Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Act Three, Scene Four by Inanna Gabriel

If anyone had thought to ask me if I was interested in reading a psychopathic serial killer novel, I would've answered with a bland, empty shrug in place of a no. Yes, I know that man is the real monster and all of that, but still like to see some more literal monsters among my literary carnage. Then, as usual, I get one in the mail and find myself quite enthralled. It's amazing what a well written story can do to a cliché.

Madison, as an act of charity, set Kyle up to read for a part in a movie that he is in no way qualified for, so imagine her surprise when he actually gets it. Now, much to the consternation and horror of the other cast and directors he is bumbling his way through his lines while periodically destroying props and setting sets on fire. When he suddenly, inexplicably improves, everyone is thrilled. Until his obsession over perfecting the film's pivotal scene (care to guess which act and scene it is?) bleeds beyond the page and the stage.

What stood out the most for me here was the patience Ms. Gabriel shows in building and revealing the characters that make up this tale. Impetuous readers will notice that not much action occurs for the first hundred and twenty or so pages but I appreciated the classical approach she took, as it allowed me to get comfortable in this world and with the characters she created before they started getting chopped into little bits. In point of fact, I could not see this particular story working without such a methodical pace since, while nominally about a serial killer, this is really about the relationships people build and destroy. It is Kyle’s inability to empathize, and thereby form a meaningful relationship, with anyone outside of his own head that eventually leads him around the bend. She also shows the same level of patience while building narrative tension, allowing us glimpses of the slow unraveling of Kyle’s mental state as it builds to a crescendo as Kyle finally tips over into the dark and bloody side. The moment of that conversion is one of those rare, truly chilling moments and owes its impact to this patience. It’s refreshing, in a time where you are constantly told to make your stories snappier and to keep the pace as frenetic as possible, to be presented with such a measured and calm method of storytelling.

That said, I have to nitpick a little bit. Inanna’s writing style feels very clunky during the first quarter, with the words tripping over themselves rather than flowing into each other, though it does eventually fall into a very comfortable groove. Also, the overuse of the title, referring to act three, scene four repeatedly in dialog even though every other scene is referred to by its defining action (i.e. Mr. Finch’s death scene, Brandon and Mary’s love scene, etc.), is a tad grating. This next thing may seem a bit petty, but it pulled me out of the story too often for comfort: The names were distracting. Unusual names like Wren, Balthazar (who goes by Bal), Kyla (goes by Ky) and Madison regularly being referred to as Madi are not necessarily a bad thing but so many among so few characters drew my attention to the artifice of story creation instead of lulling me into the world of the story. Finally, the very last section didn’t really need to be there and I felt a little insulted that Inanna believed the reader would need the underpinnings of the character explained to that extent.

When the last clacker has clacked and the filming is done, the classical structure and patience building both character and suspense made for an enjoyable and surprising read.

buy it here.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The ultimate Guide to Survivng a Zombie Apocalypse by Kim O'Neil

The way I look at it, there are three main reasons for purchasing a zombie survival guide: 1.) An honest belief in the eventual rise of the dead from their graves and an earnest desire to survive such an event, 2.) as a reference book for zombie fiction and/or role-playing campaigns and 3.) Simple and pure entertainment of moderately geekly dimensions. Please notice that I've left out "solving late night whiskey-fueled arguments between friends over who would survive the longest during a zombie apocalypse," which was omitted on purpose. We all know those arguments can only be resolved by the requesite sloppy-drunk fistfight in the parking lot.

With that in mind, I'll keep my review based off of those criteria.

Utilitarian: The biggest calling card to the hard core zombie survivalist here is that it is a very streamlined guide. The information is clearly labeled, bullet-pointed and logically organized, which certainly makes finding what you need simple and quick. Combat and weapon use techniques are illustrated as well as explained. Information-wise, my only issues are based in philosophical differences, the biggest of which deals with the avoidance of any other gatherings of living human beings (otherwise known as this funky little thing called civilization). While F. Kim seems to feel that any large group would be run by an evil dictator out to quash all freedom and probably rape your children, I believe that staunchly keeping to your own insular, small group would restrict long term survivability to one or two generations at most. The worst problem I see here, though, is the format of the book. It is light, but a tad too bulky to easily fit into a pocket or similar clothing based container in the event of an immediate bug-out.

Dungeon Master/Writer: Many of the same benefits of the last category hold up here as well and this use makes the negatives irrelevant. Plus, the inclusion of different types of zombie (viral, supernatural and voodoo) and type-specific strength and weakness comparisons go far to make this stand out. The lack of damage tables will annoy DMs, so plan on some hefty conversion work from your existing manuals. Writers should find plenty to run with, though much of it is compiled from existing texts that they probably already possess.

WEEEEEE!: This is where I am going to come across the harshest because I didn't enjoy myself in any way while reading this. The big killer was the arrogant "you all are way too stupid and complacent to have any chance surviving this but I am the great, mighty last hope of humanity in these dark days to come" tone. After the first thirty pages or so, it became incredibly grating and hard to stomach. Especially after the following statement: "the best way to determine the difference between a homeless person and a zombie, if you need to (italics placed by the author), is to take his pulse", which leaves me curious as to where he's finding homeless people that are both rotting and trying to eat his flesh. Worse, does that mean he shoots them in the head to destroy the brain and prevent them from infecting him with poverty? At the risk of exposing a lack of professionalism unbecoming of a reviewer of such high esteem as myself (go ahead and laugh), I must admit to skimming through the last quarter of the book because I simply couldn't bring myself to read any more. Take that for what you will.

Those comments aside, the real problem this book faces is its competition. There's a sea of similar books out there, including the hulking beast rampaging through the city that is Max Brooks' Zombie Survival Guide. At more than twice the price (you can find new copies of ZSG on Amazon for less than six bucks), TUGtSaZA doesn't present any solid reason to purchase it over what is considered by many to be the definitive guide of its type. Heck, the All Flesh Must Be Eaten core book is much more versatile of a sourcebook, vastly more entertaining and only runs four bucks more for a hardbound version- with damage tables!

available through Paladin Press.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Monstrumologist, by Rick Yancey

I know the stigma a YA stamp carries among the horror community, but we, as a community, need to get over that crap. We already know, thanks to the huge popularity of Harry Potter, that works aimed at the low to mid teen age group can not only work, but be damn powerful so long as they don't underestimate their audience. With The Monstrumologist, Rick Yancey leaves no room for underestimation and puts together a damn fine, chilling and emotionally affecting tale in the process.

