Duncan Ralston’s Ghostland seamlessly blends elements of 13 Ghosts (or the more high-tech remake, Thirteen Ghosts), Jurassic Park, and The Matrix into a thrill ride of a story. Thankfully, it’s marginally less exciting than the Ghostland attraction itself. Otherwise, Ralston would be responsible for a lot of carnage. Something Ben Laramie catches a glimpse of when he witnesses his favorite author’s house inexplicably transported through town is enough to stop the young boy’s heart. It can’t possibly be Rex Garrote standing in the window and seemingly staring back at him because Rex Garrote has been dead longer than Ben’s been alive. But as the world will learn over the following years, death isn’t quite the conclusion most people believe. On the opening day of the Ghostland theme park, Ben manages to recruit his former best friend Lillian and her therapist to join him as he enters the park on a mission they know nothing of. Since his heart attack, Ben has set his sights on one objective, and it’s one he’s willing to sacrifice himself to accomplish. What starts as a coming-of-age reflection on mortality rapidly transforms into a harrowing and violent struggle for survival amid the exploration of the most haunted places in the world all in one place. Ralston paces everything perfectly, never wasting a beat as he drags us along with Ben and Lillian through a gauntlet that only the luckiest can hope to escape. As he leads us to a conclusion that is both satisfying and open-ended for the sequels, the author displays keen storytelling instincts that should impress anyone daring enough to enter Ghostland. Joe Hempel is always a thoroughly competent and capable narrator, and his performance for the Ghostland audiobook is no exception.
When I first heard about Beyond Reform, and the authors involved in the book, I knew it was something I had to read. This need became more pronounced when Brian Keene announced the nominees for the Splatterpunk Awards at KillerCon Austin 2022. As a nominee myself, in the same category, I felt a compulsion to dive into the nominated works from my competitors/colleagues/friends. They’re not mutually exclusive categorizations. Upon reading Beyond Reform, I felt confident that it would be the title that blew the rest of us out of the water. As it turns out, I was correct, and I was waiting to post this review until after I’d confirmed my assessment. Beauregard, Athan, and Bark capture the theme of Beyond Reform in essentially every conceivable sense. The stories are grim, fatalistic, captivating, sometimes amusing, and often horrifying in their portrayal of the worst aspects of human nature. Aron Beauregard kicks it all off with the title story, Beyond Reform. Hoping to score some quick cash and have some fun along the way, Marcus finds himself the focus of a couple’s revenge. Unfortunately, for everyone involved, Marcus has made enemies of more than just the two of them, and even the best-laid plans fall apart sometimes. Beauregard pulls no punches and dares the reader to flinch as he ups the ante with each new roll of the dice. Midnight Glory by Jasper Bark introduces us to a dysfunctional couple with a seemingly unlimited capacity to hurt one another and a similar capacity to sustain the damage. The source of this seemingly supernatural horror is rooted in a gift that turned out to be a bit more than bargained for and a punishment a long time coming. Bark’s grotesque and graphic sexual imagery was almost gag-inducing, and that’s something to be proud of. Jon Athan hits us next with Tortured Until Proven Innocent, a tale of a vile sexual predator who appears to be getting his comeuppance at the hands of distraught parents. In Athan’s work, as in real life, the stories don’t always have a happy ending, and he doesn’t shy away from hammering that point home with painful clarity. The Martini Club is Beauregard’s second addition to the collection, and its focus on desperate, lonely women obsessed with rehabilitation and sexual fantasies oriented around a convicted serial killer is a thriller, for sure. As it turns out, not all of the women in The Martini Club have the same sort of fantasies in mind when they finally have the object of their obsessions at hand. Athan’s Dead But Alive introduces us to a funeral director with a dark and perverse secret that knows no limits, just as the man knows no shame. The disgusting, depraved, and uncompromising delivery from Athan only makes the conclusion to the tale all the more satisfying. And finally, Jasper Bark concludes the volume with A Most Chemical Wedding, the most unique of the tales included in Beyond Reform. While it is indeed a tale of revenge like much of what came before it, it’s one with numerous twists and wry humor in the mix. Spirituality, alchemy, and a voice that breaks the fourth wall with obvious pleasure make Bark’s second inclusion a fun and fascinating way to wrap everything up. As you can probably tell, I’m quite a fan of this title. I’ve heard it said there’s no shame in losing to the best, and the three authors involved in this project showcased why they are some of the best at what they do.
