‘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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‘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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‘The Occultists’ by Polly Schattel – Review

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

***

Later he would retire to his room in the upper floors of the hotel, to wash up and lie in the bed and try to ignore the auguries in the cracks in the ceiling. Maybe some song would be playing faintly through the walls – Fats Waller, or Teddy Wilson – and reluctantly his mind would return to the fires. As the hours ticked on and the hotel went to sleep, his thoughts would shuffle along hallways of loss, down corridors of grief, to his unpaid debt. Sometimes the debt felt like a guillotine above him waiting to fall; sometimes it felt less sinister, like the arrival of one of those clammy-fisted kitchen equipment salesmen who came slumping through the lobby’s front doors, briefcase in hand, silhouetted with the sun at their backs. Always with the sun at their backs. Your couldn’t see their faces, even when they’d come to sell you something rather than take it from you.

Lately he’d begun thinking of writing it all down. He thought it might help shut the door on all those shadowy hallways and lonely corridors. And also he wanted others to know what had happened, to bear witness. Which presented the problem: there were those who wanted to keep things quiet. This wouldn’t stop him from doing it, of course. Their need for obscurity and his need for peace was just the way it was.

It would always be that way. Always.

Synopsis –

Sssshhhhhhhh… For Edwardian-era spiritualists and illusionists, silence is more than a strategy; it’s a way of life. And when Max Grahame, a bullied small-town teen, discovers a secretive world of occultism and séances right under his nose, he can hardly contain his excitement.

But as Max begins his conjurer’s lessons in earnest, his newfound knowledge exposes the group’s dark and deeply sinister designs, leading to a game of supernatural cat and mouse that takes him from the ancient hills of rural Georgia and the mystic plains of the Midwest to fin-de-siècle Manhattan… and beyond.

Thoughts –

The Occultists is a novel that plunges the reader back to early twentieth century America, where spiritualism, mysticism, and illusionists were in their heyday. Meticulously researched and using historic events and real people and occult leaders to lend credence to the story, only makes this fantastical story that much easier to immerse yourself in. From the surgical implantation of goat testicles to spark virility, to levitation and séances, early 1900’s spiritualism is provides the texture and driving force of this novel, immediately setting the reader up for shadows, secrets, and incredible feats.

The unfortunate and challenging events of our young protagonist Max’s life, from an unhappy adolescent home to being thrust into a deadly battle between two ancient conjuring factions, are fraught with secrets and danger, and make for a mesmerising story. Simple things like a teenage crush take on a deeper meaning as Max becomes embroiled in a world he doesn’t understand, yet is somehow integral to. Fleeing to save his own life and the life of his sickly mother, Max must grow up fast and learn to control the power within him. But no one is what they seem and despite making leaps and bounds in this strange new reality, Max is frequently left feeling unmoored and confused.

Schattel’s writing is rich and descriptive, the packing of the story is well laid out and executed, and her characters solid and charismatic. The Occultists is a novel that will greatly interest any reader already drawn to the wonderous world of illusion, power, and magic.

About the Author –

POLLY SCHATTEL is originally from Birmingham, AL, but prefers the hills of Colorado and Western North Carolina. A filmmaker with a host of award-winning feature films under her belt, she returned to the written word when she had the bright idea that maybe she could tell her stories without spending years raising money for them first. She’s taught Film Directing, Film Editing, and Screenwriting in the UNC university system, NYC, and elsewhere. Proudly and passionately transgender, Polly lives in the mountains near Asheville, NC with her wife and three vicious and savage but very adorable animals.

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‘They All Died Screaming’ by Kristopher Triana – Review

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

***

“I’m too drunk to fig this god-damned grave.”

Still holding the bottle, the man cleared sweat from his brow with his forearm. In his other hand was the shovel he’d barely made a dent in the earth with. The hole was no bigger than a fish tank. The boy gazed into the grainy abyss, frowning. He knew what was coming.

The shovel was tossed to him.

The man snorted. “Best get started while there’s still some light.”

There was no sunshine here, just the muted glow of another overcast day. They were beneath concrete heavens, toiling in a hell of weeds, poison ivy, and fruitless bramble. The stench of pig feces dominated every other odor, cancelling the fresh, spring scent of the woodland on the edge of the farm.

Blowing out a snot-rocket, the man stumbled to a tree stump and sat down slowly, holding his lower back. His vertebrae cracked like Jiffy Pop. The boy used to love popcorn. He missed it. He missed lots of things. Settled, the man took another pull on the whiskey. Some trickled down his chin and his tongue darted out to lick it up, a frog after a fly. The boy watched him with tired eyes before turning back to the hole where a single worm wiggled as its newfound freedom. He wondered if the man would have killed it if he’d seen it. if the creature was worthy of the man’s mercy, if it met the criteria of his aberrant morality.

Pushing the shovel into the dirt, the boy raised a small clump containing the worm, tossing it aside so it could live. On the ground beside it, the mildewed army bag was a grim reminder of those creatures who’d been far less fortunate.

Synopsis –

It’s called The Scream…

Once you get it, you simply cannot stop screaming.

You can’t eat or sleep. It drives you more and more insane until you can’t stand to be alive a second longer.

When the phenomenon hits Chuck’s city, the chronically unemployed pervert joins a band of misfits to make his final stand.

