January 30, 2014

What About the Other Vampires?: a guest post/excerpt by Scott Burtness, author of "Wisconsin Vamp"

What About the Other Vampires?
a guest post by Scott Burtness

Vampires really are cool. They live in exciting places, have excellent diction, and always throw the best parties.

There have to be other vampires, though, right? Ones that are a little rougher around the edges. These vampires aren’t celebrated very often in pop culture, but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve a story now and then.

I guess that’s why I like Herb Knudsen so much. A lonely truck stop diner cook and mediocre bowler, Herb was as bland as cheese curds without ketchup… until he became a vampire.

Now he’s fumbling with his newfound abilities, and learning the hard way that being special isn’t easy. Sure, the local stripper wants him, and yes, he is a lot better at bowling... But he can’t drink beer, the bodies are piling up, and his best friend Dallas is getting suspicious.

Here’s an excerpt from Wisconsin Vamp, a tale of booze, billiards, bake sales, blood, bowling, babes, bar fights and karaoke. If you would like to read more, you can find it on Amazon or visit my FB author page.


It was hard. Everything was backward, mixed up, out of sorts. Herb was used to trying to overcome his mediocrity, striving and inevitably coming up short. He had never been good at anything, but now Herb felt like he was intentionally shoving square pegs into round holes. He’d line up a shot, instinctively adjusting each muscle from the pressure of his index finger on the side of the cue to the amount of weight on his left big toe, pose in statuesque grace, ready himself to execute perfection, a direct challenge to an imperfect world. And then he’d catch Dallas’s eye and crumble. Shift his grip a fraction of an inch, bring his other foot forward just a tad, lean a bit further to the left, belt holding the pillow under his shirt pinching his back. And just like that, perfection would shatter, the cue would slide forward, the cue ball would streak across the table, meet its intended mate in a brief, shocking kiss, only to have both careen off in opposite directions. The cue ball would wind its way inevitably toward a terrible lie, while the other ball would narrowly miss the intended pocket and spin off to rest someplace worse than where it was before. Herb would curse, his frustration genuine if for reasons other than what the guys expected. He could’ve made that shot. He could’ve made them all and finished this game ten minutes ago if only Dallas would let him. But no, he had to play his part, be his little piece in Dallas’s hustle. He had to play badly. Meanwhile, Dallas would curse, roll his eyes, say bits like, “Oh thanks Herb, why don’tcha gift-wrap it for them while you’re at it,” and other disparaging remarks. Then he’d drop one or two himself, just enough to keep the game close.

Donnie turned out to be a decent player, dropping two or three and always leaving Dallas a tough lie. But Dallas wasn’t a schmuck when it came to bar pool, and he’d been shooting at Stein’s since Helen was in a training bra. To the outside observer, in this case Stanley, it looked like a really close game with Dallas and Herb always chasing the lead but never quite getting there. Finally, Stu dropped the 8-ball, narrowly avoided scratching and started strutting around the table, cockle-doodle-doing like a rooster.

“Beers! Beers! Beers!” Stu and Donnie high-fived while Dallas made a show of kicking chairs and complaining about the slope of the table. Herb just stood glowering, fingers clenching the cue like the Boston strangler practicing for a night on the town. Stanley looked at him, an odd expression on his face, but Herb hardly noticed. Watching Stu and Donnie grin and Dallas muck around like a bad soap opera actor was making his blood boil. Visions of taking the 7-ball in his hand and cracking it against Stu’s temple made his breath come fast and stomach clench. He could see, smell, taste the blood and bits of crushed skull in that greasy mullet, like ripping the skin off a dog with your teeth, getting bits of fur and grass and sandy earth in your mouth, each giving its own flavor to the rush of life and power as it runs down your jaws, coats your tongue. Oh yeah, Herb salivated. Gonna rip that mullet right off your head. Bet you won’t be feeling so prancy then. He’d suck him dry and watch those dumb, arrogant eyes go blank and all that life, all that blood, would be his where it rightfully belonged.

