Sunday, October 23, 2016


"All I ever wanted was a mad, mad world."
It feels like Ed Kurtz borrows a lot of this book's structure from much of Stephen King's small town work, especially 'Salem's Lot and Needful Things, where the story moves at a slow pace for the first half, introducing us to the various characters around town and getting you invested in their stories and their fate until all hell breaks loose. And that's just what happens here. Just not as effectively.

The everyday laid-back ambience in the small Arkansas town of Litchfield is shaken up with the arrival of a traveling movie roadshow. It's an educational "hygiene picture" meant to teach the kiddies and their parents about the horrors of sex but the locals discover that the roadshow's purpose is much more horrifying. We first learn about the people of Litchfield and not a whole lot happens initially, but then the story devolves into all kinds of scary shit like voodoo, werewolves, old silent films, circuses, creepy nurses, calliope music and even Hell itself.

And although Kurtz gives it a good try at first, the final half just doesn't work and all the pieces of Kurtz's story puzzle kept falling apart all the way to the end. The characters ultimately fell flat and their relationships never rang true, with some dying throwaway deaths that should have been more impactful. Attempts at a little levity and witty one-liners here and there just rang silly. There are also several good ideas in this book that should work well in any good horror tale, but they never came together as a cohesive whole for me. It felt like Kurtz had a bunch of ideas that he found interesting and tried to stitch together for this book but just couldn't get the threads to stick right. Some story points even felt forgotten about, or maybe they just weren't all that important to begin with.



*The hunt for Margie seemed really important at first but then everyone, including the author, seemed to just stop caring.

*What was the point of spending all that time on the hygeine picture when it's really not all that important? If the hygiene picture didn't exist at all in the book, and we just stuck with the midnight show as the roadshow, we wouldn't lose anything at all in the story.

*What was so special about Margie and Theodora, that they were spared of going crazy after watching the midnight show? And although Jojo and the priest didn't watch it, they were still under the same Barker magic, so what the hell is so special about them that they don't go crazy? And I don't buy the "a god just toyng with everyone" reason because that's cheap. There should be something to why this small group of special people that we are following are not affected.


Friday, October 14, 2016

TRIGGERMAN #1 by Walter Hill and Matz

Triggerman, along with Peepland, is part of the first round of Hard Case Crime's great expansion into the comic book world. And it's a great way to start. It's a story by famous film director Walter Hill, one that he couldn't get made into a movie. Some French comic book guys picked it up decades later and adapted it for publication in Europe and now it's made its way to the U.S comic scene. It's a hard-boiled, 1930's-era crime story that follows a gunman for hire who's recently been busted out of prison by the Mob for one last assignment.

The art in this one (by artist Jef) is stellar! It's rich, detailed, and laced with dusty shades of brown and great textures, really evoking the Dust Bowl-ish Arizona landscape where this first issue takes place. Being the first issue, we're only introduced to a tiny bit of the story so there are still tons of un-answered questions, but what we do get is compelling enough to continue. It definitely sets the stage. I'm excited with what Hard Case is trying to do now, and both of their new comic series are a success!


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

PEEPLAND #1 by Christa Faust and Gary Phillips

Leave it to Christa Faust and Hard Case Crime to drag me back into reading comic books! It's my first full comic book issue or graphic novel that I've read in about 15 years. When I heard that Hard Case Crime was jumping into the comic publishing world I couldn't resist, especially after learning that the one of the first series would be written by acclaimed crime authors Christa Faust and Gary Phillips. Peepland was an idea spawned by Faust's experiences working in the New York City peep booths back in the day. It takes place in 1986 NYC and is about Roxy Bell, a peepshow artist in a booth at Peepland in Manhattan, who's minding her own business cleaning up after a customer, when a colleague, pornographer Dirty Dick, runs into her booth and stashes a VHS tape. But little does she know, a coupla hard dudes and the cops are after Dirty Dick and this bit of contraband.
The first issue does a great job of dropping you into the world of pre-Guiliani 80's Manhattan (filled with porno theaters, pawn shops, and graffiti) and the people who roam the island. The art is engaging, with the saturated colors that we've come to expect from 80's stories, especially in the neon-infused cover! The dialogue is great, the story moves at a nice clip, and the characters are well introduced. I can't wait to learn more about AJ, Nick, Aiesha, and of course Roxy herself. I loved the introduction of the Uncle Leo character, which not only added more depth to Roxy's character, but also added an unfortunate New York 80's element that I was not expecting. I can't wait to read the next issue. By combining Faust's knowledge of the time and place, Gary Phillips's knowledge of writing for comic books, and both of their great noir sensibilities, Hard Case Crime and Titan Comics should have a hit on their hands!


