33784310Usu­ally I write about hor­ror fic­tion. This time I’m writ­ing about real-​world hor­ror and how author and self-​termed “vio­lence expert” Tim Larkin would have us pre­pare for it.

Vio­lence is rarely the answer, but when it is, it’s the only answer.”

Thus begins this fas­ci­nat­ing self-​defense book, in which Larkin dis­cusses two types of vio­lence: social aggres­sion and aso­cial vio­lence. Both are best avoided, but are far dif­fer­ent in terms of lethal intent. Social aggres­sion, as Larkin defines it, involves showy, chest-​beating behav­ior (usu­ally between males) and is basi­cally a jock­ey­ing for posi­tion in the social hier­ar­chy. Larkin stresses there’s only one intel­li­gent way to deal with it. You back down, apol­o­gize for what­ever the guy thinks you did, and buy him a drink. Bet­ter than a law­suit for invol­un­tary manslaugh­ter or a lengthy hos­pi­tal stay for your­self. In short, when it comes to these dis­plays of male domi­nence, fight­ing is rarely worth it.

With aso­cial vio­lence, on the other hand, there’s no talk­ing your way out of it. It comes at you from behind at an ATM or in a dark park­ing garage, with a big­ger, stronger, faster assailant who has no qualms about maim­ing or killing you. In fact, maim­ing and killing may be the goal.

For this kind of kill-​or-​be-​killed sit­u­a­tion, Larkin presents a wealth of anec­dotes: the kind where the good gal or guy tri­umphs in a ter­ri­fy­ing sit­u­a­tion and the kind where, trag­i­cally, the oppo­site occurs and the wrong per­son ends up in a pud­dle of blood.

So how does the aver­age Jane or Joe dis­able a much stronger attacker?

Larkin goes into great detail, with dia­grams for good mea­sure, about how all human bod­ies, nomat­ter how formidable-​looking, are vul­ner­a­ble to cer­tain dev­as­tat­ing injuries if the other per­son knows how to inflict those injuries and is able and will­ing to do so (a crushed tra­chea and gouged-​out eye­ball being two examples.)

In his classes, Larkin reports that sev­enty per­cent of the peo­ple who sign up only do so AFTER sur­viv­ing a vio­lent attack. The proac­tive stu­dent just want­ing to be pre­pared is rare in his expe­ri­ence, and Larkin wants to change that. Aside from detailed expla­na­tions of how to crush, snap, and gen­er­ally destroy var­i­ous parts of an attacker’s body, he also offers some obvi­ous but impor­tant tips: ditch the ear­buds and put down the phone in pub­lic, lis­ten to your intu­ition, and avoid the ATM after dark. Like jun­gle ani­mals, we need our senses on high alert; the dis­tracted are easy targets.

At the same time, Larkin him­self comes across as a fun­da­men­tally non-​violent sort who reminds the reader over and over that vio­lence is the last resort, no mat­ter how highly trained you may be.

9781942645825Take four of the world’s top hor­ror writ­ers, add an ambi­tious media mogul and his tech-​savvy girl­friend, mix in a creepy old house where two sav­age mur­ders took place and a dash of spook­ery in the form of two deceased sis­ters, and you’ve got the ingre­di­ents for KILL CREEK, Scott Thomas’s ter­rific debut novel.

Thomas’s premise is both straight­for­ward and intrigu­ing: media tycoon Wain­wright invites extreme hor­ror writer T.C. Moore, Chris­t­ian YA nov­el­ist Daniel Slaugh­ter, leg­endary hor­ror writer Sebas­t­ian Cole, and famous but fal­ter­ing gothic hor­ror writer Sam McGarver to spend Hal­loween night in the noto­ri­ous Finch House. No one is any too keen about the idea, but each can use the pub­lic­ity, not to men­tion the cash.

The fate­ful night in the haunted Finch man­sion proves dis­turb­ing enough, with a few gen­uinely scary moments as well as a mean-​spirited on-​air inter­view by their host, but the next day all four writ­ers leave the house, shaken but appar­ently unscathed.

The Finch House has let them off easy. Or so it would appear.