With monsters that will eat your face and enjoy every moment of it.

This story, under the found-fiction guise of a journal, places us in the head of young William Henry, an orphan in the care and tutelage of Pelinore Walthrope, a dour and no nonsense studier and hunter of what many would call monsters, though he most certainly would not. The town is facing an imminent infestation of Anthropophagi and dear Mr. Walthrope is the only one with the knowledge and ability to deal with it. Over the course of the adventure, Will learns a few things about his master that force him to rethink the way he sees the man to whom he's handed over his fate. And people die in incredibly messy ways.

When I said before that Rick doesn't underestimate his intended audience, I wasn't blowing smoke up your ass. This puppy is full to the gills with the type of guts n gore that made Peter Jackson's career in the way back when. Heck, the mouth full of pus scene gave me shudders that I haven't experienced since the smegma incident from The Bighead. More than that, though, is the emotional and intellectual maturity this work demands of the reader. Picture something written with the austere style of Dickens, the moral ambiguity of Lovecraft and the emotional heart of… In all honesty, I can't think of anyone else who so well captured how it feels to see the cloak of omnipotence and omniscience ripped away from those who control our lives, to see them as frail and flawed beings who have, on occasion, screwed up really bad and continue to do so, followed by the realization that they are doing the best that they can, the best that they know to do with what they have. It's a screwed up time that we all have to go through and he deals with it with a frankness and grace that is down right astounding. I won't bother going into detail about the references to Darwin, Nietzsche, Shakespeare and Herodotus because you've got the point: he trusts that you have the brains and ability to read it and he isn't going to talk to you like an idiot.

Beyond that, if you find yourself in need of more, there is no lack of action within these pages and, as a lover of monsters, I adore Yancey's choice for this go round. Anthropophagi (large, vaguely anthropomorphic beings without heads but possessed of faces in their chest, large mouths filled with row upon row of razor sharp teeth and a voracious appetite for human flesh) are a far cry from the over used fanged or moaning brethren that saturate the market and are among my new favorites. Those bastards are pretty badass. The pacing also settles into a nice ebb and flow that never left me bored.

But… look back at that mention of Dickensian language and style. If anything is going to put someone off of this book, that would be it. If you are impatient, lazy or unwilling to look the occasional word up, you probably won't dig this. Of course, much like Lemony Snickett, I don't think he is going to change anything for your intellectual inertia.

buy it here.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Eleven Twenty-Three by Jason S. Hornsby

 “Lily's End, which before this morning had not seen a murder in two years, suddenly embodies the tyranny of third world countries. A post-war wasteland. A curfew at sundown. The silent hillside following a suicidal battle where the victors lie in fly-covered heaps not far from the carcasses of the armies they've defeated. Less than an hour ago, it was simply a dull beach-town, a Norman Rockwell painting. It was a nice place to live. But now-
But now.”

Say what you will about Hornsby's previous work, Every Sigh, the End, it elicited strong responses from those who read it. Either he was rubbing up against genius and revolutionizing the zombie novel or another angsty, whiny hack who added some zombies to his journal. In both cases, he came across as a tad pretentious. Now we have the follow-up, Eleven Twenty-Three, waiving its exposed member in our faces. Far from changing any opinions, it will solidify any opinion you may already have of the man as a writer and probably won't win over anyone new.

Layne Prescott finally escaped his hometown of Lily's End and the scandal that cost him his job as a high school teacher, but the death of his father pulls him right back in. Now, having been slipped an unidentified briefcase by a stranger, he finds that something has been happening to Lily's End. The unexplained sicknesses, the bizarre overabundance of chem-trails crisscrossing the sky and the unbridled chaos and violence that erupts at every 11:23. Every way out of town is blockaded, all communication is cut off, strange messages flit across the TV screen and Layne knows that the residents of The End will all die without anyone knowing what happened to them.

Comparison's to Stephen King's Cell are unavoidable when dealing with a populace that flips into sudden bouts of murderous violence but, much like the zombies in Every Sigh..., the 11:23 phenomenon takes a back seat to the effect that it has upon the population and Layne's dysfunctional and dwindling group of compatriots. If we are going to stick to King comparisons, this is more like Needful Things, with it's depiction of a small town collapsing under the weight of fear and paranoia. In fact, the King comparison isn't too far off (insult to the airport book that he may be), since Jason spends so much of the book settling the reader into the mind of the main character and the town itself before any real action occurs. Readers dependent on a faster dive into the action will hate this, but I found his patience in telling the story impressive.
A more apt comparisonthough, would be to Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Kairo (known as “Pulse” in these parts, but please stick to the Japanese version). This is a novel about ghosts, both dead and alive, and the loneliness of the modern condition. The big difference between the two is that, while Kurosawa found the root of that loneliness in isolation born from the technology that supposedly makes us more connected, Hornsby finds it in the isolation of self absorption. Every character is surrounded, but constantly alone; never able to see or understand anything outside of themselves and, as such, unable to be understood. 
As much as I enjoyed the book, Jason seems to have run into a Brett Easton Ellis-style rut. Just like Every Sigh, this is presented in first person from the point of view of an arrogant but defeated misanthrope. Few people have managed to capture the tone and overall emotional voice of my own generation this well, but it is getting to look a tad one-note. As I said in the beginning, this lack of variety and suppleness of style won't change any existing opinions of his work. At least he managed to tone down the pretentiousness a bit and is allowing the story to stand more on it's own merits, without as many literary tricks and gymnastics blocking the show this time

In The End (hardy har-har), Eleven Twenty-Three manages to raise some interesting questions beneath the superficial appeal to conspiracy nuts and the self-righteous. The slow, methodical pace was refreshing in a time where slam-bang is the rule and allowed the contemplative, empty air to breathe through the cobwebbed corners of my chest. While Jason is getting a bit repetitive in style and tone, it still holds up here. If he learns to branch out a bit more, he could be a force to reckon with but as it stands, I enjoyed myself with this one.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Futile Efforts by Tom Piccirilli

Sometimes, blind luck favors you with a book that you need, precisely at the time you need it most. I received Futile Efforts not long before getting smacked in the face with a minor personal tragedy, which means precisely jack all to you. What matters is the power of Tom Piccirilli’s writing, his ability to see the grief and loss of everyday life, grab it ripping and tearing out of us and lay it bear and bleeding on the page. I cried while reading this. Not leaking a few sympathy tears, but outright wailing into the merciless black sky. Then the magic happens, right before my eyes, as he molds that anguish into a thing of brilliant, transcendent beauty, bearing soft hints of hope on the breeze. Correct words do not exist in the English language to convey what this man does to the human spirit.

