Dark Places by Gillian Flynn: Narrated by Rebecca Lowman, Cassandra Campbell, Mark Deakins, & Robertson Dean

Dark Places indeed.
This book takes the reader/listener to some truly dark places.
A Kansas family was slaughtered in the middle of a cold January night in 1985. The only survivor was the youngest daughter, Libby Day.
The oldest child, Ben, is the easy suspect for everyone. He’s a troubled teenage boy with a darkness inside of him that easily feeds into the Satanic Panic running rampant in those days. But was he guilty? Was Ben just as innocent of these horrific crimes as he was of the sexual assault accusations being leveled against him by numerous grade school girls?
We join Libby as an adult, running out of money from the donations sent her way as a sympathetic child survivor of the Day family massacre. No longer the sympathetic, victimized young girl, Libby lives in squalor and never quite figured out how to properly take care of herself. This desperate situation is what leads her to The Kill Club, a group of true crime fanatics who imagine themselves to be investigators.
Ripping off painful bandages and digging into a past she only barely recalls, Libby begins to question her courtroom testimony from all those years before. Some mysteries are better left in the shadows, though. Proving Ben’s innocence might lead to nothing more than further death and horror.
Gillian Flynn has a knack for developing interesting characters without making them feel particularly sympathetic. The characters populating Dark Places are no less captivating than others she’s developed, in large part because of precisely how flawed and sometimes awful they happen to be. Despite those flaws and the fact that it’s hard to care about the characters, you can’t help but find yourself invested in what’s happening.
The narrations performed by Rebecca Lowman, Cassandra Campbell, Mark Deakins, and Robertson Dean are fantastic. We experience different characters, at different times, with distinctly different voices…and it’s a nice touch.


Mukbang Princess & Furry Beaver by Rayne Havok

I typically dedicate a single blog post to a single story, but most of those stories are novella-length or longer…with the occasional novelette slipping through. These two stories from Rayne Havok are definitely in the short story range. It seemed appropriate, under the circumstances, to review them both in one post.

I’ll start with Mukbang Princess:
This is a story about two teenage girls looking for a quick way to make money online. Neither of the characters is innocent or chaste, but neither of them is particularly looking forward to making their money from amateur pornography.
The world of mukbang initially has a sort of strange appeal, if only they can find the right thing to eat. Stumbling across what might be their ultimate meal ticket ultimately crosses the line for both of them, and the thought of working a regular job suddenly doesn’t seem so awful.
This story is hilarious.
It’s essentially what would result from certain conversations with friends, getting darker and more perverse…but coherently written out and captured. There’s as much perverse humor to the tale as there is sheer, awful grotesquerie…and it’s amazing.

Furry Beaver is up next:
This one is just filled to the brim with furry sex and slaughter.
I doubt most people attend a furry house party with any concern for their own safety…in this case, that is a fatal mistake.
Once the party gets going, there’s hardly a line of this story not dedicated to graphic sexual encounters and equally graphic violence. Havok wastes no time diving into the sweaty, fetid, sexually charged bloodbath…and she doesn’t come back up for air until it’s all over. Much like the titular beaver, whisking the blood from oily fur like it was water.

I recommend checking them both out at your earliest convenience. Links to the stories on http://www.godless.com are below.

Fun With Haiku

I saw a call for Canadian writers to submit horror haikus the other day. Unfortunately, I am not Canadian…because it sounded like fun. I was between newscasts–I direct newscasts for our local ABC affiliate Monday through Friday–and I decided I should see just how dark and awful I could get with the haiku template.

That was how it started…but not how it would end.

There were more–many more.

Just when I thought I might be finished, I had to keep going with a couple late additions.

I hope you enjoyed this journey as much as I’ve enjoyed leading you.

The Wind In My Heart by Douglas Wynne

Douglas Wynne knows how to craft a captivating tale. The Wind In My Heart–while taking place in the 1990s–hearkens back to the hard-boiled detective stories of authors like Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. For being a couple of generations removed from the anti-hero protagonists of those books, Miles Landry wouldn’t be out of place at all. Of course, it helps the aesthetic that this takes place in New York’s Chinatown.
Blending this combination of an old school detective noir with Eastern philosophy–in the Tibetan crisis-conscious New York of the early 1990s–creates an enchanting sort of mandala in literary form. Threads of the story circle back around, creating new patterns and surprising twists as the narrative takes shape and arrives at a final form…before being swept away like sand as you reach the conclusion and set the book aside.
Hired by the monks of a Buddhist community center to investigate what they believe to be a supernaturally perpetrated series of murders, Landry must traverse a dangerous gauntlet between Chinese gangs, the police, and a possible supernatural threat that stands to tear his world apart.
Unlike altogether too many books, there was an unexpected twist to this story…but not one that felt flimsy or poorly crafted. Nothing about Wynne’s book was poorly crafted.

