In The Island, by Michael Bray, we see a society in which reality television has become a performance platform for violence and death. The island itself is a man-made land mass on which a competition has been resurrected to air for the first time as a television series. Contestants are set loose on the island and only one can survive to the end. Their prize? Whatever it is they desire. All they have to do is make it from one side of the island to the other.
Oh, and they have to make it through an island packed full of dinosaurs.
The main character of the story, Chase Riley, decides to take part in the newly revamped show in order to save his daughter who is suffering from terminal cancer. Against the wishes of his wife, he enters into the show, hoping that a victory will bring in the money they lacked, in order to get their daughter the treatment she needs.
Putting all my honesty down on the table, I have to admit that I was a little dubious of the concept of this book going into it. My concern was that this was going to just end up feeling like a modern reimagining of The Running Man, but with dinosaurs as an artificial attempt to add an extra element to an already successful story. Still, I was also intrigued by the idea and was willing to give it a go.
I’m glad to say that my reservations were unfounded. I think this book is a good reminder that, regardless of the specific concept, effective writing and characters that can be related to will carry a lot of weight, even if the story has some familiar ring to it.
To start off, I think that the strongest element to this book is that of the characters. It’s really easy when you have multiple characters to have trouble keeping track of everyone and they all start to blend together. Despite that challenge, I thought Bray did a really good job making sure everyone was distinct and easy to tell apart from each other. Despite the fact that some of the characters were fairly archetype-ish, I found myself interested in them and engaged in their part of the story.
I also really liked how he explored the dynamic between the characters within the context of the game itself. More specifically, the notion of people who are on one hand contestants but also still feel the urge to help each other. How do you work with and against each other at the same time? How do you deal with the fact that you might care for someone’s well-being while at the same time realizing that you may be put in a position where you might have to take that person’s life?
I found the pacing of the book to be great. I thought the story moved along at a nice clip and once things really got going, they don’t stop until the book ends. Bray did a great job creating a story that is engaging and that held my interest throughout.
As it is probably to be expected in a story of this type, things are not necessarily as they seem. The twists in the story are well done and are used effectively in order to move things along. There were a few points towards the end of the book where I felt like the twists were starting to stretch the limits of credibility, slightly. However, this did not prevent my ability to enjoy them and I was able to shut that part of my brain up and just watch the book unfold.
If I had one critical comment about the book, it would be that at times I thought the writing style got in the way of the flow of the narrative, somewhat. There seem to be quite a few moments where the writing is a bit dense in terms of the paragraphs being very long. There isn’t anything necessarily wrong with this practice, but I think it can make scenes less effective when there is a lot of action going on. I think it has a tendency to slow down the reader and bring down the immediacy of the narrative. In my opinion, some of the scenes could have been more powerful and effective if some of the longer paragraphs had been broken up. This is just a personal issue of my own and it’s a minor one. It didn’t interfere with my enjoyment, nor did it necessarily make the book any less engaging.
In all, I thought that in a culture that has become rife with dystopian literature, The Island does a pretty good job keeping its head above the water and not feeling like ground that is being re-treaded one too many times. It is a book I enjoyed and would highly recommend.
Click HERE for directions to your nearest Amazon storefront listing of this fantastic book.
Great storytelling has very little to do with the specifics of the story itself. And what I mean by that is that when you break down a story to its core elements, they is a fairly small variety of plot types. If there’s a story out there to be told, chances are that countless others have gotten there first.
Writing is about the prose, not the gimmicks. And this is the main reason why my skepticism alarm rages at full volume whenever I see books who claim to take convention and turn it on its head. When I hear about an author who is unlike anyone who has come before them. When writing, one shouldn’t obsess over whether or not they are providing a fresh perspective on a genre or concept. Instead, one should focus on whether or not the story is being crafted at the highest level possible.
And this brings us to the story of the hour, the Goblin Glass, by Mark West.
A story about a burglar who has returned to a life of crime might not be that jaw-dropping as just a concept. And given the context of the story, the reader would likely anticipate that the protagonist of the story will encounter something horrific.
But what Mark West does here and what he has done so brilliantly in the books I have read is to create atmosphere and tension, so fraught that you can’t help but read on. And on.
For being such a short story, West does an excellent job establishing character. Despite knowing very little about the protagonist, save for the fact that he has clearly done wrong things in his life, I felt like he quickly became sympathetic and relatable on the page. In a thousand or so words, West manages to craft a character who we care about and is thrust into a situation of extreme stress and pressure, all leading him down the path to where he is in the bulk of the story’s narrative.
According to West, this came about as part of a themed anthology around the subject of the Ten Commandments, this story obviously inspired by thou shalt not steal. I thought he ran with this concept and really made it sing, all set against the backdrop of a universe that was beautifully bleak in its construction.
One of my favorite movies is Dark City. I love the image of that grimy industrial setting, perpetually drowned out in shadows and despair. You feel the emotional weight of the setting, not just a physical place through which the characters walk. And for me, the house in Goblin Glass functions as a perfect set piece. For me, it almost makes the entire story. It just so happens that a burglary is in process here but I would take any excuse to read more about this house.
The descriptions are vivid, making me feel like I’m the one tromping through this darkened, vile structure. The look of the place as it is put down on the page makes me feel revolted to picture and yet I couldn’t turn away – something that isn’t easy to accomplish. I could smell the dirty dishes, hear the protests of the floorboards and I was disturbed by the mirrors throughout the house, reflecting light and amplifying your fears as our hero continues going up and up, into the upper reaches of this mysterious house. The origins of all this isn’t necessarily clear. But it’s sure is scary.
Horror doesn’t necessarily require extensive explanation. For me, it’s about the creation of the moment and seeing where it goes. It’s about evoking what you can on the visual canvas of the mind. I’ve always been impressed with the writing of Mark West and this story is the perfect example.
Just so you are aware.
I have not seen the most recent Halloween movie. There have been more than enough reactions to the film for you to seek out. This review represents my thoughts on the novelization.
To start on a positive note, one thing that set Halloween (the original Carpenter film) aside from the other two massive franchises of the decade was in its use of atmosphere and foreshadowing. Michael seems to be constantly on the fringe of the story, floating in and out as a vague presence in many scenes, lending a beautifully bleak feeling of what is coming. This all is aided of course by a fantastic score.
With that fact as a kind of marinade to my point here, in general I would say that I preferred the first half of the book and I felt like the use of similar tension and foreboding was done well. As the reader with extra insight I liked the feeling of hopelessness for these characters as they go about their lives, not knowing what’s coming for them. Michael is appropriately frightening in his silent implacability. And naturally, most of those in charge don’t seem to take him seriously as a threat. And as would be expected from this franchise, we all know he’s going to escape. Still, when that scene finally arrived I thought it was done well.
One big promotional aspect for the film has been the return of Jaime Lee Curtis to her iconic role although, to be fair I’m not really sure why. Not that she isn’t an outstanding actor (she is) but of the nine movies set in the original film’s continuity, she’s appeared in five. I can’t think of any other franchise where an actor, save for the monster has appeared in so many installments. And this isn’t even the first “return” she’s made to the franchise. Maybe they should have called this H40.
More relevant I think than just JLC’s presence is that this is essentially the establishment of a new iteration of the John Carpenter universe, seeing another possibility for how things could have ended up for Laurie Strode following the fateful events of that night.
