Writer of Horror Fiction

Archive for January, 2014

Review of Scott Carleton’s “Collapse: A Survival Thriller”

Collapse: A Survival Thriller is a novella that tells the story of Matt Avery, a regular guy working in a downtown office building who gets caught up in the middle of a blackout and the riots that follow.  With the roads jammed and roaming bands of looters and others who are looking for a reason to get violent, Matt is forced to take to the road on foot to get back home.  With him is his hotheaded co-worker who feels that the rules of society no longer apply.  Matt is a prepper and is prepared with survival items in his office, in his car he must abandon at work, and is focused on getting home to wife and child, where he has more supplies to ride out the storm.  This short tale tells of the perils he faces and the preparations he has made so that he and his family could survive when things go bad.

I was provided a copy of this novella by the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.  The story is easy to read and I was able to finish it within a couple hours.  The premise behind the tale is more generic than anything.  The city is anonymous, the cause for the blackouts is limited, outside of hints at a failing power grid, and the riots are caused initially by a woman being accidentally shot by the police when they were trying to maintain order in the city.  My interest in apocalyptic fiction mostly leans toward those with a fictional bent.  Zombies, alien invasions, and nuclear holocausts populate many if not most of the apocalyptic tales I read.  This is a far more straight forward and generically plausible meltdown of society scenario.  While the author made an effort to give Matt and his co-worker some depth, both characters are, unfortunately, as generic as the background on the story itself.  Outside of his knowledge of Matt as prepper, there is very little detail about him that made me interested in what was happening with him.  His co-worker, a thinly veiled sociopath from the get go, acts as an obvious foil to the character, with his urges to throw off the shackles of the rules of civilization barely restrained from almost the beginning of this tale.  Unfortunately, the story felt far more like an educational pamphlet on prepping than it did a story about real people.  There are hints within its pages of an author with some potential to create something with more gravitas and emotion than this piece and I hope to see something like that in the future.

Collapse would be most interesting to someone who is looking for a beginners guide on being prepared for disasters, both man-made and natural.  For a fan of apocalyptic fiction though, the story is a bit forced and fits too easily into the format of a guidebook on prepping rather than a story of people desperate to survive the rapid breakdown of society.

Collapse: A Survival Thriller can be found here:   http://www.amazon.com/Collapse-Survival-Thriller-Scott-Carleton/dp/1624090206/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1389659728&sr=1-3

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Review of Stephen Kozeniewski’s “Braineater Jones”

Braineater Jones introduces the reader to the eponymous character while he floats face down in a swimming pool with the dawning realization that he has been shot and worse yet, has died from his injury.  Not having a clue what happened to him, he realizes that he is in a mansion and does a quick search, finding a few clues to his possible existence. 

Fleeing from a couple of men who he believes have returned to the scene of their crime, this newly created zombie finds himself in the Welcome Mat part of the town of Ganesh, or The Mat as everyone calls it.  It is the hangout of deadheads and deadbeats alike-a place where the trolley cars don’t go and where the police don’t show up when a crime has been committed.  With no memory, Braineater stumbles across a few other deadheads who are willing to help him, or at least set him up with alcohol, which is the only thing that keeps the sriffs from becoming true brain eaters.  If they pickle their brains in booze, they don’t turn into the monsters we all know and love.  With the help of a ‘sponsor’ who goes by the name of Lazar, the narrator dubs himself Braineater Jones and offers up his services as a Private Investigator.  And if he does a few jobs here and there for Lazar, he’ll have enough booze to keep his brain moving and his unlife going forward and at the same time he can try and figure out who the hell he once was, before he was plugged and dumped in the pool. 

Braineater has plenty of questions, and the fact that his memories aren’t coming back to him like the eventually do with the rest of the undead is pretty suspicious.  With the help of a partner who is nothing more than a dead head with no body and despite plenty of other stiffs trying to stop him, including a hot (or rather cold) dame who spells trouble from the get go, he’ll get to the bottom of the mystery, even if he does end up double-dog dead for his troubles.

Braineater Jones is a pulpy noir mystery novel set in the back alleys of a strange city a few years prior to World War II, with all the slang and classic detective set ups you could ever want…with the added tidbit that the main character is dead.  Braineater is a wise guy through and through, and while many of the other characters are also dead, they could fit perfectly into a classic mold of a Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett hard-boiled novel. 