Monday, October 10, 2016


I really enjoy reading Greg Gifune's work. I enjoy his effortless way with words and his knack for injecting compelling emotional drama into his horror tales. I loved The Rain Dancers and really enjoyed the suspenseful Oasis of the Damned, and this novella, Lords of Twilight, falls in the same vein. Lane Boyce is a newcomer to a middle-of-nowhere town in Maine looking to start over and forget his past. But the past isn't easily forgotten when strange things start happening around town, leading up to a terrible snowstorm that traps Lane in his tiny cabin, with just his dog, and the memories that he is trying so hard to forget.

One thing that Gifune proves to be great at again and again is the building of atmospheric tension and mood, especially with his use of weather. And oppressive snow is always a tried and true element in memorable horror and naturally, Gifune uses it here to great effect. And as usual, the book is filled with smooth, gorgeous passages that's always a pleasure to read in his work. But the strongest element here is how the real horror lies not with the snow, nor the strange things happening in town, but in a man not only trapped with the terrible memories of his past but also forced to confront the consequences of that past.
He thought he knew what it was to be alone, but now understands what it truly means. Hope is an illusion, a memory of something once possible that has been relegated to the realm of myth and broken promises whispered in the dark. 
Although it wasn't as strong as some of the other work I've read by Gifune, it's definitely a solid example of why he's probably one of the most underrated horror writers out there today.


Saturday, October 8, 2016


I've had my eye on Stephen Graham Jones' work for a while and have read nothing but awesome things about his talent. Rave reviews for his latest short story/novelette, "The Night Cyclist," led me to make it my first jump into his work. It follows a restaurant cook and avid cyclist who bikes from work to home everyday, and the unexpected encounter he has one night on a dark stretch of road. 

As promised, the story is wonderfully well-written and detailed, especially when describing the joys and experiences of bike riding as well as the eerie nights that the rider encounters while on the road. And like all of the great horror writers, Jones uses the fantastic as a vehicle to touch on the themes that are at the heart of the story, mid-life crises and second chances. I enjoyed the ending as well and now I have to decide which Stephen Graham Jones book to read next!
He'd picked my scent out of all the smells of the city. Out of all the thousands of other bodies out after dark. He'd known me through the rain.

DANGEROUS SEX: 3 STORIES by Vicki Hendricks

I read this tiny collection as a little companion to my read of Vicki Hendricks' Miami Purity, similar to how you would watch a couple of short cartoons before feature presentations at the movie house back in the day. Here she gives us three strange and graphically erotic tales that all share a theme of women taking control of sex in some very bizarre ways. The stories might turn some people off but might excite others interested in seeing the original ways that Hendricks can empower her women. For example, there's one story where a woman with an extra-large clitoris exhausts her boy toy by pegging him all day. If you've read Hendricks before, I''m sure you'll know what to expect. The stories here are good enough but none of them really blew me away though. It worked well as a quick companion read!


Friday, October 7, 2016

MIAMI PURITY by Vicki Hendricks

Vicki Hendricks' acclaimed erotic debut novel takes it's cue from noir godfather James M. Cain and is a clear homage to his The Postman Always Rings Twice. In this one, after exotic dancer Sherri Parlay "accidentally" kills her abusive husband, she decides to start over fresh. One way to do it is to get a legit job working at the indie dry cleaners Miami Purity. Here she quickly falls for the owner's son and his "Jagger-lips," but his controlling mom stands in the way.

Hendricks' noir voice is smooth and assured, totally spot on. Her writing is one of the best examples I've seen of truly evoking the pulp paperback era but never feeling forced. There are not many things in the story that really date it, so it has a timeless feel and there are many times that I forgot that it was published in the early 2000's. Along with the Miami humidity, the dry cleaners is a perfect setting for this steamy book and all of the illicit going-ons, a place where people take all their dirty things to get them cleaned and "purified." And Sherri is a great protagonist, unapologetic about her sexuality, strong in going after what she wants at the same time she's weak in her self-control.

Now while there are lots of great things in Miami Purity, especially the final act, much of it's beginning and middle is bogged down by monotony, where it falls into a soap opera slump, with not much going on except for Sherri pining over Payne, and the two of them having hot sex and trying to hide it from his mom. In this way, it's also similar to another Cain book, Mildred Pierce, which I had similar feelings about: well-written but weakened by it's eye-rolling soapy elements. So if you think James M. Cain, but with a lot more vagina and penis, you'll get an idea of what to expect from this book. And it's cool seeing how many awesome authors have blurbed lovingly about Vicki Hendricks and her work, from Dennis Lehane, to George Pelecanos, to Joe R. Lansdale, and this edition even sports a thoughtful Afterword by Megan Abbott.