And as such, I think some great potential is present at the start of this book in the relationship Laurie has with her family. On one hand you have her daughter who grows up traumatized herself, having to live with a mother who is constantly paranoid and emotionally unstable, sure that there are monsters poised to strike out at them. And in the middle of this estranged pair is the granddaughter, now of a similar age to Laurie in the first movie.
Unfortunately, this dynamic never really seems to go anywhere. The focus jumps from one to the next, so much that the book ends up not really being about any of them. You get some broad brush strokes every now and then but for the most part, everyone just felt flat for me.
And as for Laurie as a character, I was kind of let down. I’m normally a fan of sequels in which we see how damaged our main character really is and how just because the monster might be beaten, her torture still carries on. I’m appreciative when a writer is willing to show their heroes as being broken. Unfortunately, I thought that Laurie in this became a little bit too much Sarah Conners from T2. We start from quiet, unassuming Laurie in the first movie and now she’s somehow managed the resources and funds to amass a massive arsenal in her home, which is also outfitted with so many security features that it almost becomes cartoonish. And I’m not saying that’s it’s unbelievable that she could end up a fully loaded bad-ass. I’m more than willing to take that journey. It’s just that the transition felt wrong and unexplained to me.
Frankly, I think I would have been more intrigued by a story exploring the effect violence can have on a family. Laurie’s daughter has no memory of the first encounter with Michael. That’s always been theoretical for her. But it’s the reason why she’s raised with guns and knives and self-defense training, rather than birthday parties and toys. Instead of standard slasher-flick fare, this could have been a great aspect to the story but I think by adding both a daughter and a granddaughter, it became too complicated for any of them to get a good amount of focus.
And in my biggest complaint, because I guess they just had to have a Loomis type character, the doctor who is shoehorned into this role is a fail for me. Michael’s doctor has an arc in this story that has no narrative momentum to hold it up. And he ends up taking actions at the end that makes no sense to me. You can’t have a character whose only role is to act as a twist.
The book has some great, brutal scenes involving peripheral characters but once we get everyone to Laurie’s Bat Cave, much of the sense of peril kind of dwindled away for me.
After as many installments as this franchise has seen, I suppose it’s inevitable for the plot to feel a little on the bland side. Still, for me, this book mostly goes down as a case of lost potential.
Reviews in the Machine: Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu : A Tale of Atomic Love by Mercedes M. Yardley
Seeing as we are getting into the Stoker award spirit of things, I thought I would share this oldie, my review of Stoker award winning author, Mercedes Yardley, a book with a title so massive, you won’t want to have to say it more than once. Reading it however, was a joy.
Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu: A Tale of Atomic Love by Mercedes M. Yardley is a fun take on several different genres and manages to take brush strokes from each in a brilliant effort to create a new, uniquely molded book.
The has two main characters. As the story opens, Montessa is on her way home from work when she is fallen upon and abducted by serial killer, Lu. He quickly figures out that Montessa isn’t like any other women he has killed before. She is captivating to him and surprisingly, as the story shifts over to Montessa’s point of view, we find that she is becoming just as taken with Lu. In each other, Montessa and Lu discover the holes in their lives they had never realized were there in the first place.
Soon, Montessa no longer travels along with Lu as his victim, but rather as his partner and his lover.
To start, there have been plenty of stories that deal with the situation where a seemingly innocent victim is lured in by the guile of their would-be killer or kidnapper and ends up becoming a part of that world, fundamentally changing themselves into the monster they had thought they were fleeing from. It isn’t what I would call un-trodden ground but in Yardley’s capable hands, the book doesn’t have even the most remote feelings of seeming stale or overdone. I think that fundamentally, there are two different types of stories. In the first, you settle down into the book, saying to yourself, “okay, I’m reading a western”. These are the books that fit into a certain convention of expectations and tradition.
The second type are the stories that feel like genres unto themselves. It doesn’t happen as often and it doesn’t always work. But in this case, I thought that it worked very well. There were moments where I might have been reminded of other stories or films or shows I had seen before but for the most part, this felt like a fully organic, original endeavor.
I think that one of my favorite aspects of this book was how Yardley chronicles Montessa’s journey in terms of how she feels about Lu from the start and how that progresses. Any author can tell you that a character feels or thinks a certain way but it’s another thing entirely to take the reader to the point of actually understanding what they are seeing. It is to the point where I found myself saying, well of course this is what Montessa is doing, that makes total sense. What else would she do?
Both of the characters in this book are woven extremely well and there is a strong sense of them being individually defined while at the same time pieces of the same puzzle. And built into their characters is the existence of a magic of sorts, something that makes the both of them unique. I loved that Yardley resisted the urge to rush in and over-explain everything in the story. Sometimes one of the most difficult things as a writer is to sit back and just let things be what they are, without giving narrative justification. Why does magic exist in the universe of this story?
Because it does.
How is it that Montessa and Lu have their unique abilities? I’m not really sure, they just have them. I don’t think the story suffers from a lack of explanation and I also don’t think it would be enhanced by adding more backstory. It’s the perfect situation as a writer that we all strive for.
If I had one minor issue, I think it would be in how quickly Montessa and Lu’s language towards each other becomes a sort of lovers’ shorthand. The flowery nicknames for each other you would expect to hear from the characters deeply in love with each other. As the book moved on and their bond intensified, it felt more natural but as early as it started, it felt a little forced to me. But as I said, this is just one extremely minor point, in no way did it take anything away from the story.
It’s a normal phenomenon in our culture. I see it all the time so it was no surprise to me that in the wake of the massive success of The Blair Witch Project, the time would come that after many repeated iterations and knock-offs that the genre and narrative device would become a target for mocking and satire. So much so that I think even Blair Witch isn’t taken that seriously anymore.
Still, I’ve got to be honest and admit my love for found footage films. I know they’re silly and stretch all reasonable bounds of logic. I can’t help myself. I’m old enough to have seen Blair Witch in the theaters and I still love it.
In the modern era there have been two found footage films that I have particularly loved. The first would be Cloverfield, a fantastic monster movie told from the perspective of the panicked crowd.
The other is Paranormal Activity. Continue Reading
I look back over the various times of my life as well as the things that marked those particular periods and I have to say that one thing I still really love are the cheesy VHS videotape covers you would come across on the sale rack at the store or at your video rental venue of choice. I think the eighties was a great time for fun, gruesome and gritty horror flicks. These weren’t films that were made on a huge budget with an A-list cast. These were meant to be fun diversions. The kind of film where you rented or bought two more like it, invited your friends over and ordered a ton of pizzas. And I think it was this spirit, more than anything that I felt captured by Thomas S. Flowers in his upcoming book, Island of the Flesh Eaters. If Flowers has proven anything to me over the last year or so, it would be his aptitude for spinning a good zombie yarn, already demonstrated in his equally great Planet of the Dead series. I think that as a fan of zombie films, he seems to have a similar path to the one I took, paved the entire way by the greatness that was George Romero. This isn’t intended as a dig against more contemporary offerings but the zombies I grew to love early on were like this. They didn’t run. They weren’t smart. They shambled. They stumbled. And while one or two of them didn’t necessarily present much of a threat, if you found yourself trapped in a mob of the things, you were pretty much experiencing your final moments.
