Sunday, October 30, 2016

Review: I Am Providence

I Am Providence I Am Providence by Nick Mamatas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When a writer is murdered at the Summer Tentacular, the annual Providence-based HP Lovecraft convention, Colleen Danzig plumbs the depths of the assembled fandom to find his killer. Can she stay alive long enough to find the murderer?

I Am Providence is a murder mystery set at an HP Lovecraft convention. It shows the dark underbelly of fandom, putting the fans under the microscope.

Colleen Danzig, the plucky heroine, goes through quite a bit of hell over the course of the book, both in her sleuthing and in the way fandom sometimes treats women in general. The other patrons of the convention remind me all too much of the kind of vocal fans one finds online.

The plot was very serpentine, or squamous, I guess. I had no idea who the killer was up until the end. Mamatas threw a barrel's worth of red herrings into the mix.

I really liked the parallel structure of the book, alternating between Colleen's point of view and that of the murder victim as his body decayed on a slab at the morgue. While free of Lovecraftian beasties, the book still had a undercurrent of nihilism and cosmic horror throughout.

I guess my only gripe would be that I didn't care for the ending. However, it rang true to most Lovecraft endings so it was pretty fitting.

With I Am Providence, Nick Mamatas tears the face off of Lovecraftian fandom and shows what lies beneath, warts and all. Four out of five stars.

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Review: Time Eaters

Time Eaters Time Eaters by Jay Wilburn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After a childhood tragedy, Al, with his best friend Nick, devotes his life to building a time machine. Will they destroy the universe in the attempt?

I've had my eye on the Time Eaters for a long time. When Perpetual Motion Machine Press announced their ninety-nine cents sale, I decided it was time.

Time Eaters is a cautionary tale about the dangers of time travel. In this case, the dangers of time travel are time paradoxes and ravenous cannibal time travelers. Al and Nick, best friends, encounter other versions of themselves, a woman named Angel, and lots of flesh eaters, all the while trying to piece together what has happened/will happen/is currently happening.

The book is told in two threads, one entitled Before and the other Then. It gets confusing at times but with two groups of the same characters at different points in their time lines, I don't see any other way Jay could have done things.

Jay Wilburn crafts a hard-hitting tale. It's only 216 pages but I almost wish it had been shorter. All the gore was a little hard to stomach at times. Also, Jay's flavor of time travel is never easy, leading to a traveler's hair and nails getting burnt off and assorted other complications. It reads more like a survival horror tale than a time travel story a lot of the time.

Once time travel is on the table, the story kicks into high gear, with Time Eaters materializing all over the place and the three lead characters trying to stay one step ahead of them in both threads. It's a high-octane tale, that's for sure.

The ending wasn't what I expected but I'd be open to reading another tale set in this world, even with the implications at the end.

If I was going to pick some nits, I'd point out the typos I ran across or the difficulty of keeping track of which timeline I was reading about, but I'll pass on all that. Time Eaters is by far the craziest time travel story I've ever read, part timey-wimey, part gore horror. 3 out of 5 stars.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Review: The Halloween Tree

The Halloween Tree The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When their friend Pipkin is snatched away, his eight friends, with the mysterious Mr. Moundshroud, go looking for him, crossing time and space and learning all about Halloween.

Apart from some of his short stories, I've never ready any Bradbury. Since we're on the cusp of Halloween, I gave this a shot.

This is a cute, fun story. Mr. Moundshroud teaches the boys about Halloween across the ages while they look for their missing friend Pipkin. There aren't a lot of childrens' books that reference druids, mummies, witches, gargoyles, and the day of the dead. It brought back memories of Halloweens past for me.

The prose is poetic and flows like water from a hose. Some of it has an almost Doctor Seussian flair. I'm not surprised there's an animated version. The book screams to be a cartoon.

Bradbury's influence on later authors can be felt in this one. I notice some phrasing that Stephen King has echoed but the writing shouted Neil Gaiman at me. Coraline, The Graveyard Book, practically all of Gaiman's prose owes a debt to Ray Bradbury. Hell, The Sandman probably also has some Bradbury in his family tree.