This is an interesting cross-genre tale that gives zombies some interesting slants.  The author makes the main character as clueless as we are as to why he is up and walking around and makes him explore the reasons for that through his detective work, which allows us to learn as we go.  There are hints to voodoo being the culprit, though Braineater’s fixation is on why he has come back and less on why there is a community of the undead as a whole.  There are plenty of twists and turns to keep things interesting and a setup for a potential series of books.  The zombie purist may not appreciate the liberties the author took with his depiction of the undead, though fans looking for a creative take on the classic zombie setup should appreciate how different the world of Braineater is and how entertaining both he and the rogues gallery of characters are in this story.  This was a fun, easy read that made me smile and also had me rooting for a zombie, which isn’t something I do very often. 

Braineater Jones can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Braineater-Jones-Stephen-Kozeniewski/dp/1940215188/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1389578672&sr=8-1


Review of Evan Ramspott’s “Plagued: The Midamerica Zombie Half-Breed Experiment”

Plagued: The Midamerica Zombie Half-Breed Experiment is a mouthful of a name for a novella written by Evan Ramspott.  The story introduces us to Tom and Gary, brothers who have come to the town of Biter Hill, one of the few locations within the Plagued States where the zombie slave trade occurs, to search out records on their lost sister, Larissa, who was infected ten years earlier and who may have come through the town as a slave at one point.  Thorough records are kept on the zombies who pass through and they have been ordered by their father, a powerful senator, to find her.  They return to this same place, year in and year out, in an effort to fulfill their father’s wishes.

Tom feels guilt for what happened to Larissa, since she was in his care when she was bitten.  But Tom was twelve at the time, and had no experience with dealing with zombies.  He struggles with the idea that he shouldn’t be held responsible, but feels guilty nonetheless.  It doesn’t help that his father and brother both blame him, in their own particular ways, for what happened.

Tom comes across a half-breed zombie in a slaver’s cage while in Biter’s Hill.  She looks like a normal uninfected human.  There are claims that half-breeds are creatures born of a human who is infected while pregnant, some other, unknown reason for their existence seems more likely.  Though she is savage, there is a connection between the creature and Tom.  She also seems rather interested in the picture of his sister when she sees it.

Tom is separated from his brother when the prison in Biter Hill maintaining most of the zombies who are being held for the slave trade has a breakout.  Tom has to flee with several zombie hunters and slave traders at that point; including the one who has the half-breed who Tom has discovered is named Penelope.  Together, they must enter into the wastelands in an effort to find their way to another place of safety.  Tom suspects that Penelope knows something about his missing sister and uses his clout as a senator’s son to get the ragged band of survivors to head to a place where he believes Larissa have migrated to in the decade since she’d turned with the promise of rescue and wealth if they do.  And he is going to need Penelope’s help to find her.

Plagued is definitely a different type of zombie apocalypse tale.  It is focused on Tom’s personal journey and the relationship he forms with Penelope along the way.  The craggy old slave trader Peske was probably my favorite character though, as someone who is gruff and seemingly uncaring about anyone else, he does what it takes to keep everyone alive and seems to have a soft spot for his half-breed who he insists isn’t for sale.  Tom is well developed as a character and Penelope, as a confused creature of two worlds generates both intrigue and sympathy.

It’s clear that this will be the first of perhaps a series of zombie stories set in this world, and this is a positive start.  The zombies themselves are fairly Romero-esque and traditional, but the introduction of half-breeds other factors like potential cures and being able to eliminate a zombie’s ability to spread infection once they are captured adds some unique elements to this saga.  This is a quick read and the world the author created, long past the initial terrifying days of the zompcalypse, had an air of believability to it as the survivors adapt and cope with the fact that the undead are most likely a permanent fixture in their universe.

Plagued: The Midamerica Zombie Half-Breed Experiment can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Plagued-Midamerica-Half-Breed-Experiment-America-ebook/dp/B00DTCT26O/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top


Review of Alan Draven’s “Nocturnal Offerings”

Nocturnal Offerings is another return (sort of) of the author’s town of Bitternest, a foggy city in Louisiana not too far from New Orleans.  But this story, which is broken into two parts, starts out in Montreal, which happens to be the author’s hometown.  Nick Kubrick, a radio host from Bitternest, has headed north to visit his brother Chris who has moved to Canada.  But upon arriving at his brother’s house, he realizes that his sibling has disappeared-his house appears to be abandoned, mail from the past several weeks clogs his mailbox, and a little girl who lives next door said some men came by and took him away in a hearse some time ago.

