Shakespeare in Hell by Amy Sterling Casil
Shakespeare in Hell is an intriguing title. Think of all it can conjure up - allusions to Milton and Dante, who both had more luck finding stories in the darker realms of the afterlife, and with the villains of their pieces, than with an antiseptic realm of winged creatures playing harps, come to mind; one can imagine Shakespeare choosing Hell as a better stage for his plays and poetry. Or perhaps Shakespeare sinned with his Dark Lady, landing him in eternal flame. Or — well, the possibilities seem endless.
But Amy Sterling Casil has not taken full advantage of the myriad plotlines available to her. We are given no moral structure for this Hell, and no hint of a Deity meting out punishments and rewards. We never do learn precisely why Shakespeare is in Hell, though it does appear to have something to do with the Dark Lady, who is here given the... Read More
Horrible MondayMondays are horrible, aren’t they? Perhaps you’ll feel a little better about your own circumstances if you start your week with a horror story.
Shakespeare in Hell by Amy Sterling Casil
The Chosen Seed by Sarah Pinborough
Note: This review contains spoilers for the first two books in the FORGOTTEN GODS trilogy. The review of the first of the books in the trilogy, A Matter of Blood, is here; the review of the second, The Shadow of the Soul, is here.
The first two books of Sarah Pinborough’s ... Read More
The Girl by Bryan Hall
The Girl is the second novella in a series called THE SOUTHERN HAUNTINGS SAGA by Bryan Hall, a young, relatively new writer. If it is any indication, this fellow has a great career ahead of him.
The protagonist of The Girl is Creighton Northgate — Crate — who is a sort of psychic, and a sort of private detective, and a sort of ghostbuster, though he rejects all three descriptors. What it amounts to is that he can see ghosts, and he can persuade them to move along to wherever it is ghosts go when they’ve finished their business in this world. He makes his living moving from one haunted person to another, relieving them of their ghosts when he can and debunking claims of ghosts where there are none.
As The Girl opens, Crate has just spent four months in the northeastern part of the United States, working as hard as he ever has. Now, though, he’s on hi... Read More
Deceiver by Kelli Owen
DarkFuse, an independent publisher of horror, suspense and thrillers, has a thriving novella series. For $85 per month, you can subscribe to the limited hardcover editions of the novellas, which are published at the rate of two each month. (The subscription also includes a hardcover novel every month.) Only 100 copies are printed, though the works are also available in electronic form. It’s a delight to see a publisher take an interest in publishing this shorter form, which is often exactly the right length for genre works (and for mainstream fiction, for that matter; consider William Faulkner and Henry James), but which is neglected by most publishers.
One of the June 2014 novella offerings is Kelli Owen’s Deceiver, a suspenseful work of dark fiction that opens at a post-funeral gathering. Matt’s wife Tania has been murdered while on a business trip, strangled with a necktie. The police have ... Read More
The Shadow of the Soul by Sarah Pinborough
Warning: This review contains spoilers for the first book in the FORGOTTEN GODS trilogy, A Matter of Blood (reviewed here).
As The Shadow of the Soul by Sarah Pinborough opens, Cass Jones has been through six months of interviews, arrests, statements and the backlash from his discovery of rampant corruption among his fellow police officers (as set forth in the first book of the FORGOTTEN GODS trilogy, A Matter of Blood), and it isn’t even close to over. It’s hard for him to care about anyone thinks about him, though, because all he has to do is remember the sight of his dead partner’s body at the bottom of the stairs of the Paddington Green station... Read More
Stoker’s Manuscript by Royce Prouty
Royce Prouty received a 2013 Stoker Award nomination for superior achievement in a first novel for Stoker’s Manuscript. Because of the nomination and the fact that Prouty’s protagonist, Joseph Barkeley, is a rare book and manuscript expert, I couldn’t resist.
Joseph Barkeley has always had a knack for spotting rare editions in crowded used bookstores, and is able to tell if a manuscript is genuine without the need for any chemical testing. It’s an ability that makes him the subject of Arthur Ardelean’s search for the right man to verify the authenticity of the original draft of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and to negotiate its purchase if its authenticity is established. (There is some real history behind this scenario, as the original manuscript for the novel was apparently lost, turning up only in 1980 in a Pennsylvania barn.) Ardelean is working on... Read More
The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
All of Harper Curtis’s girls shine. They have a special something; a little more curiosity, a deeper sense of wonder. They grow up to be women who will change things, maybe by being the first black woman to design airplanes, or a tough-minded architect with great ideas for high-density dwellings, maybe by being artists, writers or performers. They will change the world — or they would have, except that Harper kills them. Harper is a serial killer with a virtually perfect escape hatch that means he will never be caught. He has a house that is a time portal, allowing him to murder someone in 1982, for example, and return to his original timeline of the 1930s.
The Shining Girls is a perfect horror story. It’s also, technically at least, a thriller and the time-travel element qualifies it as science fiction. Lauren Beukes weaves the disparate elements together into an intricate plot ... Read More
Children of No One by Nicole Cushing
Nicole Cushing has earned her first award nomination for Children of No One, a novella published by the exciting new (as of 2012) publisher, DarkFuse. It is one of the seven novellas nominated in a strong field for the Shirley Jackson Award, an award I consider most apt to give me good reading recommendations.
