Loch Ness Revenge – Hunter Shea

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2019 is starting out with a bang as Hunter Shea’s LOCH NESS REVENGE is my first read of the new year. And oh what a read it was. Who isn’t fascinated by one of the most famous cryptids of all time, the Loch Ness Monster? For me, Nessie has always been one of the holy trifecta of cryptids, along with Sasquatch and the Yeti. I can still hear Leonard Nimoy’s voice from my childhood as he told us every week what he was In Search Of, and Nessie was one of my favorites. So how can you tell a believable story about Scotland’s favorite monster without making it sound like a hokie fairy tale? Equal parts humor and horror. That’s it. Who knew? Shea did, that’s who. And it he does it very well.

As children, Natalie and Austin watch in horror as their parents get munched by Nessie at Loch Ness. Of course, no else saw it and they’re disappearance gets labeled as accidental drownings. But the kids know better and they don’t forget. Left with a huge life insurance inheritance that they collect once they turn 18, Natalie and Austin use it to get on with their lives. For Austin, it’s to head off to college and forget about the accident. Natalie has other plans. She buys an RV and moves to Loch Ness to stake out in hopes of spotting Nessie…and exacting revenge.

Shea uses a first-person telling of the tale and it works beautifully with plenty of helpings of humor added to the horror. By doing this, he’s able to expertly shoot down all of the hard to believe happenings by having the characters joke about how crazy it is. Believe me when I tell you, it works and it works well. Think of how the characters are in Night of the Creeps or 1988’s version of The Blob. By creating the story in this manner, Shea makes for an extremely enjoyable thrill ride. You’ll love the characters and their banter back and forth each other. Lots and lots of good old fashioned ball-busting. Throw in a nerd with access to lots of firepower and you have Loch Ness turning crimson red with lots of floating meaty chunks. What’s not to love?
5 out of sides of beef out of 5
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The House by the Cemetery – John Everson

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The House by the Cemetery is meant for horror fans. You know who we are. We’re the ones that go to the midnight showings of classic Carpenter, Craven or even Argento or Fulci flicks. We have the wal-to-wall collections of horror Blu Rays. Halloween is our national holiday. And we go to haunted houses, no matter how crappy of an attraction they are. That’s us and that’s who Everson wrote The House by the Cemetery for. We get it. We understand the industry and HOUSE has everything that we love about it.

A dilapitated house sits vacant by an abandoned cemetery. Outside of thrill seekers, it’s been dormant for many years. But the rumors are passed down from generation to generation. This place was used for a cult killing by a group of witches back in the 1960s. Stories of ghosts hitchhiking nearby, strange happenings and haunted tales permeate the local legends for years. The house is a royal pain in the ass for the county. Law enforcement has to chase off ghost hunters and thrill seekers every year. So when a local entrepreneur comes calling and offers to turn the property into a haunted house attraction, the county jumps at the chance to alleviate this headache and score some bucks in the process. Mike, a down-and-out handyman, is hired to renovate the place so that they can turn it into the tourist attraction that it was envisioned to be. Wouldn’t you know it, Mike learns that every rumor has a grain of truth somewhere and you can’t keep a good witch down.

While HOUSE has a fantastic setting that is just screaming for a horror story to be written about it, the characters are the glue that hold this story together. Mike is a likable guy that you can easily relate to. Katie is that mysterious, flirtatious girl you’ve seen work her charm on numerous lonely guys, over and over. The cast and crew, putting together and running the attraction, all have personalities that we know like the back of our hands. It all feels comfortable and familiar. This is how Everson is able to pull this story all together. Sure, there are some parts where you kind of roll your eyes, maybe a character should ask a few more questions, but they’re not deal breakers. HOUSE is easily the best thing Everson has written. The guy has talent and you can see it in his past catalog. Hell, you don’t get a Bram Stoker Award for being a hack. But, for me, HOUSE is the story where he put it all together. Atmosphere, character development, dialogue, interesting storyline, an homage to the genre that I know and love, and suspension of disbelief. Some writers age like a fine wine. Here’s to hoping for an extended run of this particular vintage very soon. It’s intoxicating.
4 1/2 Secret Rooms out of 5
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The Mark – Lee Mountford

