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‘Shells’ by Joshua Radburn – Review

*Disclaimer – I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

***

October 1971

Clive hopped out of the biting mid-night rain into a growling BMW. He was such a broad, thug of a man it almost toppled over when he slammed the door shut and shifted in his leather seat. He was not happy.

“I don’t know if I can do this, Mick,” he huffed, fiddling with the window winder.

Shut up,” Mick growled back, with a cockney twang so sharp it threatened to crack the windows. “One plug and it’s over.”

Mick was half Clive’s size but had dark eyes that were twice as menacing. He sat statuesque under a trilby hat with skinny arms folded. Gaze locked on the Eastern side of a large Victorian house. The storm leapt out of the surrounding woodlands and buffeted it with murky waves of air and water, and its white paint work absorbed the storm’s aggression. The resulting rot and black mould fortified its foundations.

Clive laughed. “Oh? One plug and it’s over? That’s all, is it? It’ll take more than that to butter Charlie fucking Blue, mate.”

Mick scowled at him and Clive turned up his trench coat collar. “Don’t look at me like that.”

“Then grow up. Or you too busy entertaining the painters?”

Clive could barely look at the house, sat centre stage in its decrepit forest clearing, overrun with weeds. The rain cut over the car’s headlights and cast it in a downy glow. After the week they’d had, Clive sympathised with it. The house mirrored his face, which was struggling to heal from a week’s worth of violence.

“Well, this ain’t a regular job, is it,” Clive said. “Otherwise we’d be in that house by now, either killing him or him killing us.”

Synopsis

Set in 1971 London, Shells follows the story of Joe, a grumbling cockney detective tasked with recapturing a prolific mass murderer who – quite incomprehensibly – has escaped from police custody. Haunted by the death of his partner a year prior and unwilling to let old vendettas die, Joe brings his past with him, muddying a case that veers into the ostensibly supernatural. At its core, Shells is also a love letter to three of Radburn’s favourite cinematic tropes: Film Noir, Shocking Cinema/Video Nasties, and the Nouvelle Vague.

Thoughts –

Shells is a gritty and dark crime novel that does not hold back on the gore or the ambiguity of it’s killer, the infamous Charlie Blue. Is he a demon possessed superhuman? Or has his blood soaked and mythical reputation simply created an image where incredible occurrences are easily believed when he is involved? As well as this masked psychopath, we have our down trodden hero, the drunk and bedraggled detective Joe, who’s nursing a shredded heart and still recovering from the death of his partner, the guilt of which is heavier than Charlie Blue’s claw hammer. But Shells is not all doom and gloom. To cut through the dark tension we also have some witty henchmen in the form of Mick and Clive who open the novel by wrestling over a packet of crisps while on a dangerous stakeout. And the religious fanatical warrior who also joins the search for Charlie Blue simply to prove his own might against him.

Shells, a multi layered novel where Radburn easily melds together the dark and seedy underbelly of corrupt city cops, drugs dealers, and gangsters, with the bone chilling threat of an evil serial killer, one who few have encountered and lived to tell the tale. A whopping 600 pages, but one that manages the pacing well and keeps the reader on their toes with just enough enigmatic characters and enticingly mysterious threads, to keep the pages turning.

As Radburn states in his introduction, Shells was inspired by his love for Film Noir, Video Nasties, and Nouvelle Vague, and began life as a set of screenplays. This comes across clearly in the visual descriptions and quick witted dialogue of the novel, not to mention the grey and rain soaked setting of a bleak 1970’s London. An intriguing novel that blends genres, and keeps you guessing, Shells is well worth the word count and one whose characters will stay with you long after the cover is closed.

About the Author –

Joshua Radburn is an independent author of Horror, Science Fiction, and Fantasy. He studied Computer Animation Arts at Bournemouth University and has had stints as a graphic designer, teacher, and personal trainer. He lives in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire with his wife and daughter.

