Monday, February 28, 2011
When Barry Shannon's younger brother is murdered, Barry wants answers. . . and revenge. The first half might prove difficult; the second half won't be a problem because he is a U.S. Government-sanctioned assassin. The agency Barry works for has agreed to give him the time off that he needs to complete what needs to be done, but they also make it known that if he chooses to pursue this, he goes in alone. Driven more by feelings of guilt than the desire to see justice done, Barry takes his leave.
His investigation leads him to a small college town in Texas, where his brother was enrolled in the university. At first, after talking to one of Tod's professors, it appears Tod just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, but after talking to one of the students, Barry is led back to the professor, who lied about how closely he knew the younger man. It seems Tod was involved in some sort of grant research, and Professor Phillips was his faculty advisor. Curious to know what kind of research his brother was doing, Barry checks out the younger man's apartment. When he arrives he finds the place is being trashed by two men who are obviously looking for something. When he confronts them, he comes face to face with something from the darkest depths of nightmares; one of the men appears to be part animal. The two men escape, and when Barry looks around the ruins of his brother's apartment, he realizes that they are somehow connected to the research his brother was doing for Phillips. He's only able to assemble small pieces to a larger puzzle, a puzzle that deals with demonic entities and possession. Barry is left wondering what the hell his brother had gotten himself involved with.
Sara Lansing is a reporter for the local paper. She's getting antsy and bored covering the local news—not much ever happens in town—and is seriously considering putting the town behind her and moving on when a bunch of cattle are mutilated. Her reporter's instinct tells her there's something more behind the attacks other than a crazed drifter (as the sheriff would like her to believe). She thinks that cracking this story will open up doors for her on the national news scene, but what she uncovers during her investigation might prove to be too sensational, not to mention utterly unbelievable, to be ever be printed in anything other than a supermarket tabloid.
Tommy Sloan is just a kid being raised by his mother. His father went out one day and never came back. Tommy is convinced his father is at the house at the end of the road, the house where it is rumored some crazy people live, but he's always been too afraid to go and check it out. When his mother disappears, he becomes even more convinced that she and his father are together in that house, and if he ever wants to see them again, it is up to him to go down there and bring them back.
Three lives are about to be drawn together by a nightmare none of them could have ever imagined, and in order for any of them to survive, Barry will be forced to battle the monster within himself, the monster that made him what he is today. Can he do it, or will his inner monster be seduced by the darkness and the promise of power beyond his comprehension?
Never having read anything by MacLane, I wasn't sure what to expect. I admit I approached this with a little apprehension, especially after having read quite a bit of the horror fiction published in the 8os, so much of which was story driven with stock cardboard characters. I was surprised with Keepers of the Beast, as the story is more character oriented. That's not to say that the story drags, because it doesn't. The details that flesh out the characters, making them fully realized individuals, are woven seamlessly into a story that moves along at a swift pace. You feel yourself rooting and fearing for the characters as the story progresses. To say that the story is realistic would be stretching it, considering the fact that it is a horror novel, but the plot is solid and I never once questioned the events as they unfolded within the fictional world.
As I said, this is the first MacLane novel I have read, and based on it, I wouldn't hesitate to pick up another of his books. If you are looking for a novel that will keep you reading long into the night, I would highly recommend Keepers of the Beast.
Sunday, February 27, 2011
I pissed my pants. I can’t believe I pissed my fuckin’ pants.
He tried not to think about it, but the embarrassing warmth was quickly turning to a cold clamminess at his crotch, serving as an uncomfortable reminder that he had lost control of his bladder. And it sure as hell beat the alternative. He didn’t want to think about how he was trapped beneath the motor home, face down in the mud, especially since it hadn’t rained in weeks. As long as he kept his eyes shut and his thoughts focused on the chafing between his legs, he didn’t have to think about what exactly it was that had dampened the earth enough to have it oozing between his fingers. But there was no denying that smell. The thick coppery tang mixed with the mineral-rich scent of the dirt was like a wad of cotton plugging his nostrils, but as long as he didn’t open his eyes, he wouldn’t have to acknowledge the source. He had a feeling he knew what it was, but he was too afraid to look.
