Under The Fang – Edited by Robert R. McCammon

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Under The Fang is one I’ve seen on bookstore shelves many times throughout the 1980s. Its chock full of the decade’s horror stalwarts, yet somehow I never picked it up. On a trip to my favorite used bookstore, I came across it again and made sure not  to overlook it this time. Let’s see what’s between the covers:

 

The Miracle Mile – Robert McCammon

McCammon always serves up his readers platter after platter of stories with three-dimensional characters and layers of atmosphere. The Miracle Mile is no different. Survivors of the apocalypse try to find one last glimmer of joy from a favorite family vacation spot.

4 out of 5 stars
Dancing Nitely – Nancy A. Collins

After the Uprising, life as a vampire is very different. A glimpse in the life of Maldives the vampire as he goes out to the club. An entertaining look at how the undead’s world would be.

5 out of 5 stars
Stoker’s Mistress – Clint Collins

Bram Stoker thought he was writing a fictional tale about vampires. It’s a good thing for them that he didn’t know the truth.

4 out of 5 stars
Does The Blood Line Run On Time – Sidney Williams & Robert Petitt

Dugan joins the resistance after seeing the lead vampire destroy the only thing he loved in this vampire apocalypse. Absolutely loved the writing and the plot. Perfect.

5 out of 5 stars
Red Eve – Al Sarrantonio

Spoiled, loud-mouthed brats learn a new lesson…the hard way. An okay story that you could see the ending coming from a mile away.

3 out of 5 stars
We Are Dead Together – Charles DeLint

A young gypsy learns that it is better to be true to yourself then live your life as a lie. A moralistic scene rather than a complete story. Still a decent rendition.

3 1/2 out of 5 stars
Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage – Chet Williamson

Being together for all eternity has different meanings in a world ruled by vampires. Richard finds out this and what true love really means. Great story written with such eloquence by Williamson.

5 out of 5 stars
Advocates – Suzy McKee Charnas and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

What to do with a captured vampire that isn’t limited by sunlight and can feed off of other vampires as well as humans. Advocates touches on sociological questions that could possibly arise during the vampire apocalypse but then never really goes anywhere, no conclusion, nothing. Its too bad. A story with this good of writing shouldn’t end by the reading being indifferent and shrugging their shoulders before they move on to the next story.

3 out of 5 stars
Special – Richard Laymon

Falling in love with the prisoners is never a good idea in a vampire apocalypse, especially when the humans are supposed to only be around to be slaves and procreate. But, for Jim, the heart wants what the heart wants and for some reason Diane is special. A fun tale that I actually like from Laymon. The guy can flat out write when he’s not trying to be a horny 13-year-old.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars
Herrenrasse – J.N. Williamson

Harry is captured by the vampire that kills his family. Instead of disposing of Harry, the vampire decided to make Harry his human “pet” to keep him company. A confusing tale that tries to show Harry outwit his captor. Eh.

2.5 out of 5 stars
Duty – Ed Gorman

Keller doesn’t like his job, but someone has to do it in the vampire apocalypse. A great story where the delivery is the best part.

5 out of 5 stars
Midnight Sun – Brian Hodge

This one knocked my socks off. Think of John Carpenter’s The Thing with vampires instead of an alien.

5 out of 5 stars
A Bloodsucker – David N. Meyer III

A quick and fun little diddy about the price of fortune and fame in the vampire apocalypse.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars
Prodigal Son – Thomas F. Monteleone

A vampire scientist discovers a vaccine that will allow him to be exposed to sunlight. Following a successful trial of using himself as the first test subject, Vandemeer finds himself walking along the beach right before sunrise for the first time since he became a vampire. He meets a human and is surprised that his hunger doesn’t overtake him. What has this vaccine done to him? Monteleone’s solid delivery still doesn’t make up for a mediocre ending.

3 out of 5 stars
There Are No Nightclubs in East Palo Alto – Clifford V. Brooks

A group of humans are tired of being scared and suppressed by the vampires in the apocalypse. They learn to play instruments, form a band, and write songs of rebellion to try and feel less weak, less afraid. But in the apocalypse, you never know who you can trust, even yourself. A solid story with interesting characters and nice twist on the ending.