Fans will find bits of damn near every genre and style this prolific and varied gentleman has dabbled in (no small feat for someone who has written not one, but two gothic noir westerns). Have you been missing his older, more arcane stylings a la A Lower Deep? Look no further than his entrancing entry from Leisure Press’ Four Dark Nights, “Jonah Arose”. Those with a hankering for the soul crushing morbidity of A Choir of Ill Children have tales like “Thin Skin of the Soul Worn Away” awaiting them. I need not bother mentioning the presence of some good old hard-boiled and grittier than a Texan dust storm crime fiction like the unstoppable “Fuckin Lie Down Already”.

Then there is “Jesus Wrestles the Mob to Feed the Homeless”, an SF crime-noir amalgamation that is everything that bizarro aims for, but, unlike most bizarro I’ve read, manages to pull off the absurd, sublime and all out bannafish craziness in a way that feels natural as a part of the context in which it occurs. Or “Alchemy”, the most singularly fucked up story I have read to date. The physical events aren’t what messed me up (as a veteran of Ed Lee at his worst, I’m fairly inured to that), but the mental and emotional environment in which they occur create something the most Hardcore of writers never approached. And “These Strange Lays” is an oddly rapturous embrace of the simple joys of chaos and sex with crazy people.

In addition to that, I can’t tell you how happy I am that they included so much of his poetry (45 poems selected from his three previous anthologies). As a poet, Tom’s voice is deceptively clear and accessible, spinning concise vignettes full of the same emotional force as his fiction but possessing a depth that is belied by his no nonsense style. For instance, “It Knows So Much Than Me” is an oddly engaging conversation between a man and the cockroach on his chest but a peek under the sheets will reveal a meditation on the shared nature of guilt and grief that can build bridges between incompatible beings. Besides, if you aren’t drawn in by titles like “How to make it Through Friday Night Without Biting Your Tongue in Two”, then you aren’t worth talking to.

Honestly, at this point in his career, if you are questioning the purchase of a mammoth book of Piccirilli’s short prose and poetry spanning from 2000 to 2005, then you might want to read one of his fantabuloso novels before dropping forty bucks on this puppy. Fans should already have a few drops in their pants.

buy it here.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Necrotic Tissue, issue 11

“Shadowy shapes moved in the corn, rickety-still shapes bopped and contorted like herky-jerky shadows. Missing people from missing places moving through missing seconds. Ghosts trapped in the good Carolina soil, rising towards Heaven in the corn and always, always falling short.”

-“Corn-Wolf”, by Joshua Reynolds

I’ve made my overall opinion of Necrotic Tissue known in the past (just look at the review of issue #8), so I won’t go into that here. Further, at issue 11 and edging up on their third year in existence, they’ve established themselves as a dependable publication with a quality track record. The only question that matters at this point is: how do the stories in this specific issue stack up?

One of the first things that struck me about this issue was the variety of approaches. While all of the stories do indeed possess some horrific elements, they came from some unexpected places. Do ya like SciFi? How about post-apocalyptic fiction? Something that could be vaguely referred to as electropunk? It’s there, alongside the psychos, man eating beasties and gloppy monstrosities that are par for the course in horror.

Some stories of note were: “Mr. Klein’s Cancer” by T.L Barrett, is a mean spirited (in all the right ways) tale of malignant hatred grown physical and communicable in the body of one bitter man. Eric Hermanson’s “Adaptation” pleasantly reminded me of Scott Smith; there aren’t enough killer plant stories in the world for me. Finally, Stephanie Kincaid (“Today’s Special”) and R.K. Gemienhardt (“One Man’s Pain”) show how good those micro-flash bites can be, while “Little Green Men” (Donald Jacob Uitvlugt) served up a heaping plate of Martian paranoia a la Phillip K. Dick.

My personal favorite this go round is “Corn-Wolf” by Joshua Reynolds (you may have noticed the lyric quote at the beginning of the review). It’s a period piece, set in the civil war during Sherman’s notorious march to the sea, a simple story of the sacrifices made to feed the machine of war. The imagery is powerful, the prose evocative and the dialogue effortless, all while patiently building tension to the point of singing nerves. All of the technical aspects are there in spades, but what really makes this story sing is the passion put into it. Obviously, Joshua was feeling this story and that comes through in the reading. He also has one of the most amusing bios I’ve read in awhile. I earnestly hope to see more from him in the future.

One of the hallmarks of NT has been the advice given to writers (it doesn’t take a genius to notice that writers and those aspiring to the trade tend to buy more literary magazines than the general public) and the “Help Me to Help You to Help Me” section lives up to that standard. Guest Editor, John P. Wilson, provides advice on putting together a quality query letter. Since those are the first thing someone is likely to see of the absolutely genius novel you are trying to sell, they can be a tad important. His advice on the matter is direct and concise without being condescending.

So, does this issue meet muster? Of course it does. Sure, some of the pieces could have been better than they turned out (there were a few dud ending present), too much of the best work was crammed into the back (some readers who go straight from beginning to end may be lost before finding the truly quality work) and I don’t completely agree with the editor’s pick (“Chums” is good, but there were a couple others that whooped its ass). But, I was introduced some new people I want to keep an eye on and got some more from author’s I’ve liked in the past. That’s what I buy these magazines for. Just beware that the price has almost doubled from what they were running last year.

Buy/subscribe here.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Hiram Grange and the Nymphs of Krakow By Richard Wright

Well, ye olde boyles and ghouls, this is it. The last chapter of the first volume, the last episode of the first season of Shroud’s flagship franchise: Hiram Grange. You know what you know by this point and your opinion of the series is likely already set (God knows I’ve made my own clear enough). The main question at this point is a simple one: Does Nymphs live up to the reputation? Of course it does, this is Hiram we’re talking about.

This isn’t the first time Hiram has found himself in a strange city, beaten near to death and standing between the clueless masses and some hideous force that wants nothing more than to devour them. The problem is that he was sent there to kill someone else. Someone he was told wasn’t a person at all. Someone who has information that will completely shatter his view of the work he does. Oh, and the streets are teeming with legions of hot, naked nymphs who want to kill him with sex…

Where 12 Little Hitlers was driven by Hiram’s chemical addictions, Nymphs is driven by his more carnal proclivities. This presents us with a very creepy, in the old-guy-in-a-van-giving-out-free-candy sort of way, view of him. His usual obsession with Jodie Foster, in Richard Wright’s hands, becomes something filthy and diseased. In general, even when dealing with the life-sucking spirits of penile destruction, he comes across as nothing so much as a smutty letch. Exactly what we’ve come to adore about the slimy little bastard.