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Kerri and her friends are on the way home from a concert when her boyfriend, Tyler, gets it in his head to score some drugs in order to keep the good mood going. Everybody just wants to go home, but Tyler's driving, and he claims the guy is a friend and it's not far. However, when a closed road causes him to detour, he gets himself all turned around and they find themselves in one of the seedier parts of town. As if that wasn't bad enough, the car picks that moment to give up the ghost. Insisting that he can fix it, Tyler forbids anybody calling for help, but when a group of locals approach them, they panic. They run straight for the abandoned house at the end of the street despite to other kids telling them not to go in there.
From the moment they get inside, they realize they are in trouble when the door locks behind them. Despite the rundown condition of the house, the door is stronger than it appears. When they decide to search the house in order to find another way out, they are set upon by a giant of a man, or so they think. Tyler and one of the girls are killed immediately, and Kerri and her remaining three friends run deeper into the house in order to avoid meeting the same fate. They get separated, and soon discover that the house is rigged up like a carnival fun house, with sliding panels and trap doors. They also soon realize that what they are up against isn't just one psychotic killer, but multiple generation of deformed mutants that have lived beneath the house longer than anybody knows. Driven by fear and a desperate desire to stay alive, the four remaining friends search for a way out, but in order to reach it, they must pass through the mutant lair. Can they do it?
In the meantime, the neighborhood kids who had approached the car know the house's reputation. They don't know what lives there, but they do know that whoever goes in is never seen again. Feeling partially responsible, they call the cops, but the police are all too familiar with the house as well, and when they don't show, the kids decide to take matters into their own hands. Somebody has to help those other kids, and it looks like it's up to them. Will Leo and his friends be able to gain access to the house and help those trapped within, or will they, too, become victims of the house?
Reading Urban Gothic, I was reminded of one of my favorite movies, The People Under The Stairs (yes, I'm a freak, I admit it, but I love Wendy Robie and Everett McGill in that movie. It's kind of like Lucy and Ricky on acid.). The house Keene has created brings to mind the creepy castles of Gothic fiction, with their secret passageways and miles upon miles of tunnels running beneath them. Those castles and the ghosts that haunt them are tame in comparison. Keene's house is inhabited by a tribe of cannibalistic freaks, which he paints with a grim brutality that will have you looking over your shoulder as you read. His human characters are painted with that same gritty realness that will have you on the edge of your seat as they make their way through the house looking for a way out.
As much as I liked Urban Gothic, there were certain things that stood out as problematic, at least for me. Keene reveals that these mutants have been around a long time, longer than the town has been in existence, but that is the extent of it. We are never informed as to the origin of these creatures, which I found disappointing. I kept hoping that the kids would stumble across something that would reveal the origin of these monsters. Given that the house appears larger on the inside than is perceived from the outside, you wonder if maybe it's a portal to another dimension. There was also a moment where I thought Keene might be attempting a Cthulhu mythos tie-in. There's nothing definite, which was frustrating to me as a reader.
The other issue I had with these mutants is that some of them spoke English in complete sentences. To me, this would imply that they had more contact with the outside world that we are led to believe. One of the questions that is raised by one of the characters in the book is what do these creatures live on? Their sole sustenance can't be the chance individual who happens to stray into their lair, and there aren't enough rodents to keep their race alive. Are they working with somebody from the outside, somebody who regularly lures unwitting victims to their demise? This would help to explain how they can communicate with their victims. We just don't know, and for me, it ruined the credibility of these mutants. I would have preferred it if they stuck with grunts, groans, and moans as a means of communication. If language was necessary, they should have spoken in a fragmented dialogue.