4 out of 5 stars
Juice – Lisa W. Cantrell

A bootlegger in the apocalypse finds that they have just as much to fear as the original ones did during prohibition. My first time reading Cantrell, a fairly well-known author from the eighties. Juice was creative and an engaging read. Cantrell doesn’t have an extensive catalog, but I will be grabbing what she did publish.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars
Behind Enemy Lines – Dan Perez

Here’s an author I’ve never heard of, but with Behind Enemy Lines, he dishes out an engrossing tale militaristic vampires versus a band of human rebels. I’m a sucker for great characters and Perez delivers.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars
UNDER THE FANG is one of the best anthologies you’ll run across. There are only a couple of clunkers in the 17 offerings. There were a few authors in there that I’d heard of but had never read yet. Now I’ve got a few more writers to look for in my used book store outings. And that’s going to be your best bet to find and pick up UNDER THE FANG, since it was released in the 1980s. I recommend that you do. It’s chock full of wonderful bloodsucking tales.
OVERALL = 4.11 out of 5 stars

 

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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The Queen of Bedlam – Robert McCammon

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McCammon is simply amazing. The man takes a decade off from writing in the prime years of his life when many authors hit their stride. You’d think when he came back there would be some rust he’d have to knock off the wheels. Nah, he comes out of the gate with a fury and a vengeance and the first slab of goodness he throws on the table is Speaks the Nightbird. Speaks is so unique in that it provides us with such a wonderful story and characters in a setting that isn’t typically done by the masters of horror. The setting is late 17th century in the Carolina colonies and we’re introduced to a young lad with a penchant for questioning everything. A curious teenage colonial Sherlock Holmes, if you will. I won’t get into the details of Speaks. By now, you should’ve already read it. If not, get your butt off this review and go read it…immediately!

Now, for the rest of you. If you loved Speaks the Nightbird, as much as I did, then you will not be disappointed with Queen of Bedlam. We find Matthew a little bit older, a little bit wiser, and in a new setting. New York City circa 1690s. A town with 5000 inhabitant, all with dreams and aspirations for wealth and prosperity in the new world. But, not all is well in the fledgling colony. A murderer is loose and carving up his victims, one by one, while leaving his calling card, the shape of a diamond carved around the eyes of the murdered. The constables are clueless, but what would you expect from the unqualified blow hards that were appointed by their friends in high places? Matthew, now a clerk for a local magistrate, stumbles across one of the victims moments after he was butchered by The Masker, the name the killer has received from the local start up news sheet. He is plunged head long into the mystery of identifying the unseen murderer. Matthew’s “problem solving” skills are also noticed by Katherine Herrald, the head of a newly started detective agency that has come from London to NYC. Matthew accepts the invitation to join the agency and must pass certain tests to show that he is worthy of the position. What he finds is that there are many mysteries floating around, including the identity of the Queen of Bedlam, an unknown woman who was dropped off at a progressive asylum with the instructions to never try and discover who she really is. For Matthew, all paths seem to lead back to this mysterious woman who is locked up in her own mind. Who is the Masker and is she connected to the murders somehow? Will our young detective get to the bottom of this or will he find himself on the business end of a blade?

The Queen of Bedlam is a wonderful roller coaster ride through the historical world McCammon has created. Matthew is such an engaging character. You constantly root for him around every twist and turn. You cringe and hide your eyes when he’s thrust in harm’s way. I can’t express how good McCammon is at building this colonial world of mystery. One of the questions I do get is “but is it horror?” If you’ve ever read McCammon’s earlier works that put him on the horror map during the 1980s, you know that his “horror stories” all had horrific elements in them, yet they were so much more. The same is true with the Matthew Corbett series. Don’t get caught up in being able to pigeonhole the tales into a nice, neat category. Simply read it. I can’t make it any more plain than that!
5 Carving Knives out of 5
You can also follow my reviews at the following links:

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They Thirst – Robert McCammon

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I’m not sure how this one slipped through my fingers. I could’ve sworn that I’d read They Thirst many, many years ago, but for some odd reason I couldn’t remember much at all about it. So, I figured it was time for a re-read. Well, now I know why I don’t remember much about it – I never read the damn thing, in the first place! And oh what a treat this has been. Imagine discovering a new book by your favorite author written smack dab in the time period of when they did their best writing. That’s what They Thirst was for me! Now, McCammon lists this as one of his early books that he’s not very proud of and, yes, you can see a few things that might not fly these days. But, keep in mind, this was written back in 1981. Many things written in ’81 wouldn’t fly today! So, in my opinion, McCammon should be very proud of this one.