The real hor­ror begins later, first fore­shad­owed by a tragedy that strikes Daniel Slaugh­ter on the day they depart the house. After that, all four expe­ri­ence a period of writ­ing so obsess­sive there’s barely time to eat or sleep as each cre­ates their own ver­sion of a novel based upon the Finch House. Soon it becomes appar­ent the Finch House was only toy­ing with them that first night, let­ting them leave in order to lure them all back for a final, deadly bat­tle with the supernatural.

Thomas’s writ­ing is vivid, even at times lyri­cal, despite a plot that doesn’t shy away from vio­lence and gore. His char­ac­ters reflect the real­ity behind their work and the urgent cre­ativ­ity that’s some­times rooted in trauma, loss, and phys­i­cal abuse. To a per­son, they cover their scars care­fully, and the Finch House is all too ready to expose each painful truth.

KILL CREEK is Thomas’s debut novel and a final­ist for Best First Novel for the 2017 Bram Stoker Awards. It’s a bril­liant begin­ning that left me already look­ing for­ward to his next book.

9780143132172 Leila Slimani’s Prix Goncourt-​winning novel delves into the tor­mented mind of Louise, the ulti­mate nanny, who dou­bles as house­keeper, gourmet chef, and orga­nizer of chil­drens’ par­ties and out­ings, with­out extra pay. She’s also a work­ing parent’s worse night­mare: a woman whose doll-​like, Mary Pop­pins exte­rior con­ceals a dam­aged psy­che rife with resent­ment, obses­sion, and rage.

THE PER­FECT NANNY chron­i­cles the rela­tion­ship between Paul and Myr­iam, two ambi­tious pro­fes­sion­als in Paris’s tony 10th arrondisse­ment, and Louise, the nanny too good to be true who does the unthinkable.

She’s our employee, not our friend,” Paul reminds his wife, but because Louise has become so invalu­able, it’s a point they both keep con­ve­niently overlooking.

There’s no mys­tery here as far as the crime. On the first page, we’re told, “The baby is dead.” The ques­tion, of course, is not who mur­dered baby Adam and his older sis­ter Mila, but what demons drove Louise to kill them. To that end, Sli­mani takes us into her stark and lonely world, the sparse apart­ment where she spends as lit­tle time as pos­si­ble, the abu­sive hus­band who left her with crush­ing debts, the land­lord who hounds her for money.

Her days spent in her employ­ers’ chic apart­ment mean free­dom to Louise, and she makes the most of them. With the older child at school and the par­ents work­ing, she lux­u­ri­ates in a long, hot shower, then glides nude around the apart­ment, her skin pearles­cent with Miryam’s expen­sive creams.

Only occa­sion­ally does the unseemly sur­face, as when Paul comes home to find Louise has tarted up his daugh­ter in full glam­our make-​up. Dis­gusted, he pulls away from Louise after that, but by then the unequal rela­tion­ship has pro­gressed too far, mak­ing Louise almost impos­si­ble to dis­lodge. While Louise obsesses over whether Myr­iam is preg­nant again, the par­ents pon­der ways to grace­fully let her go. It’s that ter­ri­ble dis­par­ity – the nanny’s fan­tasies of being part of a fam­ily when she is, in fact, hired help – that brings the novel back full cir­cle to its dev­as­tat­ing open­ing lines.

Although the end­ing dis­ap­points, leav­ing the reader to the obser­va­tions of the police detec­tive going over the scene, as a whole I found the novel engross­ing on many lev­els – as a crime thriller and as a social com­men­tary on class dis­tinc­tion, eco­nomic dis­par­ity, and motherhood.

beauty2 11 orig The paper­back edi­tion of THE BEAUTY OF DEATHDEATH BY WATER, edited by Alessan­dro Man­zanetti and Jodi Renee Lester for Inde­pen­dent Legions Press, is now avail­able through Amazon.