Zombies were brutal and extreme. An implacable force that was disturbing and scary. The premise for this book is equally simple. Mark has just found out that his sister has gone missing while vacationing at the exclusive island resort owned by the rich parents of her boyfriend. Any attempts to contact the island have failed and Mark convinces the father to let him accompany a highly-trained private security force that he has dispatched to the island. Alongside this, Rachel Hawkins is a female reporter who is determined to prove to her mostly male coworkers that she is just as capable at landing the big story. Getting a whiff of a possible scandal in the works, she has also determined to sneak aboard the boat headed for the island, in hopes of digging up some dirt and material. And as would be suggested by the awesome cover art for this book, what is waiting for them on the island is terrifying. And Flowers definitely does not fail to deliver on that implied promise.
This is not a book that drags or takes too long to get to the point. He manages to craft just the right level of suspense and dread before plunging into the frantic desperation of the second half of the book. And when I say it gets brutal, I mean BRUTAL. Characters are taken down in a blur of chapters that is a pleasure to keep up with. And this is how it should be. For me, the biggest trait of those classic zombie films was the sense of inevitable tragedy from the outset, tragedy that is never really explained. We have entered into a period of somewhat zombie saturation by this point, as the Walking Dead has exploded into our culture. Even Disney has offered up their own tenderized version of the zombie. In the light of all this, it gets harder for me to get excited with various iterations of zombie lore. Books like Eaters of the Dead give me a spark of a reminder of what it was about the thing I loved in the first place. I don’t disparage those who write and film zombie books and movies now. Things change. That’s a part of life. But I love it when artists offer up a throwback to the days when the party started.
Check this book out. You’ll be glad you did.
There are a certain amount of concepts for stories that, you have to screw it up pretty hard-core for me to not end up enjoying it. Everyone has their sweet spot when it comes to the kinds of books and movies they like to read or watch and for me, Event Horizon is right smack in the middle of the biggest sweet spot I have available.
The set up is perfect for me. An experimental, deep space exploration craft has returned, after disappearing under mysterious circumstances. The designer of the ship, played by the iconic Sam Neill is departing with a crew, captained by none other than legendary Lawrence Fishburne, for the purposes of finding out where the ship has been and what happened to the crew.
Seriously, you had me at hello. Continue Reading
The names Matt Shaw and Michael Bray should come as no surprise to anyone. The both of them have certainly been putting fiction of a high quality into the world for some time now. But at some point, the desire to spread out into new mediums clearly took hold and the two authors grabbed the steering wheel to embark on a journey. To shoot a film based on their own work. And what we have before us is the result I was finally able to watch on this side of the Atlantic.
I’ll be totally honest and admit that I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I watched in real time as Matt and Michael departed on this endeavor, watching the various fund drives and updates that were posted to the project. I had no doubt in either their passion or their creative drive but making the jump from one medium to the other isn’t just something you do. You don’t just wake up one day and decide to shoot a movie instead of writing a book. Continue Reading
Mad Dog is the 2017 release from JR Park. I went into this unprepared and blind, save for the knowledge of the general quality of work put out by the Sinister Horror Company as being top shelf.
To start off with, I’ll be honest and admit that I was generally skeptical of the style of delivery of the narrative. Mad Dog details the events surrounding a prison riot. And the book is a direct recalling of events from the characters involved, in the form of snippets from interviews, intercut with each other. I often listen to books at work in the morning, using the text-to-speech feature on my phone. But I quickly realized this would not be a good idea with this book as the voices of the characters transition very quickly.
Despite my misgivings, the voice of the story ended up working quite well. Where I thought it was going to be messy it ended up being a perfect way to really build the tension in the pacing and made me want to read on to find out what had ultimately happened that these people are talking about retrospectively. It reminded me quite a bit of the foreshadowing that Stephen King layered into his novel, Carrie.
The physicality of the text moves quickly, jumping from person to person and it really augments the flow of the book, lending momentum to what could have been a dry recitation of historical events. Were I to have read all these interviews separately, I don’t think the book would have had the same impact.
It’s a tough decision to make and even harder to execute. When I see stories that are structurally designed in such a unique way, you can get something that’s really cool or a narrative that feels overly gimmicky. In this case I felt like this was a fantastic way to present the plot. It takes a lot of game to deliver a story of this length in expository fashion and Park pulls it off brilliantly.
This is an appropriately brutal story but there was no point where I felt it was crossing a line or was just going for shock value. This is a quality story, told with care. The plot and twists are such that aren’t completely new, but the way the story is told and the depth of the characters make it feel fresh and unique.
Mad Dog himself is enigmatic as a character. His presence is felt all over the story and the mystery of what he is or could be provides a ton of emotional drive to the plot. The viciousness of his crimes are disturbing and the air of possibility of something paranormal makes him highly effective as a character.
And in the end, we build up to a twist that is satisfying to the overall story. And again, as with the mechanics of the plot, Park takes an oft overused device and makes it work. It’s one thing to throw in a twist for the sake of it. Park does as it should be done. The turn taken by the narrative is a surprise but as it is laid out before you, and after looking back over the story, you can see how you could have come to this conclusion if you had properly put the pieces together.
Mostly what I can say is that I’m sorry it took me so long to get around to this one. I have also read Park’s book, Punch, and enjoyed that as well. And taking the two books together I can see what we have here is a fresh author who lends a unique voice to his projects. I’ll be curious to see what other offerings we get from him, either in his existing catalog or from titles yet to come.
Chasing Ghosts, by Glenn Rolfe is a serious book. It goes at you quickly and hits you hard. For as much as I have loved the works of the likes of Stephen King, I am becoming more aligned with the idea that the novella as an art form is the place where the horror genre really shines. It’s so great to be able to get there and experience the meat of the story in as few sittings as possible. I read this book in a day and I think the only reason why it wasn’t in one go was because I was at work and couldn’t rightfully justify taking an hour long break.
Chasing Ghosts takes place in Maine where a disparate group of strangers is drawn together, where they are confronted by a dark presence residing within the woods. A number of different abbreviated story threads weave in and out of each other in this book as it winds its way down to the exciting conclusion. Continue Reading
I had every intention of posting a book review today. But then the news dropped and I felt like it was incumbent upon me to take note of the loss of one of the biggest and most important names of our modern popular culture.
I can’t bring myself to call the loss of Stan Lee “tragic”. To be sure, the news makes me sad and the weight of his departure is going to be felt for a long time to come. Still, to say that he led a long and successful life would be the understatement of the year. Ninety-Five years is a long time and we were definitely the benefactors from a long career that almost ended before it really began. For a man who was at the end of his rope, ready to leave the industry far behind in the rear view mirror of his life, Stan Lee ended up defining the landscape of a generation, setting off an industry that has generated more quantities in money than we probably have names for. Continue Reading
An American Werewolf in London
Watching An American Werewolf in London now, one of the first things that strikes you is how long ago 1981 was, and how much the world – specifically England – has changed since then. This is partly due to the observational eye of American director John Landis, achieving a detached touristy perspective on the closed community of East Proctor in rural Yorkshire, with its shifty paranoid locals who talk in broad accents and fear strangers; and also taking in the sights and sounds of swinging London – Tower Bridge, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, and not forgetting the seedy crepuscular interior of a Soho porn cinema. Notable too is the appearance of Jenny Agutter as love interest Nurse Alex Price, then still at the height of her nubility and fantasy material for legions of young men after a string of scantily clad roles in movies such as Walkabout, Equus and Logan’s Run. Seeing Ms Agutter in contemporary roles is another indicator of that gulf of time that has elapsed since the early 1980s. Continue Reading
I was introduced to The Last Plague in its original incarnation, several years ago. It was the first work I had read of Rich Hawkins and as can be expected I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I had been interacting with him for some time on Facebook, leading up to the release of his first book, but you never really know what narrative sludge is lurking under the surface.
