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.”

51ExyEhNNPL“I want you to kill my step­dad” begins Ham­mers on Bone, Cas­san­dra Khaw’s mas­ter­ful com­bi­na­tion of gritty noir detec­tive story and Love­craft­ian cos­mic hor­ror. The star­tling request comes from a young boy named Abel, who slams his piggy bank down on the desk of Detec­tive John Per­sons to prove he can pay for the hit.

Turns out Abel’s prob­lem is an abu­sive step­fa­ther, and Per­sons is the only one he feels he can turn to. Per­sons help­fully sug­gests Abel might “tell his mum to call child ser­vices,” but the kid, older than his years, is fully aware his step­dad, McK­in­sey, is much worse than just your aver­age social deviant. He is, in fact, a bonafide mon­ster. Abel also knows why Per­sons is the only one with a shot at tak­ing him down.

Added to this mix is a younger brother who’s at even higher risk from McKinsey’s abom­inable intent and Sasha, a pretty wait­ress who’s been tainted by the vile McK­in­sey herself.

science fiction, post apocalypticThe night before my mother walked into the New Sea car­ry­ing my six-​week-​old brother, I heard her and Papi argu­ing. Even with the wind scream­ing past our tiny squatter’s house on the ciff, the rage in her voice slashed through the thin wall.”

So begins my story “Sweet­lings”, a sci­ence fiction/​horror nov­el­ette about a young woman named Mir, her father, and Mir’s friend Jer­sey, all strug­glng to sur­vive in a world reshaped by cat­a­strophic floods. Mir wasn’t yet born when the Great Inun­da­tion took place, but Papi lived through the floods that wiped out much of the east coast of the United States. Now he stud­ies the new forms of crus­taceans emerg­ing out of this New Sea and con­cludes the Great Inun­da­tion was just the begin­ning – there is much worse to come.

Like most of the peo­ple in their small set­tle­ment, Jer­sey wants to take his chances going inland. He tries to con­vince Mir to go with him, but she won’t aban­don her father, who suf­fers from Blis­ter Rot and is con­fined to a wheel­chair. Papi also has strange lapses in mem­ory; at times he looks at Mir as though she’s “noth­ing he’s ever seen before, but some­thing fab­u­lous and faintly unclean, a bizarre species of spi­der fish or toad that just wrig­gled its way into creation.”

Find out what fate awaits Mir, Papi, and Jer­sey – and what ter­ri­ble sur­prises this New Sea may have in store!

Visit www​.Tor​.com and click on fic­tion. “Sweet­lings” is free to read!

fa2025bbff3a5bad0eb60e40c4e2adf2 w2041xAgents of Dream­land by Caitlin R. Kier­nan is that rare work of fic­tion so grip­ping, com­plex, and dis­turb­ing that it begs to be read a sec­ond time, both to savor the exquis­ite writ­ing and to look for sub­tleties, clues, and ref­er­ences that may have been over­looked the first time.

When the novella begins, the agent known only as the Sig­nal­man, a cyn­i­cal hard-​drinking oper­a­tive on the trail of a cult leader, is arriv­ing in Winslow, Ari­zona. There he meets with the enig­matic Imma­co­lata Sex­ton, a woman whose cryp­tic, hard-​as-​nails exte­rior is later belied by small future acts of com­pas­sion toward the suf­fer­ing denizens of a doomed Los Ange­les. Sex­ton is a time trav­eler; we fol­low her from Ver­mont in 1927, where she exam­ines evi­dence of an alien space­craft, to the Amer­i­can south­west and a des­per­ate, present-​day race to stop a hor­rific plague, then to a future Los Ange­les where alien ships rule the sky and the few human inhab­i­tants eke out a pitiable existence.

All Kiernan’s char­ac­ters are mem­o­rable; for me, the most vivid was a con­fused, lost young woman named Chloe, who’s been goomed by cult leader Drew Stan­dish to become a key mem­ber of the Chil­dren of the Next Level. Chloe’s lurid, drug-​addled past makes her a per­fect, if tragic, foil for indoc­tri­na­tion by mad­man Standish.

To be fair, Agents of Dream­land is not for every­one (but what great fic­tion is?). Some may find it too per­va­sively dark or too graphic in its depic­tion of body hor­ror. Some may wish for a more tra­di­tional, less unset­tling end­ing, espe­cially at a time in his­tory when the idea of eco­log­i­cal dis­as­ter, alien or oth­er­wise, seems all too likely.

As Kier­nan writes, “The haunted human psy­che craves resolution…humans, inher­ent prob­lem solvers that we are, chafe at prob­lems that can­not be solved, ques­tions that can­not ever, once and for all, sais­fac­to­rily be put to rest.”

With no glim­mer of hope at the end­ing and no promise of a res­o­lu­tion to come, Agents of Dream­land defies con­ven­tional expec­ta­tions and raises the spec­tor of a future we may not want to imagine.

In short, this is great writ­ing that is likely to stick with the reader for a very long time. Def­i­nitely not to be missed.

short story appWhy isn’t the short story more pop­u­lar?” That’s the ques­tion that Kelly Abbott, CEO of Great Jones Street, asked him­self a few years ago.

Kelly had grown up watch­ing his father labor over short fic­tion, so he knew the dif­fi­cul­ties writ­ers face. He wanted to find a way to offer high qual­ity short fic­tion to a wide audi­ence and came up with a the­ory – that mobile phones, our culture’s gen­er­ally short atten­tion span, and the desire for high qual­ity enter­tain­ment could lead to a resur­gence for the much neglected short story.

With the goal of bring­ing short fic­tion back to pop­u­lar cul­ture, Abbott and his part­ner Ken Trues­dale, came up with the idea for Great Jones Street, an app where read­ers can access vir­tu­ally any type of short fic­tion. They reached out to writ­ers who, in turn, rec­om­mended other writ­ers. In its first year, Great Jones Street acquired over a thou­sand short sto­ries, a num­ber Abbott says they’re on track to pub­lish every year.

To flesh out the cat­a­logue, Abbott and Trues­dale also con­tacted edi­tors like John Joseph Adams (for s/​f, fan­tasy), Suzie bright (erot­ica), and Nick Mamatas (mystery/​crime).

The GJS app not only gives a syn­op­sis of each story, but the approx­i­mate time it will take to read it. Wait­ing in a doctor’s office? In line at the DMV? Just found out your flight’s been delayed? With GJS you can find every­thing from longer works to exquis­ite lit­tle gems of five min­utes or less to fill the time.

As a writer, GJS is absolutely my favorite app, because it allows me to explore gen­res I gen­er­ally don’t read. It expands my read­ing uni­verse and gives me dozens of new, favorite writ­ers whose work I now look for.

For now, GJS is free (up until the first ten thou­sand read­ers), but it won’t stay that way. For lovers of short fic­tion, it’s the best deal in town.


And P.S. If you’re a hor­ror reader on GJS, look for my sto­ries: Nik­ishi, Blessed Be the Bound, Wing­less Beasts, Choke Hold, and Lust in the Days of Demons