Kristopher Triana conceives of someone being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and he takes it to an extreme most of us would never imagine possible. A Fine Evening In Hell is a tense, character-driven thriller that explores the lengths we’ll go to survive when life has taken a detour down a dark road into real-life terror. Heather and Evan couldn’t have dreamt just how awful their night would be when they snuck away to the parking lot of an abandoned warehouse for sex. Not only was the sex itself disappointing, but they soon find themselves caught in the middle of a dispute between criminals and the dirty cops hunting them down. Their attempt to find a secluded place for intimacy will lead them down a path with disastrous and deadly consequences. Triana does an excellent job of bringing the characters to life, fleshing each out, and making them feel as human as anyone. There are no two-dimensional throwaway characters and no bland ciphers onto whom the reader can project themselves. We’re meant to know these people, to love and hate them as the story dictates, and to feel an empathetic connection with them–even when we may not want to. Kristopher Triana displays a versatility of style that is astounding, bringing his understanding of horror and visceral human terror to the all-too-real conditions of this story, and forcing us to feel the chill of that Northeastern climate as we’re transported along with Heather.
The Beasts of Vissaria County is not what you expect. It doesn’t matter what your expectations might be as you approach this narrative; I can guarantee that you’ll probably find yourself shocked and surprised. The nature of Douglas Ford’s book is as ephemeral and challenging to nail down as the narrative itself, but you’ll find yourself propelled along as if you were in a dream, with Ford as the feverish and abstract architect. Maggie McKenzie escapes the nightmare of her marriage and, along with her son, seeks a transient sort of safety and solace with her disagreeable father in the backwoods of Florida. She’s a damaged woman–bitter and unhappy–but stronger than she knows. Cursed with an unquenchable curiosity, she’ll soon find herself at the heart of a mystery that becomes more convoluted the deeper she digs. Any sense of normalcy gets disrupted when she encounters her elusive and peculiar neighbor, WD. The lines that separate reality from fiction, dreams from waking, and myth from fact become increasingly blurred as the story continues from there. While I wasn’t a big fan of Jack Williamson’s Darker Than You Think, I can’t help but feel that Ford has crafted a sort of spiritual successor to that 1940s novel. The Beasts of Vissaria County takes that same dreamlike, blurry quality and improves upon it in almost every way. In its strange and surreal storytelling, we capture hints and fleeting glimpses of beasts that may or may not be there–or may not be fully there. The narration provided by Jenn Lee fully brought Maggie to life, embodying her indomitable spirit and the blend of skepticism and curiosity that drives her along the meandering paths she follows.
This title is also available on Godless. You can find it by going to http://www.godless.com or by downloading the Godless app to your mobile device of choice. The link is below:
In Evil Whispers, Owl Goingback takes us to the backwoods swamps of Florida, where the Patterson family plans to enjoy a quiet vacation before they brave the commercial insanity of Walt Disney World for their daughter, Krissy. Unfortunately, that particular swath of swamp and woodland has a horrifying and blasphemous history that doesn’t appear in the tourism materials. Innocent, relaxing days of fishing and venturing onto the river in kayaks begin transforming into a disorienting nightmare as Krissy makes a new friend. It isn’t long before this friend has the young girl performing seemingly random tasks, and soon there may not be anything left of Krissy. As the terrifying past emerges from the swamp, the haunted history of the location comes to life, and it’ll take everything the Pattersons have–along with the help of a reclusive Seminole named Jimmy–to have any chance of saving Krissy from a fate worse than death. The pacing is fantastic, as Goingback weaves a tale that incorporates elements of indigenous spirituality, Haitian magic, and the love of family into a vibrant tapestry that is impossible to put down. Cathi Colas provides excellent narration, fully separating the characters and providing each with their own distinct personalities.
