James Lovegrove writes himself into the narrative with The Cthulhu Casebooks, in a fictionalized account of his own life in the preface to this tale. As a distant relation to the former H.P. Lovecraft, a parcel finds its way to him upon the passing of another member of the Lovecraft family. Contained within is a trilogy of manuscripts penned by Dr. John Watson, confidant and partner of Sherlock Holmes. In the tale that unfolds, we learn that the meeting of Watson and Holmes did not transpire as we’ve come to believe. Additionally, further elements of Watson’s previously available documentation of the cases he and Holmes investigated have been fictionalized to protect the world from forbidden knowledge of things best left unknown. From the deserts and mountains of Afghanistan to long-forgotten catacombs beneath London, a global tale of unspeakable horror emerges. Upon meeting one another, Holmes and Watson find themselves in pursuit of answers to a rash of ritualistic deaths occurring during the new moon. What they discover will leave the pair, as well as other familiar characters from the Holmes’ archives, changed in ways never hinted at within the released accounts from Watson. All-in-all, this was a worthwhile mixture of the Lovecraftian mythos and the characters developed by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The writing style emulates Doyle’s prose surprisingly well, and the insertion of creatures like Nyarlathotep and Cthulhu into the narrative was performed seamlessly. The story itself didn’t impress me quite as much as I’d hoped, but it was decent enough to nudge me toward checking out the additional two volumes in this series. Dennis Kleinman’s narration of Watson was quite fantastic, as was his performance of Holmes’ dialogue. Sadly, the other characters felt perhaps a bit less set apart from the background. This is not to say that they weren’t distinct enough to tell them apart, because he managed that quite well, just that they weren’t brought to life in quite the same way the two protagonists were.
Iain Anderson’s Daddy was as surprising as it was captivating, keeping the reader–in this case, me–guessing until just before the shocking pivot in the narrative. Lauren is kidnapped and she’s certain it’s the work of a brutal murderer the press has dubbed The Callendar Man. Forced into a small, dark shed, Lauren soon learns she isn’t alone in the confined space. This story has something for everyone. We have a father’s love. There’s a sinister string of missing people turning up dead in a gruesome fashion. And, finally, we have the mystery of who or what is in the shed with Lauren. Iain Anderson might just answer the question that’s been plaguing you your whole life. Who’s your daddy?
Daddy is the Day Four release for the 31 Days of Godless event celebrating October 2021 at http://www.godless.com and you can obtain this story for yourself by going to the website or by downloading the app. The link is below:
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.
My first exposure to Jeff VanderMeer was my purchase of City of Saints and Madmen in May of 2006. I was in my mid-20s and exploring more surreal literature; strange fantasies and bizarro being the two genres I was most greedily diving into. Upon reading that peculiar assortment of strange tales and explorations of the fantastic city of Ambergris, I could hardly wait to read more of his work. I’ve been a fan since that time 15 years ago, and VanderMeer has not disappointed me since. Hummingbird Salamander is a bit different from his other works, taking place neither in a feverish land of nebulous division between dreams and waking life nor in a future version of our world, transformed by otherworldly forces. Instead, this novel takes place in the here and now, though perhaps not quite the way you or I would recognize it in subtle ways. We are first introduced to a mildly paranoid digital security consultant who serves as our unreliable guide through the events that unfold as she begins her journey to unravel a mystery that remains at least somewhat unclear as you reach the final page. It should be said, that if you go into one of this author’s books expecting clarity and a tidy resolution, you’re probably in the wrong place. Elements of mystery and layered narratives are far from uncommon within VanderMeer’s work, but this particular story showcases the excellence of the suspense form when lovingly crafted by his mind and hands. Familiar themes from his work are on vivid display within this narrative, ecological concerns, curious uncertainties relating to identity and the self, and suggestions that what is real might not be quite so clear as we commonly understand it to be.
This review was originally written in the summer of 2015.As you can probably tell from the picture above–as well as other, more recent reviews–I’m a bit of a fan of this particular author.
I went into The Mind Is a Razor Blade by Max Booth III without any expectations and no knowledge of the plot beyond what the back cover provided. It starts off sporadic and disorienting, perfectly conveying the state of mind of our protagonist, the very definition of an unreliable narrator. A man wakes up naked in a river with a corpse nearby and no idea who he is, who the corpse is, or how either of them got there. In the first few minutes of reading the book our protagonist has stolen a coat from a corpse, shot a man numerous times, and made a stumbling but successful escape from the police. Believe it or not, the story gets crazier from there on out. As our protagonist begins getting a marginally better grasp on who he is and what is going on the narrative simply becomes more bizarre and disturbing along the way, keeping the narrator on his toes (and, by extension, the reader as well). Through the protagonist, we become unwilling tourists through a city driven mad by drug use, organized crime that crosses into the supernatural while exhibiting the hallmarks of a cult, and inhuman creatures that hunt for organs from the populace…also, there are spiders, lots of spiders. In the midst of all of this, there is also redemption and at the core a sense that love can transcend even the most horrific experiences. This book contained all of the best elements of noir, horror, a sort of perverse humor, and surrealism. If you’re a fan of the movie Dark City or the book John Dies At the End, this is definitely something you might want to check out.
Jessica Leonard’s Antioch is a strange ride through a peculiar mystery tale revolving around a serial killer, conspiracy theories, and (as strange as it might seem) Amelia Earhart. All of this transpires in a town that feels both small and yet large enough that people can maintain that sort of invisibility you only find in larger cities. It feels like an unreal place, one that can only exist in our imaginations, not dissimilar to the fictional town of Twin Peaks. In fact, if I had to compare this novel to anything, I would have to say that it has a lot of that Twin Peaks feel to it…and that’s a good thing. In the end, I’m pretty sure I have it figured out and–assuming I’m right–I had the story figured out in the ninth chapter, a little over midway through the book. The problem is, you can never be more than pretty sure that you have it figured out. There’s so much uncertainty and haziness to the tale, that you just can’t be 100% certain. This is achieved, in large part, by Leonard’s ability to develop and then focus on the least dependable and stable character in Bess. It’s not so much that we have an unreliable narrator to this story, just an ungodly unreliable prism through which the events are being filtered. To refer to Antioch as a phantasmagoria is perhaps putting it mildly. You’ll just have to experience it for yourself, and it is quite the experience.