All in all, however, I did enjoy Urban Gothic, and would highly recommend it to anybody who doesn't mind raw, brutal, graphic horror fiction.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Ever since Annie refused to go through her door to the other side, she has learned there are beings on the Other Side who are not happy with her decision. She now lives in fear, never knowing when they are going to send one of their agents to try to force her through the door. She also has developed a fear of the radio and the television, as they are a means of communication from the Other Side. When a door appears in the kitchen, Annie fears the worst, never expecting a ghost to come through it. These doorways have always been portals TO the Other Side, never FROM.
Gemma claims not to know why she is back, that she was able to escape but is afraid that they will be coming for her. She admits to having visions of a noose and a road, but she doesn't know what they mean. Mitchell suspects she knows more than she's letting on, but he can't prove it. Not yet anyway. In the meantime, he notices a change in Annie. He knows she's been afraid to leave the house because she's afraid of them, but she seems to have lost her vitality since Gemma arrived. He also doesn't think it's a coincidence that the ghost of a teenager has been seen around the hospital where he works. Something is going on, but he's clueless as to what it is. He realizes the problem is more serious that anybody realizes when he enters the flat and Annie apologizes, stating that she had fallen asleep, and ghosts don't sleep. With Annie's energy fading, it's becomes a race against time. Can Mitchell, with George's help, put the pieces of the puzzle together before Annie loses what little life she has left?
While I found the story entertaining and well written, I had to put some distance between the book and the series. Simon Guerrier has crafted an interesting mystery that will keep you turning the pages, but he has failed to capture the essence of the characters: George doesn't come across as the hyper personality that he is, Mitchell isn't the brooding addict that the show captures so well, and Annie is just flat, which is a shame because, even though she started out the show as the weakest character and my least favorite, she is one of the stronger characters who has come into her own and has become my favorite.
The failure to accurately capture the show's characters doesn't detract from the story itself, provided you approach it as a stand-alone story that happens to involve supernatural characters; however, if you go into this looking for something to tide you over until the Season 3 of the series begins (which thankfully is this coming Saturday, February 19th), you will be in for a big disappointment.
Saturday, February 5, 2011
Eight scientists on a routine field research expedition in the wilds of Maine. Short of a sprained ankle or a broken nail, nothing could go wrong, and to make certain of that, Colby, a disgraced ex-Marine, has been hired by the firm to keep the researchers safe. It's an easy job, and it even comes with a few perks, as the lone female scientist has taken a shine to Colby, but then one of the researchers goes missing. When they find traces of blood in the man's tent, Colby immediately organizes a search party and they head out to find the missing man, who they eventually find. Well, part of him anyway. At first Colby thought it was just the boot, but then he finds the foot is still in it, and it is alive with flies busy laying eggs in the flesh.
Back at base camp, panic begins to set in as they speculate what could have happened to Jared. Regardless, Colby has decided that whatever is going on is beyond him and they need to get the hell out. The only problem is, there's no way to call for help. They can't get a signal on their cell phones, and a SAT phone wasn't in the budget. That means either walking out through the wilderness or heading out to the drop-off point with the hopes that they will be able to get a signal in the clearing. But not knowing what they are up against, Colby thinks it's better to take a small group. It will be easier to keep a couple of people safe in the wilderness than having to keep an eye on everybody.
One day out, they discover what poses the threat to them. Voracious leech-like grubs that have to ability to reanimate dead tissue. As if that wasn't bad enough, the queens, once attached, secrete a will-deadening toxin that allows them to control the living. It becomes a battle of man versus nature for survival, but can Colby protect the people in his charge against an enemy that is all but invisible until it's too late?
With GRUBS, it appears as if McAfee is trying to combine zombie fiction with "nature strikes back" fiction, and he does a remarkable job blending the two together. While the story, which was well written, moves along at a brisk pace, I did have a problem with the characters. Not all of them were fully fleshed out, and none of them were truly likable, and maybe that's because they are all painted as fallible. They have flaws. They are human. There are no white knights here, no one individual who is impervious to everything that is thrown at them. The hero of our story, Colby, is a disgraced Marine who blames himself for the death of his men while on a mission. When the first scientist turn up dead, his past comes back to haunt him and he fears that history is about to repeat itself. That in itself is fine; a character in need of redemption. But he is too often sidetracked with thoughts of the only female scientist in his charge. His feelings for her make him careless. And is she really worthy of his attentions. As much as Janice claims she is keeping her relationship with Colby a secret, she is flaunting it in the face of her ex-husband, who happens to be one of the other researchers on the team. Can we say "Bitch"? One of the scientists is a sex-crazed sociopath who has set his sights on Janice. The rest of the characters are relatively flat—cardboard characters thrown in as cannon fodder.