“Upset stomach, Herb? You g-got the acid refluxes, huh?” Stanley appearing in Herb’s field of vision was a bucket of ice water on the fire building inside of him. He realized that he had been growling, actually growling like a feral beast, and quickly coughed and forced a burp.

“Oh, uh. Yeah, I had some...” visions of the neighbor’s dead pug flashed briefly across his mind, “...bad goulash earlier. Must be repeating on me.” Herb rubbed his pillow-clad stomach for effect.

“Seltzer. Soda crackers. A tuh-tablespoon of Pepto, maybe a piece of white toast unbu-bu, dry. That’ll fix you right up, sure will.” Stanley’s remedy proclaimed, he smiled and clapped Herb on the shoulder. “Make sure you w-watch that, Herby. Chronic acid reflux can cuh-cause throat cancer, and that’s a nasty way to go.”

“Thanks Stanley.” Herb was struck by how much he meant it. Crisis narrowly averted, Herb walked over to the table and got ready for the next round. He and Dallas would play the hustle, they’d squeeze a few bucks outta the Vikings fans and call it a night. And Stu, with his puffy mullet and stupid Vikings jersey would never know how close he’d come to falling a few links down the food chain.

January 27, 2014

Really Dark, to Put It Lightly: a review of Jonathan Janz's "Savage Species Part 3: Dark Zone"

Savage Species Part Three: Dark Zone
by Jonathan Janz
Samhain Publishing (2013)
83 pages
ISBN 1619217201

At this point in Janz's serial horror novel, all bets are off. The Children started off going berserk on everyone within arm's reach, and they have only gotten worse.

Sam and Charly are in the caverns searching for Charly's infant son, with Eric and his mistress in tow, but now Jesse, Emma, and the gang are winding their ways through the caverns as well. Only the Scooby gang from Hell are on the run, with the Children hot on their heels, and there's no guarantee there is a way out and may only be burrowing deeper into the monsters' territory.

Frank Red Elk shines in this installment with his lecherous and lewd behavior, even when faced a truly bowel-loosening threat scratching at his door. And when it becomes clear that this man has long been told about the threats beneath the earth, even suffering a traumatic event that gave him a glimpse of what lurks in the caverns, it's a lot easier to see how the guy might turn to every excess available to numb his brain to the terror beneath his feet.

Eric Florence, on the other hand, is a character I'm having a hard time buying into, with such a villainous streak that his overt antagonism feels cartoonish at times. Granted, I've crossed paths in real life with people who need only grow mustaches that they may twirl in order to complete the picture of stereotypical villains. So, I can cut a little slack as far as a resentful, spiteful, cheating husband goes in this novel.

As far the action goes, it's intense. The claustrophobic caverns come through loud and clear. The Children are just nuts. And it looks like there might be something even worse in those caverns with Jesse and the gang, and it was hard to imagine how things could get worse for them. Fortunately, that's Jonathan Janz's job, imagining ways for things to get worse, and he does it well.

Two more installments to go, and there's no telling who will make it out alive--assuming anyone does.

January 23, 2014

The Giant Maze On Which We Live: a guest post by J.M. McDermott, author of "Maze"

J.M. McDermott is the author of Last Dragon, Disintegration Visions, The Dogsland Trilogy, and Women and Monsters. He holds an MFA from the Stonecoast Program from the University of Southern Maine. He lives in San Antonio, Texas. He will be at the Twig Bookstore in San Antonio, Texas on February 1st around noon to sign copies of Maze and his other books.

Maze: a guest post
by J.M. McDermott

Have you ever been lost at night in an unfamiliar city without a GPS? I was in Wiesbaden, Germany, and staying at my sister's apartment in Erbenheim. I was cat-sitting. I had gone to midnight mass for Easter at the cathedral, from the bus. I had to hurry to catch the last bus home. I missed the bus. Alone in the dark, then, in an unfamiliar city on foot. Germany has enough foot paths, and the cities were small enough, it could be done, and though it was as dangerous as you can imagine, it also wasn't as dangerous as all that. I walked through empty neighborhoods of mansions and industrial parks. I walked along the empty highway, oriented around a tall tower with neon lights. I walked alone.