Murder By Other Means by John Scalzi: Narrated by Zachary Quinto

Few authors could successfully pack as much intrigue, mystery, and suspense into a novella as John Scalzi. Murder By Other Means is a prime example of Scalzi at his fast-paced best. At the heart of this story is a question, “How do you successfully assassinate people when 99.99% of murder victims reappear–unharmed–in their homes, only moments later?”
We return to the world of Tony Valdez, the titular Dispatcher of the previous story in this sequence, not too long after we left him at the end of The Dispatcher. Legitimate work has dried up for him and the city of Chicago is on an austerity budget that prohibits him from finding many side gigs on the up-and-up. This is where we meet up with him again, as he enters a law firm for a less than legal utilization of his skills.
From there it’s a dizzying spiral of international corporate intrigue, organized crime, suicide, and survival…with a healthy dose of police procedural and noir-ish detective story providing the framework. This is a better story than The Dispatcher, which was a pretty high bar to clear.
Zachary Quinto again provides narration for the story, and there’s probably no need for me to point out that he’s beyond excellent in all respects. I can’t imagine Tony with a different voice.

Summer Frost by Blake Crouch: Narrated by Rosa Salazar

Summer Frost is not treading entirely new ground, building up to a predictable outcome as it does…but it’s not the novelty of the tale that makes it worthy, it’s the quality of the storyteller. Blake Crouch is quite the storyteller.
Riley makes for a captivating protagonist as she works to assist the world’s first truly emergent intelligence reach and further maximize its potential. It’s appropriate, in a sense, that the AI’s name is Max (short for Maxine, the NPC within a VR game, the AI unexpectedly grew from).
It’s a sad tale of being too close to a problem to see that there’s a problem at all. In this case, the problem is that Riley has projected altogether too many human characteristics onto something that is far beyond human. Blinded by an affection that falls somewhere into a nebulous space of mother and child…or lover and object of obsession. We are helpless to do anything, hoping that we’re wrong, as the story races to the inevitable conclusion…but knowing, deep inside that there’s no other conclusion available.
The narration from Rosa Salazar is as spectacular as most of the narration has been for the installments of the Forward Collection. She lulls us into a sense of near-complacency that allows us to feel almost as taken off-guard as Riley ultimately is.

Saint Sadist by Lucas Mangum: Narrated by Melody Muzljakovich

Filth and purity.
These words will mean something to you as you follow along with Courtney’s awful narrative. They’re appropriate words to have in mind as you read Mangum’s Saint Sadist. In a strange sense, there’s an overarching theme of filth and purity, the duality of those two things, and the way they reflect one another throughout the whole story.
Courtney’s father was a violent and abusive man, until she discovered she could use her burgeoning sexuality as a shield to protect herself from those bouts of cruelty and violence. Becoming a victim of a wholly different sort of abuse, teenage Courtney believes she’s taken control of the situation, both protecting herself and preying upon her father’s weakness.
Then she gets pregnant.
Reading this, you might think this is the end…but it’s only the beginning.
Courtney escapes from her home, hoping to provide a better life for her incestuous offspring by living the life of a harlot.
Few authors would look at what they’d created thus far and decide they haven’t gone far enough. Lucas Mangum is one of those few.
The story grows increasingly vile and violent. The voice in Courtney’s head and the visions she experiences force us to wonder how much is real and how much is the result of severe psychological damage and depravity visited upon a young girl.
This is an unpleasant, raw, and disgusting masterpiece.
Melody Muzljakovich breathes life into both Courtney’s Texas drawl and the hissing whispers and chanting of her inner voice with equal skill. Other characters are similarly well-narrated.

Scanlines by Todd Keisling

Three teenage boys wanted nothing more than to watch a downloaded video of a porn star, but what they received was a lifetime of torture and loss when the video they obtained was of a politician’s public suicide. An urban legend becomes manifest as these boys and other kids from school attempt to achieve some manner of understanding, some way to grasp what they’ve seen and what they’re continuing to see.
Scanlines is a desolate horror story, grim and dark in a way a lot of narratives only barely approach. There’s nostalgia embedded in the chilly tale, there’s a lot of heart in there as well, but–more than any of that–there’s a whole lot of pain and terror. This is not an easy book to read, but it is easily one of the best things I’ve read in a long time.
Imagine Traces of Death mingled with The Ring, and you’ll have a rough idea of what you’ll be getting yourself into when you dive into this all too real story. Is it a supernatural adversary operating behind the awful, horrifying events of Scanlines? Is this a story of shared or mass psychosis? Are we reading a book about a ghost haunting the fateful final moments of a desperate man caught on tape, or is this a commentary on suicide contagion? I guess that’s really up to you. I like to think it’s a little bit of everything, those possible driving factors not being mutually exclusive.
I’m a little bit older than the boys from Scanlines, but I can relate to them altogether too well. It was the late 1980s and early 1990s. I was around ten or 11 years old when I snagged the first three Faces of Death movies from a local video store during one of the weekends I spent with my father. That was part of our routine on Friday evenings after he picked me up. We would head almost immediately to the video store and I would select around five VHS tapes from the Horror section (or the Action or Sci-Fi/Fantasy sections…but Horror was my favorite), sometimes I’d go with personal favorites, but most of the time I was just picking things I hadn’t seen yet. My goal, if there was one, was to gradually make my way through every horror flick on those shelves.
I was a kid and I didn’t know any better–there wasn’t internet available for research or any of that–so I was naive enough to believe the things in Faces of Death were real. It wasn’t until a little bit later, when I rented Traces of Death, that I saw the difference.
I’m plenty familiar with the public suicide that inspired the basis behind Scanlines, it was included in the first Traces of Death VHS. It played on a screen behind Neurosis as they performed during one of the concerts I’d attended as a teenager. It was on all of the websites dedicated to the dark and macabre when I first started venturing into those spaces in the mid-to-late 90s. Reading Keisling’s novella and the introduction provided by the publisher, Max Booth III, I know I’ve found some kindred spirits in a sense. None of us appear to have been traumatized in the way Robby, Danny, Jordan, and the others were…but I suspect, in some sense, we’ve all been haunted by the things we insisted we had to see.
I can’t recommend this book for everyone, because it’s absolutely not a book everyone will be able to read and enjoy. If an unambiguous and unfiltered discussion of suicide is something that might be a trigger for you, you might want to stay away. If you think you can handle it, you have to read this book!
I applaud Todd Keisling for baring his soul and purging himself on the page the way he clearly did with this book. He deserves every bit of love and appreciation this book has garnered within the horror community.