What makes this tale particularly interesting is the struggle with his other, less obvious compulsion: his tendency to follow orders without thinking on his own. We’ve already seen, in Hitlers and, to a certain degree, Chosen, the ruin that can come of abject obedience in Hiram’s world, but now he has to make a choice that will decide the direction of his life. In a realm of already murky morality, Wright has dumped him into fog shrouded mire where once-pure intentions are taking on a sinister tinge. He has done a marvelous job of ramping up the consequences here and it makes for a riveting read.

In past reviews, I’ve raved and drooled all over the artwork of Macolm McClinton and the case is certainly no different here. His visions of Dickens and Lovecraft filtered through the lens of David Fincher have become an inextricable part of Hiram lore and the ecstatic writhing of our friend on the cover is gorgeous. Still, there isn’t much more to say about that. However, it is worth mentioning the growing place of the woodcuts by Danny Evarts. Elegant and unobtrusive as they are, they add a subtle level to the effect of the books that is often over looked. The man deserves his due!

If there is any problem with this book, it’s the lack of personality that the others possessed. For good or ill, each previous iteration has come across as integrally tied to the heart and soul of the person who wrote it, melding their own world view and writing quirks into the character and world of Hiram Grange. Nymphs, effortlessly entertaining as it is, doesn’t carry the sense that it could not have been written by anyone other than this specific guy. But, hell, the story should always come before the author and this story is a damn fine one.

In the end, Nymphs of Krakow is precisely what we have come to expect from a Hiram Grange story: snappy, punchy and unafraid to be a bit rough in the sack. I wouldn’t recommend it as a first read for the series, but fans would have no reason to turn away from it.

This book has not yet been officially released, but you will soon be able to buy it here.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Dark Faith, Edited by Maurice Broaddus and Jerry Gordon

Many people believe that faith and horror do not mix, but I would be among the first to argue that point. The experience of terror is an intensely spiritual one and spiritual experiences can often be quite terrifying.

Dark Faith is an anthology that focuses on that experience of terror in the spiritual realm, an exploration of faith through horror. If anyone is qualified to put something like this together, then the sinister minister, Maurice Broaddus, certainly has to be that man. The result is something that resembles a conversation, in allegorical terms, that is at turns harrowing, hilarious, thought provoking and confounding.

Something that specifically impressed me with this collection was the variety of faiths represented. There is the rage fueled, self-directed atheist manifesto, “He Who Would Not Bow” by Wrath James White rubbing elbows with Douglas Warrick’s bhuddist lesson for a Christian God, “Zen and the Art of Gordon Dratch’s Damnation.” Later on you’ll get to see a story of old gods of the Americas (“Mother Urban’s Booke of Dayes”, by Jay Lake) bumping uglies with self-determinism of Levy/Randian proportions via arrogant birds (Richard Dansky’s “The Mad Eyes of the Heron King”). Mary Kowal’s “Ring Road” even features Baldur.

The inclusion of poetry (scarce as it is), further expands this sense of variety. The wondrous Linda D. Addison sets the tone of complexity and confounding intricacy for the book with “The Story of Belief-Non”. Meanwhile, Jennifer Baungartner managed to fit possession, murder and a total loss of the self into 4 stanzas with “C{her}ry Carvings” and Kurt Dinan serves up a tasty platter of “Paranoia” that’ll have you looking over your shoulder for weeks.

Similarly, the tone is just as varied between stories. From the unmitigated rage of Brian Keene’s “I Sing a New Psalm” and Lucy Snyder’s “Miz Ruthie Pays Her Respects” to the inner strength found in the lost past of “The Unremembered” (Chesya Burke) and the unexpected hope of “The Ghosts of New York” (Jennifer Pelland). There is not an emotional palette left undappled here.

But, without a doubt, my favorite tale here is Piccirilli the almighty’s “Scrawl”. A not so simple story of a nondescript middle aged man getting some strange. Maybe I'm a moron, but I have no idea what the hell this has to do with faith. Perhaps it is about a renewed faith in oneself? A power hidden in weak folds of pudgy flesh? Whatever the hell it is, it certainly isn't horror! But you know what? I don't care. It left me tittering in my cubicle like a little schoolgirl, but I wanted to howl. Also, to another pudgy, middle aged nondescript guy, it was quite empowering. Fuckin Pic, man. Fuckin Pic.

That said, devil his due and all…While there wasn’t anything particularly bad on display, there was a fair share of meh. “The Crater” and “Hush” are great examples of stories I forgot immediately after reading. They just didn’t have the emotional or psychological oomph I need. Then there is “For My Next Trick I’ll Need a Volunteer” by Gary Braunbeck, which was basically a lesson in the essential mythos to his Cedar Creek Cycle wrapped in a paper thin afterthought of a story. I’m a huge fan of the big B, but this was a rare disappointment. Richard Wright’s “Sandboys” accomplished the same thing this one seemed to be reaching for with much more grace.

Dark Faith is a gutsy anthology of a type that you will rarely have to opportunity to peruse. Regardless of your own faith, it will be tested within these pages and you will not leave unscathed.

Consume here.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Hiram Grange and the Chosen One by Kevin Lucia

Several reviews of Hiram Grange and the Village of the Damned mentioned how tough it is to start a series, but I disagree. The person who starts it gets to set all the rules, they’re the one who sets the stage for everyone else that follows. With no expectations, they have free reign with the material, characters and their approach to dealing with them. Even the person writing the second one has a fair amount of wiggle room, since no type of pattern has been established. The worst they can do is fail to get people’s attention. Writing after that is when it gets tough. People have expectations and, if you do not meet them, there will be some highly pissed off people. Us fanboys can be brutal little bastards.

So here comes Kevin Lucia, someone whose short fiction I have quite enjoyed, stepping up to the world of Hiram Grange, a series I have unequivocally adored so far. The result is a book that would stand quite well on its own, but doesn’t quite feel like Hiram to me.

We all know by now that the cuddly little jackhole, Hiram, makes his own way. He blazes it with his own sweat, blood and the expended cartridges of his trusty Webley (except the one, of course). But now, a swarm of squirming, tentacled nasties are bursting their way out of people, bend on devouring a poor young lady of unfortunate heritage. And here comes Mab, queen of Faerie, telling him that he has to help them destroy her, to avoid the fate she will bring upon the world. Do you honestly think he’s going to agree with that haughty bitch?

