book review

{Book Review} Swift to Chase by Laird Barron

{Book Review} Swift to Chase by Laird Barron

Before we get into this review I need to let you in on a little secret. Are you ready? Here it is. I may be a bit biased when it comes to works by Laird Barron.

There is a bit of history behind this bias. I first came across Laird Barron about a decade ago. Up until that point I'd only been reading Tolkien style fantasy and the occasional science fiction. At that time I was working at a large chain bookstore and I came across an intriguing book with a beautiful cover. It was so different from all of the other books around it.

This book was The Imago Sequence by an author I'd never heard of and published by Night Shade Press. Every other book was ultra glossy and they all looked just like the others, while this one had a gorgeous dust jacket printed on a slightly textured matte paper that made the different shades of absinthe tinted green stand out like a beacon among the gleaming rows of spines. Also, throw in the vague and unsettling image on the front cover. I had to have this book. So I used my employee discount and bought the store's only copy.

Up until this point my only real exposure to horror literature was a little of Stephen King's Dark Tower series, some Lovecraft, and Frankenstein back in high school. So the use of this level of nightmare imagery was something almost shocking. I'd never experienced anything like it before. It was new, exciting, and completely different, and it changed my tastes in fiction forever.

After reading this enlightening collection I began to search out other similar reading experiences and each time a new Laird Barron work came out I made sure to find a copy to devour. And this brings me to his most recent collection of short stories: Swift to Chase

Synopsis

Laird Barron's fourth collection gathers a dozen stories set against the backdrops of the Alaskan wilderness, far-future dystopias, and giallo-fueled nightmare vistas.

All hell breaks loose in a massive apartment complex when a modern day Jack the Ripper strikes under cover of a blizzard; a woman, famous for surviving a massacre, hits the road to flee the limelight and finds her misadventures have only begun; while tracking a missing B-movie actor, a team of man hunters crashes in the Yukon Delta and soon realize the Arctic is another name for hell; an atomic-powered cyborg war dog loyally assists his master in the overthrow of a far-future dystopian empire; following an occult initiation ritual, a man is stalked by a psychopathic sorority girl and her team of horrifically disfigured henchmen; a rich lunatic invites several high school classmates to his mansion for a night of sex, drugs, and CIA-funded black ops experiments; and other glimpses into occulted realities a razor's slice beyond our own.

Combining hardboiled noir, psychological horror, and the occult, Swift to Chase continues three-time Shirley Jackson Award winner Barron's harrowing inquiry into the darkness of the human heart.

{back cover copy}

My Thoughts

With this collection Barron is trying something new. The stories of his previous three short story collections all seemed to take place in a similar universe. These stories still seem to have a slight connection with his past work, but, at the same time, you can tell he is tackling new territory; and new styles as well.

Having said all of that, I'm not sure if this collection was as good for me as his previous work. But, this is not necessarily a bad thing. He has said in recent interviews that he is trying to branch out his writing styles to appeal to more than just the niche 'weird fiction' market, and this collection has some traces of that. There are some stories that verge on slasher thriller and there is one that is futuristic science fiction. If this means bringing more people to the wonderful worlds of Laird, I'm all for it.

I did absolutely love the story Frontier Death Song. This one was about a man who comes across the mythical Wild Hunt in progress while in the wilds of Alaska. (Wild Hunt – it is bad luck to see the Wild Hunt, click here to read more about it on Wikipedia) The Wild Hunt was also a major story component of another recent story I've read and enjoyed: The Brotherhood of the Wheel. I think I may have a thing for folklore based horror.

Conclusion

Do I recommend that you pick up a copy of this book?

Yes, very much so. Bit with a caveat: don't read it as a collection of short stories. Instead read it as a single story arc covering the plight of a group of people connected to a series of events in an Alaska town. Having finished the book I find much more value in the stories after the fact while thinking over who the all connect. I think this book would be a very enjoyable one to read a second time, and possibly more enjoyable than the first read.

If you are interested in reading some of Laird Barron's work I would suggest picking up a copy of his first collection The Imago Sequence as well as this one. You will not be disappointed.

Also be sure to check out his blog.

Posted by Joe in Reading
{Review} – The Fisherman by John Langan

{Review} – The Fisherman by John Langan

Synopsis

In upstate New York, in the woods around Woodstock, Dutchman's Creek flows out of the Ashokan Reservoir. Steep-banked, fast moving, it offers the promise of fine fishing, and of something more, a possibility too fantastic to be true. When Abe and Dan, two widowers who have found solace in each other's company and a shared passion for fishing, hear rumors of the Creek, and what might be found there, the remedy to both their losses, they dismiss it as just another fish story. Soon, though, the men find themselves drawn into a tale as deep and old as the Reservoir. It's a tale of dark pacts, of long-buried secrets, and of a mysterious figure known as Der Fisher: The Fisherman. It will bring Abe and Dan face to face with all that they have lost, and with the price they must pay to regain it.