Andy Palatazin is the head of homicide in L.A. and is working night and day to catch The Roach, a serial killer that roams the streets strangling prostitutes. Soon, Andy will have to deal with an evil that has followed him to the states from the old country. One that makes The Roach seem like child’s play. Gayle is a reporter for the Los Angeles Tattler, a National Enquirer type of tabloid rag that Andy despises having to give any type of interview. Gayle, who is hot on the story of The Roach, longs for her big break that will allow her to work for a respected newspaper. Soon, Gayle will come face to face with a far greater story of evil. In East L.A., Father Silvera works tirelessly to keep the drug dealers out of his parish. Soon, Father will discover that his parishioners have a much greater evil overtaking them than addiction. For Wes, an up-and-coming comedian, he’s looking at a bright future with his African girlfriend, Solange, who also happens to be sensitive towards the spirit world. Soon, Wes will find that Solange’s talents are much more than parlor tricks. At the top of the hill overlooking L.A., an evil has moved into the abandoned castle that eccentric horror movie actor, Orleen Kronstein, resided in many years ago. And this evil is looking to grab L.A. by the throat.

They Thirst is a fun-filled romp of a vampire story done right. The characters and the atmosphere are perfect. Think of how the movie The Lost Boys was done (six years after They Thirst was written, mind you) and you’ll get an idea of the tone of this one. McCammon’s greatest strength is his wonderful characters that you feel like you know and They Thirst is no different. Top notch all the way. Sink your fangs into this one immediately!
5 dug up coffins out of 5
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Last Train From Perdition (I Travel By Night, Book Two) – Robert McCammon

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The saga of Jonathan Lawson continues. After the battle in Louisiana , LaRouge escapes and Lawson is forced to continue the search for her once more. This time, he has a sidekick. Ann’s father was taken by LaRouge and now she joins Jonathan to travel by night in search of answers. Their search is sidetracked when a wealthy business man hires them to go to Perdition, Montana to find and bring back his son who is running with an outlaw gang. When Jonathan and Ann find his son, a shootout in the saloon erupts and innocent girl is severely injured. Knowing that the last train out of Perdition that heads to Helena where there is a hospital is her only shot at survival, the duo accompany her and their outlaw adversaries. But there is evil waiting for them along the way.

Last Train From Perdition is an absolute blast to read. I’m so glad McCammon is blending the two genres that he’s so good at (horror and historical fiction). The writing is crisp. The characters are memorable. The pacing is nothing less than superb. The bleak Montana winter landscape in the middle of the night is a perfect setting for this masterpiece. McCammon is clicking on all cylinders and here’s to hoping he never stops!
5 frigid fangs out of 5
You can also follow my reviews at the following links:

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Book of the Dead – edited by John Skipp & Craig Spector

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In the 1980s, the only person that was doing anything significant with zombies was the Godfather himself, George Romero. In horror fiction, zombie stories were as dead as the zombies themselves. Then, in 1989, this little gem of a collection came along and among it’s pages were some heavy hitters from the horror and sci-fi genre. If you’re looking for chills and scares, keep moving. You won’t find them here. But, if you’re looking for good, campy fun ala Tales from the Crypt types of zombie stories, by all means, sink your teeth into this perverted bag of goodies. And I mean perverted. Many of these stories have either zombie sex or the biting off of penises in there somewhere. Two stand out tales for me that left me crying laughing were On the Far Side of the Cadillac Desert with Dead Folks by Joe Lansdale and Jerry’s Kids Meet Wormboy by David Schow. Those two alone were worth the price of admission. Here’s my take on each one.