With nowhere else to go, his wife and daughter graciously suffer the intrinsic quirks found in those who struggle with the monotony of day to day life, as Joshua pursues the intangible riches of creation…

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‘Dial M For Mutants!’ by Mat Thorne – Review

*Disclaimer – I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

***

Her office smelled like the bathroom of a seedy bar. The endless cycle of cigarettes. That urinal cake perfume. A headache was already forming somewhere deep in Buck’s skull and one whiff of her office was just enough to set it alight. He slumped into the old floral sofa across from her desk and sighed.

She watched him a long, silent moment, then returned to the open tabloid on her desk. She clicked her tongue and scratched notes all across the page. Buck sat too low in the sofa to see what she wrote. He didn’t need to. Her expression told him everything he needed to know.

“Have a smoke,” she said, nodding to the pack of Viceroys on the table.

Buck sat up and took one.

“Why the hell not,” he said. “Just why the hell not.”

He tapped the cigarette on the desk and hesitated. The chaos of the newsroom sounded through the open door. Phones ringing, voices arguing, the occasional burst of laughter.

“You want me to close that?” Buck said.

“Leave it open.”

Buck pressed the cold cigarette to his lips and held it there. “That’s what I thought,” he mumbled.

She sat the paper down and flattened out the creases with her knobby hands. Just skin and bones and a glitter of cocktail rings moving slowly, tenderly, over the edges. She made a real show of it. She even squared it to the edge of the table and patted it like a puppy.

“This is trash, hun,” she said.

Buck lit his cigarette and smiled. “You’re the publisher.”

She smiled back. Red lipstick smeared across her teeth.

“Not the paper,” she said. “The Midnight Extra is an award winning publication.” She thumbed toward the wall of gilded plaques behind her desk, then raised her voice to be heard well beyond the office. “Award winning!” she shouted. Then to Buck: “It’s your section dear. It’s trash.”

Synopsis –

Welcome to 1994. Bill Clinton is the president, Twitter doesn’t exist, and The Midnight Extra is staring at you from every checkout lane and ratty newsstand along the East Coast. Hollywood scandals, wild gossip, and the occasional UFO. You just can’t miss it. You might want to, but you can’t.

The Midnight Extra isn’t much of a tabloid, but that’s never really bothered Buck Vincent. He isn’t much of a reporter. And in a paper notorious for Elvis sightings and celebrity sex gossip, Buck’s Can You Believe It?! section feels right at home. For twenty-nine years, he’s dreamt up stories about Bigfoot, aliens, ghouls, and monsters of every stripe, usually after a whiskey. Or four.

Problem is, Buck didn’t dream up his latest story. He’s seen the blood. And he’s met the strange, smiling woman haunted by something beastly in the night. Hell, he’s seen the damn thing himself.

Good thing he’s teamed up with rookie photographer Betty Roy. She may be a loose cannon, but she’s got more spine than Buck ever had. Gumption too. And together they’ll chase a story that might just be chasing them back. Something with teeth. Let’s just hope the story is worth all the trouble. Things are getting a little spooky.

Thoughts –

Set in the 90’s around a magazine publication specializing in the paranormal, supernatural, and esoteric, Dial M for Mutants! is a novel that perfectly encapsulates the smoke and mirrors of such a workplace. The setting and atmosphere of the book is immersive, and is only made even more enticing by the visceral and frightening events and images in the book.

Our reporter Buck Vincent is used to creating a spin on things, and for the last three decades of his career he hasn’t been above just totally making things up. But when he and the new photographer for the magazine, Betty Roy, find themselves in the middle of a story that appears to have real blood, real mystery, and real danger, Buck finds his taste for a good story hasn’t left him just yet.

Dial M For Mutants! has a nostalgic feel to it without overwhelming the reader. Thorne’s writing is a gritty fast paced story that does not hold back on the old school monster visuals and the macabre mad scientist angle. With characters you want to root for, and a mystery that is too delicious not to keep you hooked to the last page, this is a book that you will likely finish in one sitting.

A breathtaking cover to match the horrifying story within.