I probably missed the window for perfect enjoyment of this book by decades. Even so, I enjoyed it quite a bit. 3.5 out of 5 stars. Now I really want to track down the animated version. Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Moundshroud!

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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Review: Laughing Gas

Laughing Gas Laughing Gas by P.G. Wodehouse
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When his cousin Egremont gets betrothed in Hollywood, Reggie Havershot has no choice but to go find him. Reggie finds Eggy but falls in love in the process with April June. After a strange incident in a dentist's office, Reggie swaps bodies with child star Joey Cooley. Will Reggie be able to set things right before Joey wrecks his life by punching everyone he dislikes in the snoot?

This is the first Wodehouse I've read in a couple years, recommended by none other than Gail Carriger at the 2016 Goodreads Summit.

It starts out with the old Wodehouse formula, a gentleman of leisure infatuated with a beautiful woman. Then the body swap happens and things go pear-shaped in a big way. Is Laughing Gas the spiritual ancestor of later body-swapping comedies like Freaky Friday, Vice Versa, and that episode of Red Dwarf where Lister and Rimmer switch bodies? Yes, yes it probably is.

Laughing Gas has more outlandish situations than most Wodehouse novels and is also a satire of Hollywood culture, something that hasn't changed in the eighty years since this book was written. I lost count of the hilarious lines Wodehouse wove into this ridiculous tapestry.

Despite its deviation from the tried and true Wodehouse formula, the trademark wordplay, twists of fate, impostors, and misunderstandings are in full swing. The additional complication of Cooley in Havershot's body rampaging around Hollywood, smiting his enemies, while Havershot endures the hell that Cooley has created back home provides additional laughs.

As with all Wodehouses, there are some reversals of fortune and everything ultimately turns out okay. While I liked Laughing Gas for its novelty and the usual Wodehousian wordplay, it wasn't up to the standards of The Code of the Woosters, Leave It to Psmith, or Cocktail Time. Three out of five stars.

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Friday, October 21, 2016

Review: The Sentinel

The Sentinel The Sentinel by Jeffrey Konvitz
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

When Allison Parker, a young model, returns to NYC after her father's funeral, she finds the perfect brownstone apartment. But what about the old blind priest who never leaves the building or her other, equally strange neighbors? What secrets is the building hiding?

Some books stand the test of time. Others remain a product of the time they were written. The Sentinel is one of the second type.

The setup for this book has a lot of potential. A woman moves into an apartment that seems to be a bargain and a lot of crazy shit happens. Too bad the rest of the book doesn't come close to living up to the potential of the setup.

From the beginning, I wanted to be interested but I didn't care about any of the characters enough to be invested in the story. Allison was an uninteresting doormat, Michael was a douche nozzle and he and Allison had zero chemistry. I had trouble believing they even knew each other, never mind them being in a relationship.

The paranoid, "is she going insane" angle of the book had potential but the cat was let out of the bag too quickly. The blind priest was the most interesting part of the book but not enough to save it.

As I said before, the book is a product of the time it was written. It feels like it was written specifically to capitalize on The Exorcist, Rosemary's Baby, and other devil-themed works of the 1970s.

The writing was unremarkable and the transitions between scenes were rocky. By the time the big revelation happened, I didn't care anymore. The detective angle in the background felt like padding to me. I already hated Michael. It didn't matter to me if he killed his ex-wife or not. Also, who brings a chisel to a break-in without something to hit it with?

Hate is a strong word but I can't think of anything good to say about this book except that the premise was promising and another writing could probably make hay with it. It really didn't work for me and I can't say I'd recommend it to anyone unless they want to read a shitty haunted house story for some reason. One star out of five.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Review: Hammers on Bone

Hammers on Bone Hammers on Bone by Cassandra Khaw
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When a kid tries to hire John Persons to kill his stepfather, the private investigator is intrigued. Persons quickly determines the stepfather isn't of this earth. Sometimes, it takes a monster to kill a monster...

This was a Netgalley find.

The combination of noir and Lovecraftian horror is a hard one for me to pass up so I jumped on this one straight away.

