Tag: horror books (Page 2 of 2)

Saturday Night of the Living Dead / Post Mortem Press

‘Saturday Night of the Living Dead’ Review

“There’s really no such thing as a casual horror fan.”

When I read that line in Brad Carter’s book, Saturday night of the Living Dead, it dawned on me how true that was. Throughout the novel, the name-dropping (Bruce Campbell, John Carpenter, Wes Craven), the discussion of legitimate horror films, the homage to different horror genres (zombies, B-films, Lovecraftian, religious fanatics) kept me interested and wondering what might be next. Every little bit of trivia planted in the story reflected back to an author who knows his horror films. Every mention of this person or that movie had me flashing back my own memories, which fleshed out the world Carter created.

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The premise of the story is simple enough, like a basic p.lot summary of a screen play: a self-made man finds success in gore effects for movies (much to the disapproval of his family), heads home for a funeral, finds himself haunted by a ghost and must fight against the apocalypse.

But like a synopsis only giving a generalized overview, in the hands of someone who knows what they’re doing and knows their audience, the book actually develops deeper than that: creating characters who are relatable, even if their situations are not.

Ryan, the black sheep of his family and our hero, has to puzzle together the answer to a riddle assigned to him by the ghost of a woman he pined his teenage years away for. He attempts to balance his work, the women in his life, and the ghost’s vague instructions. He ends up writing a screenplay for a gore-effects-driven feature, buying the abandoned drive-in theater in his hometown, and premiering his film—and then all literal hell breaks loose. He discovers he must avert Armageddon, and with the help of a group of rag-tag friends, happens to succeed . . . at some cost.

I liked Saturday night of the Living Dead for its tributes to horror classics and ease of reading. It was a long novel, however; the huge amounts of time covered (the whole story, in truth) were explained away as Ryan relating the events that happened to a vague but menacing government agency. There were some jumps from chapter to chapter that left me confused until I realized this was the frame story to it all. One instance of deus ex machine may have made me shake my head in another novel, but when zombies are climbing out of a movie screen, cultists are taking down the zombies and regular people alike, and the landscape is slowly becoming alien as another dimension seeps through to our reality, it can be forgiven.

It was simply enjoyable to read something from an author who is obviously a fan and having fun with it. In the hands of someone who wasn’t, the hodge-podge of genres wouldn’t have worked as well. If you’re a fan of blood-splattering horror films with a nod to the incredible, you’ll enjoy this book.

Available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and its publisher, Post Mortem Press.

Mr. Mercedes

‘Mr. Mercedes’ Book Review

If you’re looking for a fun beach read that features a glut of stunted sexuality and shocking violence, Mr. Mercedes is the book for you. I enjoyed it very much even though it’s the sort of book that the thrill fades quickly after the last word is read, sort of like The Da Vinci Code. Mr. Mercedes is a page-turner in the Stephen King tradition, but not one for the ages.

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Mr. Mercedes is a whacko who drives his car into a huge crowd of people, killing eight, and through a combination of crazy, dumb luck, and planning, gets away with it. And the insanity keeps on coming as he thinks of more and more ways to kill people, although he doesn’t quite follow through on most of his ideas. The cop who was trying to catch him, Bill Hodges, has retired and is running out the clock watching afternoon TV and getting comfortable with the idea of killing himself (a conceit that never quite rang true for this reader). But when Mr. Mercedes sends Hodges a mocking letter, the retired detective gets off his ass and sets his crosshairs on bringing Mr. Mercedes into the hoosegow. Along the way, Hodges meets the Mercedes’ owner’s sister, dream woman Janey, who helps a lot with getting the gun out of Hodges’ mouth. My favorite character is Janey’s niece, Holly, who suffers from arrested development but is smart and good with computers and turns out to be someone you want in your corner.