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The combination of old school and modern horror merge nicely in this demonic ghost story from Mountford. Imagine, if you will, you’ve had a rough week and you’re still trying to get the remnants of an abusive relationship out of your system. So blowing off a little steam at the local pub with your friends seems like as good of a way to spend a Friday night as any. You take a taxi home, a little worse for wear, but nothing a good night’s sleep and some Advil in the morning won’t take care of. You pass out and in the middle of the night you’re awakened to hear an intruder creeping up your stairs. You attempt to get away, but he gets the best of you. Thinking you’re about to meet your end, he pulls out a syringe, jams it in your neck and depresses the plunger. Out go the proverbial lights. When you awaken, its morning, you’re lying facedown on the kitchen floor, no one is in the house with you and you have these strange symbols carved on your back bleeding through your shirt.

What the hell, right? That’s exactly what I was thinking while I was reading this. Mountford does a great job with character development in THE MARK. Not only do you feel for Kirsty, you’re walking in her shoes every step of the way. You’re trying to figure out just what in the hell is going on. All the while, Mountford keeps dropping these creepy, skincrawling scenes on you and he does it with such a nice touch. There’s a slow build up of dread, as he builds the characters and atmosphere, and slowly unwinds the story. At times, he dangles you over the edge for a few moments before he plunges you over the edge. And this is where his story telling is a cut above many of his peers. He doesn’t just beat you over the head repeatedly without giving you a chance to think or care. No, he dangles the danger just out of your reach and makes you crane your neck to try an peer around that corner and get just a glimpse of what lies ahead. He makes you want it and that’s why I enjoyed this story so much. This is my first time reading Mountford and I’m impressed. I think you will be too.

4 1/2 Codex Gigas out of 5
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Practitioners – Matt Hayward & Patrick Lacey

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I’ve been noticing more and more collaboration novels in the horror genre lately. I’ve always been curious as to how two different authors can concoct a story together and keep everything seemlessly cohesive. Matt Hayward and Patrick Lacey are able to do just that in Practitioners. You really can’t tell who wrote what. The tone, pacing, characters and delivery are evenly matched. So kudos to them for being able to utilize the age-old saying, “Two heads are better than one.”

Practitioners uses elements of A Nightmare on Elm Street, Phantasm, Hellraiser, and various Lovecraft tales and brings it all together through the plight of Henry Stapleton. Henry is a police detective on administrative leave while he attempts to pick up the pieces of the senseless and seemingly random murder of his wife. Henry is trying to make sense of it all, but appears to be losing his mind due to his excessive drinking and inability to seperate hallucinations from reality. In an attempt to get a handle on his life, he visits a spirituality center in a downtown strip mall that promises to teach him how to interpret and control his troubled dreams. This is where the story picks up steam and crosses back and forth from crime drama to horror to fantasy and back again. Oddly enough, this is also when the story becomes more focused. Even though I was enjoying the characters, I felt that the beginning was too muddied to understand what I was reading. I get that the writers were trying to keep everything in shadows, but to me, maybe the delivery could’ve been a little better, a little clearer. All in all, a solid story from two talented authors.
3 1/2 Alternate Realities out of 5
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Baal – Robert McCammon

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To say that I like Robert McCammon’s writing is like saying fish kind of like water. He is, without a doubt, my favorite author that ever put ink to paper. His writing has wrung out every emotion possible from within my soul and has helped shape who I am as a reader, writer and as a person. Yes, his writing is simply magical. So, it was a no-brainer when the opportunity came around to participate in the Robert McCammon Challenge. The RMC is where you read his work in chronological order, one a month, until you’ve completed them all.

Baal is McCammon’s first novel published way back in 1978. Many authors would kill for their first novel to have this level of quality. You can see that it doesn’t quite live up to the standard he set with his later works. Baal has shades that bleed through of the gifted storyteller that was to mature. McCammon was only in his mid-twenties when he wrote it.