It is hard to think about a city as a warm and inviting place when it is a vast, empty, dark, and foreboding foreign landscape. 

The stone walls rose up on either side of me - rich houses with very solid brick walls - and the darkness past the streetlamps was more absolute than stone. 

Easter mass had been beautiful, but during the mass drunk kids shouted out "Teuffel" (devil) in the side doors, a howl of Fasching left for the holiest night of Lent. Walking home, through the edge of the parks, a Turkish man shouted at me from far away, and I knew he was a gay man looking for other gay men in the only way his culture and space allowed. I kept walking on.

Cities are such mazes. Americans don't really understand what it's like. Europeans do. Cities are such mazes. There was this restaurant where to get to it, we had to go down two levels of a department store then out to the only entrance on the street of a restaurant that was hundreds of years older than all the buildings around it, where they served fancy food. There is no grid here. All the roads are older than the buildings, older than cars and older than bicycles.  Dig down deep enough, and you'll find temples, castles, old bones and older bones and older than all bones.

One time I hiked through the black forest alone, all the trees around me so tall they blocked the sun. I stuck to the trail and struck other trails, and what a maze it was there, with the old castle on the high hill, and the old paths walked over older paths cut through by new paths and roads. 

Did you know we live on a giant maze? The whole globe revolves around streets and pathways cut into pathways cut into pathways. We will never reach the goblin city, here. We will never duel the devil in the dark. We will only walk away from him, hope we do not see the minotaurs around us, no wild creatures come for our skin and bones and flat screen televisions.

When I was writing Wang Xin's section, conceiving of it, where the Djinni entered his eye and showed him a straight line of time from one point to another - this wonderful, happy life he was going to have - it was me thinking about these trails all over Germany where I walked and walked in daylight and then, unexpectedly, in darkness. We walk and we move and we scurry, and all the paths we lead are towards traffic accidents, towards cancer, towards sudden and unexpected joy and sorrow swooping in from the wings and corners like ghosts grabbing us. Fate itself shakes every tree down eventually. 

I don't know the way to the center of this maze. Time moves in a straight line for us, but I know that can't be right, and I don't know what it means or how to change anything. I walk on my straight line, and I'm lost. I know what is supposed to happen next, what is planned, but I'm lost. 

We're all doomed, right? The trolls are walking out there, with their unknowable and alien gaze, hunting us all. Shakespearian bears await for all exits to come in time. 

Wang Xin's maze is a straight line of false memory. I was thinking about Germany, being lost in the dark and knowing where I was supposed to go, and all those rat warren winding goat trails that became streets and sidewalks and centuries of shoe leather moving in darkness. I could know the roads, but in the dark the same familiar streets are so changed. The stone walls rose around me. The monsters in the dark called out to me, stalking unknown in the empty void of wee dawn. 

This is probably the origin of Wang Xin, or at least it is close enough that it might as well work.

Maze is here. Wang Xin is one of the survivors you will meet inside this book. He sees a future. It is probably not the only thing that keeps him from having it.

If you want to find out a little more about J.M. McDermott and Maze, check out his blog (http://jmmcdermott.blogspot.ca/), or visit Apex Books official site, or just buy the book from Amazon.

January 22, 2014

Chasing Tale [1/22/13]: I Will Not Complain About Winter

Chasing Tale is a regular look at the books that I recently added to my to-be-read pile. Some are advance review copies, some I bought from one store or another, and others are freebies from promotional offers that caught my eye.

No sir, I will not complain about winter. The hip-deep snow, the whiplashing winds, the treacherously icy sidewalks, the bone-snapping cold ... sigh ... no, I will not complain about winter. Every time I find myself about to piss and moan about some aspect of the winter, I remind myself that I loathe the oppressive heat of summer much more than the most frigid January morning. I'm built like a polar bear anyway, so I can deal with this. I've got a warm coat, sturdy boots, some hot chocolate in the cupboard, and a snow shovel. I'll deal.

But goddamn, I'm over winter, y'all.