Although I enjoyed this book, part of me was aware that it felt like a writing exercise for Mr. King. He mentioned John Sanford, author of the successful Prey series, a few times in Doctor Sleep and I felt like King thought, I want to write a John Sanford novel– which usually consist of a crazy person’s perspective and the perspective of Lucas Davenport, the rogue detective chasing the crazy person. Mr. Mercedes is structured in this Crazy Person/Hunter way, which is fine, nothing wrong with that, tried and true. And maybe this isn’t Hamlet, but it was a fun read. I was surprised that it looks like King is setting up a series about the retired detective. Maybe King’s buddy, J.K. Rowling, told him that it’s fun to write detective series? (Editor’s note: He’s referring to the Cormoran Strike series that Rowling writes under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith.) But fans of King’s will no doubt notice that there is nothing supernatural in this book, which is sort of King’s thing. Even some of his more straight-forward books will have, say, a finale that takes place in a painting or a turtle that created the galaxy.

A strange theme in the book is responsibility. The Mercedes that the titular character drives into the crowd shows up again and again. The owner, Olivia Trelawney, is crucified in the press for seeming to have left her keys in the car. I don’t see it, personally. The reason I don’t leave my keys in the ignition is not so that people don’t steal my car and kill people with it. It just all seems incredibly weird, but “literary” in the sense that the theme is dealt with. It’s not too annoying, but I didn’t quite buy it. Well, I could believe that someone would feel guilty if their car was used to kill eight people, but not that the police would blame the car owner.

The only place where we go full-on Stephen King is when we’re looking at things from Mr. Mercedes’ point of view, which is a horrible place to be. He hates minorities, women, life, and has done some awful things. Although to his credit, he loves his mother. The character was interesting to me because he wasn’t a super villain. His plans fail. He makes mistakes. And he is practically begging to be caught. In short, even though he’s larger-than-life, he’s kind of realistic. I feel like King really understands why people do awful things.

I do like the new Stephen King habit of titling books with honorifics. I wonder if he wishes he could go back and re-title The Stand, Mrs. World’s End By Common Colds. What’s next? Madame Mutilation? Her Honor the Liver Donor? The Deadly Dowager? I can’t wait! Cannibal, Esquire?

Doctor Sleep

‘Doctor Sleep’ Book Review

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King is a great, unexpected sequel to The Shining. ( A book called Doctor Sleep sounds compelling to this sleep-deprived new parent.) Doctor Sleep is a sequel in the way that life has sequels, time has moved on and everyone is in a completely different situation than in the first book. Hell, I bet you could read this without having read The Shining and still enjoy it (although once again, read the damn Shining).

[one_third][/one_third] I think that Stephen King is on top of his game right now. Many of his earlier books are classic from the young man’s energy of a talented writer burning up a typewriter. But King has learned a lot about characters and life along the way and I would argue that his books have a lot more to say now than they used to, particularly about women and people of color, who could get short-shrift in, say, Cujo. This is a mature book about regrets and making the wrong decision even when you know that’s what you’re doing, but also an interesting fanciful work about psychic powers. The book grooves along and you can’t help but to care about the characters until you hit enough emotional depth that the book metamorphoses from page-turner into something truly compelling.

Watch out for MILD SPOILERS for the Lonesome Dove series and Doctor Sleep. MASSIVE SPOILERS for The Shining. If you haven’t read The Shining, for God’s sake, go and do so.

Did anyone think that there would ever be a sequel to The Shining? I sure didn’t. Like It or The Stand, most Stephen King books are complete in and of themselves, with the exception of his Gunslinger books, which are billed as a series. Sometimes, there’s some weird copyright thing going on and someone will make, say, The Lawnmower Man 2, which will have nothing at all to do with anything Stephen King ever wrote. We’ll have to wait thirty years to see if this book is forever associated with The Shining, a classic horror book acknowledged as a masterpiece ten years after it was written. But sequels are strange. Doctor Sleep could be forgotten in six years. For instance, I really enjoyed Brothers, the sequel to William Goldman’s Marathon Man, but few talk of that book anymore. But I really enjoyed Doctor Sleep.