It starts off well enough, with the rape of a woman in an ally who later gives birth to a child that is not quite like every other child. As you can imagine, this child grows up to be the demon, Baal. The story has three seperate parts. The first is rape and the life of Baal being shuffled in and out of every orphanage school you can imagine. This is where McCammon shines. Baal is Damien from the Omen to the tenth power. Throw in a little Isaac from Children of the Corn and you get the idea as he round up his minions to do his bidding.

The second part has Baal as a man leading some religious building/gathering in the Middle East. The bleak atmosphere radiates from the pages. You literally feel like your dying of thirst and your skin is blistering, but the transformation into Part III is hurried and muddled.

The last part again uses McCammon’s uncanny ability to build the setting and atmosphere to it’s fullest height. The arctic landscape pictured here makes you shiver and your hands go numb as you follow the characters chasing Baal. Then there’s the ending. Not my favorite. In fact, it felt like McCammon had spend all of his energy on creating the journey that he didn’t quite know what to do with the ending. While it’s not bad – I’ve definitely read much worse from other “masters” of horror – it feels very anti-climactic. Michael’s ability to control Baal without much trouble what-so-ever seemed like a stretch. You’ll see what I mean once you read it. Overall, still a very solid read that lets you have a glimpse of a newborn master storyteller learning how to walk.

3.5 Mangled Hands out of 5
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Monstrosity – Tim Curran

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You know a writer kicks ass when they can stretch your imagination to the point where, when you look back, you can’t believe how much of the story you were buying. Curran does that in spades with Monstrosity. Monstrosity takes your typical rural Midwest setting and turns it on its ear in this dystopic tale.

Tremors begin happening in rural Wisconsin and out of the formed cracks oozes out what is called The Food. It looks white, marshmallow fluff and the wildlife and plants are “feeding” off of it. This isn’t good because all of a sudden the animals and plants undergo a metamorphis that Lovecraft on acid couldn’t have come up with. And they aren’t the cute, cuddly critters either. Mother Nature has had enough and she’s out to get rid of us.

That’s Monstrosity in a nutshell. Sounds dumb and unbelievable, doesn’t it? Not so fast, my friends. Monstrosity is probably one of the top 3 best stories I’ve read all year. Curran makes the unbelievable SOOOO believable. I bought into the whole story from start to finish and then couldn’t believe that I did. But Curran is sneaky. He pulls the wool over your eyes by using such likable characters that you can’t help yourself but to follow them blindly. He also paints such a vivid picture of the monstrosities that come out of every nook and cranny, it feels like you’re there with the protagonist. He also brings you along with the ride so close to everything that you run the gamut along with the characters of the emotional rollercoaster that is Monstrosity. Curran really has been on the top of his game with his last few tales. If you’re not familiar with his work, you need to be and Monstrosity is a great place to start.

4 1/2 Magic Mushrooms out of 5
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Operation Antarctica – William Meikle

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Captain John Banks and his men are fresh off their encounter with underwater beasties off the Baffin Island coast. If they thought they’d seen everything on that mission, they won’t believe their eyes on their next assignment. The Scottish solidiers are sent to investigate a forgotten Nazi outpost on Antarctica. What they find is more than old, frozen corpses and dusty swastika flags. Inside a long deserted hangar is the weapon the Nazis were working on. It’s been sitting their dormant for almost 80 years just waiting for someone to turn it on.

Operation Antarctica is more of the same popcorn chomping kind of read that we got from Meikle in Infestation. John Banks’s group are a fun group to root for. Lots of ball busting jokes mixed in with an Indiana Jones type of an adventure. He also lets his imagination go wild with a take on the Nazi folklore story of seceret aircraft in an Antarctic base. This is where Meikle shines the brightest. He’s able to take a story that could’ve came across as silly nonsense or full of plot holes and expertly crafts it into a rip-roaring adventure that you can buy into. His third John Banks tale was released this week and I can’t wait to dive into it.

 

4 1/2 Bloody Swastikas out of 5

 

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