Friday, 27 February 2015

Joyland by Stephen King

 I have always admired Stephen King as a powerful and emotive writer and over the last 40 years he has written what I can only describe as literary masterpieces. There are two books in particular which are prominent in my mind at portraying the author’s style from fantasy to horror namely “The Green Mile” and “The Shining”.

Joyland is equal to if not better than the aforementioned and in my opinion ranks as one of the greatest examples of the “coming of age” story ever is that good! It is true to say that I as a reader have a certain respect and fondness for “Devin Jones” as his experience in Joyland mirrors my own youthful dalliances as both an amusement park worker and a camp councillor in America during the mid 1970’s. The writing is so powerful that at times I lost all knowledge of time and place so engrossed was I in the mystical storytelling ability of Mr King.

Devin Jones has taken a summer job as a worker and ride operator at Joyland Amusement Park in South Carolina. In recent times Joyland was the location and scene for the disappearance and murder of a young lady called Linda Gray. Devin will spend the summer and beyond learning the business and defining his character as he makes the sometimes painful but also memorable journey from youth to adult. He will form long lasting friendships with the amusement park staff in particular his landlady Mrs Shoplaw, Erin and Tom, the tragic and crippled Mike and his mum the mysterious Annie Ross, Devin’s first love.

In King’s hands the layers of the story and the characters unfold as we sweep forward between the past and the present. The crime element remains secondary to the main theme which is in essence a study of human relations and a longing back to a time of excitement and innocence. This is not to say that the hunt for the murderer is forgotten, rather this theme is kept discretely alive as the threads of the story are expertly brought together.

What sets Stephen King apart from fellow authors is his understanding of the human condition and his inherent ability to bring this alive throughout the pages of his writing...

“When you’re twenty-one, life is a roadmap. It’s only when you get to be twenty-five or so that you begin to suspect you’ve been looking at the map upside down, and not until you’re forty are you entirely sure. By the time you’re sixty, take if from me, you’re fucking lost.”

“Fifty yards ahead of us, a doe had come out of the woods. She stepped delicately over one rusty GS&WM track and onto the railbed, where the weeds and goldenrod were so high they brushed against her sides. She paused there, looking at us calmly, ears cocked forward. What I remember about that moment was the silence. No bird sang, no plane went droning overhead. If my mother had been with us, she’d have had her camera and would have been taking pictures like mad. Thinking of that made me miss her in a way I hadn’t in years.”

“It doesn’t have to be the last good time. But sooner or later the last good time would come around. It does for all of us.”

I find it astounding that a book of such beauty and deep emotive thoughts can possibly be targeted with negative reviews....”Shallow supernatural elements. No real suspense or horror or twists-it’s amazing I managed to finish it” such reviewer states. The point of this story is we are not dealing with blood thirsty flesh eating zombies! if you want that look elsewhere...rather the crime, the horror, the suspense is all present but expertly packaged in an enthralling coming of age story...”Mike’s thing was clearer. Simpler. Purer. It wasn’t like seeing the ghost of Linda Gray, but it was akin to that, okay? It was touching another world.

The conclusion of Joyland is nothing short of astounding and expertly brings all the pieces of the story into a satisfactory whole.....I implore you to read this is a major work of such importance from a modern literary genius.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Thirst by Guy N Smith

This book was part of a number I picked up when helping my daughter no 2 decorate her new flat. Having not read anything by Guy N Smith before (living in the UK...not having read anything by Guy N Smith...where have I been!) I was eager to jump right into this fine example of late 70/80s horror. I was a great fan of Herbert and King during this period and indeed I remember reading The Rats on a beach in Greece in the 70s when I was young free and single...and of course beautiful!! The first thing that strikes the avid horror reader about books of that period is the art work and the cover....quite often the books were rubbish but the covers were fantastic and helped undoubtedly sell the material. Thirst has a fantastic cover (1980 edition) with a reservoir in the distance...where all the weed killer was deposited (see later) fronted by a screaming woman whose face is adorned with various sores and abnormalities. In the distance the sun is setting creating a red and cruel sky.....come on admit want to read it!!