Back cover copy

My Thoughts

First of all, just look at that cover! It's flarkin beautiful! I want that painting framed and on my wall!

Seriously though, this book was amazing. As I've said recently in my review of Gemma File's Experimental Film, I love good slow burn read. I regret taking so long to get to this title. It's recommended by my favorite author: Laird Barron. You can see his sparkling review of it at the top of the front cover.

But why did I love it so much? Well, it was like this book was written specifically to target my interests. It's a terrifying story involving the occult/paranormal with a slight Lovecraftian flavor yet elevated high above the slush that makes up most genre fiction. It's not just a book about monsters, nor is it about hacking and slashing of bodies. It truly is a telling of horror that happens behind the scenes of the world and of the plight of those few who are forced to face it in some fashion or another.

Even the most fantastic elements of the story, though they are definitely beyond fantastic, do not stand out as they would in most speculative fiction. Langan has the ability to make these unnatural things fit into the world of his story with ease. He makes you truly believe every word he puts down and think about how you, as the reader, fit within the world of his story, and thus into the real world itself.


I could not recommend reading this book more. I borrowed this one from the library, but I plan on adding a copy to my personal library in the near future.

Dark Tower Re-Read – Part 4: The Mist

Dark Tower Re-Read – Part 4: The Mist

Today I am sharing my thoughts on The Mist, a novella originally collected in his Skeleton Crew short story collection.

If you haven't already, be sure to read the previous posts in this series.

Summary

From the back cover: It's a hot, lazy day, perfect for a cookout, until you see those strange dark clouds. Suddenly a violent storm sweeps across the lake and ends as abruptly and unexpectedly as it had begun. Then comes the mist…creeping slowly, inexorably into town, where it settles and waits, trapping you in the supermarket with dozens of others, cut off from your families and the world. The mist is alive, seething with unearthly sounds and movements. What unleashed this terror? Was it the Arrowhead Project—the top secret government operation that everyone has noticed but no one quite understands? And what happens when the provisions have run out and you're forced to make your escape, edging blindly through the dim light?

Screen Adaptions

My first experience with this story was the movie that came out sometime in the 2000s. It was such a great film, and has one of the most gut punching endings I'd ever experienced in film. I won't spoil it for you. Go watch it for yourself, you won't be disappointed. (You can thank me later.)

As for the recent television series, I've only seen the pilot and cannot comment on the quality of the remaining episodes. The pilot did look intriguing, just not intriguing enough for me to sink hours of screen time into.

My Thoughts

This was a fun and fast paced read. I loved all of the creatures and the atmosphere of this story. But the crown jewel of this terrifying tale is one very horrific character: Mrs. Carmody. So, all of these townsfolk are trapped inside a small supermarket together by a mist filled with dangerous creatures. You would think that the man eating bug things from another dimension would be the biggest threat. But nope; Mrs. Carmody handily takes that title in this one.

In the beginning she is just the local crazy lady who just goes around spouting off biblical apocalyptic drivel left and right. This whole story is worth the read just to experience the feeling of her slowly turning the desperate locals against our hero and those that stand with him. She is like a mind controlling evangelical itching to pin the blame for their catastrophes on someone and thirsting for vengeance.

The creatures and all of the monster fighting is fun too, but that crazy lady takes the cake.

The only real problem I had with the book is one scene that felt really out of character for the main character and hero of the story. You'll know it when you read it yourself. (No spoilers here.)

Dark Tower Connections

As per connections to the Dark Tower books,  there only seems to be one. The Arrowhead project (the secret military project that leads to the mist and all of its monsters) is probably the same thing as the 'thinnies' from the Dark Tower books.

Conclusion

This is a great book, worth checking out. As is the rest of the Skeleton Crew collection this novella was originally published. For some classic King, be sure to give these a read.

Posted by Joe in Reading
Book Review: Experimental Film – by Gemma Files

Book Review: Experimental Film – by Gemma Files

I love a horror story with a nice slow burning, bone grinding plot. Some stories attempt this and utterly fail. But some do pull it off, the dread builds layer by layer drawing you deeper and deeper into the glorious bleakness.

I just finished reading one such novel that accomplished this task of unstoppable yet addictive horror. It is called Experimental Film and was written by Gemma Files. I read this late into the night as each time I declared “this will be the last chapter before bed” I would have to turn the page to see what happened next.

The Story

The story follows Lois Cairns, a Canadian indie movie reviewer who used to teach at film school, as she tracks down a piece of lost film history. But were these lost films lost for a reason? Lois employs one of her best film school students, Safie Hewsen, to help her track further information down for a documentary. Lois must deal with her own embroiled life (her downward spiraling health, a hard to manage autistic son, and more) as she attempts to dig up the secrets of the lost female filmmaker’s past.


I highly recommend giving this book a read. Especially if you like books similar to House of Leaves or you enjoy well written weird fiction and/or supernatural horror. Finding a slow burn terrifying horror story with such emotional impact is an absolute treat.

Posted by Joe in Reading, 2 comments