John Persons is a private investigator in London and not entirely as he seems to be. When young Abel shows up, Persons is intrigued and quickly finds himself in over his head. As with most noir, every damn body is lying about something and Persons means to figure out what's going on, safety be damned!

Cassandra Khaw does a good job weaving the noir and Lovecraftian stuff together nicely. Her London is not pretty or safe. When John Persons is your best hope, you might as well give up...

This book was far from cyclopean in size but packed a lot into it's 100-ish pages. Those guys and gals at sure know how to put out a novella. The ending was satisfying and left things open for more John Persons adventures. I was quite pleased with both John's true nature and that of the rest of the characters.

Hammers on Bone wasn't my favorite Lovecraftian detective tale but it was still damn good. I'll be thinking about it for nights to come. 3.5 out of 5 squamous stars.

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Sunday, October 16, 2016

Dantastic Voyage: My Trip to Goodreads Headquarters

Dateline: October 13, 2016
The day started like most of them.  I awoke at the usual time, 4:30 AM.  I could have slept later but I wanted to see my girlfriend off to work since I wouldn't see her for a couple days.

Once she was gone, I packed, which took all of five minutes.  I looked at the clock and saw I still had eight hours to kill before leaving for the airport.  Too wired up to read, I spent some time watching shows from the DVR, since we're planning on getting rid of DirecTV and switching to Netflix only once we switch internet providers this week.  Yeah, I could have left that out.

Anyway, once two o'clock arrived, I headed for the airport.  It takes about an hour to get there from my house but I padded the schedule with an additional hour, just in case.  A traffic jam and airport construction cut into my "just in case" time.

Since a travel agent booked my flight, I allotted some additional time for the flaming hoops I might have to jump through while checking in.  My check-in was as smooth as prunes through a baby so I soon found myself waiting for the flight to board.  I made significant progress in Children of the Dark and was soon in the air.

The flight went smoothly but about halfway, I began feeling the effects of getting up at 4:30 AM and traveling back in time two hours.  By the time I landed, I was pretty exhausted... and then sat on the runway for almost an hour!

My eyelids were made of concrete by the time I staggered through SFO to the BART terminal.  Fortunately, Jason Koivu had been texting me travel tips all day and my zombie brain was able to get me on the train.

The BART was a much rougher, louder ride than I thought.  It was approaching ten local time, midnight my time, when the BART vomited me out on the streets of San Francisco.  After getting my bearings, I trudged up Powell toward the Hotel Rex.

About halfway, Jason met me in the street and escorted me back to the hotel.  My tired brain would have followed him into a sex dungeon at that point.  Thankfully, it didn't come down to that.  After I stowed my gear, we walked around looking for a place to eat.

Since it was after 10, restaurants were closed and bars had closed their kitchens.  My dinner was a large bowl of peanuts and two bottles of Fat Tire.  All the tables at the pub were closed but it was attached to a hotel.  Jason and I wound up drinking beers in the hotel lobby.

After the makeshift meal, I went back to my room and crashed.  However, my brain was abuzz with speculation about the next day's events so it took me forever to go to sleep.

Dateline: October 14, 2016
After five or six hours of sleep, I felt somewhat alive, although the threat of becoming a zombie was still there.  We had some time to kill so Jason and I staked out the lobby for a while, seeing no one we recognized.  We ate breakfast at a nearby deli and made the pilgrimage to Goodreads headquarters.

We arrived at 188 Spear Street with half an hour to spare.  We stood at the entrance, eyeing up people who went into the building, seeing if we saw anyone we knew.  Still nobody, although the older gentleman later turned out to be the hilarious Bill Kerwin.  Jason and I are about 5'7 and Bill came up to our chins.

Anyway, we gave up our vigil and went upstairs.  At this point, we signed non-disclosure agreements so I can't talk about the cockfights, Russian roulette games, or the orgies we partook in later that day.

One by one, the other guests trickled in.  I wasn't exactly paying attention when I heard a woman say "My room was so hot I wedged the window open with a coat hanger.  I figured if I got raped, it would be worth it if the room was cool."  That was Gail Carriger.  I'd read Souless but I had no idea that Gail was the offspring of Mary Poppins and Indiana Jones.  She was dressed like someone from a steampunk version of the 1930s and pretty damn entertaining.