The book was phenomenal. I loved it. It was original and bleak, grim and brutal in its execution. And underneath all the guts and the gore there was still the heartbeat of an original story, of characters that had soul that I connected with.
This book as well as the other two volumes in the trilogy was originally published by Crowded Quarantine Publications. And despite putting out a number of fantastic books, within the last year, Crowded Quarantine was forced to close its doors, leaving the Last Plague trilogy without a home.
I felt bad for Rich but I also knew that it wouldn’t take long for him to find a new home for these books. And as such it was no surprise to me when the announcement came that the books had been picked up and slotted for re-release.
And while all of this is interesting, I realize it begs the question as to what, if anything has changed? I wouldn’t likely be reviewing it again if it hadn’t, right?
Yes, the heart and soul of the book remains the same. Rich hasn’t pulled a George Lucas here necessarily, or is trying to sucker us all into buying the book again with some new frills. What he did do was another pass with the editors pen, smoothing out areas which he felt was a bit on the rough side. As a writer myself, I can certainly sympathize with the pull to go back into those first few books and update it to your contemporary style and quality. I would say that Rich’s work here was most evident in the start of the book. While I never felt like it didn’t work, the opening chapters of the original book did go by rather fast. Rich has extended much of this out, giving more time to the characters and allowing the narrative to develop a more complex and dynamic root structure.
But more importantly than the prose of the original story, Rich has also surprised all of us with a brand new novella, snuck amidst the pages of this re-issue. The story is titled AWOL, and is set within the Last Plague universe. This story picks up a secondary character from The Last Plague and extends out his story as he strives to get back to his ex-wife and son. The story is gripping and heart-wrenching, all that I have come to expect from Rich. And it serves as the perfect companion piece to the main novel.
What I like the most about The Last Plague is in how it borrows from multiple sources that I have loved throughout my life. First, he brilliantly captures the magnificently bleak landscape of Stephen King’s legendary book, The Stand. Despite being so bleak and unforgiving a landscape, you can’t help but read onward, it’s so compelling. But besides this great tapestry, Rich also tapped into one of my all-time favorite horror/sci-fi mash-ups, namely James Cameron’s Aliens. The Last Plague has the same level of intense fear that you feel for these characters situations in that, for as much as you want things to work out for them you also know it probably isn’t going to happen.
Being an original fan of the book, I will say that I have a fondness for the cover art that graced the books put out by Crowded Quarantine. The art for all three books was magnificently done and I thought captured perfectly the vibe of the series. It adds value for me to the paperback editions I have sitting on the shelf in my closet. Not to suggest that a cover makes the book, just that in this case, I really liked these covers.
The Last Plague is an amazing book, one that I feel lucky to have come across as they have hit the market. And they have only served to function as a springboard into the rest of Rich’s bibliography. I eagerly await the completion and publication of the other two books in this (hopefully) expanded format.
And before I go, I would just like to point out the inherent challenges of living as an indie or small press author. This endeavor is a constant attack on our self-esteem and while it is a battle we can generally win, a little help goes a long way. Rich is a great part of this genre and I’m glad to call him a friend. Please consider supporting him by picking up this book, reading it and leaving a review. Think of it as necessary fuel for your favorite authors to keep putting out the work you enjoy.
BUY THE LAST PLAGUE TODAY
Let’s see if we can start some stuff, here.
If there is a vampire film that has proved to be more divisive and argument-provoking, Lost Boys would likely be close to the top of the list. The world seems to have no shortage of both love and scorn for this landmark film.
And hey, I get it. I am not the biggest Joel Shumacher fan. While he has done some films I like, A Time To Kill, Falling Down and 8mm, I will completely acknowledge that much of his work comes off as a touch superficial, movies that look nice but without a lot of substance to them. He managed to personally put a torpedo into the flank of the original Batman film franchise, trying too hard to make a big-budget summer film but also somehow trying to wear Tim Burton’s clothes at the same time. Often, I get the vibe of someone who directs high profile films but who also wants to have what he sees as the cred of a small-budget indie filmmaker.
Maybe I’m just at the right age, but Lost Boys was a huge part of my childhood. I still remember seeing it in the theater, although how I managed as an eleven-year-old to have parents who took me to a film like that is beyond me. But still, it was a movie I saw upon its original release and over the years, I have come back to it and watched it again and again. And as the genre has shifted and changed to the Twilight era we find ourselves in, Lost Boys still stands as one of the last contemporary vampire movies that I have really enjoyed. And yes, I do realize that I’m putting a spotlight on my age by referring to this as contemporary. Just move past it, Atticus.
Yeah, I know. I did it again.
And please don’t take this as the old guy grousing on how millennials have ruined vampires. That isn’t my point. I’m sure that fans of the classic Universal Monster movies were equally put off by movies such as The Lost Boys and Fright Night. While much of current interpretations aren’t for me, I’m mature enough to understand that it’s a big world out there and things are inevitably going to shift in favor of the interests of other people.
And for me, Lost Boys represented a narrative sensibility where vampires were something we were meant to be more afraid of. These characters existed as destructive forces of nature that demanded respect and incited terror. Cold-blooded killers (literally) who took and did whatever they wanted.
Let’s start with the area that I think is the most important and most underrated when it comes to success in a movie – the music It’s not something that many give thought to, but the reality is that the music of any given scene is responsible for laying down the emotional groundwork that the acting is built upon. Acting and writing is important, as is costume and set design and effects but the music is what gets into our heads and informs us as to how we should be feeling about what we’re seeing.
Lost Boys has a phenomenal soundtrack. I’m listening to it right now as I write this. It’s no coincidence that great movies are often paired with great soundtracks. Despite all the years that have passed since this movie first came out, there is a lot of music from there that has stayed with me.
I’ll concede that the acting in this movie isn’t great. I’ve never been a huge fan of the Coreys and I’ll freely admit that they were more a product of popular culture at the time than anything from their actual acting chops. And by putting them front and center, the film was pretty clearly going after the younger MTV audience, presenting a fairly superficial stereotype of pseudo “punk-rock kids” as the vampires in this. I get it, but the positives of the movie still outweigh all of it for me.
Would I still like the movie as much if I were to watch it now, for the first time? I’ll be honest and admit that I have no idea but there’s also no way to resolve that question. I’ll own the fact that my own middle-aged nostalgia could be causing my love for this movie to swell out of control and it could very well be affecting my judgment.
I just don’t care.
I’m a sucker for stories where strangers roll into a new town and are sucked into a dark underworld that manages to exist and thrive right under everyone’s noses. That was done really well here, with one brother being sucked into the allure of this world and the other being driven to rise up against it.
And besides Stand By Me and Young Guns, this is one of the more iconic performances of Kiefer Sutherland’s early years for me. I thought he did a great job as the menacing leader of the gang of vampires taking this seaside town apart. He plays the role that was required of him and he put his all in to it.
And while the twist at the end wasn’t that unexpected, even to eleven-year-old me, it’s still done well and brings the film around to a satisfying conclusion. This isn’t a movie that was meant to change the world. It was a movie that was meant to be entertaining, it was meant to be fun in all of it’s baby oil-slicked, saxophone toned glory and if there is any one thing I would say about the endurance of the Lost Boys it would be that I still believe.
And just as an aside at the end here, I’m not going to bother speaking up for any of the films that came after this. I haven’t watched any of them and I have no interest.
For me, there will always and only be one Lost Boys.