You Will Be Consumed…by This Riveting Tale

Ignore, if you can, the “For Rectal Use Only” sticker I’ve affixed to the cover of this proof copy of my novella, You Will Be Consumed.

I know it’s difficult.

Some of you might find yourselves asking whether that’s a reference to the contents being best suited for use as toilet paper. I can assure you the paper utilized in printing this book is definitely inferior to most toilet paper on the market. You may find yourself wondering if I’m implying that you should attempt to roll the book into a tube of sorts for rectal insertion. I don’t recommend that. You may find yourself in a beautiful house with a beautiful wife. You may ask yourself, “Well, how did I get here?” If those things are true, you’re probably somehow existing within the amazing song Once In a Lifetime by Talking Heads.

At this point, I’m sure you’re wondering what the hell this post is all about. You’re not alone. I think I might have forgotten that salient detail as well.

Of course, I’m joking.

I just wanted to remind you that it’s time to pick up your own copies of You Will Be Consumed…and the amazing publisher I worked with on this title, Madness Heart Press, has guaranteed that there are outlets available for anyone.

Amazon, of course, is available as an option:

You can also purchase the book in either physical or digital copy directly from the Madness Heart Press website at the link below:

However, if you’re interested in a digital copy of the novella, and you really don’t want to support Amazon…but you do want to show support for indie authors and small press publishers of horror titles…there’s another place you can go.

Drew Stepek, a fantastic author and an avid supporter of the indie horror literature scene, has assembled something amazing.

Check out Godless at the following link:

While you’re there…please spend some time perusing the available titles. This is a great distribution option for small presses, self-published horror authors, and fans to come together without Amazon lining their already bulging pockets in the process.

That’s all.

I wanted to peddle my new novella some more, and I really wanted to encourage everyone to visit Godless.

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi: Narrated by Almarie Guerra

Paolo Bacigalupi paints a grim portrait of America’s future in The Water Knife. It feels substantially grimmer when one considers just how plausible it might be.
We’re introduced to a global warming prediction come and gone, where the fertile regions for farming and ranching have shifted hundreds of miles to the North of where they are today, as the desert inexorably reclaims the land we’d believed we tamed. Water has become the most valued resource we have and is finally treated as being as precious and necessary as it has always been.
Southern states have sealed their borders against one another and the National Guard of those respective states have become the private military forces enforcing those border separations and the water rights of the territories they patrol.
Perhaps more horrifying than the abject human misery and exploitation we find within this narrative, there’s a bleak dystopia that’s taken hold. The separation between corporate interests and the interests of the state has become more blurred than they are in the world we see around us today.
The characters we meet and follow through this twisted tale of espionage, cruelty, and power struggles are well-developed and fully three-dimensional in a way that breathes a searing, dust-filled life into the story. As the Nevada water knife, the journalist, and the Texas refugee follow their separate threads throughout the story, those threads become a tangled web of intrigue, betrayal, and murder.
Bacigalupi displays a keen understanding of people, human nature, and the drastic toll we’ve taken on the world around us to an extent that is both depressing and almost awe-inspiring. It’s virtually impossible not to love this book even as the story itself leaves the reader/listener feeling hollowed out and helpless. Unlike so many dystopian glimpses of our future, this one lacks some magic solution to resolve the underlying failures of the society involved. The mystery is solved for the readers, but we’re left with no sense of satisfaction that resolution is just around the corner, and that makes this book more honest than many.
The narration of the audiobook is expertly performed by Almarie Guerra, tackling the characters well enough that they all feel as if they’re distinctly separate voices within the audio edition of this novel.