb; 2011: ninth book in the Hap and Leonard series)

From the inside flap:

"Hap Collins and Leonard Pine return in a red-hot, mayhem-fueled thriller to face a vampire cult, the Dixie Mafia, and the deadliest assassin they’ve ever encountered—Devil Red.

"When their friend Marvin asks Hap and Leonard to look into a cold-case double homicide, they’re more than happy to play private investigators: they like trouble, and they especially like getting paid to find it. It turns out that both of the victims were set to inherit serious money, and one of them ran with a vampire cult. The more closely Hap and Leonard look over the crime-scene photos, the more they see, including the image of a red devil’s head painted on a tree. A little research turns up a slew of murders with that same fiendish signature. And if that’s not enough, Leonard has taken to wearing a deerstalker cap . . . Will this be the case that finally sends Hap over the edge?"


Devil Red is another hard-to-set-down, superb book in the Hap and Leonard series, full of lively, character-veracious banter, romance and sex, vicious bad guys, action and gore. Like previous Hap novels, Devil 's action, banter and characters' decisions stem from the events and characters from the book before it (in this case, Vanilla Ride), with all the elements that make Lansdale's books so entertaining: raw violence, humor, sex and romance, friendship, with a few plot twists thrown into its successful blend. The plot corkscrews are not always unexpected, but they work -- again, Lansdale's work is worth purchasing.

Followed by Hyenas.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Village of the Mermaids by Carlton Mellick III

(pb; 2013: novella)

From the back cover:

"MERMAID [mur-meyd] "noun" -- a rare species of fish evolved to resemble the appearance of a woman in order to attract male human prey. Mermaids are protected by the government under the Endangered Species Act, which means you aren't able to kill them even in self-defense. This is especially problematic if you happen to live in the isolated fishing village of Siren Cove, where there exists a healthy population of mermaids in the surrounding waters that view you as the main source of protein in their diet.

"The only thing standing between you and the ravenous sea women is the equally-dangerous supply of human livestock known as Food People. Normally, these "feeder humans" are enough to keep the mermaid population happy and well-fed. But in Siren Cove, the mermaids are avoiding the human livestock and have returned to hunting the frightened local fishermen. It is up to Doctor Black, an eccentric representative of the Food People Corporation, to investigate the matter and hopefully find a way to correct the mermaids' new eating patterns before the remaining villagers end up as fish food."

"Like a Lovecraftian version of David Lynch's Twin Peaks, Village of the Mermaids is a dystopian mystery for the bizarro fiction fan. It proves, once again, how cult author Carlton Mellick III brings the weird to a whole new level."


Short (111 pages), waste-no-words, mysterious, atmospheric, creepy, full of odd humor, twists, turns and interesting characters, this novella lives up to its bizarro classification, one of the best I have read in the genre, and one of the best I have read this year. Village is worth owning.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Beast in the Shadows by Edogawa Rampo

(pb; 1928. Translated from Japanese into English by Ian Hughes. "Introduction" by Mark Schreiber.)

From the back cover:

"A mystery writer vows to protect the woman he secretly loves from the Beast in the Shadows, but disaster strikes when he turns detective himself."


Hard to set down, this fascinating, unsettling mystery is a superb book, worth owning. Aside from a brief, chatty opening in the first chapter, this is a mostly concise exploration of revenge and other twisted subconscious motives and actions of its characters. Its denouement, along with the identity of Beast's main villain, is not shocking, but it is still a memorable and get-under-your-skin read.

Friday, July 08, 2016

Vanilla Ride by Joe R. Lansdale

(2009: eighth book in the Hap and Leonard series)

From the back cover:

"In this Texas-sized thriller, Hap Collins and Leonard Pine—best friends, freelance troublemakers, and tough guys with good intentions—find themselves in the crosshairs of the Dixie Mafia.

"Hap is an East Texas smart mouth with a weakness for southern women. Leonard is a gay, black veteran pining for a lost love. They’re not the makings of your typical dynamic duo, but never underestimate the power of a shared affinity for stirring up trouble and causing mayhem. When an old friend asks Leonard to rescue his daughter from an abusive, no-good drug dealer, he gladly agrees and, of course, invites Hap along for the fun. Even though the dealer may be lowly, he is on the bottom rung of the Dixie Mafia, and when Hap and Leonard come calling, the Mafia feels a little payback is in order. Cars crash, shotguns blast, and people die, but Hap and Leonard come out on top. Unfortunately for them, now they’re facing not only jail time but also the legendary—and lethal—Vanilla Ride, who is still out to claim the price on their heads."


Vanilla is one of my favorite books in Lansdale's Hap and Leonard series. It is a heady word brew of familiar, feel-like-worthwhile-family characters (Hap, Leonard, Brett, Marvin, Jim Bob) and new faces (Tonto, Vanilla Ride), as well its snappy semi-philosophical dialogue, cinematic slam-bang action, heartfelt romance and sex. This novel -- this series -- is the embodiment of superior pulp writing and it is worth purchasing.

Followed by Devil Red.

Monday, July 04, 2016

Winter Wake by Rick Hautala

(pb;  1989)

From the back cover:

"When John Carlson moves with his wife and stepdaughter, Brianna, to his hometown, Brianna makes friends with mysterious Audrey, and strange things begin to happen. Then John realizes Audrey is the high school girlfriend he murdered many years before--the girlfriend who has returned for blood."


Winter Wake is an entertaining, slow-build horror read. Hautala's eye for detail, relatable characters and steady pacing elevates this small town-island tale above other novels of this subgenre. There are few, if any, surprises in Wake but it is a fun-ride novel, one worth owning if you are a fan of 'horror in a small town' works.

<em>Dead Heat with the Reaper</em> by William E. Wallace

(pb; 2015: two-novella pulp collection) Overall review Dead Heat is a masterful collection of East Bay, California stories that are...