Stop Politicising My Dumplings!

It’s Monday and catching up on the YouTube I follow after a few day’s absence was predictably depressing.  There was a ‘woke’ BBC sketch (this is the BBC that has admitted it would never commission something like Monty Python these days) that has been doing the rounds recently which was mildly amusing – at best – but (and although I don’t always agree with him) this Jonathan Pie tirade really gets the message across in a much more forceful way.

It’s a much-needed rant and I believe he speaks for many sane people on the subject, just with more expletives.  We only get one life, we should concentrate on saving the culture as well as the physical planet.  It would be great to hold all these virtue signallers to account and mock them mercilessly – as nobody has the right not to be offended – but if you notice, more and more websites are disabling or deleting comments that echo Mr Pie’s…funny that.

Crabs on the Rampage – Guy N. Smith

CrabsWi'MonkOnThey had come back

One man only saw them and him they killed, hunted him down through the dense reed bed, trapped him, drove him mad with terror before they pulled him to pieces and ate every bloodied shred of his body.

And then it was quiet again for a little while.

Until they came ashore again, in their hundreds, their bodies reeking with a malignant cancerous disease that was within them.  The disease that was driving them mad with pain, mad to kill, t wipe out every living thing in their path.

On that beach were hundreds of men, women and children. Food.

The awkwardness of the blurb both grammatically and in decency is just part of the charm of this series and I have missed getting my fix of those cunning crustaceans that are as big as sheep, cows or horses depending on which book you happen to be face deep in.

My hankering for the resilient sea life started whilst watching Independence Day: Resurgence, which was a terrible sequel.  Adding to that a conversation about a lot of film series having their fourth installments set in space like Critters, Hellraiser and Leprechaun (all of which I enjoyed coincidentally), it was in vain anticipation that I turned to Crabs on the Rampage which I hoped would be (however implausably) set in the infinite black depths.

Being a pulpy horror, it is perhaps not such an outlandish hope but sadly it came to be set in 1980’s Britain where it seems everybody is pretty mean-spirited or downtrodden or wanting sex for the most part.  To this setting, the crabs come to put people out of their misery with gory and somewhat repetitious disembowelling revenge, a lot is repeated from other books of the series but newcomers need not be put off as this installment works well by itself.

The over the top first chapter – which is pretty much the blurb – says it all really and this is the level of profundity you can expect from the rest of the book as well.  If you enjoy character development this is not the book for you, with the huge body count it puts Game of Thrones to shame for wiping people out, although these deaths are all predictable and set up to be so.  Not that returning characters get to develop either, plot is king in this book. Continue reading “Crabs on the Rampage – Guy N. Smith”

The Rats – James Herbert

397867It was only when the bones of the first devoured victims were discovered that the true nature and power of these swarming black creatures with their razor sharp teeth and the taste for human blood began to be realised by a panic-stricken city. For millions of years man and rats had been natural enemies. But now for the first time – suddenly, shockingly, horribly – the balance of power had shifted . . .

For some reason I’m oddly drawn to animal stories when it comes to the horror genre, I reviewed Guy N. Smith’s Crabs (as big as sheep) series elsewhere on the site and now its vicious rats (as big as dogs).

Whereas Smith’s books have a tongue in cheek feel about them, the same cannot be said for this gruesome which takes itself far too seriously and as such fails as, paradoxically for that reason it can’t be taken seriously at all,

The idea of big rats is horrible, malevolent predators fighting back is an instinctual evolutionary fear, bringers of the appallingly devastating Black Death in a different age and now themselves doing the killing. It does play on that fear fairly effectively up to a certain point but the book is not strong enough to sustain any real horror as the genre has moved on and become more sophisticated.

Being Herbert’s debut novel, it can perhaps be forgiven for lacking in quality and depth somewhat, my overall feeling is that it is a fair effort and one that fans of the genre may appreciate but for the casual reader there isn’t much else here to grab you  If you are looking for a quick gore fest and little depth then this one may be right up your rat infested alley though.

Liberally scattered through the book are plenty of examples of outdated sexism and casual racism, which can be overlooked because of the time it was written in but it does jar these days with its outdated views and poorly phrased language.  It doesn’t help that the characters are cardboard so one can’t even find out their world views  as most are frequently created simply in order to be killed off.  It does make the set pieces very predictable but if you have picked this book up, then it will probably be for the rodent based carnage so this really can’t be seen as a minus. Continue reading “The Rats – James Herbert”

Printer’s Devil Court – Susan Hill

510xUaXhN0L._SX309_BO1,204,203,200_On a dark November evening at the turn of the century, three medical students make an unholy pact.  For the young Hugh Meredith, it is the beginning of a nightmare that will pursue him to the grave – and perhaps beyond.

In the cellar of their narrow lodging house in Printer’s Devil court, and in a subterranean annex of the hospital, they begin to experiment with the boundaries that separate the living from the dead, witnessing events both extraordinary and terrifying.

