Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Scarecrow & The Madness by Craig Saunders and Robert Essig

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

With Scarecrow, Saunders uses traveling gypsies as the ignition for mayhem. 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 far outweighing their original crimes …

Although the horror in Scarecrow is ironic and perverse (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. When that fragile union is split down the middle by human monsters, the results are 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 decides to take sanctuary when a gargantuan snow storm renders the roads impassable. At first Tony regrets his decision, as something malign lurks within the man of the house, Dan. When the entire household bunks down for the night, morning greets the family with something far worse than Dan's psychosis …

If parts of Scarecrow were perverse, this is even more so. Just when you think you have your hand on the narrative pulse it quickly dovetails into realms more befitting a splatter film. There are surprising twists and scenes filled with carnage laid bare of conscience. Like the previous tale, the prose is more than adequate. Humor is again a staple brand complementing the action.

What the authors and Blood Bound Books have delivered is a double slice of horror reminiscent of grindhouse exploitation or a hybrid graphic novel. With a cover illustration worthy of devotion, the stories themselves deliver. The only (small) thing lacking in this edition is perhaps a detailed blurb. 

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 catering food will see him holed up longer than he anticipated. It is here 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 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 offering 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 where he will partake of ingredients not befitted in the menus of even non-Western cosmologies. There is unconventional sex, addiction, secrets – and even a smattering of mythology … all the ingredients befitting a healthy horror tale.

Above all, the story on show 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 I have is perhaps a prolonged word count with the climax that could have been shaved subtly.

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

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 caliber outings). This is the new cover.