Mel Timberley is transporting a dangerous volatile tanker full of weed killer and unfortunately his mind is elsewhere. I just loved the opening paragraph it really drew me in...”The tanker lumbered through the night, its erratic passage reflecting the mood of its driver – angry; punishing the engine on stretches of straight road, torturing brakes and tyres on the bends” So with Mel reflecting on his troubles he is not concentrating on his driving and the responsibility of such a dangerous cargo....the inevitable happens and the toxic week killer ends its journey unfortunately in a reservoir that is the main water feed for the good people of Birmingham.

As with all good horror we meet an interesting cross section of the population and enjoy the spectacle of how they cope when drinking the offending water supply. At 200+ pages the story is short ( I always feel this is a great attribute in horror novels of this type as there is only so many ways an unsuspecting populace can meet its demise) Characters are introduced to the reader only to quickly disappear as they come into contact with the deadly water supply.

One character of note is Benny Wilkes living a life full of wasted opportunities under the watchful eye of a weak mother and a dominating father, Thomas Wilkes, who insists his son follow a nice safe career in banking. One day Benny decides to alter the brakes on his father’s car, leading to Thomas Wilkes demise expertly hidden under all the turmoil happening in a city under seize due to the contaminated water.

All stories must have a hero and I suppose Ron Blythe fits that model perfectly especially as he was the scientist behind the production of the week killer and therefore morally responsible. Ron has a wondering eye for the ladies and has had many affairs with younger more attractive women (well why shouldn’t he...Margaret was beautiful once but age has caught with her...a somewhat chauvinistic attitude!) The city of Brimingham is declared an emergency zone with rampaging looting gangs and inhabitants dying.....the world is crying out for a hero... step up to centre stage Ron. Ron attempts to break out of the fenced emergency zone with the beautiful Carol Evans (someone had to rescue her...why not Ron!) Ron loves Carol...Carol loves Ron...bye bye Margaret!! A bulldozer and an escaped convict, Mike Cummins, help our heroes breach the barriers and head for all well with the world? There is a nice unexpected conclusion which leads to a satisfactory ending.

I enjoyed the first half of Thirst, meeting all the characters both good and bad and watching the carnage unfold but I felt the second half was a somewhat wasted opportunity descending into anarchy as a once proud city became the battle ground for warring gangs and wannabe soldiers. So in conclusion a fine example of horror of a certain age, not a work of great imagination but a fun way to spend an afternoon.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

In the end only darkness by Monica O'Rourke

Extreme horror is a genre that I don't often read, I am not sure if I will enjoy, I am not sure if I want to enjoy and I am nor sure if I will find the experience at all pleasant. “In the end only darkness” is a brutal read and involves themes of torture and rape where everyday death is just a normal occurrence. That said I often question why I read particular books and how I judge what is good bad or indifferent? and indeed if I am entertained by a book whatever the subject that has to be a good thing. This book is a collection of short stories, dealing with the aforementioned themes, and as such (as I often find) some of these stories I will enjoy and some I will find instantly forgettable. There were a few gems here where I could honestly say the readers might question his own morals; “Oral Mohel” is a rather unusual and novel way for a "circumcision" to be performed (the clue being in the title) It certainly held my attention and was both an enjoyable and painful experience to read."An experiment in Human Nature" is a very difficult story of torture in the extreme but Mz O'Rourke concludes the story in a most satisfactory manner. "Feeding Desire with Jack Fisher" will most certainly test the human "prejudice" and what you think of as normal behaviour will be sorely tested in this (what I considered) a fun read and prob one of the highlights of the book .......

