Sunday, February 26, 2017

Review: Agents of Dreamland

Agents of Dreamland Agents of Dreamland by CaitlĂ­n R. Kiernan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A government agent called The Signalman has a meeting with a mysterious woman in Winslow, Arizona about a bizarre cult murder near the Salton Sea days earlier. But what do those events have to do with the New Horizons space probe and a black and white movie penned by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Despite my resolve to take on as few ARCs as possible this year, I couldn't resist this one when it popped up on Netgalley. It sounded wonderfully bizarre and it was.

Much like half of the books I've read so far in 2017, Agents of Dreamland is a modern Lovecraft tale of sorts, a tale of madness, alien fungus, shady government dealings, and an apocalypse on the horizon. There are a ton of ideas and hints in this novella, enough to fuel my imagination long after I finished it.

The Signalman is just a few years from retirement and fighting for every inch in that direction. Immacolata is a mysterious woman who knows many things she shouldn't. When she gives the Signalman her briefcase, his life gets several shades worse. The Fungi from Yuggoth are one of my favorite Lovecraftian baddies and they probably don't get enough press. Agents of Dreamland pushes them to their full potential, making for a chilling read.

Since it's a novella, I don't want to say much more. Suffice to say, Agents of Dreamland is a gripping read that blends Lovecraftian lore with conspiracy theories into a slick package brimming with ideas. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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Saturday, February 25, 2017

Review: Merciless

Merciless Merciless by Kristal Stittle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After some bizarre phone calls, nurse Mercy Chalmers goes to visit her parents in the country. Her parents are gone and Mercy has the house to herself. Until the men in animal masks show up, that is...

The creepiness of the rabbit mask on the cover drew me to Merciless. That and the ninety-nine cent price tag.

For the most part, Merciless feels like Home Alone, only with homicidal men in animal masks instead of bumbling burglars. But why are they after Mercy? Turns out, they have a specific goal in mind.

Yeah, I wanted to like this way more than I did. The writing style grated on me a bit but I can't put a finger on why exactly it did. The plot wound up being a little more complex than I originally thought but the fact that they guys were shooting at Mercy doesn't make much sense once the main bad guy tips his hand.

The book was not without its charms, however. Mercy is a plucky heroine and it was almost orgasmic when she took the fight to her captors. I also liked the ending quite a bit. The suspense was well done and Kristal Stittle did a great job making Mercy's plight feel hopeless.

All things considered, I liked more about this book than I disliked. After the ending, I'd be willing to read another story starring Mercy. Three hard-earned stars out of five.

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Friday, February 24, 2017

Review: Rusty Puppy

Rusty Puppy Rusty Puppy by Joe R. Lansdale
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When the woman who lives across the street from Brett's detective agency hires them to find out who killed her son, Hap and Leonard wind up in Camp Rapture, where the cops are worse than the criminals...

Rusty Puppy, the twelfth Hap and Leonard novel, features the dynamic duo we've all come to know and love, Hap and Leonard. As usual, the boys are in way over their heads, making smart ass remarks and sticking their noses where they don't belong.

Joe Lansdale's writing is as hilarious as ever, full of his front porch wisdom and hilarious one-liners. I'd say there's a quoteable line on almost every page. As per usual, the violence is pretty harsh once it finally arrives and the bad guys are huge scumbags. I like where things have gone with Chance and that Hap still bears some scars from the events of the last book.

While I enjoyed this as much as the last few, the series is starting to feel kind of formulaic. Hap and Leonard are still total bad asses despite having to be in their sixties at this point in the series. While the bad guys are pretty bad, there was no point that I thought they'd get the best of Hap and Leonard. Also, Marvin Hanson has covered for Hap and Leonard a few too many times to still have a badge.

Another gripe I had is that all the dangling threads from the last book were already resolved by the time this book was published in Briar Patch Boogie: A Hap and Leonard Novelette and Hap and Leonard: Blood and Lemonade.

Gripes aside, Lansdale still writes some of the best dialogue in crime fiction and I still devoured this thing in two sittings. It's gripping, and while I knew how it would end, it was still a lot of fun getting there and even a lesser Hap and Leonard book is still more enjoyable than a lot of books on the racks. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Review: Monstrumfuhrer

Monstrumfuhrer Monstrumfuhrer by Edward M. Erdelac
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Dr. Mengele has discovered Frankenstein's journal and is using it to create an army of invincible Nazi warriors. Jotham Podczaski goes north to find the only thing that can stop him: Frankenstein's original creation...

Edward Erdelac earned the golden ticket from me by virtue of The Merkabah Rider series. When he asked if I'd give this a read, it was an automatic Yes.