Evenings of being snowed in do afford me some time to read, to whisk myself away to some other universe devoid of arctic landscapes. And the last month has been a blizzard of books. Don't believe me? Here are more than twenty books that showed up on my Kindle and in my mailbox.

Kiss Me, Judas by Will Christopher Baer - This novel sounds like it could be really cool, because it takes the ol' urban myth of waking up in a seedy motel bathtub with a missing kidney and just amps it up to eleven. I'm not good with body horror, and I'll probably get a wee bit squeamish if there's an actual scene involving an amateur nephrectomy, but this book sounds promising.

Talking Walls and Cigarettes by Erin Beck and Kelli Beck - Here's a short story collection from two authors conspicuously sharing the same last name. Are they sisters? Maybe. Are they clones? Who's to say. All I'm saying is that they are most definitely not evil robots bent on humanity's end. Then again ...

Roman Dalton: Werewolf P.I. by Paul D. Brazill - This is a collection of stories involving--what else?--a werewolf private eye. The concept is the brainchild of Brazill, however, and several more stories by various authors were also offered individually as freebies over New Year's.

Hiram Grange and the Village of the Damned by Jake Burrows - This is the first of five books in the Hiram Grange series, which looks to be a macabre mix of horror and fantasy and mystery. I had a quick look at the interior of the ebook and it looks like the lads at Shroud Publishing went the extra mile to make this a pretty one.

Stirred by Blake Crouch and J.A. Konrath - A collaboration featuring Konrath's Jacqueline Daniels and Blake Crouch's Luther Kite. I saw it listed for a buck on the Kindle Store, and since I already have most of their collaborations on my Kindle already, I thought why not.

Snake Eyes by Joseph D'Lacey - I have a couple of D'Lacey's books on my wish list, keeping his name on my radar like a lot of writers, and I saw this title as a freebie from Bad Moon Books/Evil Jester Press and downloaded it. So, that's one down.

The Bitch by Les Edgerton - A name that pops up more and more in book recommendations for noir fiction is Les Edgerton. And his new novel coming out through New Pulp Press, The Bitch, is supposedly his best work yet. Alright then, let's check this out and see what has guys like Anthony Neil Smith, Ray Banks, and Vincent Zandri singing its praises.

Killing Mum and Bye Bye Baby by Allan Guthrie - These are a couple novellas I snagged as freebies off the Kindle Store about a month ago. For all the praise I've read about Guthrie's writing in the crime and thriller genres, they were hard to resist.

Racked by Jude Hardin & J.A. Konrath - This is a novella that works as a cross-over with Konrath's Jacqueline Daniels series and Hardin's Nicholas Colt series. It's one of several cross-overs Konrath has worked on with authors, and it should be interesting how the exercise plays out over the next year.

Darling by Brad Hodson - The second novel from Bad Moon/Evil Jester that I managed to get as a freebie over the holidays. An apartment complex with a wicked history and two roommates about to be put through hell. Oh yeah, been there, man.

Eulogies II: Tales from the Cellar edited by Christopher Jones, Nanci Kalanta & Tony Tremblay - An anthology from the fine folks at Horrorworld with a table of contents that is a who's who of horror authors. Gary A. Braunbeck, Maurice Broaddus, Tom Piccirilli, Nicole Cushing, and Gary McMahon to name but a few.

Candy House by Kate Jonez - I don't think I've ever actually read any of Kate's stories before, it's possible but my addled brain can't recall, so when Bad Moon/Evil Jester had this novel for free, I got it without hesitation. It looks like it involves a mad scientist and a haunted house, maybe. Either way, I intend to remedy my not having read Kate's work this year.

Earthworm Gods by Brian Keene - Tremors is one of my favorite movies, so why the heck shouldn't I buy a Kindle edition of Brian Keene's homage to giant worms. Heck, it was only 99 cents at the time I got it, so it was a no-brainer.

The Liminal Man by Todd Keisling - I dug Todd's short story in the Exquisite Deaths anthology from last year. So I know the guy can tell a good yarn. Well, he's got a novel out too, and a review copy has found its way onto my to-be-read pile.