Years later, when Hugh must return to Printer’s Devil Court and face his demons, strange events take clear that his youthful actions have had consequences worse than anything he could have imagined.

It’s the time of year when the nights start to close in and that makes it perfect for a traditional ghost story, especially a macabre tale in the Victorian style of M.R. James.

I have a slinky hardback copy of this book with the evocative and embossed dust jacket that feels pleasingly tactile. Once I removed the dust jacket, the black cover underneath was perfect for the story and was a nice mirror to the black and white illustrations inside which are a nice touch and evoke the types of storytelling that these days has fallen out of favour.

I’ve always found the immediacy of any story is linked with the touch (and smell) of a book – one of the many reasons why I avoid e-readers – is another reason why I found the story more effective, not in the form of scariness though.  This book isn’t scary but to feel disappointed by that omission is, I believe to miss the point.

The book harks back to the days of the classic ghost story and the tale has the feel of its older predecessors, its sparse and wonderfully Gothic and in that respect it doesn’t have an effect on the modern audience that is would have done back then.  Much in the same way that A Christmas Carol or Casting the Runes don’t inspire dread these days, the pseudo science of the book won’t take in the reader but does provide a pleasantly eerie idea from a less advanced time. Continue reading “Printer’s Devil Court – Susan Hill”

The Mill – Jess Harpley

T'MillDrowning her sorrows in drugs of all varieties never seemed to help Jen with the unending loneliness. Being a twin, she thought she’d always have someone there for her. Someone to look out for, and who would look out for her.

Hunted, alone in the dark she yearns for that companionship.

Welcome to The Mill, where all manner of creatures from the deepest reaches of hell seek to devour body and mind. Jen will have to cross space and time to return home, but will she come out unscathed? Will she ever see her brother again? Can she even survive the night?

It’s rare that, when an author contacts me about a potential review ,they also invite me to email any time I fancy a chat. Naturally the opportunity wasn’t allowed to pass by and that personal touch made me intrigued to read this, that and my favourite old local was called The Mill and so nostalgia played its part.

As short as this book is, covering only 160 pages, I was impressed with the amount of story packed into it.  The story was certainly not what I was expecting and I’m glad of that as I enjoyed the feeling of being caught off balance as the narrative quickly turns from family drama to a fight for survival.

The Mill, at heart is a bloody Sci-Fi horror (a bit like the pub!) with plenty of wit and one liners thrown in to keep the plot from descending into something much darker and serious.  There are plenty of ideas familiar to fans of both genres but those ideas are moulded into something different with enough mystery to keep me wondering about certain things even after the book was finished.  The length of course has me hard pressed to mention anything specific without giving out spoilers. Continue reading “The Mill – Jess Harpley”

Revival – Stephen King

Kingy ThingsIn a small New England town, in the early 60s, a shadow falls over a small boy playing with his toy soldiers. Jamie Morton looks up to see a striking man, the new minister, Charles Jacobs. Soon they forge a deep bond, based on their fascination with simple experiments in electricity.

Decades later, Jamie is living a nomadic lifestyle of bar-band rock and roll. Now an addict, he sees Jacobs again – a showman on stage, creating dazzling ‘portraits in lightning’ – and their meeting has profound consequences for both men. Their bond becomes a pact beyond even the Devil’s devising, and Jamie discovers that revival has many meanings.

Stephen King has a knack of managing to take things I have never heard of, little details of life from an America I am not familiar with and weave such into a story that has me appreciating and – bewilderingly – feeling nostalgic for them.

This book has the central motif of music in that respect,  the artists frequently referenced I know almost nothing about, although I have at least heard of some of them.  I can normally invest in these specifics regardless but this one had me feeling that I was missing out on something, as if prior knowledge to this soundtrack would have added much more to the story, which is a feeling I hate as I almost feel compelled to stop and consume each bit of music as it is mentioned.  That said King does make the reader want to take an interest because of his obvious passion for that era of music and that is no bad thing, to appreciate human artistry whatever form it takes.

The plot follows a friendship forged and lost, a chance meeting years later and a clashing of beliefs and electricity, it’s pretty existential in its own way and it will play on the fears of a lot of people when all is said in done.  This makes it more memorable than it would have been were the narrative not backed up with something as speculative and fascinating as it is, that said the imagery of the prose is some of the most memorable I have read in a good while and more than makes up for the flaws in the rest of the story.