Anyway, once the group was assembled, they split us into four groups: authors, librarians, reviewers, and group moderators.  I was in a group with Bill Kerwin, MadelineJessica, and Elyse.

It was a pretty busy day.  We arrived at nine and they kept us pretty busy until the happy hour around 4:30.  Since I signed the NDA, I can't really talk that much about all the stuff we covered.  However, we gave them a lot of feedback and some cool new features are on the horizon.  I think the NDA I signed will allow me to mention the awesome taco bar they served us for lunch, all the books scattered around, and the many book-themed conference rooms.

Before the happy hour, they gave us each a Goodreads totebag full of goodies and showed us a pile of ARCs to choose from.  The happy hour was a feeding frenzy of appetizers and booze.  We met a lot of Goodreads staffers and generally chatted about books for a while.  There was a dinner scheduled afterwards but I decided to head back to the hotel for a power nap.  Jason had a headache, so he made the trek back with me.

I took a shower and flopped across the bed.  Unfortunately, sleep wasn't in the cards.  When I go to sleep, I like it to be colder than a dead pimp's heart in the room.  My room was the opposite of that.  Agreeing with Gail that a cool room was worth a raping, I wedged a trashcan in my window and tried to catch a breeze.  I slept for a few minutes and got up even more tired.  Jason and I headed downstairs, hoping to hobnob with the rest of the crew.  

No one was downstairs.  I texted Mark Monday.  He was under the weather and unable to meet up with us.  While I was a little disappointed, I was also slightly relieved since it meant I could go to bed at a reasonable hour.

After some deep-fried cauliflower, we went out for sushi.  By the time we got back, Madeline was waiting for a ride back to the airport and most of the people had gone to bed.  We spent some time chatting with the survivors and having another drink.

By the time I got back to my room, it was passably cool and I enjoyed some much needed sleep.  

Dateline: October 15, 2016
The last day was another travel day.  I was up way too early thanks to my traitorous body clock.  None of the restaurants near the hotel were open yet so Jason and I headed to the airport on the BART.  After getting through security, we ate bland breakfast sandwiches and reflected on the trip.

After a while, it was time to board.  I was a little sad to say goodbye to Jason.  We've been friends online for years and he did the lion's share of the work while we were in San Francisco with all the travel tips and leading the way.  I would have survived if he wasn't there but the whole thing wouldn't have gone as smoothly.

The flight back went mercifully quick.  I talked about dogs with the two women sitting next to me, finished reading Kin and knocked out Lords of Twilight.  I also talked to the owner of the M.C. Escher estate after complimenting his M.C. Escher hat.  He said he was looking to bring the estate to the St. Louis Art Museum.  Fingers crossed!

I picked up some Thai food on the way home and received a warm welcome from my girlfriend and my dog.  The cat acted like she didn't know I was gone, as per usual.

Closing Thoughts
The Goodreads Power User Summit was a good time and I'm glad I went.  It was fun chatting about books with the nerdiest of the nerds and getting to talk to the Goodreads staff about things.  I wouldn't have minded spreading the activities over two days instead of cramming it into one.  I also wouldn't have minded staying in San Francisco another couple days to see the city.

The Goodreads Power User Summit - four out of five stars.

Review: Lords of Twilight

Lords of Twilight Lords of Twilight by Greg F. Gifune
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Lane Boyce, a disgraced and divorced high school teacher moves to Edgar, Maine, he's just looking for some peace and quiet. After some cattle mutilations and lights in the sky, he gets anything but...

As a kid, I was fascinated by UFOs and read a lot of articles about them, scaring the shit out of myself in the process. As an adult, I think alien abductions are poppycock but I just couldn't pass up this DarkFuse novella.

Greg Gifune really knows how to build suspense. Is Lane going insane or is he being abducted? The disjointed way the story unfolds builds the tension and feeling of paranoia. Much of the horror is implied, making things that much worse.

This is a short novella so I probably shouldn't reveal much more. It's a scary dose of entertainment, good for a quick jolt of terror and an hour or two of reading. Three out of five stars.