Can Chuck, a bitter bartender, a dockside prostitute, a conspiracy theorist, and a homeless man find a way out of the apocalypse…

Or will they all die screaming?

Thoughts –

A bleak and harrowing look at a world gone mad, They All Died Screaming is a splatterpunk novel that comes with the usual trigger warnings; gore, violence, sexual assault, and bodily fluids appearing in places they have no right to be. Yet the fiction of this novel is all too close to reality. Depicting the world’s descent into a virus of pandemic proportions through the eyes of a group of self proclaimed deadbeats, alcoholics, perverts, and those damaged beyond repair, Triana does not hold back in displaying the dark inner workings of the human mind and the actions that often follow.

They All Died Screaming has two plotlines that eventually coalesce, the first being the low maintenance life of Chuck the alcoholic who fancies ever increasingly younger women and his attempts to find some kind of worthwhile human interaction, before all human life is snuffed out by ‘The Scream’. One the other side of the page, we have the sickening story of a young boy kidnapped by a pig farmer who refuses to sell his pigs as meat – but there’s another delicacy on the menu that the boy needs to get used to fast.

Behind all the blood, vomit, violence, and despicable viewpoints of most of the characters, there are plenty of truths in this novel. Reflecting a society that treats its children, particularly young girls as meat, as a nuisance to use and get rid of at will, as well as one that pushes the downtrodden and in need to the margins where their situations can only get worse, They All Died Screaming‘s true horror is how close it is to reality. Triana’s writing is impeccable and his storytelling unforgettable.

A novel that will haunt your waking nightmares, and make you wonder where your meat is really coming from.

About the Author –

Kristopher Triana is the author of Full Brutal, Gone to See the River Man, Shepherd of the Black Sheep, The Ruin Season, Toxic Love and more.

His fiction has appeared in countless magazines and anthologies and has been translated into multiple languages, drawing praise from Publisher’s Weekly, Cemetery Dance, Rue Morgue, Scream, The Ginger Nuts of Horror and others.

Full Brutal won the Splatterpunk Award for Best Horror Novel of 2018.

He lives in Connecticut.

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‘Catch Lili Too’ by Sophie Whittemore – Review

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

***

The first killing had been easy. A little girl wandering the woods with a storybook under her arm. She hardly looked up; why would she? There were no tales of the killer in the wood.

Not unless you count fairy tales, that is. And who believes in those until it is too late?

She had books about fantastical heroes who go on quests to fight Evil that had a very purposeful capital E. She had colored in the pages of the black-and-white line drawings with pencils, with sweeping trains and glittering scales of armor. The pencils scattered on the ground, pages torn up and trampled underfoot. A halo around her perfect, little angelic head.

For that alone the killer decided she had to die. She was too good for this world. She would never have made it anyway. It was a mercy.

Synopsis –

Lili is a Mesopotamian siren, and life as an immortal being is hard enough as it is. She’s asexual (which is incredibly difficult to reconcile if your entire point as a mythical being is to seduce people to death). She’s also struggling with depression from being alive for so long.

Lili is an absolutely shoddy improv-detective trying to track down a serial killer so ruthless that it makes even her murderous soul uneasy. However, there’s something larger at work than just one serial killer. A small town is hiding an even deadlier, global-scale secret. Forget Area 51 conspiracies. This one beats them all. With magic.

So, what better way to spice up her eternal life than being hired as a vigilante detective to stop a serial killer? Anything, literally anything. She’d trade her left lung to get out of this. Or, perhaps, somebody else’s.

Thoughts –

Catch Lili Too is a dark fantasy horror story with as many monsters as it has twists and turns. With a sympathetic and flawed protagonist, just human enough to engage with, but with clear supernatural abilities and appetites, the reader is drawn into an emotional story filled with philosophical and moral ambiguities. The ingenuity of an asexual siren and the complications that that would entail makes for a striking premise and one that keeps you turning the page until you are lost in the character of Lili herself.

Filled with diverse and queer characters, Catch Lili Too is very much a modern story that caters to a modern and diverse audience. A book like this brings ancient histories and creatures into the twenty first century and Whittemore does so with skill and creativity. My only qualm with the book is that there are ordinary mortals throughout with no special abilities, but they are very rarely seen. Some interactions between the ordinary townsfolk and the monsters and humans with extra abilities, would have been a great contrast to see within the story. However, Catch Lili Too is an entertaining and thought provoking book, with plenty of dark magic, hidden mysteries, and unshakeable friendships.

Catch Lili Too is a modern book steeped in history and mythology with a monster for every type of reader.

About the Author –

Sophie Whittemore is a Dartmouth Film/Digital Arts major with a mom from Indonesia and a dad from Minnesota. They’re known for their Legends of Rahasia series, specifically, the viral publication Priestess for the Blind God, and newest LGBT+ paranormal thriller “CATCH LILI TOO” with NineStar Press. Their writing career kicked off with the whimsical Impetus Rising collection, published at age 17. They grew up in Chicago and live a life of thoroughly unexpected adventures and a dash of mayhem: whether that’s making video games or short films, scripting for a webcomic, or writing about all the punk-rock antiheroes we should give another chance (and subsequently blogging about them).

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