Was it enough to keep me from enjoying the book? No. It was one of the rare instances where what happens to the characters becomes secondary. My attention was focused more on the grubs: Where did they come from? What was their purpose other than trying to perpetuate their dying species.
If you, like me, enjoy those cheesy low-budget horror movies that were shown periodically on weekday afternoons after school in the 70s, then this is definitely a book for you.
For those of you who follow the series, we left Pepper in Florida, recovering from the psychological aftermath of having her body hi-jacked by a love-lorn spirit and the physical effects of being shot. When Dead Man Talking opens, Pepper is back to work in Cleveland, but not at Garden View Cemetery. This outing finds her at the less glorious Monroe Street Cemetery (even the name is boring). While it will never be another Garden View, Pepper has been put in charge of the restoration of Monroe Street. And for those of you who know Pepper, this is not something she is looking forward to. Heaven forbid she should break a nail while weeding.
As if that wasn't bad enough, her big boss has decided to make the restoration a little more interesting by turning it into a reality television show, Cemetery Survivor. Seems Pepper is to be the leader of one of two teams. When her team shows up, she's almost ready to ditch the project altogether because she will be in charge of a group of petty offenders who are on probation. If it wasn't for the members of Team One, Pepper would have scratched the whole thing, but the opposing team is made up of all the high-brow women that run in the same circles Pepper used to run before her father disgraced the family but committing insurance fraud. Pepper has something to prove, to herself and to those stuck up old biddies. However, being surrounded by a group of jailbirds is a constant reminder to Pepper that her father is doing time in a Federal Prison. Even though she has been forced to get a job in order to survive, Pepper has been in denial over the whole situation involving her father, who has been calling constantly, hoping Pepper will come and visit him. But a Pepper Martin Mystery wouldn't be complete without a ghost requesting her help with something.
In this case, the ghost is Jefferson Lamar. When he was alive, he was the warden for the local prison. He wants Pepper to find out who framed him for the murder of a young, female coworker. She reluctantly accepts because she knows how pushy ghosts can be when they want something. As Pepper tries to balance her social life (she's finally got Quinn where she wants him—in bed), the cemetery restoration, and the investigation, she finds herself having to go up against hardened criminals, another reminder of her father's situation. Will Pepper come out of this one in one piece, or has she finally bitten off more than she can chew?
So what was the problem? After reading Tomb of the Loving Dead, a darker and slightly more serious adventure for Pepper, this one just seemed to fall flat. The whole reality television show concept didn't work for me, and the fiery Pepper that I have come to know and love seemed more subdued. It was as if getting shot and almost having her body stolen took the spark out of the character. It makes me wonder if Daniels is teetering on the edge, trying to decide to keep the series light-hearted and campy or to take it in a more serious direction.
Has this book ruined the series for me? Absolutely not. Every successful series has its weaker installments, that one book where they flounder as the character (and author) reach a turning point. For me, that's what I see this book as. Besides, certain things happened in Tomb of the Loving Dead and I am curious to see if they will be revisited. Will Pepper ever use the ability to leave her body again? What were those creepy shadowy things that she kept seeing. I'm hoping those aren't done deals never to be seen again.
Would I recommend Dead Man Talking? Most definitely. While the books do stand on their own, I think you gain a fuller appreciation for them if you have read them all. Sometimes characters and situations from previous books are referenced to, and if you haven't read them, you might find yourself sitting there and scratching your head, wondering what the hell she is talking about. With that said, and hopefully without spoiling things too much, I am looking forward to the next installment of this series, Tomb With a View.