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Daniel I Russell - Writer of Horror Fiction

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Saturday, July 21, 2018

Retro Review: Venom by John Tigges

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Nita Galforth wanted nothing more than to be happy with the man she loved. But any thoughts of a peaceful future would have to wait until she could forget the insidious thing that had been done to her in the past. Her memories were cloudy, but as she slept, horrifying nightmares crowded her mind -- images of frenzied natives writhing to the music of an ancient ceremony, of a little girl stripped and tied to an altar, and of a huge king cobra, its fangs dripping with venom, poised to strike....

A few years ago, I got into a spot of bother with someone regarding my opinion of a horror anthology from the 70s, in that I found the stories cliched and a tad hockey. However, I was aware that we're talking about stories from well over thirty years ago. A tired, overdone trope may have been a novel idea back then, but having seen the same thing done to death over the years, my jaded editor eyes just wanted to get through the damn thing.

Additionally, with changes in the political and cultural climate (and these changes seem to come faster and faster these days) some older books, in particular the pulpier end of the spectrum, are creatures of their time. If one of these books were presented to a publisher now, my money would be on a very quick rejection. Obviously, back in the day, these were the books filling shelves.

For example, today's offering is Venom by John Tigges. 

I do volunteer work at a residential home, and they always have a box of books near the door for a gold coin donation. I always carry some change for this box, as often you can find some quality retro horror. And with the interest spurred from Paperbacks from Hell of late, those amazingly garish cover just catch the eye something special. Look at that cover above. How could I not buy it?

Worth mentioning that I'll only feel I've 'made it' as an author when I have some fancy embossing on a cover. Even the trail of venom trickling down her cheeks is embossed! Nice touch, Leisure from the 80s.

Yes, the 80s. This was released in 1988. The year I was seven. The year my cousin and I lied in the videoshop in order to grab a copy of Killer Klowns From Outer Space ("My dad told us to come get it for him." HOW DID THAT WORK?!). While many a classic emerged from the period (which I still like to think of the heyday of horror...but rose-tinted glasses much? I was a terrified child at the time) many movies and books were cheap and cheerful romps. Venom definitely falls into this category. But it's flaws scream from the page, and again, this may be due to the period in which it was written, and the way popular novels have changed overtime. It feels unfair to drag it over the coals in 2018...but...

I will. 

First up, breasts. Breasts are part of the world. They were there in the 80s, they're here now. However, there is a time and place for them to appear in a novel. Should you have a woman in your book, whether she turns into a snake or not, she has breasts. Therefore, those breasts will be in every chapter, they are, after all, attached. What we don't need is a reference to those breasts at least once in every chapter. The character has a shower, and she examines her breasts. She lies down, and notices how her breasts moved. Nipples stiffen at every available opportunity. I never thought I'd get sick of breasts, but it eventually happened. Breasts.

Next up. Indian characters being described as greasy. Again, like the breasts, this happens quite a bit. Every time a character shakes hands with an Indian, they go to wipe their hand on their clothing, expecting it to come away greasy/slimy. This jumped out at me as a bit...odd. Wouldn't float nowadays!

A few mad coincidences abound too. Such as an expert and former member of the snake cult that worships this particular snake spirit showing up just as snake-woman shenanigans begin. Every male character seems to be an expert in everything. People showing up just in the nick of time.

I'm dwelling on the negatives too much, so let's swing it around. The antagonist is a ruddy big king cobra. How many times have a wittered on about needing a strong villain? Well this has a ruddy big king cobra, and that works. So simple, yet so threatening. We don't need motivation, or deep psychological trauma, etc. Just a ruddy big king cobra sneaking about and biting people. The author clearly had a hoot writing the snake chapters, with a particular stand out scene of a Mexican stand off between man and snake. Plus cobras standing upright with that hood, looking you in the eye, a single bite enough to finish you... Yeah, I enjoyed the snakes scenes.

There's also the requisite background snake knowledge throughout the book, as the partner of snake-woman is a biologist, whose expertise is...snakes...king cobras to be exact. Am I going to have to go back and add this to happy coincidence paragraph? Anyway, fun facts of cobras are sprinkled throughout and never get too much or dump enough info to retract from the plot.

Have to mention the ending. It was mounting nicely, yet I had that awful feeling, knowing that the book ended on the next page. Was this going to be a JAWS ending scenario? Even worse, was this going to be a Koontz ending scenario?

Yes. Yes it was. I also think it was pinched from American Werewolf in London. That's right. I don't shy away from controversial opinion.

 So should you buy this? Yes, I think you should actually. I don't think you can get this digitally, only 2nd hand paperback. Which is excellent! Kindle screens would never do this cover justice. Run your fingers over the embossed title, the sexy braille of 80s horror.