"For Diana, being thin was about as far away as Europe and not nearly as attainable. Folds of flesh covered a frame that, after worms and maggots someday feasted on her corpse, would prove to be of medium bone structure; meaning she would never be dainty or petite no matter what here weight; nor on the flipside would she ever try out for women's rugby....Diana being bed-ridden because of her rather rotund body had little else to do all day and night other than to watch television-and eat....Diana lived in a studio and spent her life sprawled on a pullout sofa that hadn’t been in its original position in half a decade. The sheet beneath her wet and stained flesh was filthy with crumbs and feces smears that she couldn’t quite reach to wipe away. The sheets hadn’t been changed in months”....
So this very obese lady has a constant relationship with food until the day Jack Fisher arrives and Diana is then able to combine her love of food with her new found interest in sex under the helpful guidance of Mr Fisher. So this story may question what we feel is right and proper in a world consumed by the perfect shape and the perfect body. It is an uncomfortable yet enjoyable rump and kept me reading irrespective of the subject matter There is also a great sadness to this story and a very unexpected that not what reading is about? enjoyment and escape from the ordinary?

“The rest of Larry” provides one of the lighter moments in this dark collection. Larry awakens to find that he was not so much a person but a torso...”A skeletal torso at that, most of the meat having rotted off the bones or been picked clean by scavengers. He’d been chopped in half, that much was obvious. Parts of the blade were still imbedded in a rib bone From the base of the ribcage down, he was..well, in the immortal words of Gertude Stein, There was not there, there. Nothing but flapping tissue and shredded tatters of shirt.” Larry needs answers and he finds them in the hands of his wife and lover....a great story concluded expertly
I am certainly glad I read this book as the collection had some thoughtful and great stories that certainly made in impression on what I felt was morally correct.

Monday, 27 October 2014

A story with bite!!

Top Notch! This is everything a short read should be....snappy (little joke!) grabbing the readers attention (another little joke!)but most importantly sheer enjoyment. You know the situation you're trying to bond with your step daughter and suggest to her mum that both of you travel to a log cabin in deepest Alaska where you can stare at the stars (Ursa Major) and get to know eachother over a few days. So there you are snowed's below are miles from any town...and big daddy!! Ursa Major comes calling..are you surprised :)" The Great Bear. A flash image of the big dipper zipped through his mind, and he felt the irony of loving seeing Ursa Major in the sky the other night. Now it seemed like that was a million years ago."

I read this short story in one sitting and loved every minute. That wily old bear has got our two heroes trapped in the cabin and he is quite prepared to wait it out as he has already enjoyed his horderves (I'll not disclose that little surprise)Will old Ursa be sitting down to his main couse? or will Dan and Nicole escape his evil and enjoy! Well done Mr Little not only is this a great concise and cautionary little tale (for the wise) but a brilliant and well executed (no pun intended) conclusion....:)

Sunday, 26 October 2014

What could be greater praise for a book than to say that this is probably one of the finest novels ever available on the kindle and it’s thanks to darkfuse that Dark Father was published earlier this year....and what a cracking story it is.

There are three threads running; we have Jimmy Hopewell part time gangster and professional wife beater, one day Kate has had enough and escapes the the torture with her son Billy. Then there is Frank and the wife he loves Cindy with their adorable son Jake. In a medical facility/asylum lives Mack a deeply disturbed patient under the auspices of attending Physicians Doctor Kincaid and Doctor Faber. To delve deeper into the storyline would spoil the surprises that await the reader, all three stories have a thread that will become surprisingly clear as the novel concludes.

The novel in some ways is a mixture of crime and horror, Jimmy Hopewell’s lost (removed!) eye and his increasing ability to visualize the future adds a touch of humour to a somewhat monstrous character. “Jimmy stood there, his hair hanging across his brow, his face all but destroyed. His left eye was a black hole, rimmed with attenuated tissue and dried pulp. There was a large bruise down the left side of his face. His stubble was dark with blood.” However it is through Frank that we understand the real meaning of loss and what one sad demented individual will do to recapture the past. There is a wonderful sad and descriptive passage that illustrates the beautiful writing style of Mr Cooper and the deteriorating mind of Frank.....

