Concerned that their neighborhood might be going downhill, Julian and Claire Perry decide to look at some available properties in their small town of Jardine, New Mexico. Drawn to a house in the historic district near downtown, they’ll soon discover that some neighborhoods are worse than others, and some homes can be worse than they’d ever imagined. Bentley Little is a master of the haunted house story, somehow managing never to retread his other material, keeping the tales fresh and filled with new horrors each time. The Haunted is no exception. The Haunted isn’t a story of gradually building unease and uncertainty, as we encounter from many tales of haunted houses. As with most hauntings, it begins with the children, but it isn’t long before everyone in the family recognizes the danger in their home on Rainey Street. It soon becomes clear that everyone in the neighborhood knows what the Perry family will discover. There is no subtlety to the monstrous presence lurking in the Perry family’s new home, and its reach is greater than any of them could have known. As is often the case with Little’s writing, there’s a massive history he’s built up leading to the events of the novel itself, and he provides readers with tantalizing glimpses of the detailed past as the story approaches its climax. The presence in their home is no mere ghost, and the house is only the most recent structure built on that place. Dan Butler’s narration is excellent, leaving nothing to be desired. The best narrators do one of two things, they either bring the story and its characters to life, or they manage to make the listener feel almost as though they’re reading the book themselves. Butler is of the latter variety, and one of the better narrators I’ve come across in that respect.
To suggest that Rayne Havok’s Lost Soul is shocking would come as no surprise to fans of her spectacular output. What might be surprising is the lack of violence, blood, and gore found within these pages. The things that should astonish absolutely no one are the exquisite quality of the writing and the commanding emotional depth exhibited within this story. I’m going to resist the urge to tell readers much about this story because I want them to go in fresh, but I’ll set the stage just a bit. May is at the end of a lifelong battle with depression, going through the motions on what she intends to be her final day of life. A surprise encounter on a bridge leads May to revelations about the nature of the soul and forces her to make an almost impossible choice in light of everything she’s discovered. Rayne Havok captures the insidious and numbing nature of depression–and long-term depression in particular–with the in-depth characterizations of both May and Zachary. She breathes tragically beautiful life into her characters on the page and reopens wounds for those who’ve experienced similar traumas and responses. I’d be surprised if this were not the most deeply personal thing the author’s written as it induces such sympathetic aches in the reader. But don’t shy away from it. Sometimes pain can be therapeutic, and besides, this is a love story. It’s a love story as only Rayne Havok could have written it because it’s awash with her voice and teeming with life experiences and somber yet hopeful spirituality.
Lost Soul was the final release of the AntiChristmas event at http://www.godless.com for December of 2021 in addition to being a birthday release for the author. You can obtain a copy by going to the website or by downloading the Godless app to your mobile device of choice. The link is below:
The nine stories collected in Barnes’s Stillborn Gallery make for an almost uniformly bleak, nihilistic deep dive into the horrors of banality, the depths of depression, heavy metal, and suicide. If you’re familiar with Axl Barnes, you shouldn’t be altogether surprised by any of that. Barnes utilizes almost poetic prose at times, almost exclusively when applied to the most awful of things. He has a knack for painting vivid and breathtaking pictures of things the reader might not want to see, and it makes for a fantastic experience. There’s a great deal to look forward to, for the discerning reader, from the almost Kafka-esque “Numbskull” to the morbidly romantic “Sunday Exit” in these pages. For me, “A Perfect Day” sort of sums up the whole experience. We get to witness a day that is going smoothly for our protagonist, a man who has a vacation on the near horizon that he’ll be sharing with a clearly devoted lover. Suddenly he begins fixating on an experience from his childhood, wherein a doctor had to lance an infected wound. This fixation does nothing to spoil his mood–the way I’m about to spoil this single story–but he proceeds to kill himself in a graphic, single-minded act…perhaps because it’s best to leave on a high note. The illustrations provided by Thomas Stetson are captivating, bringing to life a certain grimy, filthy element that flows naturally with the stories provided by Barnes.
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.
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.