I was a big fan of Jonathon Butcher’s novella from last year, What Good Girls Do. So much so that in the wake of that release I found myself pondering something that doesn’t often come to mind with an author.
The question was, what now?
What does Miles Davis do after releasing Bitches Brew? What does Scorcese do after Goodfellas?
So when I saw that a new book was on the horizon I was excited. I was also very nervous. It’s about as difficult as it gets for an artist to reach down in oneself and come up with something that can stand on its own greatness in the shadow of what came before it. To put something out and constantly hear muttered refrains like, “Sure, it was okay. But it was nothing like…”
Is that a fair standard? To demand equal levels of greatness from each successive release, if not more? Perhaps not. Many an artist has unfairly ended up fading away into the background of our culture because they were too caught up in trying to chase the vestiges of former greatness.
Still, this was the mindset I was dueling with as I came to The Children At The Bottom Of The Gardden.
What can I say? Sometimes fears are totally unwarranted and clearly this kid has some game.
Let’s start with this brilliant cover art. Right away it had me thinking of Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden Of Earthly Delights which made me believe that I was in for a great ride.
What I get from Bosch is a feeling of voueurism, of observing this panorama of society, having been left to its own excess and perhaps some overindulgence of sexual liberty.
Pack that notion away in your mind for a minute. We’ll come back to it.
The standard book formula tells us that we have to have a protagonist and an antagonist. The character who sits at the center of the story and makes most of the decisions and actions that drives the narrative as well as the character that provides opposition and roadblocks to that progress.
With Gardden, we don’t really have a protagonist or an antagonist, not in the strict definitions of the words, anyway. We have an ensemble cast of characters who (depending on the context) can have aspects of being both protagonist and antagonist at the same time. I think it can be a cop-out at times for books to present characters as if anyone can truly be either entirely good or entirely bad when the reality is that on the inside, each of us is fully capable of both.
This is a book that, in all fairness shouldn’t work. This is the kind of narrative structure that I think causes hair-rending and unsolicited lecturing in workshops and writers groups. It’s the kind of thing many readers might turn away from because of the sheer size of this journey.
Thankfully, this was not the case with me.
What makes this story succeed is the strength and depth of the characters. They’re so engaging that, looking at the first half of the book, I think that if you were to unravel the separate narratives and lay them out flat, any one would have the potential to stand on its own as a great novella. And yet somehow they also all manage to create a necessary support structure for each other.
I like the density of this story. As I have gotten older I have become less of a fan of longer books and on face, this would be one that would stretch my limit a bit. But the way a longer work gets to me in the same fashion as a novella is by keeping me invested in the story that is unfolding. This book easily hits this mark. Butcher breathes life into these people, for as much as I kind of hate that expression. This is a book that is going to demand your attentiveness and I would not suggest putting it down for very long. This is the kind of book you need to be picking up every day, even if just to read a chapter or two. But trust me, the level of familiarity you get from this complex tale makes all the time worthwhile.
Like the inherent craziness of that Bosch painting, what I see in this story is a conglomerate of different parts that are completely separate and yet destined to be brought crashing together. Is the point the specifics of the lives these people lead, thinking of themselves as completely independent? Or is it the fact that ultimately their fates have already been decided, merely for having been brought into existence on the same landscape? I love the sense of impending doom around all of them, that despite how independent they are from one another, they all share the common factor of hurtling down this common highway, leading towards the brutal end that maybe they all deserve.
And not unlike Good Girls, there are definitely parts of this book that will disturb, as well as some aspects of most of the characters. But again like Good Girls, it’s impossible to look away, sitting above this Bosch-ian landscape, secure in the knowledge that whatever is lying at the end of the road for these characters, it’s going to be nothing good.
This week, Machine Mean will be running our review of the latest book from author Jonathan Butcher. In advance of this, we took the opportunity to sit down with Jonathan and poke at his soft bits and see what came loose. Give it a read and don’t forget to come back on Thursday for our thoughts on The Children At The Bottom Of The Gardden.
MM: Tell us about yourself. Where do you come from? Why writing? Where does your passion come from? What do you eat?
JB: That’s like a game-show question! I’m Jonathan, from South West England. From the moment I was able to transcribe ideas onto paper, I’ve been writing stories about weird, dark subject matter. I have little idea where my passion comes from – maybe from my folks having read to me from a young age, and maybe from a natural curiosity. And I eat pretty much everything, but at the moment I’m on a protein kick because I’m trying to de-scrawn myself and gain a couple of muscles, here and there.
MM: How do you feel that your narrative sensibilities have been shaped? Have you ever thought about where your art comes from?
JB: I write about what interests me, what makes me laugh, what grosses me out, and sometimes what moves me. For me, the most important aspect of a story is its structure; if it doesn’t have a satisfying beginning, middle, and an end (no matter how obscure) then I consider it a failure. I started reading adult horror at the age of about 10 but I grew to read plenty of other genre and non-genre stuff, so over time I’ve picked up a lot of influences. I’ve no idea why I’ve always been obsessed with such twisted subjects though – I had a good childhood and my parents and friends never encouraged my love for horror. I’ve just always been interested in understanding the things that many other people shy away from: the cruel secret, the things in the dark, and the good person who does something abominable.
MM: The characters in your stories often seem to be quite complex and laid out. Do you devote time to wrapping your head around them to the point that they are mostly fully formed by the time you start writing? Or does that happen more organically as the story also comes into being?
JB: My characters are very important to me. Even if they are exaggerated and outlandish, I want them to feel real within the context of my story. I very rarely plan them out in too much detail. Their personality forms during the first draft and is then expanded upon and refined in future drafts. I think that the characters in The Children at the Bottom of the Gardden are my most successfully-developed so far, but that book took 10 years (off and on) to write, and had five full redrafts, so I guess that’s to be expected. For me, the most exciting moments I experience as a writer are when one of my characters does something I wasn’t expecting. That’s when I know they’ve taken on a life of their own.
MM: Tell us about how this book came to be.
JB: I started The Children at the Bottom of the Gardden in about 2007. I’d tried writing a couple of novels before but never got further than about the 17,000-word mark, because I had been attempting to make them “deeper” than I was capable of at that point. The only reason I managed to complete Gardden is because I focused on writing about people and things that interest me, rather than trying to say something profound. I just chucked as many twisted ideas in there as I could, making myself laugh and occasionally retch, and then after the first draft was complete I realised how much work I still had to do!
MM: This book weaves a complex tapestry of characters that dips and weaves into each other. Did you have to conceptualize all of these plot-lines on their own at first or were you able to keep all of that present in your head as you wrote it all at once?
JB: I was about 70,000 words into the initial draft when it occurred to me how ambitious I was being writing this as my first book. I had 6/7 main characters, each with multiple plot arcs. At that point I started putting together brainstorms and detailed character backgrounds, and listing the number of sub-plots between each character that needed resolutions. It was intimidating, infuriating at times, but very satisfying when it all came together.
MM: And related to that, is there a particular character or character relationship in this that you feel particularly drawn to?
JB: I don’t think that there is any single character in the book that I feel more drawn to than the others. The more “realistic” characters came from my own life experiences, and the more OTT ones came from all the films/books I’ve watched/read. If I had to pick one of my creations who I’m most proud of, it would have to be Gary. He’s such a tragic, hopeless, and (for me) horribly believable character, and I feel like his chapters have a real energy to them.