It's a wonderful example of 80s pulp horror, warts and all, and deserves to be read in its original format, with yellowed pages and a Leisure paperback order form still in the back.

I give it three breasts out of five.

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Posted by Daniel I. Russell :: 10:00 am :: 0 comments

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Thursday, July 19, 2018

Review: Hollow House by Greg Chapman

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This book stinks.

No, no. Not like that. The novel opens with the residents of a normal, quiet suburban street noticing a grotesque stench that appears to be seeping from the one creepy abandoned house on the block. I believe in the real world that this is quite a common occurrence, which adds some weight to the proceedings. Where Chapman takes us though is a tad more supernatural than finding out why someone's post is filling up unanswered...

Look at the sticker on the cover. Bram Stoker nominee for first novel, and they don't just hand those out willy nilly. This particular book lipped by me, as I read all of Chapman's works and remembered buying this, but it somehow didn't find its way onto my Kindle until a considerable amount of time later. In that time, the book had been awarded the prestigious finalist place and the glowing reviews had started to accrue, so I was quite keen to jump into Hollow House when it finally did appear.

This was a breath of fresh air, despite the stink of rot that seemed to permeate from my Kindle. The books I've read and reviewed lately, while all fantastic, have been set in a single character POV (I'm still counting Sloman's Broken on the Inside here as each story was in a single POV). Chapman brings in a host of characters early, which allows for some head-hopping, which was a nice change. It reminded me of King, in for example, The Regulators, in that we're presented with a common suburban street and those that live there, like we peek through the curtains at the lives being played out inside each home. However, as I reached around the 60% mark, most of these characters were still running around and without the presence of a big bad antagonist figure at this point (kudos for the man to be confident to keep you guessing for this long!) I felt the book lost a little focus. The easiest remedy would have been to streamline the book by cutting a few of the lesser characters, but this would have been detrimental to the novel and the cast Chapman has created. Instead, I would have preferred the opposite, for the book to truly go down the King route and perhaps be twice as long, have us spend MORE time with each character. But the book does pull its strings together in the last act with a satisfying finale and an ending that I felt was reminiscent of the first Nightmare on Elm Street movie...a bit.

Rest assured, you're going to see the description and the reviews and think the words 'haunted house' over and over, but this is very far from the case. True, the Kemper house sits like a rotten tooth, presiding over the rest of the street, but you won't find any clinking of chains, footsteps in the dead of night, or any other haunted house cliches. Chapman brings more mystery to the subgenre, a smattering of action, and even a hint of cosmic horror...but nothing too heavy as to dominate the plot. The book doesn't place all its eggs in a particular idea or approach, and is all the better for it, emerging as a horror all-rounder. Unlike some of the books I read, I would have no problem recommending this one to everyone.

And I think that's a good point to end this review on.

Four out of five air fresheners. A distinctive smell emerges from a distinctive book. Click on the cover above for purchase!

Have you read Hollow House? Share your thought in the comments.

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Posted by Daniel I. Russell :: 7:13 am :: 0 comments

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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Book reviewer book recs: July

I called, you answered!

With the Kindle empty once again (although with a planned work outing to go watch MEG next month, I realised I had limited time to read the book first, so promptly bought and am blasting through), I put out the call to a gaggle of trusted, talented and 50% good looking book reviewers for any new books they give the thumbs up to. The focus was novellas!

These will no doubt be on my tbr pile over the next few weeks with reviews to appear on this very page.

Support your horror authors! Click on the covers to purchase via Amazon.

Review of Hollow House by Greg Chapman is due any day now, and feel free to check out my own offerings by clicking the covers to the right. Read any great novellas lately? Let me know in the comments!

The Switch House by Tim Meyer (rec'd by @SadieHartmann)

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CONGRATULATIONS! You've won a role on LET'S SWITCH HOUSES! Your life is going to change. We promise. Your dreams will come true. Everything you've ever wanted, we have it. This is a chance of a lifetime. Come inside. Switch with us.

Angela and Terry return home after several grueling months of filming the popular television show, LET'S SWITCH HOUSES!, only to find their residence in ruin. Sure, the décor and framed photographs are the same; the color of the walls hasn't changed; the furniture sits unmoved. But something is off. Their quiet New Jersey home feels tainted. Angela can sense it. Crawling inside her. Infecting her mind. Poisoning her thoughts.

Then the nightmares begin. Awful, lucid visions that cause her to question her own reality. What happened at 44 Trenton Road while she was gone? Just what did she do, that bizarre woman who claims she can communicate with the beyond? Who is she exactly? Angela aims to find out, but the further she investigates, the deeper into madness she descends. How far will she travel before she loses the trail of clues? Or worse—before she loses her mind.

THE SWITCH HOUSE is a short novel for fans of supernatural thrillers with a dark twist. Includes three bonus short stories.