The Damned Ones picks up the threads left behind by The Damned Place 26 years after the horrific conclusion in the forest outside of Winnsboro, TX. The four children have grown up and gone their separate ways, largely relegating the memories of that fateful–and fatal–day to their nightmares. And while they’ve mostly forced themselves to forget what happened, believing it to be a thing of the past, The Glutton has not forgotten, and neither has Jake Reese, still trapped in the dying world where Jim Dalton had left him. When a woman disappears, and her distraught mother calls the police, it’s Chief Jim Dalton who answers the call. Signs of violence point toward something awful happening in the woman’s apartment, and it’s only the first of many terrible disappearances to plague Winnsboro, all having something to do with Norman Reese, Jake’s younger brother. No less mad, and driven by religious fervor and the pressure of a tumor in his brain, Norman might be precisely what The Glutton needs to force his way into our world. Jim, Honey, Ryan, and Freddie must come together again to face the monster they hoped they’d left in another world before our world becomes a desolate and dying place as well. Chris Miller raises the stakes and ramps up the violence for his follow-up to The Damned Place, pulling no punches as he lays out the welcome mat for The Glutton to join us in rural Texas. Mysterious disappearances and secrets from the past have managed to fester long enough that the abscess on the edge of our universe has no choice but to burst and fill our world with its infected burden. Daniel Caravetta again provides excellent narration for the audiobook, following the children seamlessly into adulthood and bringing their deeply embedded trauma to life. Norman’s harsh and nasal shrieking dialogue was exceptional, and stood out as a high point in the narration.
Thomas KS Wake deftly combines cosmic horror, folk horror, and kaiju with environmental consciousness in a captivating tale with The Buried King. Raymond, an unscrupulous building developer visits the site of an out-of-the-way vacation resort that should have never existed, at least not where it’s been erected. Unfortunately, his arrival coincides with the consequences of his predatory and deceptive business practices coming to fruition, and it’s a price we all have to pay. Beneath the construction, buried for centuries, a malevolent force of nature awakens. As those tasked with containing the monster give up hope and give in to righteous anger, the results will be catastrophic and undeniable. Nature will take its revenge. Reaching the final page of this story inevitably causes the reader to immediately hope that Wake is working on a follow-up to this title. The disaster porn addict within us wants nothing more than to see just how far the devastation will go and how long humanity will manage to survive.
This title was released as part of the Emerge series, focused on providing a platform for emerging authors. This was brought to us by a partnership between D&T Publishing and Godless. You can obtain a copy of this story by going to http://www.godless.com or by downloading the Godless app on your mobile device. The link is below:
In The Death List, Thomas R. Clark takes the baton carried by John Skipp and Craig Spector through the 1980s and runs with it as if he’s being pursued by some entity from one of their novels. Rock ‘n’ roll and exquisitely perverse horror come together with Clark’s guidance and wry humor to produce a thrilling experience from the shocking beginning through the blood-soaked conclusion. Ronnie Dark had it all, but those years were behind him, and it was beginning to look like he was about to lose everything. Bitter and driven by cruel impulses, Ronnie sets his mind on a path he’s sure will display all of his spite and condemnation of those he perceives as having wronged him. Unfortunately, Ronnie’s plans didn’t factor in the previous resident of his mansion making his way back home. Patrick Dermotty, nurtured on a diet of television game shows and influenced by the dark goddess who inspired the graphic and horrifying murders that earned him the title of the Balloon Boy Killer, has escaped from the institution where he’s been all but catatonic for the previous three decades. Dermotty’s bloody, violent rampage is far from over, and he’s on a collision course with Ronnie Dark, a man with nothing left to lose. The Death List is heavy metal Halloween, with one of the eeriest and most unsettling killers ever described on page or screen. The narration provided by Cheryl May is spectacular, especially her delivery of Dermotty’s unnerving dialogue following his escape from the asylum. She captures the creep factor of Clark’s novella and brings it to an awful but entertaining life.