MM: You seem to have made some deliberate formatting choices with this, for example some sections in all caps or spelling in some cases of specific words. “Gardden” is certainly an older usage of the word. Can you cast any light on these choices?
JB: The formatting comes from the fact that, while each chapter is written in the third person (she said/he said) they are very much subjective to each character’s personality and dialogue. Henry is like a lame version of a Guy Richie cockney wideboy, so instead of writing “fucking” the word is written in his accent: “fackin”. Locker has a very blunt, abrasive view of the world, so I wanted his chapters to reflect this – that’s why they’re in block capitals. And so on. As for the spelling of “gardden”, you’ll notice that it’s only written that way at certain times and in certain contexts … and that’s all I’m willing to say, for fear of spoilers. I think that my formatting choices may be clearer in the physical copy of the book, because each character has their own font to suit the style of their chapters.
MM: What Good Girls Do was obviously a starkly written, disturbing book. And while this new offering is quite a bit easier to get through, there are still some fairly graphic, disturbing scenes. The horror industry has received criticism in the past for the content we put out into the world. Why do you feel like your writing is pulled in this direction?
JB: Horror is there to horrify, plain and simple. I don’t think that I’m an author who writes shocking scenes without a purpose behind them – I have no interest in producing that kind of horror. I like the transgressive, and I like there to be a point behind extreme content. Sure, there are some unpleasant scenes in Gardden, but I think there’s only one which you could argue to be truly excessive, and that one is so over-the-top that it makes me laugh! I refuse to pull back from the shock of torture, murder, and violence. I just hope that I manage to make the level of viciousness suit the context of each story. I am a firm believer in free speech, and I think that it’s transparently obvious that if someone doesn’t like horror then they shouldn’t be reading it.
MM: Finally, what excites you about the state of the genre, what authors do you enjoy? And considering you have now put out two successive books that couldn’t be more different from one another, where do you see yourself going from here?
JB: I don’t feel qualified to comment on the horror genre as a whole, but I like Adam Nevill, H P Lovecraft, Duncan Ralston, Paula Ashe, and I have just discovered Poppy Z Brite. I’m currently enjoying The Stake by the late Richard Laymon, despite the fact that he struggles to describe a woman or teen girl without sounding like a pervert with drool running down his chin. As for my writing, it’ll probably continue to remain varied. I’ve been working on a novel about religious and political extremism but I needed to take a break from that for a while. I’m hoping to write a horror novella next, which is looking like it will feature possession, demons, cultists, and the usual weirdness that keeps me scribbling.
Jonathan Butcher has been writing weird stories since he was a child. He vividly remembers being 7 years old and banned by his teacher from writing about monsters or ghosts for a full term, but he can only assume that this encouraged him to write about them even more. He is a glutton for punishment, in that he not only writes for a hobby and passion, but also for a living. He lives just outside of Birmingham and spends most of his time immersed in horror, VR, strange music, dark strong beer, and all sorts of other naughtiness.
At the start, let me get out of the way that I fully acknowledge that in no way is Blade a perfect film. I don’t place it in my list of favorites – its isn’t even my favorite vampire film and I’m not going to argue that it should be for you.
It isn’t horror – in any interpretation of the word. I would categorize this alongside other similarly themed films as Underworld or Van Helsing. Films that may involve supernatural creatures or monsters as part of the story but are clearly just intended to be action movies, thrillers at best. Is this really important in the evaluation of it as a film? Probably not. But considering the context of reviewing vampire movies this month, I think it’s a relevant issue to bring to light. Is it really a vampire movie? Or is it just a movie that happens to have vampires in it?
So, I don’t think this is necessarily a shining example of what I would consider vampire lore. I can’t stand the notion that a vampire could be able to survive being out during the day because he’s wearing sunblock. And I tend to think that it takes a concept that should be fairly straightforward and simple and places it on an arbitrarily grandiose scale with notions of this massive underground society and with pseudo-mythological notions of the “day-walker”. Whatever, it’s all just pieces of the story to me and I don’t give it that much importance.
And I do tend to believe that the movie is a tad superficial. At times, I can’t escape the feeling that what the movie is really trying to do is show me how cool leather can look and sound.
I’ll also admit that I haven’t read even a frame of the comics that this movie was based on. So for me, I’m coming at this and seeing the movie in a vacuum for what it is. For me, this is all about just sitting down in front of a movie and enjoying, or not. Any previous knowledge or expectations are left at the door.
The question naturally and fairly becomes, why the hell do I like this film when by all rights and on paper, this should be a movie I don’t like?
It could be that it came along in the perfect point in my life. I was in the process of moving out of my dorm, it was the end of my senior year of college and it was a stressful time. There was a lot that needed to get done and my brother was in town helping me out.
And as things were finally angling down towards being finished, he and I took time out to catch a late-night showing of this. And I think it was exactly what I needed at the moment. Mindless, fun, loud action film at the theater that gave me something to escape into.
It could also be that, growing up in the eighties and nineties, Wesley Snipes was a major name and bulwark of my movie experiences, from as early as Major League, with fairly notable roles throughout much of the years to come. And looking back now, from the distant perspective of 2018, the Blade franchise was kind of the last hurrah for Snipes in terms of his visibility as an actor. This is not a criticism of him, by any means and I hope that wherever he is, he’s living comfortably, working on what he wants to and has found happiness on the back of the great work he has produced over his life.
Despite the annoyances over the little things and the parts I wish had been done differently, I have to put out there that I think the opening sequence of this film was one of the best I’ve seen. As absurd as the notion is of underground vampire clubs, it was a perfect way to introduce Blade as a character and I loved watching the intensity of him taking that room apart. It established the perfect mood for a movie that is designed to keep you in your seat, eating popcorn and drinking soda. It’s a great movie visually, with great dark tones to it and despite the summer blockbuster status, it still has some hints at harder edges that would suggest that maybe they were going for an adult audience at least. This is the kind of movie that you aren’t supposed to take that seriously. It’s a nice balance of the Marvel formula of action and funny talking combined with some gory and bloody bits as well.
And if there is anything Wesley Snipes does to perfection, it’s action movies. And this was one of his swan songs in that regard. Take it in for what it’s worth, great action and fun fictional escape routes from the dreary reality of our day to day existences.
For me, part of what makes Interview With The Vampire interesting is in considering the movie that we almost got. This was an example of a film plagued by pre-production difficulties, one of which was the outspoken criticism of author Anne Rice of the decision to cast Tom Cruise in the enigmatic role of Lestat. Now, as I write this review in 2018, Scientology and other eccentricities aside, Cruise has become a household name and not just for being an action star. I think he has well established himself as an actor with chops. This was not so much the case in the early to mid-nineties, however, and it led to Rice’s decision to disassociate with the film. And it would only be years later when she would recant her position.
But more than that, even, was the role of the boy who conducts the interview during this story. In the beginning, this role was given to young, up-and-coming actor River Phoenix. And it would be only days before filming that he would pass away tragically from a drug overdose. The producers had to scramble at the last minute to find a replacement and as a result we ended up with Christian Slater, who does a perfectly fine job, but I still can’t help but wonder what kind of a turn Phoenix would have taken with the role.
The movie was not an easy experience for the cast. When production shifted to London, it was in the dead of winter and work was conducted inside a studio with little or no windows so after toiling away in darkness of that place, the cast would emerge into the outside world, dark as well. Kind of an appropriate statement on the content of the story but understandably difficult to endure.
The point is that the film had an interesting gestational process and I have to think that if some aspects of it been different, we would have ended up with a dramatically different film, for better or worse, who’s to say?