Siphon by A.A. Medina (rec'd by @gjkendall)

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Dr. Gary Phillips, the resident hematopathologist at Claybrook Medical Center, is a lonely man struggling with the duress of an all work and no play lifestyle.

Burdened with an unhealthy infatuation with his co-worker, a burning disdain for his boss, and an abusive relationship with his grandfather, Gary just can't catch a break.

That is, until a workplace accident ushers in a bizarre, but empowering experience that evokes a new sense of self, forcing repressed memories to surface while encouraging him to pursue his fantasies with unconventional methods.

Broken Shells by Michael Patrick Hicks (rec'd by @AdrianShotbolt - one of many, but seconded by @SadieHartmann!)

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Antoine DeWitt is a man down on his luck. Broke and recently fired, he knows the winning Money Carlo ticket that has landed in his mailbox from a car dealership is nothing more than a scam. The promise of five thousand dollars, though, is too tantalizing to ignore.

Jon Dangle is a keeper of secrets, many of which are buried deep beneath his dealership. He works hard to keep them hidden, but occasionally sacrifices are required, sacrifices who are penniless, desperate, and who will not be missed. Sacrifices exactly like DeWitt.

When Antoine steps foot on Dangle’s car lot, it is with the hope of easy money. Instead, he finds himself trapped in a deep, dark hole, buried alive. If he is going to survive the nightmare ahead of him, if he has any chance of seeing his wife and child again, Antoine will have to do more than merely hope. He will have to fight his way back to the surface, and pray that Jon Dangle’s secrets do not kill him first.

Children of No One by Nicole Cushing (rec'd by @BensNotWriting)

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Sadism, nihilism, poverty, wealth, screams, whimpers, sanity and madness collide in Nowhere, Indiana. For Thomas Krieg, Nowhere is a miles-long, pitch-black underground maze in which he's imprisoned dozens of boys for the past ten years—all in the name of art. For two brothers, Nowhere is the only place they clearly remember living. A world unto itself, in which they must stay alert to stay alive. A world from which the only escape is death. But for an English occultist known only as Mr. No One, Nowhere is much more...and much less: the perfect place in which to perform a ritual to unleash the grandest of eldritch deities, the God of Nothingness, the Great Dark Mouth.

Posted by Daniel I. Russell :: 6:53 am :: 0 comments

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Thursday, July 05, 2018

Conjoined by Greg Chapman

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Welcome to the second visit to Primogen: The Origin of Monsters.

This week I'm looking at the third story in the book, Conjoined, by Greg Chapman. Recognisable for his art style, which not only graces the cover and pages of this very book, but also many other anthologies, comic books, colouring in books, and pretty much everything else (you can take a look at his art store here), Chapman is also a well-established author, his novel Hollow House (which I'm currently reading - review to follow) was nominated for a Bram Stoker award, and he constantly pumps out novels, novellas, and short stories. 

I'm a sucker for stories set in Victorian times, all those gaslights and fog shrouded alleys. In Conjoined, Chapman spins a classic tale which may be considered psychological in one sense, and toying with the debate of belief in religion versus science in another.

The book explores new origins for well-known monsters, as shown in our first story, wherein Gary McMahon presented his own take on the vampire mythos. Which classic creature does Chapman take on? The only hints you're getting is that this particular one is a literary creation rather than being born of cultural legend, and while I owned a copy of the original story as a child, I just couldn't finish it. Maybe Chapman has inspired me to go back and give it another go?

But he did inspire me to write my next tribute flash piece. While the original story is set around the turn of the century, I bring the medical processes up to date, even though some truly ancient things are still hanging around. I call this story...

The Scan

(Inspired by Conjoined by Greg Chapman)

