Thursday, July 19, 2012

Shadows of The Past by Richard Schiver

There is an unquestionable pattern to my reading habits, whereby I usually alternate between the prolific and the up-and-coming – giving awareness to new voices whose novel descriptions act as catalyst to take a novel-length journey. This, the debut novel from Richard Schivar, will pique a reader’s curiosity just enough: here we are presented with Lovecraftian overtones evocative (perhaps) of something fashioned from the early pen - or pseudonyms
- of Dean Koontz.

Jaded police detective Sam Hardin is trying to pick up the pieces of his life after the untimely death of wife Anna. Now a single father to a teenage girl and a brain damaged four year old boy, he finds more succor in the bottle and immersing himself in police work than attending to family. When a series of bizarre murders at an abandoned warehouse lead to the uncovering of an ancient ceremonial dagger, Jack is suddenly thrust into the realm of an ancient God who not only inhabits human form, but has personally marked his son for possession, thus beginning a new reign of terror and termination of the human species. 

A novel that begins with promise, Shadows of the Past quickly dovetails into a confusing mish-mash of clich├ęd characters and uneven scenes that are never fully realized or resolved. Sam Hardin is a rogue cop with a giant chip on his shoulder. His depression, regret, and perpetual lamenting apropos of past decisions slowly begin to grate on the reader, shedding light on a protagonist who isn’t exactly likable and sometimes hard to believe. His nemesis in this madness, Jack Griffith, stumbles upon the ancient blade while working the storm-drains ... and it is here things become more perplexing, culminating in Stephen King’s Pennywise making an entirely unwelcome cameo. Richard goes on to use the description ‘fathomless black eyes’ roughly two dozen times over the course of two hundred pages. The final showdown, an epic stand-off between Sam Hardin and Jack Griffith in the snow, has the distinct flavor of formula – a prescription for pulp (horror) fiction throughout the eighties and early nineties.

Though puzzling at times, there were enough adequate and redeemable moments in the novel to show a writer in the early stages of ambition. Schivar has a flare for prose and – although hardwired to repeat the same word two (sometimes three) times in a sentence – occasional flashes of skill. Someone who (with time) will eventually find the rhythms of structure over the extended length of a novel.  

Friday, July 13, 2012

Come Into Darkness by Daniel I Russell

Since the publication of his debut novel in late 2010, Western Australian author Daniel I Russell has continuously moved forward to create a paradigm of horror fiction stamped with great gifts of invention. In what is perhaps his most prolific year yet, 2012 has given rise to both Critique and The Collector, respectively. Here we have a dark fiction author that is not afraid to push boundaries, does not shy away from the visceral, and is still developing a voice that becomes more unique with each successive tale.

Mario Fulcinni has seen it all. After years working in the adult film industry he’s ready to try out new pleasures belonging to a different school of thought – something to dull the pain of a lifetime of fruitless pursuits and unsatisfying addictions. At the urging of an agent he attends Metus House, a mysterious mansion promising the tour of a life time. The house’s mystery only adds fuel to the pyre, and soon Mario is swept up by an aging debonair escort (Worth) who shows Mario a realm where horror, terror, and fantasy are used to define fundamental human states.

A story of novella length, Come Into Darkness is still crammed full of everything we’ve come to expect from the author. Light on prose, heavy on dialogue, this is biting narrative simplicity and easy to digest. Room by room, Mario is exposed to a past, present, and future like a Faustian pact with the Devil. Through a trail of suffering, Mario and a fellow traveler will witness their sins come to life.

While not as ambitious as Critique, this story is still layered with enough subtext to form an undeniable method to the madness. For those averse to extreme horror (such as the imagery presented in the SAW franchise), there will be more than one scene to evoke feelings of horror – perhaps even loathing. Yet we still find elements of sophistication here, and enough emotional import to gently remind us of an old truism so pertinent in horror fiction ... that Hell itself is repetition. 

Friday, July 6, 2012

Witch Hunts: A Graphic History of the Burning Times

Having a passing acquaintance with a creator behind Witch Hunts, I was well aware of this graphic novel's conception and genesis some time ago. The long road to publication saw a mutual desire by all three participants to bring something unique to table: an original slant detailing a part of history now mired in myth but no less potent: the Witch Hunts and Burning Times of the middle ages ... a collective mass-hysteria that encompassed every shade and continent of the known world at the time.

We begin our journey with an overview, and see how – with just a few short stanzas of the Bible – the world of men and organized faith perverted religion, ushering in a whole new world of macabre justice almost unfathomable in the details. From the humble beginnings of rural towns in Europe (with local populaces at a perpetual loss to explain negative weather patterns, illness and death), they sought a scapegoat in the name of witchcraft and sexual liaison with Satan. The reality, of course, was such parlays were so rare as to be non-existent – and the only way to extract confessions and play out blood-lust was to implement obscene torture. This physical agony included everything from ‘trial by water’ to medieval devices that crushed legs, extracted fingernails, and choked an unwitting victim to the point they would invariably declare guilt. Once the philosophy was set in motion (proliferated by such witch-hunting bibles as the Malleus Maleficarum), no one was immune to the outbreak, ensuring that brother would rise up against brother, and the methods of execution became even more elaborate.

The biggest attribute of Witch Hunts probably comes in the form of its education. Even if you have an intimate knowledge of the burning times (in particular events like the Salem Witch Trials) there is still bound to be a nugget of information within these pages that will come as a surprise. Moreover, the book is philosophical at heart, and you will be asking yourself pertinent questions. Such as: is it possible an intelligent species has to go through such a brutal and arcane process to achieve eventual enlightenment? And how, exactly, does a book that millions preach contain a benign moral code undertake such a perverse reversal? The revelations contained within will entice you to seek out your own disclosure: within lie a plethora of names, dates, and situations just begging further research. 

Whether you are a graphic novel fan, a horror aficionado, or even a scholar of history, Witch Hunts is a must-have compendium of art – a project the illustrator, Greg Chapman, seemed born to. With these black and white illustrations, we find a level of sophistication previously unseen. And in a digital age of electronic prose and art, Witch Hunts is the perfect physical purchase to compliment a library. Glossy, defined, and above all educational, all three authors have outdone themselves recreating a dark epoch of human history.