Twisted Pathways of Murder & Death is a compendium of grim short stories, each with their own interpretation of the title of this work. No one is safe here, with a rogue’s gallery of villains that range from the tragic to the demonic that all lust for blood, flesh, and the demise of all who cross their paths.
I read the paperback version of the book, which note that there are 4 bonus tales vs. the electronic version. I will provide a brief synopsis of each tale without providing any spoilers.
Deadly Mistakes tells the tragic tale of a man out for revenge after a clerical error at a law office that lets a murdering monster free to slaughter his wife.
Turn of Events turns the tables on the traditional sad tale of domestic violence.
Stalkers Beware provides some new ideas of how to deal with all those pesky groupies if you are a rock star.
Hope of a Future takes a look at a bleak apocalyptic future where hoping for even the most simple things can make things even more grim.
Game Gone Wrong mixes science fiction with the very prevalent fear of the government watching your every move, and doing whatever it takes to find out what you know.
Mystery Meat is a simple tale of a meat packing facility trying to find out where several bins of prime cuts of meat came from that no one knows about…with morbid results.
Father’s Revenge is a succinct, blunt tale of a father’s revenge when his wife betrays him, as seen through the eyes of his daughter.
Innocent Blood starts out much like the previous tale, but with the desire for revenge going dreadfully wrong.
On Account of Bacon speaks of how unspeakable tragedies can occur for the most innocuous reasons…or in this case, thanks to a delicious breakfast meat.
Evil Mountain asks the question ‘what do you get when a werewolf, vampire, witch, zombie, and dragon walk into a poor, innocent villager’s hut?’ Nothing pleasant, I can tell you that much.
The Heart of Heroism tells the tragic tale of Billy Jack, a mentally handicapped man-child who simply wants to be a superhero and gets his chance when the zombie apocalypse starts up in the tenement he lives in with his overbearing father.
Historical Significance is a traditional ghost tale with a demonic twist.
Memories starts out asking the question ‘Have you ever heard a rabbit scream?’ and goes deeper down the rabbit hole from there.
Overall, this set of macabre tales are solidly written, though some are stronger and more compelling than others. Each share a very fatalistic perspective, though they range from the gore splattered to the sinister. Hope of a Future, Innocent Blood, Evil Mountain, and The Heart of Heroism were my favorites of the lot, while a couple of the very short tales didn’t do it for me, like Turn of Events and Father’s Revenge. When the author works with more than a page or two, she is able to craft characters that are real, vivid, and accessible.
Twisted Pathways of Murder & Death can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Twisted-Pathways-Murder-Rebecca-Besser/dp/0615858163/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1401418967&sr=8-2&keywords=twisted+pathways+of+murder+%26+death (paperback) and here: http://www.amazon.com/Twisted-Pathways-Murder-Rebecca-Besser-ebook/dp/B00E1LPQZS/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1401418967&sr=8-1&keywords=twisted+pathways+of+murder+%26+death (kindle).
Deadland’s Harvest starts off where 100 Days In Deadland left off, with Cash and company doing their best to survive in the wooded park where they have taken up residence. This after the mayhem that closed out the first book and wiped out Camp Fox, the National Guard base where most survivors in the area had migrated to after the dead rose. Clutch is still alive, but working on learning how to walk again after the injuries he suffered in the mayhem at the end of 100DiD. The survivors are fewer, but the human dangers from the first book are no more, making the undead once again their main concern.
On a mission to save a group of refugees stuck in a building surrounded by zeds, Cash and Clutch discover that there are hordes of the undead roaming the countryside, moving south toward their current safe haven. After flying a surveillance mission it becomes clear to Cash that these hordes are massive, with tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of the undead in them and they are wiping out everything in their path. Nothing remains except rubble and desolation. And soon they will trample the park and anyone who remains there.
The survivors make a decision to seek the assistance of a riverboat captain, who has taken on other survivors on his boat that floats on the Mississippi river, out of clutching grasp of the zeds. This leads to new complications and more human conflicts as the two groups struggle to coexist with one another while at the same time the hordes continue to advance on their position.