Blossom – Chan McConnell

The dangers of hooking up with someone you don’t know and having an exotic fetish all while the zombie apocalypse is beginning. Enjoyed the irony of this one.

4 out of 5 stars

Mess Hall – Richard Laymon

It’s never good to be a serial killer and be around your victims when the zombie apocalypse happens. I’ve had issues with the two Laymon novels that I’ve read being extremely juvenile with unbelievable characters or story lines. But, this short story was the exact opposite. In fact, I loved this short story so much that I’m going to give his novels another try.

5 out of 5 stars

It Helps If You Sing – Ramsey Campbell

Door-to-door Jehovah’s Witness zombies + Haiti voodoo = a bad day. Just ok. Not my favorite.

2 out of 5 stars

Home Delivery – Stephen King

Maddie Pace is the most indecisive woman you’ll ever meet. Trying to determine what can of soup to buy out of all those choices on the shelf will send her running from the store without buying anything. But when the dead begin to rise on Genneseault Island, Maddie has already forced herself to cope. Good characters but felt incomplete. It seemed more like a snippet from a longer story.

3 out of 5 stars

Wet Work – Philip Nutman

Soldiers are clearing out a school during the zombie apocalypse. These soldiers aren’t doing what you think they are. Nice little twist.

4 out of 5 stars

A Sad Last Love at the Diner of the Damned – Edward Bryant

The small town of Fort Durham, Colorado is experiencing the days after the dead turned. Martha is a waitress at the local diner and the focus of many of the male residents lustful attention. But, pretty Martha only has eyes for the young deputy sheriff, Bobby Mack, and the other men don’t like this. They don’t like it at all. And when things go to hell, they come to take what they want.

5 out of 5 stars
Bodies and Heads – Steve Rasnic Tem

Either I completely missed the point of this story or it’s a mess. Elaine is the nurse in a hospital where they have patients that rapidly shake their heads back and forth (as if they’re saying no, no, no) and they have to restrain them from shaking as they try to feed them. But, they don’t eat or attack them and then the one rips his own head off at the end. Hey, if you “get” this story, please explain it to my dumb ass.

1 out of 5 stars
Choices – Glen Vasey

Dawson writes his thoughts down in a spiral notebook as he’s going through the trials and tribulations of the zombie apocalypse. It was little more than a boring set of philosophical ramblings. A slight twist at the end that was too little too late to turn this yawn-fest around. An absolute chore to get through.

1 out of 5 stars

The Good Parts – Les Daniels

Zombie sex. Who would’ve thought? Pretty ridiculous even for a zombie story. But it had an interesting hypothesis on what happened to the zombies over time.

2 out of 5 stars

Less Than Zombie – Douglas Winter

A twisted spoof of Less Than Zero, zombie style. Totally rad. Totally.

3 out of 5 stars

Like Pavlov’s Dog – Steven R. Boyett

An assault on an Ecosphere project in the Arizona desert with trained zombies. Nice writing style and character development.

4 out of 5 stars

Saxophone – Nicholas Royle

The zombie apocalypse was started as a result of a war breaking out between old communist block Europe and the Allies (you have to remember this book was written in the late 1980s) when the Allies retaliated with chemical weapons. The zombies can think and begin to wage their own war. Lots of interesting ideas in a story of irony about a zombie who was previously a jazz saxophonist. Good stuff.

5 out of 5 stars

On the Far Side of the Cadillac Desert with Dead Folks – Joe R. Lansdale

A bounty hunter is bringing his fugitive across the desert when they run into a whacked out cult leader who also happened to have caused the zombie apocalypse. I Loved Lansdale’s writing and it actually made me LOL at least a half dozen times.

5 out of 5 stars
Dead Giveaway – Brian Hodge

Even zombies enjoy game shows, but it’s all about the ratings, baby.

4 out of 5 stars
Jerry’s Kids Meet Wormboy – David J. Schow

The morbidly obese kid that was the butt of all the jokes in high school squares off against a television evangelist and his army of disciple zombies. A piss-your-pants hilarious story.

5 out of 5 stars

Eat Me – Robert McCammon

Two zombies find love in a singles bar. Warped fun.

4 out of 5 stars
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