About the Author –

Mat Thorne is a writer, designer, and photographer from West Virginia. He lives in Pittsburgh with his wife, daughter, and two strange cats. He enjoys monster movies, fantasy miniatures, baseball, and dumplings. “Dial M for Mutants!” is his first novel.

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‘The Haunted Halls’ by Glenn Rolfe – Review

***

Walking up the pool steps he sensed a presence. Something else was here, and he had the goosebumps to prove it; the room was freezing. Not normally a man so easily spooked, Edward grabbed a towel from the plastic chair he’d left it on, and made for the door.

Stepping into the long empty corridor he could see his own breath. The icy presence had followed him. Even the maroon carpet which ran all the way down to the inns lobby was cool beneath his bare feet. The immense chill permeated every available space around him, freezing every door handle in sight and sparking to light and intense fear in him. He broke into a run looking for the nearest restroom.

Edward reached for the silver lever, his mind two steps away from setting his axis permanently out of whack, and despite the icy cold beneath his palm, shoved the door open. He spun around to the other side, shutting out the cooling hallway of the Bruton Inn. Something followed me. Standing in the men’s room clad in nothing but men’s swim trunks and a tiny pool towel that wouldn’t fit a child, he waited.

He was shivering, his teeth chattering, heart pounding. He could feel the wooden door at his back growing colder by the second. The small pool of water puddled beneath his feet began to freeze before his eyes. He stepped out of the slick space his wet body had created and stood before the mirror face to face with himself, intent on talking some sense into the man looking back at him.

“This isn’t happening. This isn’t fucking happening. Get a hold of yourself you stupid asshole!” he sad through quivering blue lips. A series of cracking noises stole his attention. He gazed back at the door. The floor beneath it began freezing over, the ice reaching out into where he stood.

Synopsis –

The Bruton Inn, located outside of the small Maine city of Hollis Oaks, is home to something special. An icy presence has made its way from a dark past to the present day. Cold spots, shadows, and whispers permeate the halls, and guests are beginning to change.

For two front desk employees, Rhiannon and Jeff, the dark rumors are about to come to light. They call upon Lee Buhl, the urban shaman, and his connection with the spirit world to dig up the truth.

Will they be able to stand against this malevolent force? Or will they come face to face with something beyond even your most frightful dreams. Welcome to the Bruton Inn. The Ice Queen has arrived.

Thoughts –

The Haunted Halls by Glenn Rolfe is a paranormal story set in a terrifying hotel with a dark past. Strange and unexplained things have been happening for some time; dead bodies found floating in the pool, voices and shadows in the empty hallways, and cold spots that can make your bones ache. Rhiannon is a relatively fresh recruit at the Bruton Inn and isn’t yet sure if she believes rumours going around, but she’d about to find out they are more true than she could ever imagine, and her coworker Jeff can’t escape them either.

A smorgasbord of messed up characters, bad decisions, evil intentions, and violence, The Haunted Halls has as many layers as there are rooms at the inn. The only real set back of the novel is the large cast of characters. Between hotel employees, blow in guests, regulars, and those from the haunting past that created it, it was a slippery task trying to keep them all straight in my head. Fortunately, a lot of them do end up shuffling off this mortal coil by the end, so it gets easier as it goes along. But Rolfe still handled the challenge well and the core character have their own time in the spotlight to keep the story going.

A classic haunted hotel story, from a fresh perspective, The Haunted Halls boasts physical and emotional turmoil, somewhat immoral characters redeeming themselves, and definitely immoral characters getting what they deserve. And a few unfortunate people who get caught up in the chaos and mayhem in between.

An exciting read that will keep you on your toes to the very end, this novel is another great read from Glenn Rolfe.

About the Author –

Glenn Rolfe is an author, singer, songwriter from the haunted woods of New England. He studied Creative Writing at Southern New Hampshire University, and continues his education in the world of horror by devouring the novels of Stephen King, Jack Ketchum, Richard Laymon, and many others. He has three children, Ruby, Ramona, and Axl. He is grateful to be loved despite his weirdness.