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Review: Kin

Kin Kin by Kealan Patrick Burke
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Claire Lambert and her three friends crossed the paths of some murderous cannibal hillbillies while hiking in Alabama, their lives were destroyed forever. Claire lost her friends, her virginity, a few fingers, and her eye. But the Merrill family made one mistake: they let Claire live...

You know, when a book starts with a mutilated woman staggering along the side of the road, you know shit is only going to get worse. And it does.

Kin is a gore-strewn tale of depravity and a twisted notion of family. The Merrills kill and eat any outsider that dares cross their path. When Claire escapes, they go into panic mode looking for her. Meanwhile, people swoop down on the Merrills looking for vengeance. How could anything possibly go wrong?

The Merrills are some of the vilest villains I've ever encountered, kind of like Leatherface's family in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The thing that really makes them scary is that they think God is on their side.

Once Claire gets to the hospital, the book splits into three threads that never quite come together. Thomas Finch and a friend from the army go gunning for the Merrills. Pete goes looking for a place to belong now that his father is dead. And Claire looks for a way to return to Elkwood and get some payback.

Oddly enough, the character I found most interesting was Luke Merrill, one of the villains. While loyal to his family, he has a lot of doubts about things, doubts that escalate after his father does some things to him.

Some of the plotting felt a little too convenient at first, although KPB set me straight on those. The ending wasn't what I expected but I still liked it. It was actually a nice change of pace from where I thought was going to happen, although it wasn't entirely satisfying.

Maybe it was the jet lag but I didn't think this book quite came together in the end for me. I still liked it but I think some parts could have been expanded a bit. I like my horror short but this was a little too short, I think.

At the end of the day, I liked Kin but I don't love it. Still, it should appeal to people who enjoy things like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Cabin Fever, and The Hills Have Eyes. Three out of Five stars.

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Review: Children of the Dark

Children of the Dark Children of the Dark by Jonathan Janz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When the Moonlight Killer breaks out of prison, Will Burgess and the rest of the people of Shadeland live in fear of the vicious serial killer returning home...

Yeah, it's a lot more complex than that but it's hard to write a teaser than encapsulates teenage love, a serial killer, and supernatural horror without making a mess of things.

Children of the Dark is a coming of age horror tale in the tradition of Boy's Life, The Traveling Vampire Show, Bay's End, and, of course, The Body. Can it hang with the big dogs of the sub-genre?

Yes. Yes, it can.

In Will Burgess, Jonathan Janz crafts a sympathetic lead. Will's father died years ago and his mother is a pill-popper, leaving Will to raise his six year old sister, Peach. On a side note, Peach is adorable. Will plays baseball, has a couple of good friends, and is ass over tea kettle for Mia, the girlfriend of his arch-enemy.

When Carl Padgett busts out of jail, the whole town goes into lock down. It just so happens that this coincides with the time Mia invites Will to hang with her and her friends in the woods. See where this is going? I haven't even mentioned the titular Children of the Dark yet!

After seeing a strange creature in the woods, Will's friend Barley tells him of The Children, giant evil monsters supposedly living underground in the cave system below Shadeland. They reminded me of eight foot tall versions of Gollum from Lord of the Rings.

Anyway, Janz does a great job juggling the suspense of having a killer on the loose, the creeping horror of monsters in the woods, and the everyday horrors of being a teenager in love. When everything finally comes together, the book goes into survival horror mode and no one is safe!

As I read this on the plane to San Francisco, I kept looking at the other passengers, wondering why they were so calm with monsters on the loose and a serial killer serial killing people.

Apart from a twist I saw coming about ten pages into the book, I have nothing bad to say about this book. It's a gripping read and well worth the kindle price of only $2.99. I'll definitely be reading more Jonathan Janz. Four out of five stars.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Review: The Trespasser

The Trespasser The Trespasser by Tana French
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When a pretty young woman winds up murdered, detectives Conway and Moran catch the case. Her boyfriend looks like a slam-dunk for it but why are they being rushed to book him? And why does Conway think she's met the vic before? Can Conway and Moran get the killer behind bars before the case eats them alive?