Braineater Jones by Stephen Kozeniewski - You may recall Stephen stopping by the blog last fall with a great guest post relating to this inventive zombie novel. Well, now I have a copy of the book on my to-be-read pile thanks to the folks at Red Adept Publishing.

Live By Night by Dennis Lehane - I have read two of Lehane's novels, Shutter Island and Mystic River, and really enjoyed them. But I was at a loss in choosing a third novel to put on my TBR pile, until I listened to an episode of The Library Police as they absolutely raved this story about the rise of a rum runner. I can go for that.

The Wormwood Code by Douglas Lindsay - I subscribe to the Blasted Heath newsletter thanks in no small part to being a fan of Ray Banks' stories, so over the holidays a notice came in for a new Douglas Lindsay novella. And it was a free download. Top drawer.

Hell Manor by Lisa Morton - A novella set in a haunted house on Halloween. Novella? Hauntings? Halloween? Three of my favorite things packed in one book. Sounds good to me.

Broken Skies Book 1: The Sick Ones by Barry Napier - Here's the first installment of a serial novel from the talented Barry Napier. I still have a couple of his full-length novels on my TBR pile, but the enticement of a free book was too good to resist, and likely a gateway drug into eventually buying the rest of the Broken Skies books.

The Heretic by Joseph Nassise - I signed up for Nassise's newsletter and wound up receiving a free ebook for my troubles. Not too shabby. There were actually a few ebooks to choose from, so thanks Joe for that, but this urban fantasy was the first in a series and looked like a good place to hop on the bandwagon.

Silent City by Alex Segura - A debut mystery novel from a Miami native via Codorus Press, this one looks like a pretty bleak and beguiling portrait of Segura's hometown amid some pretty grim subject matter.

Pale Horses by Nate Southard - After showing his ability to write a darned good horror story, Southard's first crime novel came out through Snubnose Press late last year. I think it might still be on sale for 99 cents, which is what I paid for it a few weeks ago, so there ya go.

Cold Storage, Alaska by John Straley - A new crime novel from Soho Crime that's set in--you guessed it--Alaska. It's set for release next month and looks really promising. And somehow, with it being about an ex-con contending with a resentful brother, an ailing mother, a vengeful ex-partner, a rueful cop, and possible mental illness, Straley has apparently injected a fair bit of humor in this one. Dark humor by the sounds of it.

In the Blood by Lisa Unger - Here's a new thriller out this winter through Simon & Schuster. This one has a psychological battle of wills between an embattled babysitter and her manipulative charge. It has already garnered glowing praise from the likes of Dennis Lehane, so that's a step in the right direction, I imagine.

January 20, 2014

They Grow Up So Fast--and Furious: a review of Jonathan Janz's "Savage Species Part 2: The Children"

Savage Species Part Two: The Children

by Jonathan Janz

Samhain Horror (2013)

107 pages

ISBN13: 9781619217195

Leave it to Jonathan Janz to name some of sickest monsters to step onto the pages of one of his stories "The Children." These aren't your Children of the Corn types though, no sir. These Children have claws and fangs and the most depraved appetites imaginable.

At the end of "Night Terrors," all hell had broken loose in the Peaceful Valley Nature Reserve. The Children emerged from whatever dark recesses they'd been holed up in for only god knows how long, wasting no time in maiming, devouring, and defiling the unsuspecting campers. Jesse, Emma, and Colleen, the trio of journalists visiting the park for a feature story, escaping with all ten fingers and ten toes is a precarious exercise, because these beasts are everywhere. As for Charly and her now missing son, she must rely on Sam to help her find him and the monster that took him, but her domineering husband, Eric, is aware of their budding relationship and is out to end it one way or the other.

The pace is frenetic and the action is fierce. What character development exists at this stage in the story is nothing short of astonishing, since there is hardly a chapter not chock-full of guns blazing, claws tearing, and blood spilling. That said, it became a little overwhelming at times, like a sensory overload. The humor that comes in the form of Jesse and company seeking refuge at the home of Frank Red Elk is welcome, helping let off some of the pressure before things kick into high gear once more.