On its own, this would make for a great story. Lucia has proven himself time and time again to be a master of the morality tale and here is an opportunity to twist a seemingly simple decision on its ass. One life for that of the world should be no question at all, but he doesn’t make it that easy. Especially to someone who has already sacrificed more innocent lives than he can handle. Hiram’s desperation, his need to find some semblance of hope in a crumbling world, practically sings off of the page. The pacing is marvelous, the story lean and one of the big bads is Yog Sothoth, the gate and the way himself. I was reading this at work and got quite miffed at people who had the nerve to call and disturb me. This is a heck of a tale.

But, to me, it isn’t a Hiram Grange tale.

Jake Burrows and Scott Christian Carr established a singular tone to HG: a sense of balls-out absurdity and insanity stared down with dead seriousness and personal dissolution. In my opinion, that is where the heart of this series lies and this book missed the mark. As good as it is, the story here is fairly straight forward and lacks the sense that damn near anything could occur that is carried so well through those earlier excursions. We know right from the start which decision Hiram will make because it is the decision he should make. Worse, Hiram has, for some unknown reason, switched from sullen and withdrawn to an incredibly chatty soapbox philosopher.

If you can put aside the other HG tales, Hiram Grange and The Chosen One is a good read, one of the Loooooosh’s better works. But I can’t help looking at it as a chapter in a larger narrative and the change in tone makes it hard for this drooling fanboy to accept.

Buy it direct or from Amazon

Saturday, May 22, 2010

"Orgy of Souls" by Wrath James White and Maurice Broaddus

Note: this review is a bit out of date, but Apex is running a super deal on it. $10 for the hardback!

’Why won’t you answer me?’

‘Not enough,’ a voice finally murmured and extinguished the candles.

Samson collapsed into an exhausted heap of spent flesh. ‘I’ve failed.’

‘Twenty for one. Their blood must be spilled for the covenant to be made.’

Samson shivered as the meaning of the words sank in.”

We all know who Wrath James White is; he’s the giant, muscle bound, imposing force whose appearance every bit matches his name. He’s a tad notorious for his vivid, visceral and blunt-force trauma fiction and I’ve heard that the novel he wrote with Ed Lee will eat your socks and shit out Greg Brady. But who the heck is this Maurice Broaddus feller? Word on the grapevine holds that he has made a bit of a name for himself as the Sinister Minister, known for mixing religious themes with slow-boil atmospheric terror. This should be interesting.

Samuel and Samson are brothers, not twins and light years from identical. Samuel has chosen the path of the cloth, a devout priest who, even in the face of his own wavering faith, clings to his belief in his God. He is also suffering from the slow, leaching decline of AIDS. Samson follows the way of the flesh; an atheistic hedonist of the highest order with faith in nothing but himself living the high life of a popular male model (Blue Steel!). The only thing he cares about is his brother and he isn’t about to sit back and watch while Samuel diminishes before his eyes. He’s found a loophole, a deal that can be made: twenty souls, twenty lives in exchange for his brother’s. Cue butchery.

Given the polarized world-views of the authors and characters that seem to be caricatures of themselves, it would be hard not to expect this to be an extended debate on religion. Worse still, it would seem to be centered on one of the most clichéd arguments: the question of why a good and loving god would allow the righteous to suffer while the guilty thrive. To a certain extent, that is what Orgy of Souls is about, but that isn’t all. Not by a long shot.

Above all else, this is a horror story and these gentlemen have proven repeatedly that they know how to tell one of those. The dichotomy in styles ends up creating an interesting balance that allows each author’s personality and strengths to shine through. The action is just as brutal as anything we have come to expect from White, awash in blood, pus and spinal fluid. Meanwhile, there is a measured approach to the pacing that draws out and builds the tension exquisitely which, as a Broaddus virgin, I attribute to his influence. The result is a thoroughly entertaining and powerful work, i.e. a damn good yarn.

Delving deeper, it is impossible to escape the religious tug of war that is ostensibly the heart of the tale but to me the emotional center was a bit more all-encompassing. More than just a conflict of opposing viewpoints, this struck me more as a story about love. In these two brothers we see an equal amount of love for each other, but the conflict comes in how this love affects them and how they react to it. Love can be engaging, open, generous and hopeful, the kind of love everyone loves to sing about in sappy pop songs. It can also be selfish, smothering and ultimately destructive, the only kind that Samson seems to know.

Let’s recap: fun, bloody, powerful and thought provoking in interesting ways. What do you think my advice would be?

get it for the best price directly from Apex.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

See No Evil Say No Evil by Matt Betts

“What the hell were we talking about?

Oh right. Let me sum it up.
Shark – Not dead.
Out of the water – Move away.
Most importantly, and I can’t stress this enough…
Trim your nose hairs.”

Poetry, poetry, poetry. I had a creative writing professor, way back in the long, long ago, who told me that nearly everyone writes poetry, but almost nobody reads it. Who can blame them? It’s a stuffy, outdated art form with way too many rigid rules performed largely by obnoxious, melodramatic fools. This is the point where I tend to tell people, in the parlance of the great modern-retro Syfy series, to frack themselves into oblivion. Preferably with a large fist in their nether eye. Forget most of what you studied in class and don’t you dare even consider that douche bag in the turtleneck sweater who keeps trying to impress your girlfriend with his dark pondering upon the midnight cityscape. There is good poetry out there. Poetry that does not have its head inserted rectally, yet still possessing the intellect and heart to provide continued interest.

Case in point: Matt Betts.

First off, any fool can write poems about the wind through the trees or the sexual implications of a flea, but he writes about cool stuff like Godzilla and werewolves and robots and super villains and Elvis. That’s right: Elvis. Suck on that, Angelou. Also, he writes in a very clear, straightforward and conversational style, without glaring rhyme or metre schemes. In other words, you can actually understand what the heck it is that he is saying to you. And, he’s funny. Seriously, maliciously, little-drops-of-piddle-in-the-underpants funny.

Take a look at the quote at the top, then put it into the context of a warning about beach life in Amity Island. Sure, the sense of humor is at times a bit Python-esque but the absurdity works gorgeously well. I think the reason for that is that he is taking supremely absurd situations (shark vendettas, Godzilla’s girlfriend accusing him of cheating on her, the shopping needs of werewolves, etc.) and shining a very practical and utilitarian light on them. This is a guy who looks at floating cars and imagines them on blocks (tied down to prevent them from floating away) in redneck lawns or sees a superhero’s effect on the lives of everyday cops. Needless to say, his viewpoint is a tad skewed.