“He swiped the brush across Cindy’s lips, creating the perfect smile, and then stood back to admire his work. He frowned; the effect hadn’t been adequately captured. He primed the brush with a fresh slug of paint, and then slapped it across her mouth again, even as Cindy was moaning, trying desperately to compress her lips. Frank took another step back and smiled, satisfied with his work, He repeated the whole procedure on the boy, taking more care this time, almost dabbing on the paint for fear of unnerving his darling Jakey, which would be inexcusable. He applied the emulsion with a kind of detached wonder, granting them both cosmetic smiles that stretched halfway around their face; not a disfiguring scar, but an extension of their elation. Unequivocal proof of their love.....He dipped the brush into the tin and drew an irregular line of red paint across his own mouth. “God, I love you” he said. His family sat across from him, unmoving, wearing smiles as wet and wide as a slashed throat.!

When I was 94% complete I still could not see how the author was going to complete this wonderful story and show the connection of the various threads to the reader...but I need not have worried in the hands of an expert the conclusion is crafted to perfection. If you enjoy dark fiction of the highest quality, with a touch of crime, a dash of humour and a great dollop of emotional heartbreak then I implore you to read this amazing story....I can’t recommend highly what are you waiting fo:))

Saturday, 30 August 2014

I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes

Maybe it's something to do with the fact that I am on hols and as a little surprise my wife decided to invite my mother in  law to know the scene :( Your favourite seat in front of the telly is now occupied by the MIL, your beers have all disappeared from the fridge ( or cooler if you are reading this over the pond :) and you MIL has a smile on her face, all the cycling that you hope to watch (La Vuelta) has been replaced by English soap...eastenders...coronation street...and then there's the x factor etc...god help us!! Of couse lets not forget feeding time (at the zoo) all your favourite food and the money in your pocket is fast what's a guy to do but disappear to a quiet spot with a novel that he can just step into...disappear into...become part of and just enjoy the story and the ride for the hell of it.

If you read an average book of approx 350 pages then it's so easy to dip in and out off,and return to later, pick up the pieces and finish in a reasonable time whilst remembering all the outstanding descriptions and storylines. However with a 900 page book you need to seriously think about putting aside some quality reading time, not just 50 pages but at least 200 pages in a sitting. If you do this then you are richly rewarded often with and outstanding story that you cannot help become involved with. I am pilgrim is acturally about a secret service agent, Pilgrim,  taken out of retirement to find on of the greatest mass terrorists that world has ever known "Saracen" It is Saracen's sole objective to destroy America by the development and release of a deadly virus with no cure. That esssentially is the storyline but due to the length of the novel the reader has time to get to know both terrorist and secret service agent thus producing one of the greatest intelligent reads/thriller in the last year. This book has movie written all over it...and if like me you find yourself with some downtime, or you find yourself with the MIL for company "At my signal unleash hell" then you could do worse than make the acquaintance of Pilgrim and watch as he journeys the world to stop the evil intentions of the evil Saracen...and perhaps then he could help me with the MIL :)

An Evil Mind by Chris Carter

I find Chris Carter one of the greatest thriller/crime writers of the modern age. He has produced in Robert Hunter a first class anti-hero, a detective working on the side of good but with a tragic past, which is revealed as this story progresses.

An unexpected accident causes, a shocking find is made in the boot of a car, and a suspect is immediately detained. Lucien Folter will talk to no one but Hunter, they have a past, and when Detective Hunter arrives a grizzly tale of horrific proportions unfolds with Folter at the centre. This is absolutely spellbinding storytelling and a story that gave new meaning to the word depravity.....I could not put it down and finished in two is that good. The players at the centre are Hunter and Folter, good v evil, but who is leading who? and will the body count ever stop. Hunter is helped in his odyssey by the charismatic and beautiful Detective Taylor and as we race towards a bloody conclusion, in the search for the one hostage who might still be alive, Carter does not cease to surprise and manipulate the reader as once again he proves how his training as a criminal psychologist has helped make him an outstanding author.