This gar­gan­tuan anthol­ogy includes thirty-​nine sto­ries by “some of the great­est writ­ers of hor­ror and dark fic­tion,” in which water plays the role of both accom­plice and exe­cu­tioner. With acci­den­tal drown­ings, irre­sis­tile calls of sirens from the deep, strange whis­per­ing from house­hold plumb­ing, faces of the dead in droplets of water, rabid fish, leviathan mon­sters, and more, these sto­ries will make you think twice about tak­ing that long-​awaited cruise, going for a mid­night swim, or tak­ing your next shower.

Take a look at the Table of Contents:

HIP­POCAM­PUS by Adam Nevill

YOU WILL COME TO NO HARM IN WATER by Lucy Taylor

ANTUM­BRA by Lucy Snyder

TO TAKE THE WATER DOWN AND GO TO SLEEP by Frazer Lee

THE DROWN­ING OF COLIN HEN­DER­SON by Stephen Gregory

THE OLD WOMAN AND THE SEA by Marge Simon

THE EVER­LAST­ING by Anthony Watson

THE BAL­LAD OF BAL­LARD AND SAN­DRINE by Peter Straub

THE DEEP­EST PART OF THE OCEAN by Joanna Parypinski

WALK­ING ON WATER by Dona Fox

A SONG ONLY PAR­TIALLY HEARD by John Langan

THE WASH by Lisa Morton

WET SEA­SON by Den­nis Etchison

THE TARN by Simon Bestwick

WINGS MADE FROM WATER by John Palisano

RAISED BY THE MOON by Ram­sey Campbell

EVEN THE STARS FALL by Nicola Lombardi

COME UP by Brian Evenson

UNDER­WA­TER FER­RIS WHEEL by Michael Bailey

RIVER WATCH by Bruce Boston

PERISCOPE OF THE DEAD by Paolo Di Orazio

GILLS by David J. Schow

ORI by Adam Millard

BY THE SEA by Alessan­dro Manzetti

DROWN­ING by Gre­gory L. Norris

SEA SLUG by Edward Lee

THE HIKER by Jeremy Megargee

EVERY BEAST OF THE EARTH by Time Waggoner

SCAPE-​GOAT by Clive Barker

THE FOURTH BELL by Daniel Braum

SIREN by Jonah Buck

THE DOU­BLE LENS by Lisa Mannetti

JUST WATCH ME NOW by Jodi Renee Lester

BORN OF DARK WATERS by Michael H. Hanson

THE GORGE OF CHIL­DREN by Daniele Bonfanti

FRESH CATCH by Michael Arnzen

A JOUR­NEY OF GREAT WAVES by Eric J. Guignard

IN THE DREAM­TIME OF LADY RES­UR­REC­TION by Caitlin R. Kiernan

A sim­ple ques­tion that sets in motion a hell­ish evil and a code word an unhappy wife hoped never to see pre­cip­i­tate the action in this impossible-​to-​put-​down mix of occult hor­ror and espi­onage thriller.

51g06dPSSML. SY346 A clan­des­tine oper­a­tive named Lewis watches a ter­ri­fy­ing video where a cap­tive is forced to tor­ture him­self to death. The man in the video asks the fatal ques­tion “Who is Mr. White?” and Lewis, not under­stand­ing the dan­ger, later poses the same ques­tion to a fel­low agent. Not a good idea, for merely by ques­tion­ing Mr. White’s iden­tity the speak has sum­moned a malev­o­lent force into her or his life – which will prob­a­bly not last much longer at that point.

In one brief, sig­nif­i­cant exc­a­hange, a puzz­zled oper­a­tive is asked what tac­tic his mother used to frighten him as a boy — why, she invoked the bogey­man, of course, ready to pun­ish even a small trans­gres­sion in unspeak­able ways. Mr. White is the real life ver­sion of that mon­ster under the bed, except now he’s no fairy tale, but a malig­nant entity equipped with a dia­bol­i­cally sadis­tic bent along with a pen­chant for cre­ative impalements.

Suf­fice it to say, you do not want to snag Mr. White’s attention.