The strange part shows up in the amount of heart on view. Matt’s humor comes from a bit of a bitter place and, like all of the best comic minds, there is an element of the pathetic to every belly laugh. He seems to understand that we laugh because we have to, because our only other option is to collapse into a ball of quivering jelly as we await the end of everything we love. This understanding brings the humanity gleaming from the cracks in his wit.

Example: “Poem for a Bar I May Have Frequented in My Youth On the Occasion of it Burning Down” is overflowing with of-hand sci-fi references and silly considerations of alien hotness across the stumbling half-memories of what seems to be a half-wit fool. At the same time, it is a solemn bit of reverie for the joys of a misspent youth, the kind of thing we only bother to think pleasantly about when we see the effects of time.

Be warned, there are a couple all out attacks on the tear ducts. “We Killed the Morale Officer on Sweetest Day” is a look at what very well may be the end of all human civilization. It’s wry, wistful and kinda made me want to look for a razor to carve hope into my arms. Same with “Concerning the Fire in Lab 53…”, about the suicide wishes of a misbegotten, monstrous creation as it lopes off to its fate. Not remotely happy, but damn beautiful.

Matt’s a guy to keep an eye on, especially for those of you who say you don’t like poetry. He may just change your mind. Even if he doesn’t, the accompanying artwork by Rebecca Whitaker is certainly worth a look. Similarly simple, almost comicstripy, but striking and possessed of its own absurdist beauty.

available at

Hiram Grange and the Digital Eucharist, by Robert Davies

"To Hiram, the future always smelled like dried blood and smeared shit and antiseptic cleansers. The future smelled like the blue, biting tang of electrical burns and scorched blood. The future -- so bright, shiny and new -- all too often smelled like death."

Three is a magic number. Trilogies have a feeling of wholeness to them and then there's that "third time's the charm" thing. The third outing is also the one that solidifies a series. Three tells us, the readers, that these characters and this world are not ephemeral wisps to blow away at the slightest whim, that their creators mean business. Three is also where the mythology is solidified, the point by which the expectations for the series are established. The third book is the keystone on which the whole future of the series is based and The Digital Eucharist cements an already impressive foundation for the house of Hiram.

Years ago, Hiram imprisoned a right bastard of a demon at the cost of a life of one person and the leg of another. Now, it seems that same demon is using the rising Occlusionist movement and the mind-control capabilities of their digital eucharist to stage its big comeback. Can our intrepid ball of bitterness, misanthropy and regret kill the demon and save the world? Do people do strange and violent things in the name of Jodie Foster?

Robert Davies has some mighty big shoes to step into with his foray into Grangeland, but he is more than up to the task. His writing is more than just prose, more than words strung into sentences woven into ideas. More akin to poetry, his words ooze into one another, vibrating with beauty and horror in the dank pits of excavated body cavities. Look at the following line: "It was merely a bandage over a festering wound, and the quality of the band-aid could do little to stem the slow, certain rise of pus and stinking odor of sickness that rose from the cold, sterile streets." Digital Eucharist is positively rife with this kind of striking imagery that sings across the tongue. His style quite fondly reminds me of Choir of Ill Children-era Tom Piccirilli, a type of magick spun in ink across the page.

The story itself may lack the gonzo, balls to the wall, what-the-hell-just-happened sort of craziness present in the first 2 books, but it is by no means safe. The conventionality of the tale is used to its advantage, painting a picture of a man for whom this kind of shit is an everyday thing. Sure, this may be a particularly rough day at work, but it is still another day at work. Shroud took a risk giving this project to different authors, providing them only with the core mythology before letting them loose and I think it is paying off here. By this point, each book has differed enough for the heart and mind of it own creator to shine through, yet has maintained the core of Hiram and the world he inhabits. The results are becoming something akin to the oral tradition in the same way as what has been done with Ed Lee's vision of hell or Gerard Houarner and Gak's cuddly creation, Dead Cat.

The cover and interior work by Malcolm McClinton, always a special treat, is the finest I have seen from him up to this point. Of course, this opinion may be based on the presence of much more ooppy-glooppies and rotting, dropping bits of flesh. That's how I like my art. The point is that he is still kicking ass with those and they provide nearly as much of a reason to buy the books as the stories. I'm hoping he'll be at context this year to avail me of some of my hard earned cash in the procuring of prints (that's a hint there, laddy).

Hiram Grange and the Digital Eucharist has officially marked Hiram grange as a hell of a brand for Shroud, one that they have every reason to be proud of. I laughed, I gagged, I touched myself in an inappropriate manner. In other words, I had fun.

As a small side note, this book on its own, with Davies' obvious opinions on our obsession with technology, makes for an interesting counterpoint to Rio Youers' Mama Fish (also published by Shroud).

Shroud Publishing

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Every Sigh, The End, by Jason S. Hornsby

“In a world so stupid, so mesmerized by dancing clown politics and horrified by the tortured innocents who finally succumbed to years of brainwashing by taking down thirteen or so bastards in a Midwest high school, something like a hundred living dead attacking a New Year's party full of unimportant, nameless young people who probably fuck, smoke pot, and who will not vote in the 2000 election can easily go unnoticed. We can, apparently, contribute nothing to this society, except entertainment for the masses as we die slow, excruciating deaths.”

Repeatedly, I have made a point to mention how bored I am with the whole zombie thing. Then a good friend dumps a huge bag of zombie fiction on me, specifically telling me that I have to have to have to read this book specifically. He normally has good taste and I want him to stop bugging me about it, so I relent. Next thing I know, I'm neck deep in it, thanking whatever apathetic deity is out there that the people at Permuted picked this up (especially after the disappointing and ultimately so utterly boring that I couldn't bring myself to finish it experience of David Wong's John Dies at the End). As melancholy as it is hateful. Misanthropic. Nihilistic. Fatalistic. Paranoid. A direct assault on our society and ourselves. Admittedly a tad pretentious. Damn did I get a kick out of getting my brain munched on by this asshole.

Have you ever looked at the people around and seen nothing but vapid emptiness? Do you find yourself floating through life on inertia alone, too fucking bored with everything to bother doing anything? Do you hate your life, your friends, your family, your lover and the whole spinning mess around it with a detached passion bordering on mania? Are you waiting with bated breath for all of it to go up in flames because, frankly, it needs to? Do you keep catching people watching and filming you out of the corner of your eyes? Welcome to the life of Ross Orriger, an aimless drifter through a purposeless existence who spends his time between his cheating girlfriend, his own mistress, a best friend that may well be one of the bigger dicks on the planet and dubbing grotesque movies he can't stand to sell to people that disgust him. Now it's New Year's Eve, 1999 and change is coming in the form of the shambling, rotten masses that are trudging toward him as we speak.