He is the author of August’s Eyes, Until Summer Comes Around, The Window, Becoming, Blood and Rain, The Haunted Halls, Chasing Ghosts, Boom Town, Abram’s Bridge, Things We Fear, Land of Bones, and Slush.

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‘August’s Eyes’ by Glenn Rolfe – Review

*Disclaimer – I received free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

***

Spears Corner never knew it had an uninvited guest in its midst that August afternoon. One that would make the skin crawl on every parent in town if they understood what kind of monster was roaming their streets. In a green Dodge van, it searched for the next boy to quench a thirst and an urge that never failed, never eased, never disappeared. The downtown area, a two-block stretch along Water Street, was full of adults and children alike enjoying a beautiful sunny day. Squeals of laughter bellowed from little ones chasing each other up the brick sidewalks. The group of teens standing in Nirvana and Liz Phair t-shirts on the corner flung curses at the monster as he passed by: “Look, its Chester the Molester and his fuck van!” “Fuck off, creep!” “Suck it, asshole!” The van rolled along. Just down the street, an old Credence Clearwater Revival song was being murdered by a howling kid with a beat-up acoustic guitar on the steps of the Spears Corner Public Library. This one caused the monster to brake. Salivating, its sweaty hands clenching the steering wheel, a desperate heartbeat throbbing in its neck, it always liked the loners. They made the best company.

Police sirens blared to life behind the van. Startled, the monster let off the brake and pulled ahead. The two police cruisers, their lights flashing, sped by. The moment had passed. The van moved along, driving out of the crowded downtown area, and up the hill toward quieter parts of the town.

Synopsis –

When dreams start bleeding into reality, a social worker is forced to face the mistakes of his past.

A serial killer has found a way to make his land of graveyards a sinister playground to be bent at his sadistic will.

The secrets behind August’s eyes will bring two worlds together, and end in a cataclysm of pain and ruin.

Thoughts –

August’s Eyes is not a novel for the faint hearted. Dealing with some of the worst atrocities anyone could ever commit, on children no less, this is a story of pain, evil, and shame. Told mainly through the eyes of social worker John as he struggles with horrific nightmares of eyeless children in a graveyard that seem all too real, we see first hand what running away from the past can do to a person. As his nightmares begin to manifest in reality, and he sees a van around town that’s trying to claw painfully out of memories he doesn’t want to acknowledge, John relationship with his love Sarah begins to crumble and he feels his life falling apart.

Not only this, but Pat, a teenager who John has developed a close bond with through his social work is also seeing the same van, possibly reliving what John refuses to remember. A story that blends the supernatural with the horrific realities of a tortured psyche, August’s Eyes is everyone’s worst nightmare told with superb clarity and strengthened by flawed and real characters.

The dream manifestations of two young boys known as One Eye and August prove to be eerie, unsettling, and create some intensely memorable images that are sure to make your skin crawl. I doubt I will be forgetting August’s Eyes any time soon, and look forward to a second reading.

About the Author –

Glenn Rolfe is an author, singer, songwriter from the haunted woods of New England. He studied Creative Writing at Southern New Hampshire University, and continues his education in the world of horror by devouring the novels of Stephen King, Jack Ketchum, Richard Laymon, and many others. He has three children, Ruby, Ramona, and Axl. He is grateful to be loved despite his weirdness.

He is the author of August’s Eyes, Until Summer Comes Around, The Window, Becoming, Blood and Rain, The Haunted Halls, Chasing Ghosts, Boom Town, Abram’s Bridge, Things We Fear, Land of Bones, and Slush.

He is hard at work on many more. Stay tuned!

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‘For Rye’ by Gavin Gardiner – Review

*Disclaimer – I received free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

***

Everywhere, knives; everywhere eyes.

She plunged trembling fingers into her worn leather satchel. Damned thing must be in here somewhere, she thought in the moment before her bag fell to the concrete flooring of Stonemount Central. The ticket collector’s eyes converged with her own upon the sacred square slip, tangled amongst the only other occupant of the fallen satchel: a coil of hemp rope.

