Review of The Fisherman by John Langan

Review of The Fisherman by John LanganIt’s pretty tough when the last book you read was so good that you find it difficult to pick the next thing you want to read, because everything else seems to pale in comparison. Such was the case after I finished reading the epic horror novel, The Fisherman by John Langan. In short, it’s a bit of a masterpiece.

It took Langan roughly twelve years to finish the book, but the time he spent on it shows, in its detail and its beauty, not to mention the fact that it’s simply a fine story.

It’s about Abe and Dan, two widowers who take up the pastime of fishing to distract them from their recent loss. They eventually come across rumors of a place in upstate New York, near Woodstock, called Dutchman’s Creek. When they stop in at a diner on their way there, the diner’s cook tries to dissuade them from their venture with stories of the creek’s dangerously steep banks and strong current, and of the people who have gone there, never to be seen again.

Then the cook shares with them a tale of the history of the creek, and of the town that used to exist nearby, and of the mysterious Fisherman, and Dutchman’s Creek soon takes on a much more sinister aspect.

What Abe and Dan discover on their fishing trip seems at first to be a dream come true, with all the temptation of a shiny new lure, but they learn to their horror that the beautiful bait hides a sharp, rusty hook—and that the dream come true is in reality a hideous nightmare.

John Langan took home a Stoker Award for this achievement, and deservedly so. I just hope I don’t have to wait over a decade for his next effort.

Agents of Dreamland by Caitlín R. Kiernan

Agents of Dreamland by Caitlín R. KiernanAgents of Dreamland by Caitlín R. Kiernan is an intensely fascinating, dark thrill ride. It’s like Men In Black on steroids, only with a much more pessimistic outlook.

I loved it. Kiernan’s command of the craft is nothing short of amazing. She spins her poetic prose and draws you in until you’re captured by her spell. She’s simply a masterful storyteller.

The book kicks off with a meeting in an out of the way diner in Winslow, Arizona, between the liaisons of two rival government agencies. They’re there because something has gone horribly wrong, something that might mean the end of the world as we know it.

One of these agents is a sort of noir character, a hard-drinking cynic of moral ambiguity, known only as the Signalman. The other is a time-hopping female of vague and suspicious origins, named Immacolata Sexton.

There’s also a third character, a charismatic cult leader who gathers as his flock the dregs of society to help him usher in the “Next Level.” His name is Drew Standish, and he’s one of the reasons for the clandestine meeting.

This story is a wonderful mix of science fiction, cosmic horror, conspiracy theories, and compelling and juicy historical tidbits. At times it’s not an easy read, and I found myself having to look up certain references the author made, but it was well worth the effort and I learned a few new (to me, anyway) fascinating facts that added to my enjoyment of the story.

Bottom line, this is a marvelous book and a must-read for any lover of the fantastic and macabre.

Goodbye to horror writer Jack Ketchum

Goodbe to horror writer Jack KetchumAs I write this, it’s been just a few short hours since I learned of the death of Dallas Mayr (better known to the horror world as Jack Ketchum) from cancer, and I’m still processing the terrible news. It felt like a kick in the stomach, and I didn’t even know him personally. I can’t imagine how his close friends and family feel. My heart goes out to them.

As a man, Dallas was a great friend to the horror community, and I’ve been reading a lot of stories testifying to that fact. He gave generously of his time and talents.

As a writer, he was incomparable, unflinching, bravely flipping over the rock of polite society to shine a harsh light on the horrible things that wriggle and writhe in the dark underneath. Even when those things happened to be our neighbors, friends, family, or (god forbid) ourselves.

The first book I ever read by Jack Ketchum was Off Season, a story about cannibals, and I remember thinking, “This is something new. This is something different.” With that story, I think Ketchum paved the way for a whole new breed of horror writer. I know it made me look a storytelling with a keener eye.

Dallas also wrote (as Ketchum) one of the most gut-wrenching and poignant novels I’ve ever read, The Girl Next Door. It became a hugely controversial book (still is), perhaps because of its explicit violence, or the fact that it was based on the true story of a young girl who was horribly abused, or both. The Great Offended were all over Dallas about it, calling him “sick” and saying he should go to jail for writing such filth. But someone needed to tell that girl’s story, and tell it like it happened. If not Jack Ketchum, then who? With The Girl Next Door, he was saying, “Look at this. I know it’s hard, but you need to know about it, you need to know what can happen.” Sometimes the darkness and the ugliness is where the hard truth lies.

Jack wasn’t afraid to go there. To get at the truth. And isn’t that what a writer’s job is, after all?

In the Valley of the Sun by Andy Davidson

In the Valley of the Sun by Andy DavidsonIt’s a great time for horror. My to-be-read list is as tall as the Dark Tower and I’ll never reach the top of it in this lifetime. But In the Valley of the Sun by Andy Davidson is one story I’m very pleased to have experienced.

The book is about vampires, though Andy never once mentions the word vampire in the story, which I know was a conscious choice on his part, and one I happen to agree with in this particular instance.

But moreover, the story is about people and the pain they suffer, usually by someone else’s hand. It’s about a lonely, broken man named Travis Stillwell and his search for something he lost a long time ago. It’s something he hopes to find again with a sad widow, Annabelle Gaskin, and her son, Sandy.

In the Valley of the Sun is a beautifully told tale of loss and longing, hope and regret, and a reminder that the worst monsters don’t always lurk in the closet or under the bed. Sometimes they’re the people we love. Sometimes they are us.

I highly recommend this novel by the exceptionally talented Andy Davidson.

‘Dreaming’ has a shiny new cover

I’ve noticed over the past several months that people assumed I wrote extreme horror. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I don’t. Admittedly, I’m not afraid to dip my toes into the gore now and then, if it serves the story. But story is the key word here and mine are very much character-driven. I’m more interested in writing (and reading) about a character’s reaction to the monster than the monster itself, whether that monster is fresh from the grave or living right next door. Otherwise the tale falls flat for me.

The reason for the confusion about my style became clear when readers began to say that the stories were much deeper and more thought-provoking than they’d previously assumed from the book’s former gory cover.

The saying goes, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” That’s probably true in almost all cases except for books.

Because a book cover is supposed to make a promise, and the old cover was breaking that promise. I should have known better. Anyway, I fixed it.

This cover is light-years better, because it offers a closer glimpse into what the stories inside are all about, and it tells you something of who I am as a writer: a lover of Harlan Ellison, Alfred Hitchcock, and Ray Bradbury; The Twilight Zone, Shirley Jackson, and Richard Matheson. And Robert McCammon. And Joe Lansdale. And so on and so on…