My feelings on Anne Rice are a bit complicated and conflicted. On one hand, growing up with her writing was immensely influential for me. It was my first exposure to the possibility that horror(ish) fiction could also be beautifully written and intelligent. The first four books of the vampire chronicles were read multiple times as I made my way from junior high through college.
As I got older, however, I kind of drifted away from her writing and I have never really returned. I could never really put a finger on it until I recently when I thought I would try reading the entire chronicles and started fresh with Interview and found that I couldn’t get myself past the fourth book. I still loved Interview and I even enjoyed The Vampire Lestat. I still think those two books serve as a perfect example of the importance of point of view and how you can never really trust your narrator.
But as for the rest, Queen Of The Damned and Tale Of The Body Thief, I just felt like the writing was overwrought with unnecessary verbiage and backstory and slowing down the plot to drag out personal histories for characters that I didn’t really care about. And as a result, with the heart of the story so difficult to access, I decided to leave it all behind. It just doesn’t click with who I am as a reader anymore.
I know, what’s the point of all this, right?
I found that it gave me a new appreciation for the film adaptation of Interview With The Vampire because I think it managed to capture the beauty of Rice’s prose while at the same time keeping things grounded in a fairly solidly plotted screenplay. It also helps that as Rice devotes a lot of time in creating complex characters, the performances across the board were phenomenal.
There was some to-do made on the casting of then unknown Kirsten Dunst in the role of Claudia. Because while Dunst was youn, the character in the book was even younger. And while I can see the point that the film departed from the text somewhat, ultimately you have to lean towards the abilities of the actor and there was no way any actor of the age the book calls for would be able to pull off such a difficult role.
And for as huge as they are now, imagine trying to pull off a film with both Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt. One or both of those guys would have to take a serious pay cut in order for that to happen. And this is a time when I think both of them were really at the top of their game. Tom Cruise had been a star for some time, but more for his work as an action star than anything else. Coming out around the same time as movies like A Few Good Men and Jerry MacGuire, Cruise seemed to be branching out more, into more serious roles that he might have otherwise not been associated with. And Pitt was just starting to put in some of the more notable early performances that would make him a household name. In all, great performances from the both of them.
Add to this some great supporting performances from the likes of Stephen Rhea and then also emerging Antonio Banderas. Even Christian Slater, (who I occasionally poke at a little for being what I consider Jack Nicholon Lite) put in some solid work, despite basically being dropped into production.
Interview is a beautifully filmed and constructed movie, so much so that I almost feel like it was made as if Anne Rice’s narrative sensibilities were surgically grafted onto the director. The music is fantastic, and the set work is top notch. I feel like I’m in these places and I can distinctively feel the vibe and the history of all of them.
On the flip side of things, I also have to acknowledge the other possible influence that Anne Rice and this movie have had on the current landscape. I have not been a huge fan of where vampire lore has gone to this point, with Twilight and the likes dominating the genre to such an extent. And I think an argument could be made that books and movies like Interview With The Vampire and subsequent books were taking the first steps towards that point. Not that Anne Rice could have ever conceived of this taking place, but I find myself forced to consider it as I contemplate my feelings on the film.
Interview With The Vampire is not horror as I would define it. Not really, anyway. I think it’s a fairly literary story that happens to feature characters of supernatural origin. Regardless of how you categorize it, though, I think Interview stands as a fresh and original fictional take on the notion of vampirism. This isn’t just about fangs and coffins and victims screaming as they are devoured. This is a human story told through the lens of monsters and it’s the only time I can think of where I have seen vampires actually struggling with their own morality and where they stand in the world. It’s a well thought out and executed story, one that I would recommend checking out, either by seeing the movie, reading the novel or both.
I Kill In Peace, by Hunter Shea is a powerful book, one of the more effective explorations I have seen of the twisted and deteriorating sanity and perspective of a chilling character. I don’t say this very often but this really was a book that I had a hard time putting down so I’m glad I was able to read it fairly quickly. The narrative was that compelling, feeding my need with each page to find out what was happening.
The premise of the book is that of a character being driven to commit murder. After being let go from his job, Peter starts to receive text messages from an anonymous source, instructing him on who he is to kill, providing the weapon and the opportunity to do it. This starts simply enough as revenge against the opportunistic boss who fires him and from there it just gets more extreme.
One of the more effective parts of this book was how Shea demonstrated exactly how Peter is driven to committing acts that most of us would consider unconscionable. I’m not normally the biggest fan of the first person but in this case I think that it is essential to trace his state of mind and why he is doing the things he is doing. Ironically enough, even in the midst of committing unforgivable crimes, you can’t help but feel just a little bit sorry for him, like he was caught up in circumstances more than anything else.
Peter himself is a solid character and the story built around him is effectively done. Shea does a good job putting him in a position that earns the sympathy of the reader. You really feel his stress at the prospects of having to support his family now that he is without a means of earning an income. Besides obvious external pressures to commit these crimes, you also see the internal stresses created by the situation he finds himself in.
As intriguing and mysterious as the story is, right out of the gate, it only proves to get even more disturbing as we witness not just Peter’s apparent transformation but that of the world around him as well. As the story progressed, I was totally absorbed with the events of this town and what could possibly be causing all of it. I’ll be completely honest, there was a part of me that was worried about whether or not he was going to be able to bring everything in for a conclusion that was going to make any sense. Too often with books like this, the author does an amazing job building up the universe of the story but isn’t able to figure out how to find a good exit point. Happily though, the book does find its way to a resolution that felt complete and satisfying, without going too far and over explaining.
One aspect of this book I really liked was how at times I was reminded of Bret Easton Ellis’ book, American Psycho, in the moments where you find yourself questioning the reliability and honesty of the narrator, whether what you see through Peter’s eyes is really happening, or if he is manufacturing them in his mind. Is the person leading Peter along actually there at the other end of the digital messages he receives? Or is it some kind of supernatural force using Peter like a pawn? I thought that Shea’s use of technology in the story worked really well and added new elements as Peter tries here and there to extricate himself from this anonymous character.
This book is not going to be for everyone. There are some graphic moments and the story takes a very dark turn, but while the book is undoubtedly disturbing in its content, there was no point where I felt like he was being gratuitous. The content that is there serves an essential purpose in detailing the progression of his state of mind throughout the book. In my opinion, I don’t think I could imagine it working as well as it does without it.
The book ends on a really strong note, going in a direction I can honestly say I would have never predicted. Shea sends us off powerfully, with an intensely emotional scene followed by an incredibly vivid visual as the book draws to a close. Overall, the book was extremely effective in its pacing and execution. If you’re up for some gritty, dark fiction give this one a look. It is what I think is the perfect length for horror fiction and it does more in a hundred or so pages than some books manage to do in over a thousand.
Chances are that if you have found your way to this review, what I am about to say is likely unnecessary but I think it is still important to make this clear, up front.
You can always say things like, “this book isn’t going to be for everyone”. It’s a statement I have always been a little perplexed with, even though I use it myself often enough. My issue with it is that ultimately, isn’t that going to be the case with every book? So I am going to take this a step further.
This book will offend you.
You should exercise the full extent of your caution and awareness before you undertake this read. If you have even the smallest tinges of sensitivities to graphic and extreme content, you should be aware that this book has it in great magnitude. If ever there was a book that needed to come with trigger warnings, this would be it. It will offend you and I say this not as a criticism but because the horrors in the book and the way this character is treated should offend you. This book contains scenes of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation in brazen fashion.