They stared at the noose.

The moment lingered like an uninvited ghost. The woman fumbled the rope back into the bag and sprang to her feet, before shoving the ticket into his hand, grabbing her small suitcase, and lurching into the knives, into the eyes.

The crowd knocked past. A flickering departure board passed overhead as she wrestled through the profusion of faces, every eye a poised blade. The stare of a school uniformed boy trailing by his mother’s hand fell upon her, boiling water on her skin. She jerked back, failing to contact a shriek of pain. Swarms of eyes turned to look. The boy sniggered. She pulled her duffle coat tight and pushed onward.

The hordes obscured her line of sight; the exit had to be nearby somewhere through these eyes of agony. She prayed the detective – no, no more praying – she hoped the detective would be waiting outside to drive her, as promised. One last leg of the journey, out of the city of Stonemount and back to her childhood home after nearly thirty years.

Back to Millbury Peak.

Synopsis –

Renata Wakefield, a traumatised novelist on the brink of suicide, is drawn back to her childhood hometown following her mother’s ritualistic murder. Before long, she becomes ensnared in the mysteries of Millbury Peak as one question lies heavy: who killed Sylvia Wakefield?

As the answer draws nearer, as madness continues to envelop the quaint country town, Renata will come to realise that the key to all this insanity lies with one man—the world’s leading writer of horror fiction. His name is Quentin C. Rye, and he will guide her to the revelation that true madness lies within.

Discovering that the darkness of her family’s history runs deeper than she ever could have imagined, Renata Wakefield’s eyes will finally be opened to one single, hideous truth, which will awaken a long-dormant evil.

Thoughts –

For Rye is a dark and twisting mystery story involving a reclusive romance writer, her mother’s bloody and brutal murder, and a famed horror writer whose words were found at the scene of the crime. With layers of secrets and darkness, revenge and avenging, this is not a predictable story. Our protagonist Renata Wakefield, foiled in her attempt to take her own life as her careers wanes, is now staying to fulfil a long held promise to her dear mother; to care for her abusive father on his death bed no matter what. But the appearance of the mysterious writer Rye, the forbidden writer that may just have sparked her love of story writing in first place, may have just given her a new reason to keep living – to find out just what this mysterious romance thing is all about.

Rye himself, the boisterous American among the reserved English, is fascinated with the death of Renata’s mother, staged to look like a scene from one of his own horrifying books. He wants to get to know Renata, to help her find her mother’s killer, to give her new life. Little does he know that Renata’s life is a lot more complicated than he knows, her past darker even than a mind like his could imagine. And when his adult daughter Sandie shows up unannounced and determined to bring Renata’s works to the big screen as her leading lady, the danger surrounding Renata hits a little too close to home.

For Rye pulls you in with shocking events and complicated characters, and holds you within it’s pages with superb writing, a mix of genres, and twist after twist. By the end of this story you will not know who to trust, who to feel sorry for, and just how Gardiner managed it in the first place.

A darkly enjoyable read for any mystery lover’s out there.

About the Author –

Gavin Gardiner’s lifelong love of horror didn’t manifest into his debut horror novel, FOR RYE, until his early thirties. Between its completion and publication, he wrote a novella, several short stories, and a selection of non-fiction articles and analysis pieces. These can be found in various online publications and in print via:

www.gavingardinerhorror.com

Before he threw himself into the writing game, Gavin dedicated much of his teen years and twenties to the pursuit of music. Although the nightmares he’s since committed to the page have garnered more attention than his songs ever did, he hopes to one day return to music. The writing of horror, however, is here to stay.

He’s currently working on his second novel, Witchcraft on Rücken Ridge, and has grand plans for the future of his unique brand of horror. He very much hopes you’ll join him for the ride.

He lives in Glasgow, Scotland with his ever-patient girlfriend and ever-demanding kitten.

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