The Horror Bookshelf | A blog dedicated to Dark Fiction
Welcome to The Horror Bookshelf! I started this site simply because I am a huge horror fan and I wanted to share some of my favorite horror reads with others. I think the horror genre is home to some of the most creative and talented writers I have had the pleasure of reading and The Horror Bookshelf is my way of celebrating their work. I plan on posting reviews, features and other (hopefully)..
Like a lot of people, the first time I read Malerman’s work was when I stumbled across his debut novel Bird Box. Bird Box is a unique story that follows a woman named Malorie as she attempts to find a safe place to take her two children, five years after the arrival of the mysterious creatures who can drive people to madness with just one glimpse. Reading Bird Box, I was drawn in immediately by his unique take on the post-apocalyptic story and the world building that went into the story. After I finished that, I was sold on Malerman’s talent and knew I was going to be a longtime fan. I’ve read everything Malerman has released since Bird Box, and while each book has its own style, the one constant is Malerman’s storytelling ability and imagination. When I first about his latest release, Unbury Carol, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy and see what sort of adventure Malerman conjured up this time around.
Carol Evers has a secret that she has only shared with three people – her best friend John Bowie, her husband Dwight and her ex, the famed outlaw James Moxie. Carol has died many times throughout her life, although her deaths are a bit different from the one everyone else experiences. She doesn’t actually die, but instead falls into a long-lasting coma that makes it appear as if she is dead to those who are unaware of her condition. It’s easy to think she has actually died – her heartbeat is faint, her pulse becomes barely detectable and she shows no sign of breathing – which poses a very grave threat to Carol’s life. Carol guards her secret because she fears it will frighten people and cause them to leave her. However, this proves to be a deadly mistake because her husband, who many thought only married her for her money, plans to use her condition to steal her fortune and bury her alive so that he can live a life of luxury. Although Carol and Moxie have not seen or spoken to one another in 20 years, the news of her death causes him to saddle up again and take to the Trail for the first time in a decade. After the untimely death of Carol’s friend John, Moxie is the only one who knows Carol’s not dead and the only one who will be able to save her. The question is, will he reach her in time? Because there are other people who have an interest in seeing Carol buried alive and they will do whatever it takes to keep Moxie from ruining their plans.
Unbury Carol into a single genre, I would label it a Weird Western, which is a genre I haven’t been too big on in recent years. I don’t have anything against Westerns, but for some reason I could never get hooked on one, at least in terms of novels. That wasn’t the case with Unbury Carol, which immediately hooked me with rich world-building, memorable characters and an engaging plot.
I loved the way Malerman crafted Carol’s affliction, which appears to draw inspiration from the classic fairy tale Sleeping Beauty. However, Malerman is able to make it his own by not only making Carol’s comas more frightening, but by also giving reader’s a glimpse of it through her eyes. The doctors that Carol saw early in life were never able to give her condition a scientific name as it seems to be an affliction unique to Carol. While it was frightening at first, Carol crafts an identity around her condition in an attempt to normalize it and take some of the fear from it. She started calling it “Howltown”, which is more of a name for the state she occupies in one of her comas and less the condition itself. Despite the fact that it’s a desolate place that only she can visit, she thinks of it as a town. There is no light in Howltown and it got its name from the howling wind that never stops and is the only noticeable stimulus that cuts through the absolute darkness. She always knows when the comas are coming as it is preceded by a falling sensation and distorted vision. She sometimes sees ripples and it’s like her world is slowly bleeding into Howltown.
This is one of the most horrifying aspects of Unbury Carol. Don’t get me wrong, Unbury Carol has many moments that are laced with evil and brutality, but imagine the horror that Carol is faced with every time she has an attack. Her own body acts like a prison and she is unable to move or communicate with anyone in the real world while she is in Howltown. Sometimes she can make out bits and pieces of what is happening around her, but she’s powerless to do anything about it. Imagine facing the betrayal of someone who was supposed to love you and that you trusted as they plot your death and taunt you at every step of the way. It’s absolutely bone-chilling.
Another strength of Unbury Carol is the characters. Malerman brings the towns that litter the Trail to life by crafting interesting characters. Listing all of them would be near impossible, but I decided to highlight a few. Carol’s friend John Bowie, who has already passed away by the opening of the novel, leaves a lasting impression even in death. He was a good man who often made himself the life of the party due to his penchant for magic tricks. However his importance comes into play due to his relationship with Carol. He was her closest friend, and the intimate nature of their relationship is shown through the fact that he was the only person outside of her family and significant others who ever learned of her secret. Rather than get freaked out like many others would have, Bowie listens to her with care and respect, wanting to understand his friends affliction. He is the only one outside of her mother Hattie to try to understand Carol’s illness and help her develop ways to cope with it. Everyone else wanted to exploit her or simply ran from the challenges they thought it posed.
I also loved following Moxie’s part of the story. James Moxie’s notoriety comes from the event largely known as “The Trick in Abberstown”, where Moxie won a duel against a man named Daniel Prouds without ever drawing his gun. While the event happened many years ago, it is still talked about by anyone who comes into contact with Moxie. While Moxie used that reputation to carve out a life on the Trail, he’s no longer the same man he once was. When Moxie drops everything to race to Harrows to try to save Carol, he had been off the Trail for nine years. As I loved the decision to have these events take place in the twilight of his career because it makes him a more interesting character. Moxie is no longer full of the bravado you would expect from his younger days, but instead battles the demons of his past and feelings of self-doubt.
There are supernatural elements throughout Unbury Carol, but the most frightening moments of the novel come from the interactions between the human characters and the evil they are capable of. The character responsible for causing the most mayhem is easily the feared outlaw Smoke. Smoke is one of the most terrifying antagonists I have come across in recent memory. None of it has to do with supernatural powers, but rather his propensity for evil and the atrocities he is able to carry out without any remorse. Every scene he is in is unpredictable because he is just as likely to let people go as he is to kill them. He has a unique and brutal calling card and it’s the reason he is the most feared person on the Trail. He is tasked with hunting Moxie and their relationship is interesting because Moxie’s legend grew in the wake of Smoke’s own personal tragedy. Smoke is fascinated by Moxie’s legend, but loathes him and dreams about what will happen if he finally catches up to him on the Trail. Then there is Rot, another terrifying villain that plays a large part in the novel. I won’t go into too much detail about his story, but his scenes are among the creepiest in the novel.
Malerman’s world building is excellent and while I already talked a bit about Howltown, the other big set piece of Unbury Carol is the Trail. The Trail is a passage that connects all of the neighboring towns and has a rich history and legends of its own. It is a hard and unforgiving place that many of the residents avoid traveling if they can help it. Men who feel lost or aimless often can’t resist the pull of the Trail. Sure, there is darkness and evil lurking along the Trail, but what Malerman has done is craft a beautiful setting full of mystery and intrigue and it is that mystique that lures people like Moxie and Smoke to it. It’s a chance for them to make names for themselves and leave a lasting legacy.
Structurally, Malerman jumps around between various points of view and isn’t afraid to use fluid timelines. While the story does have a linear narrative, he occasionally uses flashbacks at various points of the story. This approach may not work for every reader, but I enjoyed how he worked in minor plot threads throughout the story before circling back and wrapping them up later. The best example of this would be the various mentions of “The Trick in Abberstown”. I love how the story is told in anecdotes sprinkled throughout the novel and from various perspectives, but that the narrative still maintains a cohesive structure.
While there are moments of dread and horror throughout Unbury Carol, readers looking for a straight-up horror novel may come away a bit disappointed. In my opinion, the core of Malerman’s story revolves around love and the lengths people will go to in order to protect the ones they love. Malerman is one of those authors whose work I’m always interested in because I know that no matter what the basis of the story is, I know it will be something special. Malerman is like some kind of mad horror alchemist, unafraid of blending genres and using his unique creativity to push horror into some interesting places. There is something magical about Unbury Carol that kept me glued to the pages and that magic is one of the reasons this is on my shortlist for my favorite novel of the year.