You can obtain a copy of The Death List from http://www.godless.com or by downloading the Godless app to your mobile device of choice. The link is below:
The Damned Place could be considered the spiritual successor to Stephen King’s IT, transported into the 1990s from the 1960s of King’s pivotal masterpiece. Coming of age tales are a familiar substrate upon which horror authors can build a significant sense of dread and high stakes, relatable terror–after all, we were all children once upon a time, complete with imaginations and an unflappable sense of our own invulnerability. Some attempts are more successful than others, and Chris Miller’s foray into the subgenre is massively successful. Deep in the woods is a dilapidated house with a history so unspeakably awful that almost no one in the nearby town of Winnsboro remembers it exists. When a group of friends stumbles across the house, they unwittingly draw the attention of a monstrous, hungry creature hoping to slip through the border between worlds and into ours. It’s in this place that they also discover their world is more magical and unreal than they’d have ever expected. Miller provides readers with an unflinching, uncensored glimpse of a world populated by bullies, tragedy, and alien beings. With gritty, grimy realism, Miller drags us into the story he’s crafted, forcing us to bear witness to extreme depravity and cosmic horror in equal measure. Gone is the infamous underage sewer orgy of King’s novel, but don’t worry because Miller manages to add plenty of discomforting and unsettling elements to his book. But it’s not all about the terror, The Damned Place is also about the strength of friendship and the courage found in the face of impossible conditions. Daniel Caravetta’s narration captures the accents and speech patterns of the characters in a way that makes them jump off the page for the audiobook edition of Miller’s novel.
Just as the nightmarish and unfathomable events of Abhorrent Siren are reaching their feverish conclusion in San Antonio, the events of Abhorrent Faith begin. An inclusive, interfaith potluck hosted by a local Rabbi is interrupted by a hideously transformed–and transforming–monstrosity and the rabidly bigoted evangelical preacher seemingly controlling it. As the world outside the synagogue devolves into chaos and madness, a different sort of madness is on display in the defiled sanctuary. Baltisberger packs this follow-up to his previous novella with just as much perversity and horror but a different brand of social commentary. The scathing indictment of the opioid epidemic is still present, but that takes the backseat as he focuses his ire on bigotry, nationalism, and the anti-semitism embedded in altogether too much of society–and human history as a whole. Calling out the inherent hypocrisy, scriptural ignorance, and mental gymnastics embedded within right-wing Christianity, one can’t help but feel a thrill each time Ari stands up to Adrian King. At the same time, one can’t help but feel the almost tearful frustration and anger at Ari–or anyone–having to contend with the level of ignorance and hate given unworthy life in the story’s antagonist. It doesn’t take long for the reader to recognize that the monsters aren’t all outside, and I’m not talking about the infected, mutating members of Ari’s interfaith circle. Altogether too much of this narrative is non-fiction, in the sense that these abhorrent acolytes of intolerance and acrimony are everywhere one looks, and the anti-semitic sentiments are alive and thriving wherever people like that are platformed and given attention. Baltisberger is angry over this, and that anger seethes beneath the surface of his spectacular storytelling in this follow-up to Abhorrent Siren. The discerning eye might recognize a certain similarity between the cover art and a certain evangelical nut known for unhinged rants and barely suppressed bigotry. This is not an accident.
This title is available through multiple avenues, but you can pick it up for yourself by going to http://www.godless.com or by downloading the Godless app to your mobile device. The link is below: