Red – Jack Ketchum


Avery is a 67 year old veteran of the Korean War and a widow. Red is his dog and faithful companion. His wife bought him when he was a puppy for Avery and is one of the last links to his deceased wife. While fishing in a rural Maine stream one afternoon, he’s confronted by three spoiled punk teenagers with a shotgun. In an attempt to rob Avery, they are enraged to learn he only has a few dollars in his wallet all the way back in his parked truck. They then turn the shotgun on the dog instead. As they walk away laughing for murdering his dog, Avery is distraught at this senseless act of violence. He seeks out redemption. What he finds is that no one is able to help him. Not the police. Not his lawyer. Not the press. A dog is considered property, not a life, and Avery is on his own. In a story of revenge that pits the good old boy with good old fashioned values against a rich, shameless father that protects his spoiled punk kids with his bank account and connections in high places, you really feel for Avery. His losses from the past and present provide a very sympathetic underdog that is only trying to get the family to own up to what they’ve done and make things right. Your heart bleeds as you see how the deck is continually stacked against him.

This was my first Ketchum story and it’s hard not to think of Stephen King’s work when you’re reading a macabre story set in rural Maine. Ketchum, however, has his own style of delivery that is descriptive while not attempting to be a carbon copy of Maine’s more famous horror author. There were a couple of instances in the story where descriptions were muddled, but it wasn’t enough to make the tale less enjoyable. Anyone that has soft heart for a loyal canine will have their blood pressure rise 40 points after the first chapter.

4 out of 5 stars

The Houngan – J.N. Williamson


A houngan is a male Voodoo priest. Van Cerf is a divorced father of a twelve-year old boy and unemployed. Van is an advertising writer who has struggled finding satisfaction in his work environment from the various employers he’s had through the years. As a result, he finds himself with bills mounting and his confidence at ever finding a job that’s fulfilling, emotionally and financially, dwindling. In a last ditch effort, Van calls upon an ex co-worker, who has taken a job with the DeSilvier Corporation, and discovers that she loves working there, but she tells him that they have so little turnover that they rarely ever are hiring. Undeterred, he drops in an attempt at securing an interview. In what seems to be a twist of fate, he’s able to meet with one of the Vice Presidents, Doyle Munro. After answering some unorthodox questions, Van is hired. He soon learns that the president of the corporation is Horace DeSilvier, a charismatic houngan that prides himself that his company has so little turnover due to their employee-friendly “family” environment. The question is, is that really why the turnover is low or is there something more sinister involved? Is voodoo the peaceful religion that DeSilvier portrays and has introduced to Van or is there more than meets the eye?

Williamson’s writing is very reminiscent of Charles L. Grant, another prolific writer from the 1980s. The Houngan is a slow burn for the first 2/3 of the story as it sets everything in place for the final 1/3. The character development is solid and you’re invested in Van’s plight as he attempts to discover what is really going on at DeSilvier. The ending is just ok. But, The Houngan is a solid read.

3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Exorcist Road – Jonathan Janz


Jonathan Janz has always been a good writer. With Exorcist Road, Janz has shown that he has evolved into a great writer. Up until now, my favorite story of 2014 was Gord Rollo’s The Jigsaw Man which was absolutely amazing. Well, Mr. Rollo, you now have some company. Exorcist Road is an expertly written scare fest that will cause you to stay up all night. Half of the night will be spent reading the tale. The rest of the night will be spent trying to sleep with one eye open because Exorcist Road will scare the bejeezus out of you.

Danny Hartman, a Chicago police officer, wakes up his 29-year-old priest, Father Crowder, with a rap on the door in the middle of the night. He explains to Father Crowder that his partner and him were summoned to Danny’s brother’s house and fears that his nephew is possessed. His partner, Jack, also thinks that his nephew is the Sweet Sixteen killer that has been terrorizing the area. What the priest finds handcuffed to the bed in that affluent suburban Chicago home is not of this earth. Is it also responsible for killing 16-year old girls in the area?

Exorcist Road is full of twists and turns and new revelations around every corner, every page turned, and the gripping story refuses to be put down. You’ll cringe and your skin will crawl as the events are slowly revealed in teasing fashion. Janz pulls out all the stops and satisfies. There’s blood. There’s scares. There’s eerie creepiness all packed in what becomes a “who dunnit” mystery that delivers a punch to the midsection. Jonathan Janz has pulled up a chair to the big boy table and I don’t think he’ll be done eating for quite some time. Do yourself a favor and get acquainted with the new face of horror. He just delivered one of the best reads of 2014.

5 out of 5 stars

NOS4A2 – Joe Hill


I finished NOS4A2 just in time for the holidays and Joe Hill gave me a wonderful Xmas present. Hill’s strong suit has always been flawed characters that can carry a story into the world of fantastic and NOS4A2 continues on with that tradition.

The tale starts out by introducing us to an 8-year-old Vic (Victoria) McQueen, aka The Brat who discovers a unique talent she has while running away from her fighting parents. It seems that young Vic can summon a dilapidated covered bridge to appear while she is under great stress and riding her bike as fast as she can. This bridge can take her to other places across the country as her mind sees fit. She uses this bridge to find lost items by simply thinking about the item. The bridge does the rest. After her journeys, Vic comes out with the lost item, a very vague recollection of what happened and a doozy of a fever and headache. This goes on for a few years and all is well and good until her bridge leads her to Charlie Manx. You see. Charlie has his own special gift. It’s a 1938 Rolls Royce and the ability to kidnap children to take to Christmasland.