The theme of Children of No One I find especially fascinating: art can be abused to horrific effect. It has always been true that what one person thinks of is artful and outrageously original is another person’s garbage; “My kid could do that!” is a phrase that has been directed toward any number of modern pieces, such as, say, the splatter paintings of Jackson Pollock. But there have also been discussions about whether certain art is cruel and unworthy of a mentally healthy audience. Some of Francis Bacon’s paintings, for instanc... Read More
The Heavens Rise by Christopher Rice
New Orleans may be the best setting for a horror novel ever invented. Cypress trees and the dark water of interminable swamps are a spooky background for Christopher Rice’s story about rape, snakes and mind control in The Heavens Rise, one of the nominees for this year’s Bram Stoker Award for best novel.
Niquette Delongpre — Nikki — is a gorgeous teenage girl, the toast of her high school. She and Anthem Landry have been an item for three years before Marshall Ferriot figures out a way to break them up and move in himself. Marshall may be only seventeen years old, but he is already an experienced predator who goes after what he wants with a singular ruthlessness and a casual cruelty that he does not even seem to know is wrong. When he finally gets Nikki alone with him at the property outside New Orleans on which her family is constructing a new home and swimming pool, he grabs her and h... Read More
The Bird Eater by Ania Ahlborn
We know from the opening chapter of Ania Ahlborn’s The Bird Eater that something dangerous lives in Edie Holbrook’s house along with her and her 14-year-old nephew Aaron, for whom she is the sole caretaker. As she is working pizza dough in anticipation of a movie night with Aaron, Edie hears a triple thud in the living room. It’s only the latest in a series of oddities over the past few months: closed doors that she had left open, or the creak of stairs when no one was climbing them, for instance. But there’s no such thing as ghosts. If Edie had believed in ghosts, she wouldn’t be living in this house, which has a reputation for being haunted by the ghost of a teenage boy who had done something terrible. Because she doesn’t believe in ghosts, she pulls her hands from the dough and goes after the sound. It’s a decision for which both she and her nephew pay dearly.
... Read More
“Sleep Paralysis” by Dale Bailey is the opening story of the April 2014 issue of Nightmare, getting things off to a fine start. Bailey’s first person narrator, a skilled undertaker, has found comfort in his wife, beautiful and young, while he is plain and in the autumn of his years. The wife is extremely active in charity work, gone most days and many evenings, leaving her husband to work and spend nights at his club — a situation that has caused rumors that she married him solely for his money, and is engaged in rather more private charity than she admits to. The narrator refuses to give the rumors any credence, but they begin to weigh heavily upon him despite his resolve. Bailey writes in a formal style appropriate to the narrator’s profession and the time in which his story is set (which is never explicitly stated, but appears to be around the turn of the last century), setting the tone for a classic story with a fine twist at the... Read More
Dead Set by Richard Kadrey
Zoe’s parents were punks in San Francisco when they met and fell in love. Zoe’s father managed punk bands, while her mother was a graphic artist, designing album covers. When they realized they were going to have a child, they went into the straight life, although Zoe’s dad never left punk music behind. Now Zoe is sixteen, her father is dead, and her mother is battling a heartless insurance company that is refusing to pay. They have moved from their pleasant house in the San Francisco East Bay area to a small apartment in the city. Zoe’s dreams are filled with menacing black dogs and a strange woman.
Richard Kadrey is probably best known for his SANDMAN SLIM series. Dead Set is something different; a young adult horror novel. Kadrey masterfully blends the supernatural horror elements of the tale with the real-world devastation Zoe faces. Zoe cuts most of her classes at the new high scho... Read More
Issue 18 of Nightmare Magazine opens with “Have You Heard the One about Anamaria Marquez?” by Isabel Yap. The story is narrated by Mica, a fifth grade student at St. Brebeuf’s, a private school in Manila, the Philippines, but her narration is interrupted occasionally with different iterations of the supernatural, horrific fate of Anamaria Marquez, who once was also a student at St. Brebeuf’s. Depending on what version of her life and death you believe, she was raped, killed and hidden in a tree on the school grounds; locked in a bathroom by a school bully, where she drowned herself; or another half dozen possibilities. In any case, some believe she haunts the school. Home economics teachers who prattle on about opening their third eyes tend to encourage the students in their superstitious fears. The atmosphere of the upcoming school fair is heightening those feelings, as the fifth graders’ part in the fair is to create a haunted house. The flaring emotion... Read More
A Matter of Blood by Sarah Pinborough
Sarah Pinborough makes it clear from the first page of her prologue in A Matter of Blood that we’ll be seeing plenty of blood — and worse. The novel opens on the scene of a corpse squirming with maggots. An unnamed man stands in the doorway and declares that “This has to stop,” but the noise of the flies only grows louder. It seems, though, that the man is talking to someone — not to the corpse, not to himself, not even to the flies, though maybe he is speaking to someone through the flies. And maybe, we think, we’re on to something with that last thought, because as the speaker continues, the flies gather together and form into a shape that is nearly human.
It’s the last glimpse of the supernatural we get for a long time, though. Instead, Pinborough’s novel r... Read More
Weird Vampire Tales: 30 Blood-Chilling Stories from the Weird Fiction Pulps edited by Robert Weinberg, Stefan R. Dziemianowicz, Martin H. Greenberg
The 1992 Weird Vampire Tales anthology is the only collection of stories derived from the famed pulp magazine Weird Tales to limit itself to a single subject. The slim paperbacks Worlds of Weird and Weird Tales had merely offered a hodgepodge of stories, as did the thick hardcover Weird Tales: The Magazine That Never Dies. Setting itself a different kind of challenge, Weird Tales: 32 Unearthed Terrors selected one great story from each ye... Read More