Josh Malerman is an internationally bestselling, Bram Stoker Award–nominated American author and one of two singer/songwriters for the rock band The High Strung. His debut novel, Bird Box, was published in the United Kingdom and the United States in 2014 to much critical acclaim. He lives in Ferndale, Michigan, with his best friend/soulmate Allison Laakko and their pets Frankie, Valo, Dewey, Marty, and the fish.
Today’s post on The Horror Bookshelf comes from R.S. Belcher, who just released the second book in the Nightwise series through Tor Books. The Night Dahlia is an urban fantasy with noir elements and has been described as “Supernatural meets L.A. Confidential“. The Night Dahlia continues the story of Laytham Ballard, a once member of the Nightwise, a group of mages tasked with protecting the world from evil supernatural forces. R.S. Belcher decided to stop by and share his inspiration on creating the main protagonist of Laytham Ballard and some of the things that inspired him while crafting the world the series takes place in.
I would like to thank Rod for stopping by The Horror Bookshelf and Anna at Tor Publicity for helping set everything up!
“The Knave’s Knigdom: Laytham Ballard and the world of the Night Dahlia” by R.S. Belcher
My new novel, The Night Dahlia, being released by Tor Books on April 3rd, is the second book in the Nightwise series, the first being 2015’s Nightwise. The Nightwise universe is built on the foundations of my favorite kind of fantasy, the contemporary genre, where the supernatural and the mythic rub shoulders with the world we live in, and the Noir genre of fatalistic, flawed heroes prowling worlds where the odds are stacked against them, criminals, and street hustlers working angles and plotting capers.
I wanted my protagonist, Laytham Ballard, to be a kind of occult “rock star” after the VH1 “Where Are They Now” episode. He had immense power, and he could have been this great world-changing person, but he fell to arrogance, selfishness, pride and self-aggrandizement. I wanted Laytham to be someone the reader would probably not like, but probably knew and probably understood.
It’s quite a dance to make a character an asshole and still want the reader to follow them in their story, and root for them. There is a line in Nightwise that Ballard says that all my beta readers and my editor didn’t like, and for good reason. It implied all the worst aspects of the character and confirmed for the reader what a lying S.O.B Ballard was. I’ve had several people tell me they threw the book and cussed my character out when he said this thing. But as far as I know, everyone picked the book back up. If you didn’t, please do, you may be pleasantly surprised.
I try to present the world we live in as much as I can in the series. For example, I include stuff like Pokemon Go, kids in Black Panther T-shirts, a wizard that crafts spells through Twitter, social media data mining, and real world individuals, some of them pretty nefarious (one of which died on me in the time between finishing the Night Dahlia and publication, good riddance by the way).
It can be challenging to include stuff that’s topical and current when you’re writing several years out from publication. Part of it is trying to forecast things you don’t expect to be flashes in the pan, and part of it is listening to your instinct about what’s going to bounce around for a bit in the societal echo chamber. Some are hits, some are misses, but I’m pretty happy with how many of my little Easter eggs remain at least a little relevant.
The end result for the Nightwise series is, hopefully, to create an urban fantasy world that is markedly unique from what readers may be used to. You can judge for yourself by checking out the Night Dahlia on April 3rd. I wanted to thank Rich and the Horror Bookshelf for giving me the privilege of posting today.
R.S. (Rod) Belcher is an award-winning newspaper and magazine editor and reporter.
Rod has been a private investigator, a DJ, a comic book store owner and has degrees in criminal law, psychology and justice and risk administration, from Virginia Commonwealth University. He’s done Masters work in Forensic Science at The George Washington University, and worked with the Occult Crime Taskforce for the Virginia General Assembly.
The Grand Prize winner of the Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Anthology contest, Rod’s short story “Orphans” was published in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds 9 published by Simon and Schuster in 2006. It was his first professional fiction sale.
Rod’s first novel, The Six-Gun Tarot, was published by Tor Books in 2013. The sequel, The Shotgun Arcana, was published in 2014 and the third book in the Golgotha series, The Queen of Swords was published in 2017. He is currently at work on the fourth book in the series.
His novel, Nightwise, was released in August, 2015, and was reissued with additional material in January of 2018. The sequel to Nightwise, The Night Dahlia, will be released in April of 2018.
Rod’s novel, The Brotherhood of the Wheel was published by Tor in March of 2016. It was a Locus Awards finalist for Horror in 2017, and is currently in development as a television series. The sequel to Brotherhood, The King of the Road, is scheduled for publication by Tor in December 2018.
He lives in Roanoke, Virginia with his children, Jonathan and Emily.
The Crabian Heart follows 13-year-old Aleš and his mother Irena, who are on their own after Ales’ father was locked up in prison shortly after arriving in Dover, England after fleeing the Czech Republic. They are staying at The East Cliff Hotel temporarily while they wait for a decision on their asylum application. There they run into Zsofia, who is the owner of the hotel. She tells them that everything is taken care of for the duration of their application process and they receive a small weekly allowance for necessities. Zsofia tries to calm their fears about the father by telling him that they always detain the men of any families who come over.
Almost right away Irena doesn’t trust Zsofia, a character whose motivations remain murky for most of the novella. When Aleš tries to disagree because she appeared to be smiling, Irena said her smile was “thinner than a razorblade. And her eyes. It’s all in the eyes. They never lie, no matter how pleasant you pretend to be.” Aleš isn’t excited about his new home – the hotel lobby reeks of mothballs and the room has no VCR – but when he hears the screeching of seagulls, the prospect of living near the sea fills him with excitement.
All he wants to do is to take his mind off of the turmoil surrounding his life, so while his mother is running appointments, he convinces her to allow him to visit the beach by himself. While that seems like a small victory, it is a decision that will alter his life forever. It’s at the beach that he meets a frail girl named Enola, who answers Aleš’ questions with strange observations that hint that she is anything but an ordinary girl. They begin walking together and Ales sees a small, purple crab and Enola gives him the ominous warning to stay away from them because they are not what they seem. After his initial discovery of the strange crabs and an ocean that seems to shift colors at will, Aleš begins seeing weird things all over Dover.
Despite the fact that he thinks Enola is strange initially, it doesn’t take long for him to fall in love with her. He begins to use any excuse he think of to sneak out of his new apartment and spend the day with her. However, as Aleš begins to learn more about the town he is in and his mysterious new friend Enola, he learns that not everything is as it seems and that the new life he is trying to build is in grave danger.
Overall, I really enjoyed The Crabian Heart. There is plenty of horror and fantastical elements throughout, but at its core, The Crabian Heart is a story that almost everyone can relate to. It’s the story of two outsiders dealing with love, heartbreak, and the desire for acceptance. These are topics that touch everyone’s life in one way or another and I think that is what makes this story so engaging. I loved the dynamic that Hofstatter develops between Aleš and Enola. While there is numerous scenes that makes their story compelling, there are two short moments that perfectly capture their relationship. The first is when Aleš and Enola meet for the first time. There is a great line when she asks Aleš if he’s scared of her and he says no, wondering what would prompt her to ask him that question. She says “Because I’m different. People are scared of what they don’t know…or understand.” The other is when Zsofia is telling Aleš the heartbreaking story about her husband’s betrayal. He listens to her story and warnings about love, but tells Zsofia that Enola inspires him not to be afraid of the world and that when you invest your heart and soul into someone it changes you.
However, I did have a minor issue with parts of the story. Hofstatter never mentions why the family has decided to flee their home country and while it doesn’t significantly detract from the story, it feels like the story could have been enhanced if we had a little information on the Aleš’ family. It’s a short piece so I understand not wanting to bog it down with too much back story, but just a paragraph or two at most could have added another layer to this piece. Were they simply just seeking a better financial future? Were they involved in some kind of legal trouble? There is a small mention of their troubles in an exchange between Aleš and his mother where he asks if they will be safe and if “they” will be able to find them, and his mother reassures him by saying everything will be fine. That helps to a degree, but it still feels like something is missing.
Despite my wish for a little more development of the family dynamic, I loved the vibe of The Crabian Heart. It’s a coming-of-age tale mashed-up with some of the best parts of weird fiction. This story isn’t overly scary, in fact it’s more rooted in those feelings of love and the risks that come with it. But while The Crabian Heart may not have a heavy focus on outright scares, there are some pretty vivid and creepy scenes of body horror in the later half of the novella that are extremely well done.
While I thoroughly enjoyed The Crabian Heart, I think I felt more of a connection to the second story contained within called Fountain of Drowned Memories. This story opens with a man named Lorcan studying these amorphous stains that are on the ceiling in a room that he has been trapped in for some time. His thoughts are slowly eroding from his memory as he can’t remember when he first arrived in the room or the changes that happened to his body. The one thing that brings him any sort of relief from his waking nightmare is the fountain in his room. He submerges his head in the waters and it removes all negative thoughts from his mind. He feels he is being tortured in this place, but he doesn’t understand why he has been brought to this place. While the fountain brings him his only sense of relief in this hellish prison, he gets the sense that the fountain is stealing his memories. To make matters worse, he begins having frightening visions that seem to get worse with every passing day.
I don’t want to talk about too much of the plot of this story because it might spoil it for new readers, but I love the way Hofstatter manipulates reality in this story. He is able to keep the reader off-balance by forcing them to decide what is real. This is a heartbreaking story and a perfect complement to The Crabian Heart, creating a one-two punch of what I feel are Hofstatter’s strongest stories to date. This was an engaging collection that whips by at a frantic pace and is easily read in one sitting. Hofstatter has a new book coming out this year from Sinister Grin Press called TOROA and I’m looking forward to reading it and seeing what kind of dark visions he has cooked up.
Erik Hofstatter is a dark fiction writer and a member of the Horror Writers Association. Born in the wild lands of the Czech Republic, he roamed Europe before subsequently settling on English shores, studying creative writing at the London School of Journalism. He now dwells in Kent, where he can be encountered consuming copious amounts of mead and tyrannizing local peasantry. His work appeared in various magazines and podcasts around the world such as Morpheus Tales, Crystal Lake Publishing, The Literary Hatchet, Sanitarium Magazine, Wicked Library,Tales to Terrify and Manor House Show. Other works include The Pariahs, Amaranthine and Other Stories, Katerina, Moribund Tales and Rare Breeds.
Kristopher Triana’s The Detained follows four former classmates heading to their old high school for their 20th reunion. Each one has their own reasons for attending, whether it’s overcoming their fear, showing everyone how much they’ve changed, or to simply reliving their glory days. However, as the former classmates arrive at the school, they realize something isn’t quite right. The cafeteria doesn’t look like it’s set up for a reunion at all. There are no decorations set up, no music and no crowd of their former classmates milling around catching up with one another. The only things in the cafeteria are five long tables set up to face a desk where Noah Dixon, former P.E. teacher and principle, sits waiting patiently. Sandy is the first one to say it looks less like a reunion and more like a detention. They begin to wonder if they’re in the wrong part of the school or if maybe someone is pranking them. When they finally decide to look around the school, they find that the doors are locked and they are trapped in the cafeteria.
They pull out the seats at the tables and realize there are grisly mementos sitting in each of their chairs, recalling the worst moment in their shared history. It is now they realize that they may be trapped in the school for a reason and someone wants to force them to confront the memory of that fateful day 20 years ago.
The strength of The Detained is easily the characters. The former classmates easily fit into standard archetypes at first glance, but what makes them stand out is the nuances to their character. Phoebe seems to be the picture of success after working her entire life to escape from Bonneville and put the horrific events of her high school years behind her. She’s a child psychologist who runs her own practice and has helped numerous kids work through their own issues and fears. Yet even with all of her accomplishments, Phoebe battles anxiety daily and struggles to follow the advice she has given to so many. Tyler was an outsider during his high school years, the product of being constantly picked on for most of his early childhood. He learned quickly that fighting back was his only chance of surviving the high school hierarchy, which led to many saying he was destined for jail or an early grave. As an adult, he is a successful horror author who realized how the violence he struggled to control could harm others. What’s interesting about his story is seeing why he developed this reputation and the real reason behind some of his illegal activities.
Sandy is a former cheerleader who is a bit of a smart ass and still carries around her sense of entitlement that she developed as being one of the most popular girls in school. Sandy is still attractive, but we learn that her life isn’t quite what she had hoped. The girl who was used to having all the attention she could ever want, now craves it more than ever. Bill, who went by the nickname “The Champ” all through high school, was the star running back at Bonneville High. He likes to think that he has moved on from his high school glory days, but the fact is he still feels the pull of nostalgia. He can’t help but blame wife Becky for the way his life turned out. He fell in love with her in high school, but now he can’t stand to be around her. Bill is the character you love to hate throughout The Detained because he is pretty much an asshole the entire time. There is one small instance where a bit of humanity seems to shine through, but it’s quickly extinguished.
Triana weaves parts of Graham’s story into the main narrative through the memories other characters have of him, which starts when they start the discovering the mementos. He was picked on by everyone in the entire school because he was viewed as being socially awkward and brought his comic books and action figures to school. Triana gives a vivid portrayal of the hell Graham had to go through and I couldn’t help but cringe when I saw how his classmates treated him.
Triana uses sections where he shows each character’s internal thoughts, which helps explain their backstory in an engaging way and introduce their personalities. I also loved how he was able to effortlessly switch between the point of view of each character. That can be jarring to pull off – especially in a shorter work – but Triana nails it. However, I think the characters really shine through Triana’s use of realistic dialogue and the interactions they have with each other. Even though two decades have gone by, it doesn’t take long for old tensions bubble to the surface. Triana’s decision to keep the scope of the story contained to the school is one that really works. It’s home to an incredible amount of sadness and tragedy, which amplifies the horrors that face the characters and creates a heavy atmosphere that leads to numerous scenes of palpable dread. One of my favorite lines captures this feeling perfectly. “The darkness was molasses thick, a smothering pall that took the already tense situation and germinated it into a full-blown nightmare.”
Being trapped in the school creates a sense of paranoia that brings out the worst sides of each character, though some are more susceptible to it then others. They accuse each other of planting the artifacts and orchestrating the entire nightmarish reunion, saying how easy it would be. Even when they figure out what is really going on, that sense of distrust only increases. The Detained is largely driven by the psychological horrors the characters face after digging up old memories, but there is no shortage of supernatural scares sure to delight horror fans. I don’t want to go into too much detail and ruin it for others, but there is a big scene in the latter half of the novella that is awesome. Trust me, you’ll know what it is when you read it!
The plot of The Detained may not offer much in the way of surprises, but the interactions between the characters and some of the scenes more than make up for it. This was my first time reading Triana’s work, but there is no denying his skill as a storyteller. His writing style is engaging and has a cadence that grabs the reader right from the start and never lets go. The pacing is excellent, with no shortage of tension and the result is a compulsively readable story that is easy to rip through in one sitting. I really dug The Detained and I recommend it to any horror fan. There is a pretty good balance of violence and gore for fans of some more extreme stuff and psychological horror. The Detained is a damn good novella and I think it’s time I go back and check out Triana’s back catalog, particularly The Ruin Season. I have heard nothing but great things about it and now that I have a sense of his writing style from The Detained, I’m sure I will dig it. I’d also like to take a moment to highlight Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing. They have an eye for talented writers and put a lot of work into every aspect of their releases. If you haven’t read one of their titles yet, you are missing out on some top-notch horror.
Kristopher Triana is an American author. His works include The Ruin Season, Body Art and Growing Dark. His next horror novel, Full Brutal, is scheduled for release in 2018 by Grindhouse Press. His fiction has appeared in many magazines, anthologies, audio books and on websites, and some of his stories have been translated to Russian. His novel Body Art was translated to German by Festa Verlag. His fiction has drawn praise from Publisher’s Weekly, Rue Morgue Magazine, Cemetery Dance and more. While primarily a horror writer, he also writes crime fiction, literary fiction, southern gothic, noir, westerns, and whatever else his brain sets ablaze.
Born in New York in 1977, Triana was yanked down to Florida at the age of nine and was forced to grow up there, much to his chagrin. Luckily he had heavy metal music and John Carpenter movies to get by on. Once he was old enough, he escaped all that pesky sunshine, and since then he has lived up and down the east coast, from New England to the rural Carolinas. He is obsessed with all aspects of the horror genre, and has amassed a staggering collection of cult films, horror books, movie memorabilia, busts and Halloween masks. He also has a very strong love of animals.
He works as a professional dog trainer and lives in Connecticut with his wife.
One of the best things about running a blog dedicated to horror fiction – and hell, just being a reader in general – is discovering new writers. One of the best and most rewarding feelings as a horror fan is reading a new author’s work and being blown away by their talent and the awe of discovering something cool. That is the exact feeling I got when I first sat down to crack open Mike Thorn’s debut story collection, Darkest Hours. I may have been a newcomer to Mike’s fiction, but I have long admired his “Thorn’s Thoughts” feature for Unnerving Magazine. So, when Mike reached out and asked me to check out Darkest Hours, I jumped at the chance.
Thorn’s Darkest Hours is a collection is a collection of 16 stories that run the gamut of the various horror sub-genres from bizarro to splatterpunk and everything in between. Just a few of the things you will find in Darkest Hours is alternate dimensions, deadly cults, ghosts, manipulations of reality, human monsters and so much more. I don’t want to spoil the unique journey Thorn has in store for readers with Darkest Hours, so rather than pinpoint every story, I selected some of my favorites.
“Mictian Diabolus” is one of the first stories in Darkest Hours and the one that really grabbed me and let me know I was in for one hell of a ride. A group of college-aged friends are enjoying their weekend partying and they decide to break into an old school that has a sinister past and urban legends surrounding it. Most of the group is excited and try to scare each other recounting spooky stories about “The Peeler”, the school’s old principal who was convicted of being a serial killer and committing horrible atrocities on students. but it doesn’t take long for them to realize that there is something very, very wrong with the school. “Mictian Diabolus” is a gore-soaked fright-fest that contains inspiration from 80’s style slasher movies with a dash of cosmic horror. Not only does Thorn come up with some seriously frightening scenes, I also love the atmosphere he crafts with this story, using the darkness and silence of the abandoned school to create a sense of tension and dread that doesn’t let up until the story is over. There are a lot of stories in Darkest Hours that were in the running for my favorite of the collection, but I have to go with my initial reaction of “Mictian Diabolus” being my personal favorite.
“The Auteur” – This story focuses on Cate and Simon. Cate is a woman who is filled with an encyclopedic knowledge of horror films who is constantly pushing Simon to stretch his boundaries and check out new films. While he loves her recommendations of classic horror films, but what he really wants to watch is the movies she has been working on. Cate says he isn’t ready, but Simon is persistent and eventually wears her down, getting her to agree to show him one of her films. However, Simon could never have imagined his request would have dangerous repercussions.
I have a feeling this story will resonate with a lot of horror fans who long for the nostalgia of VHS stores and the sort of conversations that would lead to some awesome discoveries. I also love the dynamic of Cate and Simon’s relationship, which is strictly platonic. It would have been easy to have Simon pine after Cate, but instead, their relationship is driven by their mutual love of all things horror. I also love the build-up in this story. I don’t want to spoil the contents of Cate’s film, but I definitely wasn’t expecting the reveal that Thorn unleashes. The scenes in Cate’s movies are wildly imaginative and chilling, slowly sneaking under your skin, just like they did to Simon. I also like how this is a very extreme example of the joy of watching horror films. Have you ever had that one movie that just scared the hell out of you or unsettled you to your core, and yet you couldn’t wait to watch another one? That’s the sort of tone this story carries. If you enjoyed J Daniel Stone’s brilliant “Vision II” from I Can Taste the Blood, you’ll definitely dig this story.
“Long Man” is an interesting story of a man who was haunted by this terrifying entity who lived in his mirror for most of his childhood on a fairly regular basis. The first sighting was when he was around six-years-old and the sightings began to occur like clockwork. Unable to sleep, the character’s life began to slowly descend into shambles. He tries telling his parents, who try to put his mind at ease at first, but eventually they think his obsession with the “Long Man” has gone too far. As an adult, he gathers the courage to tell his friend about his vision and that is when he makes a startling discovery – maybe the “Long Man” isn’t just a figment of his imagination. What I loved about this story was the unique slant on childhood fears and how those fears potentially translate into adulthood. I’m sure most of us had recurring nightmares as kids and imaginary monsters that frightened the living hell out of us before leaving them behind as we got older. What if these monsters were real? If they are real, where do they go once we have forgotten them? This story explores those questions with chilling results.
I also enjoyed the Fight Club-esque “Economy These Days”, the terrifying creature feature style tale “Fusion” and Thorn’s unique spin on the ghost story “Remembering Absence”. Thorn’s writing is excellent from beginning to end, but there were a few stories that didn’t quite work for me. One of those is the gross-out story “Hair”, which leads off the collection. “Hair” is the tale of Theodore, a manager of a metal T-shirt shop who has a very peculiar fetish that he does his best to keep secret. Throughout the story, Theodore’s obsession escalates until he reaches a point of no return. “Hair” is very effective in that it makes the reader squirm and has some very cool body horror scenes, but ultimately, it didn’t leave as much of an impression as some of the other stories in the collection. I had a similar experience with “Mired”, where Randolph discovers a strange blob in the storage area where he keeps all of his research and books. Like “Hair” I didn’t have any issue with the writing, the story just didn’t really fit my tastes.
The stories in Darkest Hours are outstanding, but I also feel like I should mention the awesome design work that Unnerving put together for this collection. While reading through Darkest Hours, it’s impossible not to notice the love and enthusiasm Thorn has for the horror genre whether it be films or books. That is wonderfully represented in Darkest Hours cover art, which is designed to look like a battered VHS tape from a store called”Verne’s Video”. I can’t stress enough how much I love this callback to the glory days of horror when discovery of movies and novels was passed down from one fan to another or through endlessly browsing shelves and snatching up whatever looked interesting. Sure, that still occurs to some degree, but it doesn’t quite feel the same. All I know is I definitely need to grab a physical copy!
Reading Thorn’s Darkest Hours was a real treat and considering the variety of styles on display, there is sure to be something for all horror fans in this collection. Thorn is an exciting new talent in the genre and I highly recommend grabbing a copy of Darkest Hours. I know I’m a fan and whether it’s more short stories, a novella or a novel, I can’t wait to see what Thorn comes up with next!