While reading NOS4A2, the lines between reality and delusion are wonderfully murky as the story unfolds. Hill’s characters are rich and vibrant, the dialogue crisp and witty, and the story itself is a blend of The Twilight Zone, his father’s earlier works and maybe even a dash of Clive Barker’s fantasy. It’s a tale that’ll keep you thinking and the last 1/3 is impossible not to devour at a breakneck pace.

4 out of 5 stars.

The Girl on the Glider – Brian Keene

imageAn autobiographical short-story that Keene serves up and let’s us see a brief snippet of a painful and haunted period of his life. In what he describes as 99.9% true, Keene relives a painful period of his life where a car accident outside his house claims the life of a young girl. At first, the events haunt Brian as they mix with the personal turmoil that he was going through at the time. In the end, he learns a valuable lesson. The tale he recounts will cause the hair to stand up on the back of your neck and the way he lets you in and allows you to take a peek at his personal life is very powerful. I have yet to see an author allow his readers to see this much of themselves, warts and all. It also gives me a new found respect for a writer whose work I already admire. Thank you, Brian.

5 out of 5 stars

Morbid Anatomy – Tim Curran


A must read for fans of Lovecraft’s Herbert West – Reanimator or of Stuart Gordon’s wonderful movie adaptation from the 1980s. Haven’t read Lovecraft’s story? No problem. Curran includes that with Morbid Anatomy. Morbid Anatomy is a continuation of Lovecraft’s original story as we follow West to the muddy sludge-filled trenches littered with bloated decomposed bodies of Europe during World War I. Most of the story’s viewpoint is told by Creel, an American journalist who is attracted to the death and destruction war brings. Being assigned near West’s outfit gives Creel more than he bargains for. Curran weaves a blood drenched and maggot infested tale of life on the front lines in rich detail along with West’s special concoction that bring the dead back to life. Detailed descriptions have always been Tim’s calling card and he doesn’t back off the throttle with Morbid Anatomy. The only down side, for me, was that the story didn’t evolve more and I wanted more from Herbert West’s POV. Morbid Anatomy is still a fun journey where you’ll feel like you’re wading through the putrid stench of decomposing corpses. Enjoy!

4 stars out of 5

Crimson – Gord Rollo

imageCrimson is a tough one to review for me. After reading Rollo’s fantastic The Jigsaw Man, I couldn’t wait to dive into this one. Out of all the great books that I read in 2014, Jigsaw Man was tied for my absolute favorite. The writing was crisp, the characters were three-dimensional and fully fleshed out, and Rollo made an unbelievable story completely believable. Jigsaw Man was also his second novel. Crimson was his first and it shows. Gord’s fantastic writIng style is still there. But, you can tell he was still cutting his teeth. The characters didn’t feel fully developed and the story had the feel of a puzzle that was put together with the wrong pieces and were made to fit even when they didn’t. Don’t get me wrong. There are still some great ideas explored in Crimson. Unfortunately, all of those ideas didn’t make for a great, cohesive story. I’m going to chalk this up as Rollo learned many things between writing Crimson and Jigsaw Man. If the progression between #2 and #3 as it was for #1 and #2, then the third story of his should be lights out.

3 stars out of 5

Snowblind – Michael McBride


¬†Snowblind was a fast and furious read. McBride’s tale, of an annual elk hunting trip for four college buddies now pushing towards their forties, is full of atmosphere and paranoia. While hunting, one of the hunters breaks his leg just as a blizzard is dumping foot after foot of the white stuff on the mountain. Visibility is zero and they’re lost. They eventually stumble onto a dilapidated cabin to get out of the miserable weather. Unfortunately for the hunters, they aren’t alone.
Snowblind was a fun story that fills the reader with dread as you try to put yourself in the characters shoes. What would I do if I were them? Would I be able to survive or would I be the next victim? Great stuff. The only reason that it’s a four star read and not a five is because I would’ve liked to have seen a little more character development. It’s not that they were cardboard cut outs. They were actually interesting and I wanted to know more about them and their backgrounds. I think that would’ve ratcheted the dread up even more by being more invested in the characters.

4 Stars

Sparrow Rock – Nate Kenyon

imagePete and his high school friends are looking for a place to party. One of he girls in the group, Sue, suggests that they use her grandpa’s newly built bomb shelter. She knows the code to get in. Once inside, a thunderous noise from the outside shakes the shelter. As Pete looks out of the hatch to see what the commotion is, mushroom clouds fill the horizon and the nightmare begins.

Sparrow Rock is an emotionally-charged entertaining read. It’s strength is its realistic and flawed characters that are developed and revealed throughout the story. As the danger ratchets up, Kenyon does a nice job taking us along for the ride. You feel like you’re in the bomb shelter with the group trying to figure out what to do next. You can almost taste the metallic ash of the fallout, smell the foul odors and feel the tension in the air. The ending wasn’t my favorite and it’s the only thing that keeps the story from being a full five stars. But, Kenyon does such a wonderful job painting the story and characters with such vibrant colors, you realize that Sparrow Rock is more about the journey and not the destination.

4 1/2 stars out of 5
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