It also makes you think.
The main character is introduced in a quick and brutal first chapter. She is being held prisoner in the home of an unidentified male, someone she identifies simply as “Daddy”. It is with sinking dread that you realize that she has been essentially raised by this person for the purposes of providing pleasure and that her outlook on the world around her is so distorted and skewed, she doesn’t even share the same basic language. It was chilling for me when I reached the moment that I realized that she referred to not just her captor as Daddy, but in fact was referring to all men as, “Daddies”.
The second character is a wife, sharing a morning at home with her husband and children. The chapters of the book jump back and forth, twining the stories around each other in a dual narrative that seemed disparate at first but once the narratives are brought together; it’s off to the races in a way that was appalling, tragic and impossible to look away from.
One thing Butcher does particularly well is in crafting the voices for these two characters. It’s easy to just say that this chapter is from this character’s point of view and this chapter is another. But I genuinely felt the depth and complexity of both of these women. The difference in language in how the two of them talk and see the world around them is beautifully crafted. It feels strange using a descriptor like that for a book of this nature but he really does an outstanding job capturing the spirit and voices of two completely different people.
Reading this book, I found myself contemplating at times the extent of our tolerances when it comes to the horror genre. Is there a line that should be left alone? Is it possible to go too far? This is without a doubt one of the most extreme books I have ever read but the answer I kept coming back to was that a lot of this is dependent on the context in which the content appears in the first place. There were plenty of moments in the book that made me want to turn away, made me question why I was reading this thing. What I find interesting though is that despite all those moments, I never really questioned whether or not the content I was reading was needed for the story. There were a few moments that I thought he could have pulled back a little but on a whole, I felt like everything was there for a reason.
You can tell (I think) when an author throws in something gross or explicit, simply for the purposes of “punching up” or making their story more “in your face”. There does seem to be a culture of, “see how much I can shock you” that I am not necessarily a fan of. But in the case of What Good Girls Do, I was shocked and appalled but all throughout, I felt like I was reading the natural progression of a story as opposed to grit and gore that was being arbitrarily shoehorned into a book.
The best kinds of monsters are the ones that can’t be reasoned with, the ones who you can’t talk down or convince to be merciful. As the scenario in this book unfolds, what makes it particularly effective is that this monster in human form shares all those attributes. Because of the altered understanding of her world as a result of her captivity, she becomes essentially an uncomprehending monster that cannot be negotiated or bargained with.
And even at the height of the horrible acts she was conducting, I found that I couldn’t bring myself to hate her. And this is likely the most powerful aspect of the book for me. Because the thing is, I understood that everything she was doing was a result of her captivity and being sculpted against her will into this creature that destroys without really understanding what she is doing. I understood that the real monster in the story was the one who had kidnapped her, withheld her from the world and allowed her to grow into what she has become.
My sole criticism for the book would be that in the last chapter, the story makes a bit of a shift that I had a hard time accepting. Not because of how it made me feel or because I needed the book to end a certain way. It was that a character makes a decision that I didn’t really feel like I understood. I didn’t buy that the character had come to the point of the final act we bear witness to. I really needed that moment to be drawn out a little more so that Butcher could devote more to exploring the motivations and causes. I’m sorry for being so cagey in my framing of this, but I obviously can’t get into details without spoiling the end of the book. Still, it was this point that probably shifted my review from five stars to four. It was a shocking ending, to be sure, but speaking for myself, I needed Butcher to take a little more time in order to properly sell it.
Is this going to be a book for you? I can’t answer that. What I can tell you is that I was captivated all throughout. As a parent, the story wreaked me, emotionally. It was one of the most challenging reads I have ever taken on. This book made me feel. It made me cringe. It made me think and it made me recoil. It made me ponder the morality of the world around me and shudder at the thought of such things like this happening in real life. It made me scared for us as a society as I can absolutely imagine something like this happening in neighborhoods across the world. This is a book that was eye-opening and mind-bending. It found the cracks and crevices of my being and forced its way in.
This book does what all art should. It doesn’t care about you or in conforming to what you want.
It simply is.
As a child of the eighties, I was born and raised on what I consider to be one of the golden ages of horror fiction. Franchises were born here, franchises that, to this day we find ourselves unable to escape from. And while there are any number of instances where we, as a culture have lost our way, there is one specific area which I particularly lament where we seem to have gone wrong.
I speak specifically of vampires.
A lot of this is likely going to seem directed at Twilight and to be sure, much of it for me came from that particular franchise. If that’s your thing, all the power to you but for me, it was way too far of a stone’s throw from the classic films I grew up with. Vampires used to be cool, they were dangerous and gritty. Vampires were a force to be reckoned with in the fictional landscape.
Then things began to change and it was almost like vampires started to become too precious. The intensity of the genre seemed to lessen and with the exception of a few standout films, vampire fiction seemed to become very bland and for a long time now, I have been waiting for a beam of light to show us the way through this long vampiric nightmare we seem to exist within.
Enter King Carrion, by Rich Hawkins, stage left.
The story of the book is to the point and efficient. The main character, Mason, is returning to his home town after an incarceration to try and beg himself back into the life of his ex-wife, trying to atone for his crime. He quickly discovers that something is wrong. An ancient vampire God has descended on the town, intent on making Great Britain his own.
This is what I have been missing for all this time. These are the vampires I grew up with, this is the horror genre I grew up with. It was a breath of fresh air in a world of emotionally available vampires. These vampires hit hard and fast, with just the right amount of gore that I have come to expect.
The book is paced quite well and for me, King Carrion often has the feel of Salem’s Lot, if it were to be clarified down to its essential base self. Hawkins wastes no time taking the reader straight into the heart of the story and uses a ton of great description to plunge us into this beautifully bleak environment.
The quality of the writing here is top rate. Hawkins’ aptitude for physical description comes through clearly in this book and the action of the story does a great job moving things along. There was no point where I felt things were dragging and pretty much throughout the book, I didn’t want to put it down. This is one that I definitely could have taken down in one reading if the time had been there. His characters feel genuine and their struggles seem real. He does a good job making their situation sympathetic very quickly.
Hawkins also does what I think is essential to any proper monster story in that he takes the essence of the vampires but also adds some personal twists of his own. It felt like he paid tribute to the legacy of the monster while also putting something out there that was uniquely his.
If I had any gripe about the story, it would be a minor one and to be fair, this is a hard bridge to cross for any author and there are just some times when it works better than others. But for me it was the point in the story where, after having his first encounter with the vampires, Mason decides to return to the scene to investigate. For me, I always find myself in horror movies and books asking why the character is bothering at all when I would probably be trying to get the hell out of there. Why go back? So in the context of this book, I think I would have liked it if that decision had been a little more fleshed out so that his motivations were a little clearer. As I said though, very minor issue for me.
I don’t know if Hawkins has any plans for a follow-up to this book but if there is a chance, I would definitely be on the lookout for it as I believe there could be more story to tell here.
For anyone out there who is of a similar disposition to me, who loves their horror delivered with some grit and some bleakness to it, this book would be an excellent choice for you. And maybe, with small steps like this, we can start to bring ourselves back into the light and away from the sanitized versions of these great fictional characters we have today.
Say it with me.
Vampires can be cool again.
EDITOR’S NOTE – Please consider checking out Rich Hawkins’ Amazon author page and take a look at more of his books. He is an incredibly talented author who deserves far more recognition and accolades than he receives. Support a great artist today.