Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Scarecrow and The Madness by Craig Sounders and Robert Essig

Blood Bound Books presents a double helping of sideshow fun with both Scarecrow by Craig Saunders and The Madness by Robert Essig appearing together in the same volume. These are two solid novellas that do more than complement each other whilst presenting the monsters firmly established in the human realm. Although the stories have the subtle cavalcade feel of a Creepshow comic book, a reader will find no supernatural trimmings when the blood starts to flow. Laid out bare like this, the horror reaches a primal level only seldom found in horror fiction.

With Scarecrow, Craig Saunders uses traveling gypsies as the ignition for bloodshed. It’s the holiday weekend in the English Fens, and local farmers Madge and her husband Bernie aren’t particularly perturbed by the thought of gypsies being so close in their neck of the woods. When a bar fight breaks out involving Bernie and the leader of one of the gypsy families, they soon take a form of extreme revenge of torture and clout that far outweighs their original crimes …

Although the horror in Scarecrow is ironic and perverse at times (and I mean that in the best possible way), the greatest strength of Craig’s story is the subtle humor and domestic setting. Both Bernie and Madge are an old-school couple set in old-school ways – and when that fragile union is split down the middle by all too human monsters the results are often unpredictable and fun.

A much longer novella, The Madness by Robert Essig encapsulates another domestic setting – this time a family of three who embrace drifter Tony who must take sanctuary with them when a gargantuan snow storm renders the roads impassable. At first Tony regrets his decision to ask for hospitality as there is something very wrong with the man of the house: Dan stares at Tony with a madness that belies murder. When the entire household bunks down for the night the morning will greet the family with something far worse than Dan’s madness …

If parts of Scarecrow were perverse, this is even more so. Jut when you think you have your hand on the pulse of the story it quickly dovetails into realms more befitting a splatter film. There are surprising twists and scenes filled with horror that’s laid bare of any conscience. Like the previous tale the prose is adequate and well thought out. Humor is also a staple brand that complements the action.

What the authors and Blood Bound books have delivered is a double slice of horror very reminiscent of a grindhouse exploitation film or a hybrid graphic novel. The cover illustration is worthy of devotion whilst the stories themselves deliver exactly what is promised. The only small thing lacking is perhaps a detailed blurb on the back or sleeve.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Critique by Daniel I Russell

Now a permanent fixture in the Australian dark fiction scene, the last few years have seen Western Australian author Daniel I Russell build an impressive bibliography to put him at the very forefront of the community. With the publication of Critique from Dark Continents as part of their Tales of Darkness and Dismay series, he has not only cemented his innovative reputation but moved even further ahead of the rest of the field.

We start our tale with ex-con Carlos making a pit-stop to escape the desolation of the desert and hours spent submerged behind the wheel. Carlos is on his way to make a very special delivery – but his decision to stop at an eccentric out-of-the-way Church that caters food will see him holed up longer than he anticipated. It is here that a reader will find the early snapshots of what could be projected as the blue-print for slasher-film fodder - but what the author has in mind as Carlos pulls up his seat is a lot darker than mere splatter film semantics. Here, a new tale is about to unfold … one that is low on body count but high in the themes of morality and secret subtext.  

A restaurant critic of the highest order, Sandy Devanche makes quite a comfortable living appraising (and more often than not tearing apart), the cities finest food establishments. On one particular rainy and wind-swept night he enters The House of Jacob … a small restaurant that offers a revolutionary dining experience its patrons won’t easily forget – especially Sandy Devanche – who has been chosen by the mysterious proprietor Jacob Enfer as an unwitting subject in a serving of ethics and belief.

Besides the pertinent themes here, Critique offers us a beautiful insight into the myriad world of food and those who partake of it seriously as a craft. Slowly, Sandy Devanche is led on an odyssey of torture and redemption that will see him partake of ingredients not befitted in the menus of even non Western cosmologies. There is unconventional sexuality, addiction, secrets – and even a smattering of mythology … all the ingredients befitting a healthy horror tale.

Above all, the story here is just plain fun. All too often as an avid reader of dark fiction I’ve found myself dealing with stories that are entertaining but ultimately sub-par. But Critique, like a good song or memorable meal, has just the right hook to keep you glued from beginning to end. The only minor quibble this reviewer has is perhaps a prolonged word count with the climax that could have been shaved subtly.

Here, Daniel I Russell has stepped out of his comfort zone and written a tale where he surpasses all his pervious work. One can only hope the future holds such serious promise for this talented writer.

Critique is part of the Tales of Darkness and Dismay series of e-books from Dark Continents of which there are eight more novellas and collections.      

Friday, January 13, 2012


Of course, in much belated news Dark Continents have decided to publish my novella SLANDER HALL as part of their TALES OF DARKNESS AND DISMAY series. I'm very proud to share space with some of these writers (I've already read some of the stories and they really are high calibre outings). This is the new cover. Also find underneath the link which will take you to purchase.

Go here to purchase SLANDER HALL for only $2.99: