Tuesday, October 31, 2017

31 Days of Halloween - Day 31

The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury

Alfred A. Knopf. 1972

I've written before about how Halloween just isn't Halloween without Ray Bradbury rearing his head somewhere. This year he came in the form of a revisit of his classic YA novel. On Halloween night a group of costumed boys finds themselves being towed along by the sinister Clavicle Moundshroud as he takes them through time on a tour of human's history with death and mourning. All the time they are chasing their imperiled friend culminating in a Faustian deal to save him.

Slight as a story, The Halloween Tree, is one of Bradbury's tributes to eleven year old boys, written as only he can write it. This edition comes with suitably seasonable illustrations by Gris Grimly. If you've never read it before, you really must.

Monday, October 30, 2017

31 Days of Halloween - Day 30

The Complete Tales of Jules De Grandin - Volume One: The Horror on the Links by Seabury Quinn

Night Shade Books. 2017.

Seabury Quinn wrote 92 short stories and one novel starring his paranormal adventurer, Jules De Grandin, and his "Watson," Dr. Samuel Trowbridge. Originally published in Weird Tales, these adventures of the "occult Hercule Poirot" were more popular than the stories by, now, better known authors such as Robert. E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft which were being published alongside them.

The stories range from mysteries involving giant snakes, possessed apes, ghosts, werewolves, vampires, ancient goddesses, deities, and spirits, and pretty much anything else you can think of. Despite the variety of subjects, the stories tend to follow a regularly repeated formula, which probably helped maintain their popularity when the tales were spaced out at least a month apart. It was a great way for regular readers to refamiliarize themselves with these characters and their exploits, and for new readers to be swept up in them for the first time. What this means for the modern reader though is that reading them back to back is not recommended. You really need to pace these out unless your plan is to tire of them quickly.

I've been a fan of Jules De Grandin since first encountering his exploits in a group of six slim paperbacks published by the Popular Library in the late 1970s. But these represented only a small handful of the total adventures. An expensive limited hardcover collection of all the stories was briefly available at the turn of the 21st century, which, at the time, was out of my budget. Thankfully. Night Shade books is gathering all of the stories in chronological order in five beautiful hardcover volumes, the second of which should be out by the time you read this.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

31 Days of Halloween - Day 29

Never Bet the Devil by Orrin Grey

Orrin Grey is one of our fellow crypt keepers at the Countdown to Halloween . Never Bet the Devil is the first of two short story collections that he's published thus far (Painted Monsters, being the second). It has recently been republished in a gorgeous limited edition hardcover, with an additional story not included in it's initial publication.

The stories are all outstanding. Grey is much more interested in conveying the strange and peculiar tropes of horror than the "horror," and I have no problem with that. It's as if someone handed Grey a big trunk full of essential elements of the genre in toy form and he's having a blast playing with them. I find his enthusiasm contagious, and watching what he's done with these toys was almost as much fun as playing with them myself.

The stories vary in length, but include disturbing artifacts, giant slumbering old gods, strange experiments, unsettling artworks, monsters of all kinds, creepy old houses with mysterious basements, and the devil incarnate. Never Bet the Devil makes for perfect Halloween reading.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

31 Days of Halloween - Day 28

Night in the Lonesome October by Richard Laymon

47North. 2001.

One of the notions about the horror genre is that it's filled with stories that require people to made bad decisions in order to succeed. Don't go in the basement. Don't split up. Call the police. Advice that goes unheeded and leads to tragedy.

Ed Logan, is a college student recently dumped by his girlfriend. In his grieving for his dead relationship he makes a lot of bad decisions, but since this is a first person narrative, we are privy to the thought processes that lead him there. Ed being 20 years old, there is an inner logic to many of his decisions that, while still bad ones, almost make sense in hindsight looking back to being a former 20 year old whose love life had its bad bumps. At any rate, his choices keeping steering him from the safety and potential of a new relationship with a more than suitable young woman and into late night walks that bring him into the bizarre nocturnal world of the town he lives in, with a creepy old woman in spandex on a bicycle, homeless people with unusual eating habits, a extremely threatening sexual predator, a house stuffed with disturbing memorabilia, and the other girl, a reckless free spirit who has a hobby of home invasion.

The characters are all delightfully rendered and the book is a real page turner. There are some real dark moments within its pages, but Night in the Lonesome October is more amusing than frightening. I loved every page of it


Friday, October 27, 2017

31 Days of Halloween - Day 27

Kros: Hallowed Ground by John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake

Third Eye Skull. 2017.

Comic book legends, Ostrander and Mandrake have had this project on the back burner for thirty-years. Now, thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, the graphic novel is a reality. Kros: Hallowed Ground is set against the backdrop of the Battle of Gettysburg, a series of bloody battles in bloody war that have attracted vampires to feed on the blood of the fallen soldiers in this conflict. It's also attracted Elijah Kros, a man fighting his own war, not against the North, or the South, but against the vampire hordes. Kris is a Dampyr, a living man with many of the attributes of a vampire, and enough of the temptations that in his weakest moments could lure him across the dividing line from his righteous path to becoming the very thing he hunts.

Ostrander and Mandrake are master storytellers with decades of experience accumulated between them so it's no surprise that Kros: Hallowed Ground is a well told tale. Stranger's writing is tight, fast paced and succeeds in conveying a lot of information and character compactly. Mandrake's art is simply gorgeous and some of his very best, filled with atmosphere and detail. Best of all, the two of them have crafted a tale both satisfying, yet leaving the viewer wanting more. With the implied backstory and supporting cast, there's plenty for them to mine for further tales. I, for one, would welcome them.

Since this was a Kickstarter funded project, the availability of the book remains elusive to non backers. I know there were extra copies printed. Your best bet is to visit either the official website or read the information on this indiegogo page for information on how to obtain a copy.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

31 Days of Halloween - Day 26

Ghostland by Colin Dickey

Viking. 2016.

Colin Dickey doesn't care whether ghosts are real or not. That's beside the point. What is interested in is what stories of alleged hauntings say about us, about our connection to place and history. When facts are easy to uncover, why do the stories of hauntings continue to perpetuate false information about the alleged spirits, or the places they are said to occupy? Why are the ghosts of Hollywood only famous people, or the ghosts of areas once the home of atrocious slave markets only haunted by white people?

This book is extremely fascinating, and Dickey has a relaxed, yet authoritative writing style that delivers the goods whether covering the Winchester mystery house, the Danvers State Hospital, the ruins of Detroit, or the internet. This is easily one of my favorite books this year and a valuable addition to my own library on the supernatural.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

31 Days of Halloween - Day 25

A Scent of New-mown Hay by John Blackburn

Vallancourt Books. 1958

In the realm of fungal horrors, "The Voice in the Night" by William Hope Hodgson is, understandably, the first thing that comes to mind. along with the excellent movie based on it, Matango (1963).

In 1958, John Blackburn made his literary debut as novelist with a genre crossing foray into the fungal horror sub-genre. A Scent of New-mown Hay us a rapid based espionage thriller featuring a scientist and his wife as they race against the clock to stop a potential epidemic of global devastating potential born out of a Nazi hybridization program. The program aimed to create a lethal form of mushroom that would use its spores to infect and transform human beings into mobile fungal abominations.

The novel is brisk and concerns itself more with the solving and prevention of the epidemic than it does with the shambling horrors that the spores create, but is exciting nonetheless. I'm amazed this has not been adapted for the big screen, yet.