Plenty of issues are woven into the story as you would expect, religion and science, loss, grief, damaged people and the need for answers to those questions out of our reach.  As for the horror, it’s more a feeling of dread that simmers just under the surface in the manner of a classic monster horror of years past and King does give some heavy nods to certain authors of more traditional horror origins.  I would advise skipping the dedication page listing authors  who have influenced him, which may give some themes away. Continue reading “Revival – Stephen King”

The Phantom of the Opera – Gaston Leroux

PhantomAs Monsieurs Richard and Moncharmin prepare to take over as acting managers of the Opera House, they discover their predecessors have bequeathed them the ‘Opera Ghost’. A separate memorandum book has been set aside for his various whims, including extravagant financial needs.  heedless of the numerous warnings to comply with these strange demands the managers shrug it off as a practical joke too far.  Then a sequence of eerie coincidences and tragic events follow, culminating in the disappearance of the beautiful prima donna Christine Daaé in mid performance.

Having seen various film adaptations, I wasn’t sure whether the book would be able to add something new to my experience of Phantom.  I am happy to report that the original source material is a great read, adding more back story and containing murder, madness, music, money, masques  – and other things beginning with ‘M’ as well as other letters – aplenty

The overwhelming best part of the book for me is the setting.  The innards of the opera house is a world in itself, with hellish fires and secret nooks hidden in the labyrinthine passages.  It is a wonderful setting for the tragedy, Dark, claustrophobic and dangerous in the cellars and dramatic, solitary and open to the heavens on the roof, this secret world has some wonderful visuals and really fires the imagination.

It is a well realised setting full of mystery (including one that is never cleared up), which always allows for new stories to be created by the imaginative reader. This wonderfully thrilling Opera House is populated by lots of secretive and half glimpsed peoples, where chance meetings can be a terror in themselves.

The tale itself is one of those that is ingrained into society’s imagination whether you have any experience of the book or not and so I need not dwell on the storyline too much, suffice to say that this doomed love triangle is only part of the whole.

The narrative is set in the style of a historian chronicling events past that are littered with accounts and letters from some of the main players, it is a style that suits the story, allowing the reader to enjoy the story of the blackmailed managers as well the internal politics of the opera singers jockeying for position, as well as the Phantom’s obsessions. Continue reading “The Phantom of the Opera – Gaston Leroux”

Crabs: The Human Sacrifice – Guy N. Smith

Crab HoThe Girls Listened Intently. The wetlands were silver and shadow in the moonlight. The salt marsh grasses rustled. Out on the mudflats, curlews called mournfully. The Girl Shivered. The incoming tide trickled and lapped up hidden creeks. Soon the wildfowl would be winging down, the waders feeding and squabbling at the water’s edge. The Girl Struggled. Despairingly, she pulled at the ropes that held her, naked and spreadeagled, a human sacrifice for the Crabs. Huge, eaten away by the mutating disease that doomed them, they were returning, dragging themselves out of the water, intent only on tearing apart and devouring their enemy: Man.

Once again it is time to indulge in one of my favourite guilty pleasures.  In amongst all the literary fare that I love, there is always room for giant angry crabs intent on destroying humanity.

The plot is a dual drama this time, not only are the crabs intent on doing harm and rending people limb from limb, this time there is a sinister cult at work leaving human sacrifices in praise of their crab Gods.

It is a flimsy plot but nonetheless fun if you don’t mind a little bit of gratuity in your story.  I have used the term ‘B-Lit’ for these stories before, they work in much the same way as a B-Movie does.  Featuring ridiculously over the top violence, excruciatingly bad sex scenes and cheesy dialogue that raises a smile from time to time.

This time though the extra threat of a sadistic crab worshipping cult as well as he titular terrors things are even more deadly although the body count feels more focused which is interesting.  The crabs are reduced to some extent as the main enemy but this isn’t a bad thing after the carnage of earlier books it would have been a little too similar, besides a group of people with warped ideals is a lot more chilling than rampaging crustaceans. Continue reading “Crabs: The Human Sacrifice – Guy N. Smith”

The Cage Legacy – Nicholas Conley

cage-legacy Who is Ethan Cage?

Is he just a troubled 17-year-old high school student? A quiet, intelligent kid with a bad home life? Or is he a shattered human being, a boy who lost his faith in the world when he discovered that his loving father was secretly a psychotic serial killer?

As Ethan’s world suddenly spirals out of control, he must confront the reality of his dark past and finally make the decision that will either define his life – or cut it short prematurely.

Starting any book is always a step into the unknown, this one does not disappoint with its unexpected start.  From the get go we are misdirected from the usual to the stark and grim imagery (grimagery) but is this a good thing?

That depends on each reader of course.  This book is targeted at the YA market but also smoothly crosses over into the adult readers world most satisfyingly.  Kids these days are subject to so much in the way of adult concepts that perhaps they wold lap up the macabre nature of this book even though there is a lot of real world grimness pervading the story.

For us older readers we have a book involving drug use, self harm and some strikingly grisly images of a serial killer ilk, which is maturely done, in that nothing is gratuitous and there for its own sake, it has a part in the narrative. Continue reading “The Cage Legacy – Nicholas Conley”