Okay, so this is your…second scan with us, Mrs. Jenkins? Oh, I’m sorry, I’m terrible with names. Memory like a sieve, and we get so many patients coming through.
Yes, just Wednesdays. That’s why we’re seeing as many people as possible. I’ll be lucky if I even get a lunch break today. I’ll just pop this on here. Can you unbutton your jeans for me and pull them down a little? There we go.
Now I’m sure you know what’s coming.
Yes, sorry about that. I’ve tried to warm it up for you, but this room just can’t seem to heat up. Feels like I’ve just taken it out of the freezer, doesn’t it? Don’t worry, it’ll warm up as we complete the scan.
I see that your due date is early November, so bub should be developing nicely by now. You’ll be able to see a bit more this time. The sex? I’m afraid it’s still a little too early to determine, but there’s no harm in looking. Dad wants a boy does he? Most do! I’m sure he’ll just be as happy with a little girl though.
I’ll try and get some good images of bub for him. Oh, he’s around here somewhere? Hope he makes an appearance soon. Problem with only coming down Wednesdays: have to rush everybody through. You’ll have the pictures in case he misses the show, Mrs. Jenson.
What? Sorry! Like a sieve, I swear!
Ignore the lights. These old hospitals. The NHS can’t afford beds, let alone having the old wiring looked at.
These buildings…haven’t changed for centuries.
I can cope with the odd flicker. It’s the poor sods on life support I worry about.
Still…let’s try and ignore the lights. We’ll get used to it, eh?
There’s baby. Can you see the screen okay? Bub’s turned away from us at the moment, but you can see the head, the spine here. Such a shy baby! Come on, let your mummy have a good look at you.
Ah ha… Just want to quickly check the blood flow through the umbilical. No, nothing to worry about, just procedure. If bub was small for this stage we’d be a little more in-depth, but nothing in your notes indicates cause for concern. That all appears healthy. You pass with flying colours!
There’s a leg. Let me just take a quick measurement of the femur…
Never had that happen before. It’s the wiring, I swear. Got a bit of a jolt from the machine. No, no, I’m fine. Caught me by surprise.
There’s the other femur. Might as well grab the measurement. Femur…left. We rarely get two legs different sizes, but everything we can send to the doctor, you know? And here’s…here’s the other femur. Again. Looks… I’ll take another measurement.
Hmm. Must have measured it wrong the first time. Doesn’t help when the screen keeps flickering! Can you see okay?
Sorry! I’m really sorry. Another jolt. And these bloody lights.
Been a long morning.
Still no sign of bub’s dad. He’s missing all this.
Okay, there’s baby’s heartbeat. All looks absolutely fine. Nothing to worry about there. Would you like to hear it?
Hang on.
Yeah! That’s your bubby’s heart! You didn’t get that in the first scan?
Well that’s because…just wait…it doesn’t usually…no that’s completely—
It does sound like galloping, doesn’t it? No, no. No need to be concerned. Lie back down. It’s not what you’re thinking. Let me listen.
Trust me, Mrs. Jenson.
No. Really. I’d have known straight away.
Sorry. You’d think I’d remember. That’s such a unique name.
No. Really. If that were the case…we’d know immediately. You have a very healthy bub. I’ll just take a few more measurements and you can be on your way. Pictures? Of course. All for Daddy, eh? It’s a shame he missed this.
I didn’t see him.
Oh look! The lights are back on. Makes life easier. I’ll just process a few more images. Mrs. Jek—sorry, what’s your name again?

Posted by Daniel I. Russell :: 12:08 pm :: 0 comments

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Monday, July 02, 2018

Review: Manifest Recall by Alan Baxter

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My experience with Manifest Recall started at around 4am one morning last week, when something had awoken me in the early morning. Rather than head back to bed for a couple more hours disturbed rest, I settled on the sofa and booted this up on my Kindle.

I think I reached just shy of halfway as dawn started to emerge from underneath the blinds. That says something.

Baxter has me on the back foot here as I try to type my thoughts. I usually read straight horror (if you'll allow me to use this loose term), while Manifest Recall is a delicious slice of action-packed crime with a tasty horror sprinkling. I try to consider how elements are fit together, and whereas a hearty dose of gunfire and car chases might pick up the pace of a horror novel, they can detract from the sometimes subtle, nuanced atmosphere of a tale of terror. In Recall, the author flips this around, using horror elements to give the reader a break from the all out action, develop the character of our vigilante hero and provide some of the book's stand out images.

Keeping it vague as to not spoil some of the surprises, the protagonist of the book, Eli Carver, is haunted by his past: the dead, who sometime offer him advice, or mock him, depending on the situation. A certain classic scene in a London porno theatre springs to mind!

Staying with the darker elements of the story, Baxter has created a cracking villain in the shape of mobster Vernon Sykes. I initially pictured him as Vincent D'Onoffrio playing Kingpin in Daredevil, but this representation quickly paled once the full extent of his coldblooded deeds start to be drip fed to the reader. This character really surprised me, and the author made some ballsy choices...ones that make you sit up and really take notice of this read. As I often joke, I love a hard gut punch from a tale.

My only real quibble is that the transition from the second to third act is a little abrupt. The plot has developed nicely and at a perfect pace, but following a fortunate break in Eli's journey, we are suddenly thrown into a high-octane finale. The book had a beat to it, and it felt like perhaps a planned scene had been cut as the author was hungry to get to the all out conclusion. Maybe I'm being super picky, but there's not much else to bitch about.

I'm giving it 4.5/5 bullet-riddled limbs. My advice? Get it, read it, enjoy it...if you can keep up! Just click on the cover.

Have you read Manifest Recall? Let me know what you thought in the comments.

Posted by Daniel I. Russell :: 9:20 pm :: 0 comments

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