Fos­ter begins the novel with graphic hor­ror and only ratch­ets it up from there, using mul­ti­ple view­points and set­tings in Europe and the US, includ­ing a har­row­ing scene where Lewis rides the Berlin Night Express in a des­per­ate bid to reach his fam­ily. Two major plot­lines inter­twine – while Lewis is fight­ing his way across Europe, his wife Cat and daugh­ter Hedde face hor­rors of their own. In an attempt to escape Mr. White’s relent­less pur­suit, they seek refuge with their Uncle Ger­ard, a Christ­mas tree farmer in the mori­bund town of Flint­lock, New Hamp­shire, and a man who har­bors secrets of his own.

Out­stand­ing among a host of mem­o­rable char­ac­ters is teenaged Hedde, who learns about self-​sufficiency and sur­vival from her gritty uncle and secretly dab­bles in the occult behind the red door in the attic.

MR. WHITE is so good I found myself read­ing more slowly as I neared the end. Foster’s writ­ing is superb, and I wanted to savor every sen­tence. Truly a stand-​out novel not to be missed!

9781908643605 195x300THE DIS­AP­PEAR­ANCE OF ADELE BEDEAU, a dark and ele­gantly writ­ten lit­er­aray crime novel, is set in a small Alsa­t­ian town as drab as the book’s pro­tag­o­nist. Here Man­fred Bau­mann plods through his never-​varying daily rou­tine: lunch at the Restau­rant de la Cloche, bridge game with the boys on Thurs­days, a sur­rep­ti­tious visit to a brothel once a week, where he man­ages to accom­plish his mis­sion fully clothed while his ‘part­ner’ remains almost motionless.

Burnet’s atten­tion to detail and the pre­ci­sion with which he builds the char­ac­ter of Man­fred and his neme­sis, Detec­tive Gorski, make for a fas­ci­nat­ing and com­pelling read. Skill­fully, Bur­net pits them against each other, the unsta­ble loner Man­fred and the dogged Gorski, still tor­mented by the mur­der case he was unable to solve years ago.

The novel is also a cau­tion­ary tale about the per­ils of spend­ing too much time immersed in one’s own dark thoughts, and Baumann’s mind is clearly a dan­ger­ous place to dwell. Adrift in an ocean of beer, wine, and para­noia, he fan­cies the world is watch­ing. Should he devi­ate from even the small­est detail of his rou­tine – say, order­ing a dif­fer­ent dish on the day he habit­u­ally orders some­thing else – he frets that this will elicit gasps of amaze­ment from the restaurant’s other patrons and soon become town-​wide gos­sip. Com­i­cal at first, it becomes more sin­is­ter as we learn more about Baumann’s early life, his con­trol­ling and con­temp­tu­ous grand­fa­ther, and the dread­ful secret he car­ries with him.

Where the novel falls short is in the lack of atten­tion paid to its female char­ac­ters. Alhough Adele Bedeau’s dis­ap­pear­ance pro­vides the cat­a­lyst for all that fol­lows, in her brief appear­ance in the book, she’s a cipher, a sullen young woman who appar­ently dis­likes her job and has a secret boyfriend, but lit­tle else. Even Bau­mann, who obses­sively observes her, acknowl­edges he’s never given any thought to what her life is like or who she is. There’s also a brief and rather puz­zling love inter­est for Bau­mann that, given his per­son­al­ity, goes about where you’d expect it to, and a look at Gorski’s snob­bish and unpleas­ant wife who regrets her mar­riage to a lowly law enforce­ment officer.

Although once the mys­tery is solved, some read­ers may be tempted to skip the After­ward, don’t do this, for Bur­net isn’t done with us yet. He pro­vides an entire his­tory of the novel’s sup­posed author, one ‘Ray­mond Brunet” who had a life oddly sim­i­lar to Manfred’s.

Alto­gether a grip­ping lit­tle mys­tery, both styl­ish and macabre!

butsudanTrav­els to the lands of the liv­ing, the dead and the damned describes the sto­ries in Fatal Jour­neys. The But­su­dan, included in the new signed Lim­ited Edi­tion, is a story about sex, death and the ghosts of Japan­ese ances­tors. Here is The But­su­dan for your enjoyment:

Hiroshi-​san died at the start of the New Year. Now, nine months later, it is the begin­ning of Obon, the fes­ti­val of the dead in Japan, and he is due to come home for a visit.