I know plenty of people that would giggle at the idea of intellectual Zombie fiction (people who never bothered to think about the ramifications of Romero's work or that bewildering bit of genius, Shatter Dead), but that is exactly what Jason Hornsby is aiming at here: a Zombie tale that will force the intellectual elite to recognize the phenomenon as a legitimate cultural movement. All of the crap that English majors and professors get off on is here. The narrative is temporally fractured, there is both a story within and without the basic plot and there is an admirable philosophical and intellectual depth to the precedings. Writing students and teachers will also get a kick out of the running gag every time someone sighs, such an unoriginal gesture.

Luckily, for people that care more about the actual story than the author's navel-gazing (I'm split between the two), this is all held together by the visceral honesty and rage that is so integral to this tale. I am quite sure that Jason Hornsby really and for true does hate us all and wants to see the world go up in flames or at the very least he is damn good at convincing us that his protagonist does. This vitriol is balanced out with a marvelous sense of wit and dark humor and, oh yes, blood. This is a novel about zombies after all, and no zombie story can exist without gallons that red, red kroovy, loops of blue intestine and grey, chewed up meat. Somewhere in there, he even managed to get me concerned about the perpetually complaining protagonist (I wouldn't dare call him anything as grand as a hero).

The bad thing here is that the intelligentsia Jason seems so eager to address will likely never sully their hands with something as trite and common as a zombie novel and many zombie fans will be put off by the pretentiousness that he can't quite seem to keep completely under wraps. All I can tell either group is to give it a shot anyways, since you'll be missing a hell of a novel, one that manages to bring together the work of Romero and Max Brooks, 28 Days Later and a bit of The Truman Show, if you pass this by.

“What is the Apocalypse for us may only be a minor inconvenience for a race of living cannibalistic corpses, waiting patiently to move into our houses, cities, and world. And then, once the last of our bones are devoured or thrown into piles and buried, never to be spoken of again, the Earth goes back to business as usual."

buy it at Amazon, as usual.

Spellbent, by Lucy Snyder

“I imagined the people below sitting on their front porches, enjoying the evening breeze, sipping sweet lemonade or perhaps frothy cold beer. And then they’d look up to see a woman with a flame arm flying through the air on a giant spider monster. Would they point and scream? Dial the cops and the TV stations? Decide to switch to O’Douls?"

I don’t know why, but Urban Fantasy has developed a nasty association with romance (of the Harlequin variety). Maybe we can blame the popularity of Laura K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake books for that, maybe not, but it’s there. The second that I hear that term, an expectation of a young, hot female protagonist in either a modern or futuristic city, chock full of bad-ass and angst comes trundling through the door. Hell, it doesn’t help to have our half-clothed, Mossberg totin’ hottie wreathed in flame and dragon on the cover, does it? The back copy mention of her “hot, magic-drenched passion with her roguish lover” makes it worse.

This is a book that follows said sexpot on her quest to save her love, who was quite literally lost during a botched spell. She’s exiled from her society, labeled with the big “O” (outlaw) and must get by with nothing more than her own wits, grit and ferret familiar. With that said, we all know what to expect from here, right? Only someone who has never read any of Lucy’s work could say a thing like that.

In my review of her poetry collection, Chimeric Machines, I mentioned her gigantic brass ovaries as well as her willingness to smack the reader in the face with them and those puppies are in full swing here. What she does to her heroine during the first scene would be considered heresy in the lands of hearts, flowers and oversimplified girl-power. Seriously, that shit is just plain wrong. I’d love to tell you what exactly I am talking about, but I’ll let you discover it for yourself. From there, it only gets worse.

In many ways, this reminded me more of Tom Piccirilli’s A Lower Deep than the aforementioned Blake novels or anything put out by Luna, minus the somewhat overwrought tone (as much as I love that book, you have to admit that it is a tad heavy on the self-flagellation). Snyder presents us with a quite real and concrete, very modern view of Columbus, Ohio in which some people have the ability and knowledge to use magic. Heck, you could even see a bit of Harry Potter in there if you really wanted to. It’s fantasy grounded in reality, magic rooted in the dirt and muck of the mundane, a quality I look for in all of my favorite fantasy.

In addition to the grand brass lady parts, it is the attitude that Mrs. Snyder brings to the table that truly made this story song for me. Dancing from light playfulness to pure, mind flaying rage among the motes of a burning world, we are placed squarely in the mind of a character that is heart-felt, driven, more than a bit impetuous, and possessed of a strong sense of moral righteousness. I’m almost thinking of Douglas Adams, if he was really pissed off instead of depressed. There is no good reason for me to have enjoyed so much agony, horror and loss so thoroughly, but she makes it possible.

Look, I’m just going to make it simple: Ignore the cover and the back-copy and buy this damn book. Buy it now. Have a damn good time reading it. Thank me later.

Buy it at the ubiquitous Amazon, Del Rey and even at bookstores in the real world.

