Tuesday, May 26, 2020

THE LANTERN MAN by Jon Bassoff

This creative and fascinating novel blends murder mystery, horror, small-town rural legends, and family secrets into a highly satisfying tale coming in just over 200 productive pages. It tells the story of a small-town detective named Russ Buchanan driven to reopen the cases of recent violence in his Colorado town, including the fire-suicide of a girl named Lizzy Greiner. As Buchanan investigates, the story is told with a variety of narrative conventions, including Lizzy's journal, Buchanan's footnotes, articles, photographs, etc. All of this provides an absorbing tapestry that builds as the story unfolds.
"I was not looking for a confession. I only wanted her soul to be freed."
It was awesome getting sucked into this short novel. The epistolary and multiple-point-of-view style it's presented in makes everyone an unreliable narrator and you never quite know what's true and what's not as you're reading. And while it has elements of horror and crime, it ultimately tells a story that shows the tragic disintegration of a family and tackles mental health issues like depression and obsession. The author's innovative style lends an interesting mood throughout the novel and a tense, uneasy reading experience. This is my second novel by author Jon Bassoff and while it couldn't be any more different than the first one I read, it's further proof of how much of a singular talent he is.
"It's only flesh my darling. And flesh is meant for the fire."


Wednesday, May 20, 2020


After falling in love with Jeff Strand's work on a number of his novels and novellas, and really appreciating his witty, dauntless, irreverent charm, I should've known that his style would be perfectly suited for short stories. This collection happens to be pure Strand, all guns blazing and zero fucks given, which is everything that we want from the author. He hits the reader with stories about a conscious soft drink with a bone to pick, fingernails that grow at a dangerous rate, murderous bathtub drains, and middle school serial killers. As always with Strand, there's a great mix of horror, the profane, and jet-black comedy that is a style all his own, with some stories even totally breaking the fourth wall with complete awareness that they're stories. But then, he can turn it all around and write a tear-jerking autobiographical story about the death of his dad.

Although, the majority of stories here are enjoyable, my favorites happened to be in the first half, including "Cry," a really original tale about an emotionless man who goes to extreme lengths to cry, including rubbing habanero peppers in his eyes,  "The Tipping Point," about a date night taking a violent turn for the worst, "Fair Trade," where an adulterer must face the consequences, and both "John Henry, the Steel Drivin' Man" and "The Eggman Falleth," stories that tell the untold stories behind the John Henry folktale and the Humpty Dumpty poem.

Jeff Strand once again proves to be a natural-born storyteller in a class all his own, and his work is so consistently entertaining. He's quickly becoming one of my favorite writers and this collection further proves that he can tell a story about anything.


Wednesday, May 6, 2020

NUDE ON THIN ICE by Gil Brewer

Pulpy tagline: “A red-hot hellcat in the frozen night—and murder on the prowl!”

Yep. It’s another potent cocktail of greed and lust by noir master Gil Brewer! This one stars one of his most sleazy protagonists, a womanizer and scam artist who drops the ladies he uses like a bad habit and skips out on the hotel bills. After an old friend dies, Ken McCall concocts a plan to seduce his widow and take her for all the money he left behind for her. But a wrench is thrown in his plans in the form of a pretty young thang named Justine who steals his heart and has plans of her own as well.
"My father. I always called him Daddy. He was the first. He was the only one, other than you."
This is a pretty standard pulp novel for Brewer, but what really makes it memorable is how truly crazy the entire cast of characters is. And if you've read Brewer's other books, that’s really saying a lot! Once you get to Justine's kinky daddy issues and all the ruthless blackmail and double-crosses, you’ll find yourself actually rooting for that poor asshole McCall!
I suddenly wanted to leave this house, fast. I didn't, though. Somehow you never do. It's so damn easy to ignore wisdom when it whispers.