While pondering this mystery, Nick stumbles across an acquaintance that he went to high school with that now also lives in Montreal.  Lance is a successful architect who designed the gated community he and his wife lives in and he invites Nick to stay with him while he is in town.  Nick soon discovers that the neighborhood is just a bit ‘off’.  Everyone who lives there are beautiful, there are no children, no pets, and no one over the age of forty.  His sense of foreboding is capped off with a midnight visit to a part of the neighborhood where the women who live there dance naked in the moonlight.  But he isn’t quite sure whether it was a dream he was having or the start of an odd new mystery filled with witches and rituals making this strange place even stranger.

On top of these two puzzles, Nick stumbles across a young girl who is running from some strange creature, or so it seems, as he drives into Montreal.  He later discovers that there have been three deaths in the city over the past few days-bodies are found with the skin peeled off and the hearts removed.  A serial killer appears to be on the loose and he wonders if the girl he had come across could have been its next victim.

The first part of the book focuses on the mystery around the strange suburban neighborhood and its equally strange inhabitants whose sexual appetites are pretty over the top.  Nick meets up with a librarian who he befriends that is willing to help him uncover what is going on in Elysium Cove, along with helping him try and figure out what has happened to his brother.

The book moves back to Bitternest later on, where the murders that happened in Montreal seem to lead to the possibility that a serial killer might be crisscrossing North America with Louisiana as its final destination.

The author has continued developing an intriguing world where Bitternest, Louisiana is the centerpiece.  While it’s clear he has an appreciation for his hometown of Montreal, he seems more comfortable writing about this eerie, foggy place which dark forces call home.  What brings Nick to Montreal-visiting his brother-seems quite secondary to what ends up being the driving force behind why he stays.  Figuring out what happened to Chris takes a backseat to the odd neighborhood with the strangely beautiful women.  It seems a tremendous coincidence that Nick stumbles across an old acquaintance so far from home.  It almost seemed as if the author decided that a tale of a missing brother wasn’t all that interesting and dismissed it so he could devote his efforts to fun and games with the devilish women of Elysium Cove.  Not that this particular tale wasn’t entertaining, but the stage was set for there to be more during Nick’s time in Montreal.

Nick is a rascal.  That isn’t a term that is heard much these days, but that is perhaps the best way to describe him.  His affection for the young, pretty librarian who helps him out doesn’t seem to temper his lust for the lascivious women who seduce him during his stay at the mysterious subdivision in Montreal.  The fact that the librarian maintains her affection for him despite his admitted indiscretions with those strange women required a bit of suspension of disbelief, even if supernatural forces were the culprit for his dalliances.

The return to Bitternest for the second part of this tale felt like the more natural environment for overall story being told.  The author has a fondness for Montreal that bleeds through in his descriptions of it and its inhabitants clashes with the gritty doom of his tales.  Bitternest is a far more welcome abode for these dances into darkness.  Bitternest isn’t just a setting; it is an ever present character whose moods and whims influence each story that takes place within its boundaries.  It pulses with lifeblood of its own.  That is the case here, even with this slight tale of a monstrous serial killer whose path may have led them from Montreal down to southern Louisiana in a strange cycle that takes place every twenty seven years.  Nick is at home here-a character who does his best to debunk myths and rumors of monsters on his radio show-much like Kolchak from days of yore, but who seems to keep discovering that the things which go bump in the night are horribly real.  He hooks up with a private detective hot on the trail of a serial killer with some secrets of his own, despite Nick’s promises that his hunting days are behind him.

Overall, this is a satisfactory entry into the Bitternest saga, though there was a desire for more from the Montreal side of things-especially with the missing brother side of the story.  Bitternest is a fun place to visit and I look forward to future trips to this foggy, grim place chock full of nightmares.

Nocturnal Offerings can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Nocturnal-Offerings-Alan-Draven/dp/0615906842/ref=tmm_pap_title_0