"Dark Zone" is the third installment in the serial novel, which seems poised to offer some kind of convergence between the two storylines, and maybe offer some glimmer of hope in defeating the Children. Because at this point, these monsters are unstoppable and people are dropping like flies. Bring it on.

January 17, 2014

Porcelain: A Guest Post by Kelli Beck, co-author of "Talking Walls and Cigarettes"

Porcelain: A Guest Post
by Kelli Beck
Three of the four stories I wrote for my part in Talking Walls and Cigarettes (And Other Dark Tales) I had written years ago and had thrown to the side because I thought they weren’t good. I was halfway to burning them all when it occurred to me that with a little bit of work, they would fit perfectly with the dark theme of the anthology. I picked up an old copy of Cough Syrup, threw the pages in the garbage, and started over again. I did the same with The Salesman. With both stories the protagonists came alive. They were real people, in a sense, and they had a story to tell. They were seeking something deeper, something to take away the bite of their everyday misery.
But I’m not here to talk about either of those stories. Today I want to talk to you about my personal favorite, Porcelain. I’m not proud of it because of its incredible literary merit or its unbridled uniqueness because, well, it’s not really either of those things. What makes that story so close to my heart is the journey it took me on, the life we lived together before it finally took shape.
I started Porcelain 13 years ago, when I was just a babe of 16 years old. Back then it was called The Porcelain Princess and was a fairy tale dealing with the perception of beauty and the effects of self-loathing. Basically it was a real pooper. What stuck with me was the ending, because that was pretty cool. So I rewrote it. Once, twice, three times. I used it for creative writing classes and talked about how someday I would make a novel out of it.
That was about the time I dropped out of school for the second time to pursue my dream of becoming a writer. I was going to start with Porcelain and it was going to be epic. I tried to write it as a novel another three times, each time stopping at page 40-50, the story dry, lacking meaning, and just all around pissing me off. So I tanked it. I said, “Look, it’s been nearly ten years and it hasn’t come to fruition. It just wasn’t meant to be.”
A couple years later I was pursuing the world wide web for short story magazines and came across Underneath the Juniper Tree (link: http://underneaththejuniperthreemag.com/) and read this:
My mother she killed me,
My father he ate me,
My sister, little Marlinchen,
Gathered together all my bones,
Tied them in a silken handkerchief,
Laid them beneath the juniper-tree,
Kywitt, kywitt, what a beautiful bird am I!

This resonated with me. I thought on it for a bit, horrified, then was struck with the story of Porcelain. It wasn’t meant to be a novel. It was meant to be a dark fairy tale—the darker the better. I set to work that very minute and finished the rough version of it within the hour.
It always amazes me how a story can beg for patience, lay dormant for so long, and then grab you and force you to put it to paper. I had a love/hate relationship with Porcelain and I’m happy to finally have it finished after all these years.
I am proud to announce that it had been deemed the “most disturbing of the lot.”
For more information on Talking Walls and Cigarettes (And Other Dark Tales) visit:

January 16, 2014

Are You a Pelican or a Pelican't: a review of Chuck Wendig's "The Cormorant"

The Cormorant (Myriam Black #3)
by Chuck Wendig
Angry Robot Books (2013)
384 pages

Oh, Myriam. You're as cuddly as barbed-wire dipped in battery acid.

She could really use a hug too, but darn it if everyone she even slightly cares about winds up with a boatload of trouble in their laps. Boats winds up playing a bit of a role in this novel too, since she heads down to the Florida Keys to meet up with a rich, old eccentric who wants to pay her to find out how he dies.

Following the harrowing events of Mockingbird, Myriam wanders the streets on her own once again, ditching Louis to keep him a safe distance from her death magnet of a life. More so than the two previous novels, the Trespasser has become her companion on the road, taking the form of people from her past, both dead and alive, to taunt her and nudge her along her wayward path. Her path takes her to a remote island getaway on the ass-end of the Florida Keys, but the man she meets turns out to be a ruse, placed there to deliver a macabre message to Myriam. It's macabre, because when she touches the man's arm to see his death, she sees his murder one year in the future and a message scrawled in blood addressing her directly. Someone knows who she is and what she can do, and they are about to bring what little there is left in her life that she gives a damn about crashing down.