Mike Thorn is the author of the short story collection Darkest Hours. He completed his B.A. with honors at Mount Royal University and his M.A. in English Literature at the University of Calgary. His fiction has been published in a number of magazines and anthologies, including Dark Moon Digest, Behind the Mask – Tales from the Id and Straylight Literary Arts Magazine. He co-authors the horror-themed series “Devious Dialogues” with A.M. Stanley for Vague Visages. Visit his website (mikethornwrites.com) or follow him on Twitter @MikeThornWrites.
Today’s post on The Horror Bookshelf comes from Mike Thorn, who released his debut collection Darkest Hours towards the end of 2017 through Unnerving. Thorn’s Darkest Hours is a collection of 16 stories that run the gamut of the various horror sub-genres from bizarro to splatterpunk and everything in between. Just a few of the things you will find in Darkest Hours is alternate dimensions, deadly cults, ghosts, manipulations of reality, human monsters and so much more. I will be posting my review of Darkest Hours tomorrow, so please stop by and check that out as well. Today, Mike stopped by to share his favorite Stephen King books from each decade of his career. What are your favorite King books? Does your list look like Mike’s or a little different?
I would like to thank Mike for stopping by The Horror Bookshelf, and be sure to grab a copy of Darkest Hours from the links below!
“Favorite King Book for Every Decade” by Mike Thorn
1970s – Rage (1977) Runner ups: The Shining (1977), The Long Walk (1979)
Published under the pseudonym Richard Bachman, Rage is aptly named. This novel brings brutal, furious social diagnosis to bear on a plot that’s condensed in time and space. The bulk of the narrative plays out when twisted protagonist Charlie holds his high school classmates hostage, subjecting them to a forced, Lord of the Flies-inspired psychotherapy session. This is a stunning early novel, driven by King’s already-polished sense of voice and carefully channeled anger. It also anticipates many of the author’s career long fixations – the damage caused by abusive adults; the bestial instincts lurking beneath societal veneers; and the psychological processes of outsiders. I devoured the entire novel in one sitting, but its readability should not be mistaken for disposability. This is a thoughtful, challenging novel and a glimpse of even greater things to come. Sadly, it feels more prescient than ever, given the recent tragic events in the United States.
1980s – It (1986)
Runner ups: Christine (1983), Pet Sematary (1983)
To my mind, the eighties saw King at his peak (which is no minor statement, given his remarkable output in other decades). It showcases the author at his boldest, most ambitious, and yes, his most reckless. The novel is excessive, teeming with ideas of micro- and macrocosmic scale that amount to nothing less than a series of lofty, summative statements: this book is about horror itself, both as a genre and an affect, but it’s also about the social cultivation of violence, prejudice, and the problematic notion of nostalgia. Is the titular monstrosity the result of socialized human beliefs and behaviors (especially those rooted in ignorance and fear), or is it much bigger than that? Is it in fact the face of some malicious cosmic order? King’s novel suggests that It might in fact be both, but this author does not set up camp in the same pessimistic territory as, say, Thomas Ligotti. No, even when he’s dishing out his most horrific material, King argues for humankind’s positive potential; even It finds affirmation within all the damning critique.
1990s – Dolores Claiborne (1992)
Runner ups: The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (1999), Hearts in Atlantis (1999)
Alongside Gerald’s Game, Dolores Claiborne was published in the first year of what appears to be a distinct cycle in King’s oeuvre rounded out by Rose Madder (1995) and, to a lesser extent, Insomnia (1994). To varying degrees, all four of these books deal with patriarchy and its profoundly negative impact on specific women. If you ask me, Claiborne is the most focused and beautifully written of the four. Written as a sprawling exercise in stylized first-person narration, this novel depicts its title character’s long, excruciating marriage to an abusive man. Claiborne lends attention not only to domestic context, but also to the ways in which social institutions fail to help Dolores and her daughter. It is by no means King’s first or last “non-horror” work, but it is one of his finest novels written outside the genre.
2000s – Dreamcatcher (2001)
Runner ups: From a Buick 8 (2002), Lisey’s Story (2006)
Stephen King allegedly penned this epic novel by hand while under the influence of Oxycontin — in 1999, he had been struck and nearly killed by a van, and sitting at a typewriter for long periods of time was too painful to manage. This is the author’s first post-accident work, and it’s a bizarre book indeed – set in It’s fictional town of Derry, Maine, Dreamcatcher nearly matches that 1986 novel’s wild ambition. This is an alien invasion story filled with grotesque body horror, telepathic connections and alternating timelines. It’s also filled with a palpable sense of pain and longing for the past, addled by drug-induced visions and teeming with playful pop culture references. It’s a tonally ballistic book, maybe weighed down by the range of its ideas and the conditions in which it was written, but I absolutely love it just the same. It was one of the first King books I read; the impact has been long-lasting and profound.
2010s – Full Dark, No Stars (2010)
Runner ups: Mr. Mercedes (2014), The Bazaar of Bad Dreams (2015)
Comprised of four absorbing novellas, Full Dark, No Stars shows Stephen King at his bleakest and most despairing. It’s an intensely moral book, underscored by severe reflections on the costs of violence and selfishness. Sometime around the late 1990s (I notice the shift most clearly with Bag of Bones ), King’s prose style seems to change – it’s leaner, more focused than ever, often foregrounding inner and spoken dialogue rather than description. Some of his recent output veers surprisingly far from the unbridled, emotional energy of his early work, but Full Dark, No Stars appears to see the author back in the space that inspired him to write books like Roadwork (1981) and Apt Pupil (a novella from Different Seasons ). It seems to me that the legendary writer has never been more lucid and fearless than he is here, charging headlong into the toxic terrain of human misdeeds. I look forward to reading whatever else he produces in the decades to come.
Mike Thorn is the author of the short story collection Darkest Hours. He completed his B.A. with honors at Mount Royal University and his M.A. in English Literature at the University of Calgary. His fiction has been published in a number of magazines and anthologies, including Dark Moon Digest, Behind the Mask – Tales from the Id and Straylight Literary Arts Magazine. He co-authors the horror-themed series “Devious Dialogues” with A.M. Stanley for Vague Visages. Visit his website (mikethornwrites.com) or follow him on Twitter @MikeThornWrites.
Review copy provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review
Seeing Double is Karen Runge’s debut novel, coming from one of the best horror publishers around Grey Matter Press. This was one of the novels I was really looking forward to this year as I have been impressed with Runge’s writing ever since I read her story “Hope is Here” in the outstanding anthology Suspended in Dusk, which was edited by Simon Dewar. After that I was hooked, looking out for her short stories whenever they appeared in an anthology and then being blown away when I read her brilliant debut collection Seven Sins. While her talent is on evident display in her standalone stories, this collection is incredibly impressive and showcases her willingness to take risks with her stories. There were a few that utilized interesting structures that only added more power to her words. Needless to say when I caught wind of her debut novel Seeing Double, I could barely contain my excitement.
Seeing Double focuses on Ada and Daniel, a married expat couple living in Asia. They compliment each other perfectly and while many who encounter them would dismiss them as an average, run-of-the-mill couple, there is more to their relationship that meets the eye. Ada and Daniel harbor a dark secret, one that only they know of and they never share with anyone else. However, that all changes when Daniel meets Neven, a mysterious stranger that seems to share similarities with Daniel and Ada. The trio form a relationship built around mutual attraction and it isn’t long until Ada and Daniel share their secret with Neven. As their relationship grows and they push each other into increasingly extreme situations, their boundaries are put to the test and the only possible outcome is that their lives will never be the same.