Deadland’s Harvest maintains the fast pace of its predecessor and the narration has a natural flow and feel to it. While Cash has become a seasoned survivor who has been hardened by the trauma she faced in the first book, she has formed a family bond with Clutch and Jace, and will do anything to keep them safe. While this story is told in first person, the author manages to continue to let the secondary characters tell their own tale and grow as the story progresses. Avoiding many of the pitfalls that challenge the middle book in a trilogy, Deadland’s Harvest does a solid job of standing on its own, though with an intriguing promise of what is to come in the final act in this three part saga.
Kudos to the author for using the idea of massive hordes of the undead moving and migrating together, like other creatures who are avoiding the cold of winter. I do wish there was greater detail on the hordes shared, as the concept was an intriguing one. Also intriguing is the theme the author has carried over from the first book, which is to use Dante Aligheri’s works to set the stage for her story. 100DiD traversed the nine circles of hell while DH examines the seven deadly sins. The final book promised to explore the seven virtues. The reader need not know anything further about Dante to appreciate the story, just the fact that this is a solid zombie action tale.
Deadland’s Harvest can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Deadlands-Harvest-Deadland-Saga-Volume/dp/0989901815/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1400809307&sr=8-1
Mad Swine: Dead Winter does not pick up where Mad Swine: The Beginning left off. In fact, this sequel provides a review of the events that happen directly after the abrupt ending of the first book with a relatively quick synopsis by the main character more than a couple of months later. I stated in my review of the first book that it cut off abruptly with a cliff hanger ending that left me very curious as to what would happen next. Unfortunately, the focal point on this story does not start out with, or even focus on, the war between the neighborhoods, only its aftermath, which makes me puzzle over whether the author wrote about the battles that occurred and either he or someone in his circle of advisors suggested he cut it and focus on the long term survival of the community that the main character, Matt Danzig, is leading through the apocalypse. I would have liked to have read the story of the actual battle for Randall Oaks.
This criticism does not mean that the actual story that the author wrote here doesn’t have its own positive qualities. In and of itself, the tale told here is solid, and in fact some elements of this book work better than the first. The lack of ammunition and the desire to stay quiet and not draw the attention of the infected leave the survivors with more challenges and less ability to utilize the arsenal that the main character and narrator had at his disposal in MS:TB. This makes for a more pure and raw survival story of average suburban folks vs. more of an armed military camp scenario that there was a taste of in book one. Matt’s personal relationships are explored with more depth and there is a bit of romance thrown in as well for him after the trauma of losing his wife and children in the first book. He is, understandably, reluctant, but the sense that everything could fall apart at any minutes does pervade his and everyone else’s reality in Randall Oaks. The struggles with the bitter cold of winter and diminishing supplies are the main nemesis for the citizens of the community, with the infected playing a close second. The competing neighborhoods are no longer a factor in this tale, but the urgency to figure out how to make it to spring without freezing or starving is crucial. The infected, which were explained to not be the undead in the first book, continue to have all the traits of the undead in this one. Where they slept in the first book like regular humans, they seemed to have moved past that stage here, where the virus or plague has further transformed them. Another interesting and threatening aspect of their existence is revealed that seemed quite creative. The theory that the undead will freeze in bitter cold comes somewhat into play, with the undead going dormant in the cold, but even more interestingly, when they get buried under snow they will still become alert when a living human presence is nearby, which makes for some very interesting ambush scenarios.
Overall, I think the author’s story telling skills have grown with this sequel, though I can’t deny my disappointment that I was not treated to the battle of the neighborhoods that the first book appeared to promise was on the horizon. As a standalone, this tale definitely has its merits, and its focus on Matt more as a man struggling to lead people against nature and inhuman monsters is compelling, though it serves, like so many second books in a trilogy, as a transition between the sudden and abrupt actions of the first book and the potential threats that promise to inhabit the third book. The hope is that both the personal struggles that Matt suffers through in the second book and the heated action and excitement of the first book will join forces in book three for a very compelling conclusion.
Mad Swine: Dead Winter can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Mad-Swine-Dead-Winter-Volume/dp/1618680463/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1399223763&sr=8-1-fkmr0