As I trudge back from the mar­ket, I can sense the happy excite­ment and antic­i­pa­tion of the peo­ple around me, many of them already wear­ing yukatas, light­weight sum­mer kimonos, in prepa­ra­tion for the danc­ing that will start tonight, but all I feel is a pro­found, stomach-​turning dread.

33572350MY ABSOLUTE DAR­LING, Gabriel Tallent’s debut novel, is the grip­ping, often shock­ing tale of Tur­tle, a fourteen-​year-​old girl attempt­ing to sur­vive in two worlds: that of her school, where she strug­gles over vocab­u­lary words and treats female peers with a casual misog­yny and that of her home, where her father’s tute­lage in firearms, sur­vival­ist train­ing, and the kind of men­tal and phys­i­cal tough­ness that would do credit to a hard­ened com­mando, has come at a ter­ri­ble price.

Turtle’s love/​hate for her father Mar­tin has evolved in a cli­mate of phys­i­cal abuse, casual cama­raderie, and con­stant indoc­tri­na­tion in his toxic world view. Mar­tin is a fas­ci­nat­ing, yet ter­ri­fy­ing char­ac­ter, a man so dam­aged that he nick­names his daugh­ter ‘kib­ble’, like the food fed to dogs, and pre­pares for an end of the world that one senses he’s more than a lit­tle eager to see.

Tur­tle is not, how­ever, with­out allies. An alco­holic grand­fa­ther in the trailer nearby attempts to help her, a per­cep­tive teacher offers sanc­tu­ary, and a school­mate named Rilke, her­self the vic­tim of Turtle’s bul­ly­ing, makes over­tures of friend­ship. Each is foiled by Turtle’s fierce insis­tence that noth­ing is wrong at her home.

post apocalyptic horror I’m a late­comer to Malerman’s grip­ping novel, BIRD BOX, which was pub­lished in 2014, but per­haps some other fans of hor­ror and post-​apocalyptic fic­tion have missed out on it, too.

BIRD BOX, which gets its name from the caged birds whose coo­ing is sup­posed to warn of approach­ing intrud­ers, is a fast-​paced, intensely creepy tale that starts with an ambi­tious premise – the world is sud­denly pop­u­lated with crea­tures that, once looked upon, drive humans into a sui­ci­dal rage.

We meet Mal­o­rie, a young woman on a twenty mile boat trip upriver with her two chil­dren, the unnamed Boy and Girl. All are blind­folded. Mal­o­rie relies on the children’s preter­nat­u­rally keen sense of hear­ing to tell her when dan­ger is near. Maler­man does a fine job of ratch­et­ing up the sus­pense as the trio approach poten­tial threats. Is that rustling in the bushes a human being? Is that musky smell a prowl­ing wolf or dog? Mal­o­rie and the kids are never sure, but to give in to temp­ta­tion and remove the blind­folds could mean a swift and vio­lent death.

31377300 The scari­est thing about Underdown’s grip­ping novel isn’t that it’s based on the his­tor­i­cal record of one Mathew Hop­kins or that his cru­sade against witches is (in Underdown’s fic­tion­al­ized ver­sion of his early life) pos­si­bly moti­vated by trauma he suf­fered as an infant, but that the dis­em­pow­er­ment and silenc­ing of those con­sid­ered to be infe­rior beings feels so famil­iar today.

The year is 1644, in Essex, Eng­land, a time of polit­i­cal and reli­gious upheaval. Alice Hop­kins, the nar­ra­tor, is a widow who seeks shel­ter with her brother Mathew, a preacher’s son bent on rid­ding the coun­try­side of women sus­pected of witchcraft.

The world Alice was born into has trained her to be meek and sub­servient toward men. As Mathew’s unwill­ing assis­tent, she faces a daunt­ing task: bear wit­ness to the hor­rors of the inter­ro­ga­tions while still try­ing to help the women escape their fate. Her efforts do not go as hoped. When we meet her, Alice is locked in an attic, keep­ing a jour­nal which opens with, “Nine months ago my brother Mathew set him­self to killing women.”