Antoinette Conway, second banana from The Secret Place takes center stage in this one. Conway, the odd (wo)man out on the Dublin Murder Squad, trusts no one and suspects everyone. From her tortured past to her tortured present, she may be one of the most complex French leads yet. Her relationship with Stephen Moran, her partner, Detective Breslin, the senior D shadowing them, and her absent father drive the tale.

Tana French's writing is as rich as every but flows really well. Unlike a lot of literary-leaning works, I never once thought the writing didn't serve the story. The style was accessible and went down like moderately-priced wine.

The plot seemed straight-forward. While I knew it couldn't be as simple as it initially appeared, French had me doubting myself quite a bit. Every twist exposed new wrinkles in the case, making the book really hard to set aside. There was one twist I should have seen coming half a mile away but I ran into it like a station wagon plowing a deer.

The last 25% was maddening! I looked around at my co-workers wondering how in the hell they could be so calm with all the shit going down! The last fifty pages or so were pure torture. Everyone was in shit up to his or her neck and I thought the whole squad might go up in flames.

The ending was the dog's breakfast I knew it would be, just like most Tana French books. While it wasn't happily ever after, life goes on with the Dublin Murder Squad. Five out of five stars.

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Thursday, October 6, 2016

Review: Blister

Blister Blister by Jeff Strand
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After an unfortunate incident, cartoonist Jason Tray goes to his agent's cabin to hide out for a while. In the company of some drunken locals, he spies on local legend Blister, a woman with a disfigured, burn-scarred face. The next morning, he returns to her father's house to apologize and they become friends, which a lot of people are strangely against...

Jeff Strand earned his spot on my 'read everything by' list with such gems as Wolf Hunt and Kumquat. This one has been on my radar for a long time.

Based on the setup, I thought this one would be a lot like Kumquat. While there are some similarities, they're different kinds of books. While this one is also an unlikely love story, it's also about secrets in small towns and what people will do to keep them hidden.

Jason and Rachel, aka Blister, share a lot of witty banter and I thought their relationship developed pretty realistically. Blister's backstory was pretty twisted, as were a lot of the things that followed.
Strand could have phoned in the supporting cast as a bunch of small town rubes but I thought their motivations made a lot of sense in the context of things.

Jeff Strand's writing reminds me of a more serious Christopher Moore, hilarious when it needs to be and pretty horrific when the situation warrants. I was scared for Jason when the shit finally went down. Also, I felt like a rube a couple times since there were a few twists I should have seen coming. I kept looking at how much of the book I had left, wondering how there was so much book left to read. And then Strand would kick me in the gonads.

Blister was everything I hoped it would be and more. It's criminal that Jeff Strand isn't selling crazy numbers of books. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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Review: Siren of Depravity

Siren of Depravity Siren of Depravity by Gary Fry
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Harry Keyes learns his brother was adopted and actually his half brother, he starts digging into his family's sordid past...

I got Siren of Deparvity from DarkFuse via Netgalley. Darkfuse ftagn! Since I'm a sucker for Lovecraft-flavored fiction and whatever DarkFuse puts out, this one was a no brainer.

Siren of Depravity is a dark tale of a man digging into things best left unearthed, both figuratively and literally. Harry Keys learns a family secret and tugs on that thread, unraveling the curtain his father put between his family and himself, revealing the rotting corpses and otherworldly horrors on the other side. It's part extreme horror, part Lovecraft, like The Girl Next Door with echoes of cosmic horror. Black magic, torture, rape, and buried alien evil are all on the menu.

The writing is pretty powerful, although Gary Fry uses the word 'furtive' like he had a fistful of coupons for it. Harry's a little on the thick side, always a a leap or behind of where I was in his investigation.

The rest of the characters are a little on the thin side, not much more than stock characters, although a tale like this doesn't really call for subtle characterization.The ending surpassed my expectations and actually made me shudder a couple times. As in most good horror, there is no happily ever after.

At its best, Gary Fry's Siren of Depravity reads like Jack Ketchum writing a Lovecraft pastiche. I mean that in the best ways. Three out of five stars.

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