Seeing Double is a character driven piece focusing almost exclusively on the three primary characters – Ada, Daniel, and Neven. Their lust and feeling of power and control are brutal to witness in that they have no regard for those that get trapped in their orbit. Runge breathes life into these characters by giving them rich personalities that are shaped by the trauma they experienced at various points in their lives. This is important because there is a heavy psychological element to this story and the tension that arises throughout the novel is dependent on the author’s ability to create realistic characters and Runge accomplishes that with ease. Ada and Daniel work well together, like a well-oiled machine. They are predators in every sense of the word, and the fact they have spent so much time together allows them to read each others cues and send each other messages non-verbally as to not alert their targets. While there is a section of the novel where a character mentions that past trauma did not necessarily get them to this point, there is no denying that each of these characters have been through some rough situations that certainly played a role in their current situations.
Ada had to deal with a lot of abuse and had a rough home life as well. Her father had met a new woman and Ada never felt comfortable around them, often catching looks exchanging between the two of them that seemed to indicate they tried to tolerate her in as few visits as possible. Ada never felt like her relationship with her parents were built on love, but rather a sense of disconnection and obligation. However, Ada’s parents would take her with them to bars, which was a pivotal moment in her life. Runge brings these scenes to life by showing a teenage Ada in the midst of adult situations that she should not be in and the creep factor of older men trying to take advantage of her. It’s these sort of encounters that led to Ada being fascinated with the combination of pain and love. She mentions that she had to battle her own will to become the woman she is now, altering herself in sometimes horrific and extreme ways.
Daniel’s transformation is a little harder to follow as his story comes together later, but he went through his own trauma and I’m sure that he became the person he is as a result of that. He exerts a level of control that portrays him as the alpha of their group.
Daniel is clearly more experienced than Ada and Neven. When he talks about what they do and begins to initiate Neven into their dangerous lifestyle, it’s clear that he views their actions with a sense of detachment. We see aspects of Ada’s life that indicate she was on a similar path to Daniel, but it was almost like Daniel was grooming her, leading her down the paths that he chose and not necessarily ones she would have traveled down alone. The same pattern shows up in Daniel’s relationship with Neven, but over time, Neven becomes even more extreme than any of them (including Neven himself) could have predicted.
A bulk of characters in fiction seem to fall neatly into a set framework of traditional relationships, wants, and desires, but Runge’s characters form a polyamourous relationship which sets the stage for some interesting character conflicts throughout the novel.
Ada is a confident, independent woman, but there is a scene early on when she first meets Neven that we see Daniel’s internal thoughts and it is like he is claiming her by saying “she’s still mine” as he watches them interact for the first time. Originally Neven wasn’t seen as an addition to their relationship, but the more they spend time together, the more Neven begins to become a fixture in the relationship dynamic between Ada and Daniel. While it seems there is love there, there are more than a few scenes where you get the sense that the men view Ada as almost secondary. Without going into spoilers, there is a scene where the three interact and it is like they are making decisions for her, without asking her what she is thinking. That dynamic isn’t always readily apperant, but continues through a bulk of the novel.
In between the straightforward narrative chapters, there are also sequences from the characters individual perspectives. What is interesting about these sections is that it appears the characters are at their most vulnerable and open up a lot more. Despite their seemingly normal outside appearances, this is where we learn some of their darkest secrets and desires and events that shaped them into the people they really are. Another interesting thing about these chapters is that at times, they are stripped of any sort of indicator on who exactly the person is talking to at that particular instance. As Ada, Daniel and Neven get closer together, they almost congeal into one person, dependent on each other to satisfy their needs and desires. You are able to piece together who is speaking at any given moment through context clues, but I thought it was interesting that the perspective was blurred and I wonder if it was an intentional choice to show their dependence on one another.
There is something captivating about Runge’s prose and some of that is on her display when she is talking about the country Daniel and Ada have chosen to call home. It seems that Daniel and Ada’s decision to live in a foreign country, away from those that they know places them in an almost sort of isolation. I get the sense that they love living there due to their activities, but that it also makes them feel sort of trapped. This is a great description: “The city as a whole was vast and ugly, its long history razed to a whisper as most of the older building were torn down, replaced with cheap mock-ups or garish modern structures. Even in the calm centre, it was a city insane with contradictions. Rickshaws and Lamborghinis. Neon lights and dusty lanterns. Prada shoes and broken feet. It’s beauty, when revealed, seemed sometimes almost accidental.”
Without spoiling too much of the novel, I have to applaud Runge for the rich layers and complexity of her narrative. There is no denying that these people commit evil acts with no remorse, but there is a definite arc to their story and they undergo radical transformations throughout the course of the novel.
Make no mistake about it, there are some really tough scenes in this book, and I think that is part of why it leaves a lasting impression on the reader. Runge doesn’t flinch at showing these damaged characters and the enormity of their actions. Runge not only explores the psychology of relationships, but also the devastating scars that abuse in all of its forms leaves behind.
I honestly struggled with how to tackle a review of this book. I realize that for various reasons, it may not be for everyone. There is a subtle supernatural element that slowly trickles into the novel until the end when it all comes to a head rather quickly, but that is not where the horror in this story originates. Seeing Double peers into the darkest depths of the human psyche and that can be pretty uncomfortable. That is what really drives this novel. I can’t point to one specific thing that made me fall in love with this book, but it definitely consumed me while I was reading it.
There is no denying that Runge is an exceptionally talented writer and reading her debut was a truly special experience. I love her writing style and the way she was able to truly dive into the psyche of her characters. Never once did I feel the story was dragging in any way and her skill to be able to hone in on three characters and make the reader lose themselves is admirable. If you’re not reading Runge’s work, as a dark fiction fan, you are doing yourself an extreme disservice. Runge has a powerful voice and there is no doubt in my mind that she is going to be a force in the genre. I was absolutely blown away by Seeing Double and I’m definitely going to be a life-long fan of her work. I have a feeling most of you reading this will be as well.
Karen Runge is a horror writer, sometimes an artist, and teaches adults English as a second language. Several of her short stories have been published in her collection Seven Sins. And two of her short stories appear in Grey Matter Press anthologies Savage Beasts and Death’s Realm. Jack Ketchum once told her: “Karen, you scare me.”
Today’s post on The Horror Bookshelf comes from Alma Katsu, the author of The Hunger and The Taker trilogy. I first heard about The Hunger from Max Booth III’s “15 Most Anticipated Horror Books of 2018” list on Litreactor, and Max’s blurb had me hooked right away. I have always loved history and I’m a big fan of horror novels that either focus on a historical event, or are set in a different time period. So naturally The Hunger immediately became one of my most anticipated books of the year. The Hunger takes the grisly and devastating events of the Donner Party and adds in an element of supernatural horror. Doesn’t that sound like a killer set-up for a horror novel? Alma is stopping by The Horror Bookshelf to share the inspiration behind the evil that plagues the Donner Party in The Hunger. I will have a review of The Hunger on The Horror Bookshelf soon and after reading Alma’s guest post, I can’t wait to tear into this book! The Hunger will be available March 6.
Before I turn over the blog to Alma, I want to thank her and Emily of Glasstown Entertainment for putting this together!
“The Monster in The Hunger” by Alma Katsu, author of The Hunger and The Taker trilogy
In the late summer of 1846, a wagon train heads down a little-known route through the American West in the hope that it will shave hundreds of miles off the trek to California. Instead, it takes them through a hellish landscape that proves nearly impassable, throwing them weeks behind schedule. And just as they arrive at the last mountain pass standing between them and their destination, the worst storm of the century descends on them. Out of food and already pushed to the point of starvation, they have only one choice if they want to survive.
One horrible, unimaginable choice.
This is the story of the Donner Party. It’s such a great story that you might think it doesn’t need any embellishment. But I saw the potential to tell another story.
I added the supernatural.