Danny Torrence, a child in The Shining, is grown up and wandering the United States in a drunken stupor. Slightly psychic (okay, okay, slightly Shining) and empathic, he has found his calling as a hospice worker who is skilled at helping people die. But Danny’s not skilled at staying sober enough to keep a job. The events at the Overlook Hotel still haunt his nightmares, but not as much as his own poor choices as an adult haunt his waking hours. Danny travels North and settles down in Frasier, New Hampshire, where he makes psychic contact with Abra, a very powerful Shining baby. The bad guys are the True Knot, a group of not-quite-human, long-lived child murderers who travel the US in RVs looking for people who “shine” to steal their life essence. The Knot have noticed Abra and want to eat her. It’s a weird idea, but it works.

Sequels in general can be a sticky wicket. In movies, there is a tendency to try to exactly re-create the original movie, just bigger. (I’m looking at you, Die Hard 2, City Slickers 2, Speed 2, Jurassic Park 2, and, well, a host of others.) But that’s movies. In literature, the story is usually working on a different level. For instance, if you look at the work of Larry McMurtry, there’s the Lonesome Dove series where many of the main characters are dead by the beginning of the second book. And we see another adventure where, instead of a cattle drive, we get a manhunt, more of a classic Texas ranger story. Compare that to the TV-only Lonesome Dove sequel which is just another f’ing cattle drive.

Don’t get me wrong, there are just as many crappy book sequels as movies sequels (Jurassic Park 2, the book!), but the books usually don’t go wrong by trying to re-create the exact set of circumstances as the first story. Although I think that might happen in the Bridget Jones sequel.

[one_third][/one_third] So what would be in a lazy sequel to The Shining? Another haunted house, maybe Danny Torrence all grown up with his own family, more ghosts, maybe another crazy game rich people play that I’ve never heard of? Remember how they play Roque at the Overlook ? Well, this sequel has none of that. We do get to see some of the characters from the original book, but they are mostly incidental, except for Danny (Dan!) who is the main character. And the location of “The Overlook” comes up again, but the hotel blew up at the end of the novel.

I’m going to take this a step farther and say that a good writer can enrich the original story by progressing the character development and themes. The Shining has a lot to say about substance abuse, family abuse, and how good intentions can go really wrong. Danny’s story is very different from his father’s, but there are thematic similarities. Jack Torrence was on a dry drunk in The Shining, something I’m still not sure I fully understand. Danny starts the book as a very content wet drunk. Danny’s mother Wendy tries to hold the family together in The Shining. She’s not in Doctor Sleep much, but we see another side to her strength. And the hospice scenes are handled with the sensitivity of a mature writer. We do get a few minor missteps where King is too reverent to the austerity of the dying.

This book reminded me most of the work of Lawrence Block, particularly in his Matt Scudder series, an unflinching look at addiction and the good works of Alcoholics Anonymous. Danny is psychic and it’s a hard life, so he drinks. And when he hits rock bottom, he doesn’t even realize it for a few years. I hate to make biographical assumptions about writers, but King’s struggle with substance abuse is well-known and I would argue that he brings a lot of hard-learned lessons to show the thousand little victories that an addict must win every day to continue on without completely destroying the life they have built brick-by-brick.

I’m making this sound like a Maeve Binchy book. There’s clever psychic stuff! Fights! Edge-of-your-seat Stephen King-style suspense! Great villains! They are kind of like RV-traveling psychic vampires, but not silly. And there’s at least two surprises that I should have seen coming, but didn’t because I was so wrapped up in the story. All the new characters are interesting. And there’s that ineffable King quality where everything seems too dangerous and important.

The book can be a little lazy. There is a hell of a long set up and then the final third is a little sparse writing-wise. I don’t know if that’s because King wanted to keep us reading quickly– a skill at which he excels– or if he just ran out of steam (which will be funny once you read the book). It’s not a big problem or anything, but it’s the thing that keeps it from being near the top of the King heap. The ending is fine, but seems a little abrupt.

Will you like this book if you’ve only see the movie, The Shining? Maybe, I don’t know. If you’re even slightly interested in this book and you haven’t read The Shining, for God’s sake, read The Shining. It is a brilliant book and could not be more different from the movie, which is very good in a different way.

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