Saturday, March 27, 2010


"Wiping Jesus' blood on his pants, Hiram stands up. Retrieves the Webley with his good arm.
Takes Aim.
Another Hitler down. And a Jesus to boot.
On one of the laptop computers, Hitler's blog reads:
What good fortune for governments that the people do not think."
Well… Shit!
That's just about it.
Maybe "Holy Shit!" would be better, but I'm a bit too blown now to be sure.
Without a doubt, the second installment of Shroud's Scandalous Adventures of Hiram Grange has cemented the growing reputation of the series as well as my own opinion. This isn't just a series of books; it's a force to be reckoned with, quite possible feared, by a world quivering in its wake. In other words, I kinda liked it.
At this point, if you are unfamiliar with Hiram Grange, I would like to direct you back to my review of Hiram Grange and the Village of the Damned. It isn't necessary to read that one first, but everything makes a whole lot more sense if you do.
Onward and downward we go…
As the title would suggest, this book is centered around 12 clones of an almost universally reviled, singularly moustachioed little man. Kinda. It is also about our dear, dear wretch Hiram's hunt for those mini Fascists. But not entirely. Really, this book is about drugs, personal collapse and a slow, steady whirl down the drain of life. Where Village… focused on Hiram as a broken man, concerning itself with the why's and whereto for's of his breaking, this book focuses on Hiram as an addict, concerning itself with his decline into The Binge and the consumption of his life. How can we ever hope to be saved by this drooling, stinking remnant of a human being?
I must admit that Scott Christian Carr (who also happened to write one of my favorite stories from the anthology Sick) has balls. Big, hairy, hyper-inflated balls that he doesn't mind showing off at every opportunity. Anyone who is willing to throw the attack on the Twin Towers and baby tentacle-rape (don't run away yet, the baby in question is Hitler) at the reader in the friggin prologue has to. He doesn't hold back anything and the effect is tremendous. You know, without a doubt, by 7 pages in, that nothing and noone is safe from this man and his horrific dreams where laughter is mixed with blood-tainted vomit.
The cool thing is that his talent is even larger (maybe he keeps it warm and cozy in those mammoth testosterine sacks). What I am coming to adore about Hiram is his fragility, the simple realization that this is the last person anyone would want to depend on for their salvation. It makes him more human, more real to me. Within these pages, Scott shows us Hiram at his most vulnerable. An incredibly weak, insecure and utterly shattered person upon whom a practically unbearable weight is placed and he simply cannot face it all. So he dives face first into any drug he can get into himself, begging for the oblivion his mother chased and eventually found staring down the barrel of his Webly. In anyone else's hands the pathetic fallacy in which Hiram mental state is regularly reflected in the music playing wherever he went could very well come across as a cheap, clumsy and ineffective trick, but he handles it with such grace and subtlety that it is nothing less than magic.
There is something else that I REALLY want to mention, almost to the point of blowing out my anus, but I'd hate to spoil it for you.
The marvelous cover and interior artwork by Malcolm McClinton that has become, in my mind, inseparable from H.G., is once again present. This time out, the images are slightly skewed, twisted and stretched in a way that reflects Hiram's state of mind quite nicely. I should also mention the often unremarked upon woodblock illustrations of Mr. Danny Evarts, something ubiquitous with Shroud publications. Slight and unobtrusive, as they should be, but always placed in a way that adds to the writer's work without drawing attention to themselves.
Wrapup: Hiram Grange and the 12 Little Hitlers is funny as hell, emotionally brutal, intellectually intriguing and more than a bit fucked up. Once more with feeling: Holy Shit!
Go to Shroud Publishing or the ubiquitous to get your own.


"He struggled to escape from the scores of tiny ceramic hands that held him in place, but failed. He looked around in vain for his trusty Webley, but no luck. All Hiram could do was helplessly watch as the heavy sledge dropped towards his head and marvel at the absurdity of his current plight.
As ridiculous a notion as it might be, he really was about o die at the hands of a walking corpse and her army of malevolent garden gnomes…"
After a year's worth of advertising pummel, ranging from nebulous "Who is Hiram Grange?" bookmarkers up to an entire issue of their magazine dedicated to the drunken ball of self-destructive tendencies, we finally get to meet Shroud's posterboy for the end of the world. Was it worth the wait and all the hype? I don't know about that, but I'm glad I dropped the 8 bucks.
Meet Hiram. He's a bit emotionally perturbed, a product of an upbringing that would've sent many screaming and gibbering into the bowels of their own sanity. An anachronism that could only exist in post-millenial America, a man so tied to his past that he literally wears it at all times. A drunk and a drug addict, with a preference for absinthe, opium and the occasional company of a decent whore. Far too often, He's the only thing between us an utter destruction.
Trust me, he's no happier about the arrangement than anyone else.
In the quiet little coastal burg of Great Bay, some damn fool has awoken a great evil. A great evil that wants nothing more than the destruction of all humanity. A great evil wielding the power of the ten biblical plagues. A great evil that has taken possession of the body of the local busybody and self-righteous twat, Junebug, as well as her army of ceramic garden gnomes. Enter H.G.
I admit to being skeptical, at the very least, regarding this series. I remember thinking that the premise of Hiram (a drunken letch fighting Lovecraftian evil like a noir superhero) sounded a tad schticky. But, like anything else, the truth comes in how the character is drawn and I was quite pleasantly surprised here. Jake Burrows has given a potential caricature depth and an accessible emotional center that I did not expect. Sure, Hiram is perpetually wasted and a total waste, someone few people would ever wish to bump up against, let alone actually know but we see the source of this in world where he has experienced nothing but chaos and destruction. Who, in that situation, would not grasp onto any buoy of warmth and comfort, regardless of how feeble and insubstantial it may be?
The reason this story works, why it doesn't collapse into complete slapstick of Evil Dead proportions, lies in Burrow's ability to take it 100% serious. Look back at the opening quote and then picture it coming in at the tail end of one of the more tense and taught openings to a horror novel I have read in a long time. Think of your favorite Monty Python sketch, if it was written by Hubert Selby, Jr. and you are getting close. This is someone who sees the hilarity, horror and tragedy in the absurd. Someone who knows that paralyzing, gut-busting laughter isn't that far removed from gibbering and chuckling, curled into an empty-eyed ball in the corner of a padded cell. This knowledge elevates the tale into a powerful, moving and freaky ass piece of art.
A great case in point here is the short scene involving arthritis, a world-renowned cellist and the reason for the useless shell permanently lodged in Hiram's trusty Webley revolver. Or the first time Junebug comes home after her recent revival, stinking up the house and leaking embalming fluid onto the floor. Or the frog diarrhea. 
Then there is the cover art and interior paintings by  Malcolm McClinton. In these stark, simple images, he manages to perfectly capture the frailty and pathos that drives Hiram in the face of the utter insanity of the moment. The addition of illustrations like these is what has put Shroud to the forefront of my mind when it comes to small press releases, second only to some of the better releases by Necro. Art like this makes it much easier to justify the added cost that comes with any small press purchase.
Still, something is bugging me. I was a tad disappointed with the Deus Ex Machina (quite literal at one point) that swoops in to save Hiram in his moments of direst need. Generally, Hiram is made out to be the kind of guy that has no choice but to take care of his own problems and to drag himself from the edge of the abyss by the last remaining shreds of his own ragged fingernails. Yet, he is saved TWICE by the invisible hand of fate, the same hand that has shat all over his life at any other given opportunity. It isn't a story destroyer, but it did come across as a tad cheap.
Come the bright, unwavering light of dawn, H.G. and the VotD made for a damn fine and totally entertaining read that moved me in unexpected ways. I can't wait to find out what lies in store for our intrepid anti-hero once he washes the puke out of his hair. 
go to Shroud Publishing  or the everpresent Amazon to get yourself a copy.