It’s hard to believe this hasn’t been done already (though it very well may have. There are so many books about the Donner Party, fiction and non-fiction, that it’s impossible to be exhaustive.) But as I researched the real events, it seemed to me that the wagon party seemed cursed from the start. There were injuries, deaths: a sick old man was left to die alone in the desert. Another man, worried that he was going to be robbed, went off to bury his treasure and was never seen alive again. They were followed by bad luck and tragedy every step of the way.
And it got me thinking: what if all this bad luck wasn’t the result of natural causes? What if they were being followed by something with evil intentions?
The problem was finding a supernatural creature that could stand up to the horror of the real-life Donner Party. When you’re already facing cannibalism, what monster would have the power to scare you?
Luckily, the supernatural is everywhere, if you know where to look for it.
In my research, I looked at Native American folklore. The Donner Party was traveling through Native American lands, after all. They would hear stories of terrifying beasts from the tribes they came in contact with. One such creature is the wendigo. Originally from Algonquian folklore, some sources describe it as a spirit that’s able to take over a human body; others say it started as a man but was made into a monster by greed. In all its variations, however, it is at its heart the same: an ever-hungry creature driven to cannibalism.
I also looked at another ever-hungry creature, the werewolf. While werewolves are generally credited to European folklore, there were stories of werewolf sightings in America around the time of the Donner Party. The wendigo and the werewolf strongly influenced the supernatural element in The Hunger but that’s not exactly what you’ll find in the novel. The Hunger is about that dark side we all have inside us. Whether that monster triumphs is up to individual.
I’ll stop here because I don’t want to spoil anyone’s enjoyment of The Hunger. In the end, it will be up to the reader to decide what’s pursuing the wagon party—or if there’s something supernatural on their trail at all. It’ll be up to you, the reader, to decide what—or who—the monster is. Or if we’re all monsters.
Tamsen Donner must be a witch. That is the only way to explain the series of misfortunes that have plagued the wagon train known as the Donner Party. Depleted rations, bitter quarrels, and the mysterious death of a little boy have driven the pioneers to the brink of madness. They cannot escape the feeling that someone–or something–is stalking them. Whether it was a curse from the beautiful Tamsen, the choice to follow a disastrous experimental route West, or just plain bad luck–the 90 men, women, and children of the Donner Party are at the brink of one of the deadliest and most disastrous western adventures in American history.
While the ill-fated group struggles to survive in the treacherous mountain conditions–searing heat that turns the sand into bubbling stew; snows that freeze the oxen where they stand–evil begins to grow around them, and within them. As members of the party begin to disappear, they must ask themselves “What if there is something waiting in the mountains? Something disturbing and diseased…and very hungry?”
About Alma Katsu
Before she started writing novels, Alma Katsu was both a music journalist and an analyst for the likes of CIA and RAND. She has pounded the halls of the Pentagon, been in the West Wing of the White House, and interviewed rock stars. Her novels—The Taker, The Reckoning, and The Descent (which, oddly enough, have nothing to do with music or national security)—have been published in more than a dozen languages.
Review for the Broken Shells Blog Tour hosted by Confessions Publicity
Broken Shells is the latest novella from Michael Patrick Hicks and it follows Antoine DeWitt, a man who just lost his job as an auto mechanic and was already struggling to make ends meet. This is just the most recent of many blows life has dealt Antoine over the past few years. Anytime something good comes along in his life, it’s only a matter of time before it gets ruined. This was the only job he was able to get after being released from prison two years ago on a trumped-up possessions charge and the fresh start he was slowly building was washed away in one moment of anger. As Antoine trudges home to face his wife Chanelle, he is dreading her reaction to the news.
Antoine’s mailbox is always either junk or past due bills, so he grabs the latest stack mindlessly and makes his way up the stairs, where he can hear his son Helix crying before he even makes it to the door. When Chanelle sees the Money Carlo flier, Antoine immediately tells her its junk and to throw it away but she is already picking at the tabs. She begs Antoine to call the number when she sees a $5,000 prize staring back at her. Even though he knows deep down it is too good to be true, the fact that past due bills are piling up, he’s staring down the barrel unemployment and a delayed WIC check allow him to believe in the fantasy for one brief moment. Not to mention the only thing that saves him from being ripped limb from limb by his wife is the prospect of this magical money arriving on their doorsteps.
When Antoine steps onto Jon Dangle’s Chevy lot to redeem his ticket, he is hesitant to believe he is actually a winner, but slowly begins to muster up some hope. Against all odds, maybe, just maybe, the winning Money Carlo ticket isn’t a scam at all, but the first step towards turning things around for his family. What Antoine doesn’t know is that Dangle is a man of secrets and that the Money Carlo ticket is indeed a scam. Just not the sort of scam Antoine was expecting. That fateful afternoon finds Antoine in a world of trouble and sets the stage for Broken Shells and the wild, intense ride that plays out through the course of the story.
What really grabbed me about this novella was Hicks’ characters, particularly Antoine. Through anecdotes about his history and glimpses of his home-life struggles early in Broken Shells, Hicks effortlessly gets readers to establish a connection with Antoine. While my situation was not quite as dire as Antoine’s, I know I have been in situations where it seemed like nothing was going right and the only way out seemed to be some sort of miracle. Who hasn’t at times felt beat down, hopeless, or worried about finances? That’s why I think readers will connect with Antoine and picture themselves as being in that situation and what they would do to try to climb out of that cycle of desperation. Antoine is put through the wringer throughout Broken Shells and every time he finds himself in a hopeless situation, he thinks of Helix and Chanelle, and his love for them drives him forward. He realizes how much he loves them both, despite the frustration that plagued him due to their situation and all of that stress piling up. It only took going through hell to realize that maybe his life wasn’t as bad as he had originally thought. Even facing unimaginable horror, he vows that instead of allowing life to beat him down, he is going to do whatever he can to survive and make it back home and try to be a better man. Antoine isn’t without his faults as he did contemplate walking away from his family, but while some may not like that side of Antoine, it makes him a more vivid and life-like character. Overall, I thought his character arc was pretty satisfying.
Jon Dangle is an interesting antagonist because while he is someone you definitely grow to despise, his motivations and actions are more complex than simply being some deranged killer. While there is no denying that he is responsible for tons of horrific things in Broken Shells, in Dangle’s mind, he genuinely believes in the purpose of his actions and feels he is doing the right thing. He is also intelligent in the way he carries out his “responsibilities”, but his strength is in his ability to interact with people. As a car salesman, Dangle trained himself to be an expert at reading body language and making people feel comfortable. Using those techniques, Dangle knows that he has found an easy mark in Antoine, or so he thinks. Dangle is calm and collected under pressure. Even when he notices Antoine is cautious and waiting for the catch, Dangle’s expertise allows him to navigate the situation and lure him into a sense of security.
Hicks also does a great job with the various settings throughout his novella. Antoine’s neighborhood doesn’t have any streetlights as the kids busted them out with rocks or they were shot out by gang members. Fires were a regular occurrence as a past time as well, and as Antoine is walking home from the bus stop the night he was fired, he passes the burnt out husks of houses in his neighborhood. These scenes paint a vivid picture and serve to accentuate of hardships Antoine and his wife Chanelle face on a daily basis. Then there is Dangle’s lot, where a bulk of the story takes place and is a very interesting location. It is situated out in the middle of nowhere Michigan, off M-72, in an area that is mostly woods and farm land. The isolation of Dangle’s lot serves as an ominous warning that will instantly resonate with horror fanatics who know nothing good ever comes from a secluded location. Without venturing too much into spoilers, the details Hicks gives of the subterranean parts of Dangle’s property are terrifying and one of the strongest parts of the novella.
The hardest thing about reviewing Broken Shells is there is so much to dive into about why this novella is so good, but to do so would ruin the story for readers. What I can say is that there is some truly impressive set pieces in this about what lies beneath Dangle’s car dealership and the horrors that Antoine faces are pretty unique. There are some bone-chilling scenes in this one that I absolutely loved and Hicks does a great job of using numerous sensory details to paint a vivid, hellish picture in the reader’s mind. Trust me, you will know what scenes I’m talking about when you get to them!