It feels cat-and-mouse, but not so much for the chase Myriam sets out on, but for the way the villain toys with her like a cat does when it catches a mouse. Myriam gets batted around, physically, emotionally, and psychologically for much of this novel, as she tries to find out who her tormentor is, how he is always one step ahead of her--oh, and her estranged mother is back in her life too, so that is a real heartrending experience all by itself.

I've already sung the praises of Wendig's writing on this series in my reviews of Blackbirds and Mockingbird, so just go read those and carry all the gushy bits over to this review. He offers such a keen sense of these characters that you can practically smell the sea breeze and cigarette smoke, it's kind of crazy. Descriptions can be sparse in one scene and then honed-in to an insane degree in the next, but I always felt this kind of Coen-Brothers-on-a-whiskey-binge quality to it. And dialogue? Cheese and rice! Myriam Black may be my favorite character right now for spitting out memorable one-liners.

I'm not sure how well the book reads for someone unfamiliar with the two previous novels. Maybe it plays out perfectly fine, but I'm gonna insist that you read the first two books if you haven't already, before you sit down with this gem. Actually, now that I think about it, you're not going to appreciate the care and timing Wendig has put into these characters unless you read all three books in succession. So do that with no need to thank me, because The Cormorant is a keeper.

Oh hell, I forgot to mention the cormorant that shows up in the book. Gah. Okay, trust me, those scenes are fan-effing-tastic. Trust me.

January 13, 2014

Cold Hearts and Hot Lead: a review of Joe R. Lansdale's "Hot in December"

Hot in December
by Joe R. Lansdale
Dark Regions Press (2013)
100 pages

You don't have to do a lot to grab my attention when it comes to making a book cover. Putting the name "Joe R. Lansdale" on it is a surefire way to do it, though. I assume the title, "Hot in December," is a nod to one of Lansdale's more celebrated novels, Cold in July. There are certainly mentions of characters from previous novels in this taut little tale, so that seems entirely likely. The book definitely stands on its own, however.

Tom Chan, a veteran of the Afghan War, witnesses a hit-and-run in front of his East Texas home. As disturbing as seeing the face of a neighbor killed in a quiet neighborhood is for him, it's seeing the face of the man behind the wheel that sends Tom's life spinning out of control. He gives his statement to the police, then discovers the man he saw is Will Anthony, a notorious gangster from the area, and the psychotic son of a local drug lord, Pye Anthony. And the two grizzled detectives he speaks with make it pretty clear that if he agrees to testify against the guy, his life and those of his wife and young daughter will be put in great danger, even with police protection. With a solid sense of duty and unfailing moral compass, Tom decides to go through with it.

Through Lansdale's plainspoken and no-nonsense writing, Tom's ordeal has as much to do with revisiting his past as it does with fighting for his future. When it becomes abundantly clear that the police are limited in how they can protect him as they work to build a case against the Anthony clan, Tom turns to a couple of old army buddies, Cason and Booger. Cason is a reporter nowadays and not too much of a problem for Tom, but Booger is something else altogether. The hulk of a man is less a brother in arms than a golem at Cason's command, with an insatiable bloodlust. Booger is a last resort and only trustworthy by virtue of an unbreakable, unspoken bond with Cason. Even Cason makes it known to Tom that he is uncomfortable around Booger on account of just how easily the guy's killer instinct can be activated.

While Hot in December might feel a little by-the-numbers at first blush, it offers a palpable thriller with a hydra effect in the suspense department, as the treats are vicious and multiple, and you can never be too sure where the next one is going to come from. It's a superfast read with utterly captivating characters. There are a couple of twists that had me questioning the sanity of one character or another, but overall it feels fluid and organic, albeit in grizzly fashion by the time I reached the last page.

If you're a Lansdale fan, you don't need any further motivation to go read this book. If you haven't had a chance to read his work, Hot in December ain't a bad place to start. A younger reader might want a teddy wear while reading a book like this. You might want some Kevlar.