In Monstrumfuhrer, Erdelac juxtaposes the atrocities of the holocaust with the horrors of the reanimated dead. Jotham and his brother are rousted from their hiding place in a sympathetic woman's attic and dragged away to Auschwitz. Mengele takes an interest in Jotham, making him his errand boy, while Eliazar joins the resistance. Once Jotham sees Mengele's true colors, he manages to escape and heads north.

Erdelac's writing has improved by leaps and bounds since the Merkabah Rider series. Much like I thought The Dark Knight was too good to be a super hero movie and Batman was the weakest part, Monstrumfuhrer is almost too good of an account of the holocaust to have Frankenstein's monster in it.

Not that things don't get interesting once the Creature shows up. It turns out he has reasons of his own for coming back to civilization. The latter part of the book echoes the latter part of Mary Shelley's classic. It wasn't quite what I expected but was damn satisfying.

The writing was great but I thought maybe a little too much time was spent at Auschwitz. Or the Frankenstein elements could have been eliminated altogether. Even so, I enjoyed Monstrumfuhrer quite a bit. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Review: The Night Ocean

The Night Ocean The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Charlie Willet disappears, apparently commits suicide, his wife Marina explores the last couple years of his life, looking for reasons to believe he's still alive. Did Charlie's obsession with the Erotonomicon, the purported story of HP Lovecraft's affair with Robert Barlow, and the web of lies and hoaxes surrounding it lead to his doom?

Even though I rarely take on ARCs anymore, I jumped at the chance to read this one when Penguin offered it to me.

The Night Ocean is a tough book to classify. It's a Russian nesting doll, a Matryoshka, of hoaxes and lies surrounding one man's quest to learn the truth about the Erotonomicon, a book chronicling HP Lovecraft's love life. In some ways, it reminds me of Night Film. In others, of I Am Providence. I was hooked by the brain stem when Lovecraft referred to masturbation as Yog Sothoth.

The tale is part historical novel, part mystery. Marina tries to piece together what Charlie pieced together when he was trying to figure out if the Erotonomicon was a hoax or not. Needless to say, there are a lot of shifting viewpoints.

The Erotonomicon chapters were touching, and sometimes heartbreaking, with young Robert Barlow being in love with H.P. Lovecraft from afar and Lovecraft being unwilling to reciprocate. Well, for the most part...

Marina was playing catch-up for most of the book, much like I was, through a maze of hoaxes and lies, populated by legendary authors like William S. Burroughs, Frederick Pohl, C.M. Kornbluth, and many others. She follows Charlie's quest from Mexico to Canada, from Barlow to L.C. Spinks, the Erotonomicon's publisher.

I guess the Night Ocean is about multiple peoples' search for the truth. In this age of "alternative facts", the truth can be hard to come by. By the end of the book, I was almost as in the dark as I was in the beginning. I liked that the ending was ambiguous, however.

While I can't find a nice box to shoe-horn The Night Ocean into, it was a great read, even beautiful at times, surprising considering H.P. Lovecraft's usual subject matter. Four out of five stars.

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Review: The Montauk Monster

The Montauk Monster The Montauk Monster by Hunter Shea
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The sleepy resort town of Montauk is terrorized by strange beasts and it's up to Gray Dalton and the rest of the Montauk PD to get to the bottom of things. But have they bitten off more than they can chew?

The more Hunter Shea books I read, the more convinced I am that we would have been best buds when we were twelve. The Montauk Monster takes the cryptid of the same name and sets it on a gory rampage through Montauk and neighboring towns.

In some ways, this feels like a dry run of Shea's The Jersey Devil. There are multiple monsters terrorizing a small town and only a small group of people are prepared for what comes next. As in the Jersey Devil, Shea introduces character after character, only to have them mauled by the Montauk Monsters or succumb to the horrifying disease they carry.

Tying the creature's origin to nearby Plum Island was a master stroke. The chimeric, disease-bearing creatures hit the beaches of Montauk and no one is safe. They take down cops, stoners, reality stars, and a lot of other people before things are finally settled. By the time things are over, DARPA, FEMA, the CDC, and other acronyms get involved and the ending is far from happy.

Throw in some witty reparte and end-of-the-world sex, and that's pretty much it. The main characters, Dalton and Meredith, are pretty much stock thriller characters aside from the age difference and Meredith's bum leg. When I say this feels like a dry run of Jersey Devil, I mean it. It hits all the same beats and isn't quite as polished as JD.

At the end of the day, this creature feature by Hunter Shea was pretty damn entertaining but not as good as his later works. Three out of five stars.

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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Review: The Damned Highway

The Damned Highway The Damned Highway by Brian Keene
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Uncle Lono leaves Colorado behind and heads east for Arkham, Massachusetts, in search of the American Nightmare. He winds up caught in a conspiracy that will see Richard Nixon raise Cthulhu from the depths of the ocean to destroy the world...