I also have to give kudos to Hicks for the ingenious way he set up the plot for this story. I’m not sure if this is how he got the story idea, but how many times have you gotten those sort of giveaway cards in the mail only to throw them in the trash without a second thought? Hicks manages to take a harmless item that barely registers on our radar on a daily basis and use it as catalyst for an unimaginable horror. It may seem like a small detail, but the set-up provided an impressive originality to the story.
Broken Shells is a blood-soaked, tense novella that is sure to appeal to a wide variety of horror fans, especially those that dig an old-school feel in their novels. Hicks does a great job of building tension throughout the course of Broken Shells and that helps keep the story moving at a blistering pace that kept me riveted until the final page. I read this one in one reading session and I came away very impressed with this story. This was my first work from Hicks, but it definitely won’t be my last. I look forward to digging into some of his other works and highly recommend picking up a copy of Broken Shells.
Michael Patrick Hicks is the author of a number of speculative fiction titles. His debut novel, Convergence, was an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013 Quarter-Finalist. His most recent work is the horror novel, Mass Hysteria.
He has written for the Audiobook Reviewer and Graphic Novel Reporter websites, in addition to working as a freelance journalist and news photographer.
In between compulsively buying books and adding titles that he does not have time for to his Netflix queue, he is hard at work on his next story.
Today’s post on The Horror Bookshelf comes from Eddie Generous the creator, editor, designer, and publisher of Unnerving and Unnerving Magazine. The most recent release from Unnerving is the anthology Hardened Hearts, which is described as “17 stories of difficult love, broken hearts, lost hope, and discarded truths.” I’m a relatively new Unnerving fan, but I love everything Eddie Generous has been doing so far. I’m pretty excited to dive into this one as the theme and list of authors sounds fantastic. Eddie is stopping by The Horror Bookshelf to share 5 Stephen King adaptations that he thinks are better than the source material. I’m curious to see the reactions to Eddie’s article as Stephen King fans have a wide variety of favorite stories and adaptations. I hope Eddie knows what he may have gotten himself into!
Stephen King is in a rare category where there have been enough film adaptations of his writing that any number of lists can exist, and guess what, here’s another one of them. Starting with the closest to par, below are (in my ultimate and perfect opinions) the adaptations of Stephen King’s literature that were better than the original story.
Cell – Novel 2006 – Film (director Tod Williams) 2016 release (2014)
Cell is the worst Stephen King book I’ve read (note, I’ve not read five or six of his titles, so maybe something’s worse). It’s all over the place, poorly edited, and slapdash in follow through. Not that there aren’t good points, because there are, but upping on the book is a pretty low bar.
Playing against itself, this adaptation was long without a distributor and found itself dated by years upon release. Much like the source material, this bad boy jumps around, relying on pacing because if nothing else, it’s quick. What really put Cell, the film, above the book was the finale, it’s rewarding and offers that lovely horror grin (changed by King due to customer complaints).
Plus, John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson never seem to fail, so there’s that too.
1922 – Novella 2010: Full Dark, No Stars – Film (director Zak Hilditch) 2017
1922 is recent film and a relatively recent story. It’s one of four novellas in the collection Full Dark, No Stars. It’s been a few years since I read the collection, however, unlike the film, 1922 was not at all the standout, nor was Fair Extension to get right down to it. Big Driver and A Good Marriage were both deep sinking tales that awed and stuck with me. 1922, while not bad, was a somewhat stale tale relying on nostalgic notes, referencing Hemingford Home to tug the good ole’ strings of the Constant Reader. It’s a melancholy story that drags the reader along, never giving the hint of hope and thusly never giving much to hope for.
The adaptation did much of the same, but in a way that was loud when necessary and creeping under the skin at other times. The acting is fantastic and visuals alongside the almost Kubrick-esque score put it into one of the finest King adaptations ever.
The Dark Half – Novel 1989 – Film (director George A. Romero) 1993
The Dark Half is a well-intentioned book that worked for me about half the time. There were bits that blew me away, but the characters were tough to connect with, if it wasn’t for George Stark and his loud pulp appeal, this thing might’ve floundered into something fully disappointing. The adaptation was screaming, faster, darker, and the visuals worked in a way that my imagination did not. The Dark Half is an ok book and a damn good film.
The Mist – Novella 1980: Dark Forces, 1985: Skeleton Crew – Film (director Frank Darabont) 2007
The Mist is a novella that dwells, most availably, within short stories in Skeleton Crew, Stephen King’s second collection. The most recent adaptation was absolute garbage, worthy of cancellation, the characters were absurd and gaudily written, the acting was befitting of the writing.
Now, the film The Mist from 2007 is everything the original story was and more, particularly in the finale. The film version saw a horror twist that the master of terror did not and for that, it’s over the edge.
1408 – Short Story 1999: Blood and Smoke (audio), 2002: Everything’s Eventual – Film (director Mikael Håfström) 2007
The adaptation of 1408 has an advantage over the others in that the original story was a sparse short story with huge space to roam in afterthought. The film explored everywhere it needed to be in order to be one of my favorite horror movies. The acting is perfect, there’s scope to connect and understand, letting empathy become toeholds for the terrors in room 1408 in the Hotel Dolphin.
Making a great film from a good short story is something worth noting and better the work of Stephen King is something special.
This list is right and perfect in every way, which is why you’ve nodded your head repeatedly since reading the first paragraph. I’m glad we all see this exactly the same way, so there’s no need to send me hate messages or question my views.
Hooray for Stephen King (also John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson, and Thomas Jane)!
Eddie Generous is the creator, editor, designer, and publisher of Unnerving and Unnerving Magazine. Besides other books he published this year, he also is the editor and publisher of the anthology Hardened Hearts. In early 2018, Hellbound Books is publishing a collection of his novelettes titled Dead is Dead, but Not Always, and also he is teaming up with Mark Allan Gunnells and Renee Miller to release Splish, Slash, Takin’ a Bloodbath, a collection of short stories.
About the Hardened Hearts Anthology
17 stories of difficult love, broken hearts, lost hope, and discarded truths. Love brings pain, vulnerability, and demands of revenge. Hardened Hearts spills the sum of darkness and light concerning the measures of love; including works from Meg Elison, author of The Book of the Unnamed Midwife (Winner of the Philip K. Dick Award), Tom Deady, author of Haven (Winner of the Bram Stoker award for Superior Achievement in a First Novel), Gwendolyn Kiste, author of And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe and Pretty Marys All in a Row, and many more.
Hardened Hearts dips from speculative, horror, science fiction, fantasy, into literary and then out of the classifiable and into the waters of unpinned genres, but pure entertainment nonetheless.
The Author Line-up
Foreword by James Newman
“It Breaks My Heart to Watch You Rot” by Somer Canon
“What is Love?” by Calvin Demmer
“Heirloom” by Theresa Braun
“The Recluse” by John Boden
“40 Ways to Leave Your Monster Lover” by Gwendolyn Kiste
“Dog Tired” by Eddie Generous
“The Pink Balloon” by Tom Deady
“It’s My Party and I’ll Cry if I Want To” by J.L.Knight
“Burning Samantha” by Scott Hallam
“Consumed” by Madhvi Ramani
“Class of 2000” by Robert Dean
“Learning to Love” by Jennifer Williams
“Brothers” by Leo X.Robertson
“Porcelain Skin” by Laura Blackwell
“The Heart of the Orchard” by Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi
“Meeting the Parents” by Sarah L. Johnson
“Matchmaker” by Meg Elison
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