After reading Fear and Loathing in Innsmouth in Whispers from the Abyss, I was delighted to discover this work existed. Dr. Gonzo visiting Miskatonic University, Arkham, and Innsmouth, written by Brian Keene and Nick Mamatas: how could I lose?

The subtitle of this work is Fear and Loathing in Arkham so I knew what I was getting into. The Damned Highway is written in a voice very similar to Hunter S. Thompson. Only his drug-addled psyche could withstand the cosmic horrors of the Cthulhu mythos.

Without giving too much away, this is a road book peppered with references to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and the Cthulhu mythos. Uncle Lono encounters Deep Ones, Cannocks, shoggoths, fungi from Yuggoth, and a lot of other crazy shit. It's a good mix of comedy and cosmic horror.

I have to admit I was a little skeptical at first but Keene and Mamatas did a great job weaving Hunter S. Thompson's style with Lovecraftian horror. Casting Nixon as the villain was a great touch. The last sixty pages or so were really hard to put down.

The Damned HIghway is a fun piece of Lovecraft-inspired fiction, penned by two of the best currently active horror writers. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Review: The Final Reconciliation

The Final Reconciliation The Final Reconciliation by Todd Keisling
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Metal band the Yellow Kings are on their first tour when they meet Camilla Bierce, the woman who will be their downfall...

I was tangentially aware of The King in Yellow for years after playing Call of Cthulhu: Horror Roleplaying and my interest was further piqued by True Detective. When I read the synopsis for this, I was all in.

Told by the lone survivor of the band thirty years in the future, The Final Reconciliation is the tale of the disintegration of a band as they record an album, both personally and mentally as the walls of reality thin and fray. I knew they were fucked when Camilla called Los Angeles Carcosa but the depth of the penetration was still pretty surprising.

As the dreams and visions of red-robed faceless things in an alien golden city become more and more intense, things go so far off track the rails are no longer visible.

The writing feels more like noir than horror, not a bad thing in my book. There's just enough foreshadowing in the narration to make you dread the ending that's barreling toward you. I had an idea about what Camilla's goal was fairly quickly but the ending was still a punch in the sternum.

I've read other mythos stories involving musicians, Bleeding Shadows and Crawlin' Chaos Blues springing to mind, but The Final Reconciliation is the best so far. Five out of five Yellow Signs.

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Thursday, February 2, 2017

Review: The Twenty-Year Death

The Twenty-Year Death The Twenty-Year Death by Ariel S. Winter
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Shem Rosenkrantz and his French wife Clothilde's lives turn toxic over the course of two decades.

I owned this gerbil masher since it came out but couldn't bring myself to read it until the kindle edition went on sale for ninety nine cents.

The Twenty Year Death is three interlinked novellas, each written in the voice of a past master. Malniveau Prison is written in the style of Georges Simenon. The Falling Star is written in the style of Raymond Chandler. Police at the Funeral is written in the style of Jim Thompson.

I've never read any Georges Simenon so I can't really say whether or not Malniveau Prison feels like one of his works. It's a locked room mystery of sorts with a convict found dead on the street. Clothilde is in her late teens and her husband is well on his way down the path of douchebaggery. The case itself was entertaining in an old school mystery kind of way but nothing remarkable. It's only been a couple days but I've already forgotten the names of the lead detectives.

By the time The Falling Star begins, Cholthilde is now Chloe Rose, a Hollywood starlet, and her husband is an even bigger asshat than before. A Marloweesque detective named Dennis Foster is hired to find the guy stalking her and stumbles upon the scenes of multiple murders. This story felt like a Marlowe homage but only because it features the wise-cracking detective that Raymond Chandler popularized and has been imitated quite a bit over the last eighty years or so. Unlike Chandler's work, however, there aren't quotable similes on every page and it lacks Marlowe's world-weariness. It felt like a retread of a much better work.

Police at the Funeral sees Shem Rosenkrantz at his lowest point, drunk, penniless, and living with a lady of questionable morals named Vee. He's in Maryland for his first wife's funeral when someone accidentally dies and Shem goes into a gin-filled Thompson-style spiral into madness. I could tell this was supposed to feel like a Thompson book since it features a drunken loser going off the rails but didn't have that undercurrent of insanity from the beginning that the better Jim Thompson books have.

I had high hopes for this. It did not meet them. It's touted as some great work of literature, told in the voices of three masters. I can't speak from the Simenon but the Chandler and Thompson pastiches are without soul, without the spark that made the original works great. It's pretty much a collection of pastiches linked by an asshole character who doesn't take center stage until the end.

Tfitoby got the bullet in the right chamber when he said "Reads like a literature student who thought it would be easy to write a genre novel after reading a few works by great authors with readily identifiable styles" This things screams style over substance. Instead of a fitting tribute to the masters, it's more like a ventriloquism act where you catch the guy's lips moving. Two out of five stars.

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