Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Brian Keene. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Brian Keene. Sort by date Show all posts

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Suburban Gothic

Bryan Smith has authored more than thirty horror and crime novels. His novel 68 Kill was adapted to film and his 2009 novel Depraved became an instant cult classic, leading to three sequels. Brian Keene earned the 2014 World Horror Grandmaster Award, two Bram Stoker awards, and the Imadjinn Award for best fantasy novel in 2016. It was just a matter of time before the two friends collaborated on a novel. 

In 2009, Brian Keene authored a paperback for Leisure called Urban Gothic. The premise had a group of kids breaking into an old row house in Philadelphia that they thought was abandoned. Unfortunately for them, a family of inbred cannibals lived in the basement. The book was an obvious ode to “grindhouse” theater flicks like Hills Have Eyes and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I enjoyed the book years ago, so I was intrigued to learn of the book's sequel, Suburban Gothic, published in 2020. But, the backstory on the novel doesn't stop there. 

It turns out that Suburban Gothic actually connects (retcons?) Keene's Urban Gothic with Bryan Smith's horror novel The Freakshow, which was originally published by Leisure in 2007. I also read that novel, and reviewed it HERE. In The Freakshow, cosmic entities are controlling humans from a netherworld. These entities combine mayhem, torture, cannibalism, rape, etc. into a sort of game which comes to a small town in Tennessee through a traveling carnival. The book was slightly above average and written in a perverse way that I typically find distasteful. I'm not a fan of Bryan Smith.

Suburban Gothic, which is authored by both Smith and Keene, has an early explanation that the inbred cannibals from Urban Gothic are forced to move to an abandoned mall located in a sketchy crime-ridden part of Philadelphia. At the same time, Smith's crazy supernaturally-controlled entities also move into the mall. One side is occupied by these mutant freaks (humans with arachnid-like appendages, multiple heads, etc.) while the other side is the weirdo cannibals. 

Like Urban Gothic, various people enter this abandoned mall for different reasons. These disposable characters include a group of urban explorers shooting YouTube footage, a real-estate agent, and your common everyday headbanging stoners. This is a problem for the book and it's readers. None of these characters are remotely interesting, and all of them are flawed and unlikable. So, when Smith writes nasty, violent deaths for each character (I'm sure he was tasked with their violent endings), I found myself simply skipping to the next death set-up. 

Brian Keene typically isn't an extreme splatter-horror guy, but Smith's participation drags this book into uncomfortable depravity. Characters are raped sodomized, eaten, beaten, forced into various amputations, dragged across multiple hard surfaces, shot, stabbed, and, in some cases, involuntarily placed into barbaric medical experiments. At a time in my life when I can turn on any social media news platform and see brutality and death, reading the intricate details of a fishing hook ripping an anus isn't really what I find enjoyable. 

If you love shock and awe, then by all means have a great time with Suburban Gothic. For me personally, this book is just an absolute mess mired in useless death, excess violence, and horrific gore. Take a hard pass on this kind of thing. Maybe it will eventually just go away. 

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

October Screams - A Halloween Anthology

Kangas Kahn film company have released horror films like Fear of Clowns, Garden of Hedon, and Terrortory over the last 20 years. In 2015, the film company launched Kangas Kahn Publishing, a small publisher that have released titles like With Teeth and Halloween: The Greatest Holiday of All. This Halloween season, the company has published an impressive short-story collection called October Screams: A Halloween Anthology. It is 27 stories authored by some of Paperback Warrior's favorite horror writers. 

Here are some of my favorites from this collection:

Ronald Malfi's “Tate” is a holiday-themed story that centers on a grieving couple on Halloween. It begins with Nick leaving the house to buy some candy for the visiting trick-or-treaters that will surely be arriving. His wife Alice waits patiently for his quick return, but begins to worry when the minutes turn into hours. When Nick returns, he's upset and heads straight to his dead son's bedroom. Alice comforts him, but both are surprised when a boy arrives at their door that resembles their deceased son. As the story unfolds, readers learn more about the boy's death and the finale was a throwback to the old EC Comics horror tales of the mid-20th century. “Tate” was really effective.

In “Perfect Night for a Perfect Murder”, author Jeremy Bates uses the short-story format to present this first-person perspective on how to properly commit premeditated murder. The protagonist is a crime-fiction author that is detailing the advantages of planning the perfect murder to coincide with what he persists is the best day of the year for murder, Halloween. The story is a blend of dark humor and crime-fiction, and it ends with a little twist that I could see coming. Very enjoyable.  

“Masks” is written by Brian Keene and Richard Chizmar and involves some kids pulling a convenience store robbery on Halloween night. There's some social commentary about Covid masks (no doubt Keene's doing) as the kids don costumes to rob the place. As the robbery ensues, one of the kids is forced to shoot a female customer that's wearing a devil mask. When the kids make the getaway, they begin noticing that all of the streets are empty. There is an eerie silence. When the kids are beckoned to the home of a friend, they see more people wearing devil masks. While the story is a bit scrambled and seems incomplete, it nonetheless provided plenty of entertainment. 

I did enjoy man of the other stories, including Kealan Patrick Burke's haunting “afraid of the dark” tale “Let the Dark Do the Rest” as well as the clever, touching doll-perspective short, “Doll”, by Ryan Van Ells. Overall, this collection has some hits and misses, but is sure to please fans of horror stories. If you are a Bates, Keene, Chizmar, and Malfi fan, then these stories alone are worth the price of admission. Recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

The Freakshow

According to his Goodreads profile, Bryan Smith has authored more than thirty horror and crime novels and novellas. His crime-fiction book 68 Kill was adapted into a critically-acclaimed film in 2017. Smith also co-scripted an original Harley Quinn (Batman) story for DC Comics' House of Horrors anthology. I first discovered the author in the mid-2000s by reading his mass-market horror paperbacks like House of Blood and Deathbringer. His 2007 horror novel The Freakshow was originally published by Leisure and has now been reprinted by Grindhouse Press in multiple formats. 

The Freakshow is splatterpunk with the obligatory copious amounts of sex (mostly rape), gore, and violence prevalent over the science-fiction and dark fantasy elements. The novel's concept is that supernatural beings from a netherworld are playing a game where they control humans to do just about anything imaginable. These “things” are losing their home world, so they want ours. By conquering humans through assimilation, they can move from the netherworld into ours. 

These beings are sort of like Clive Barker's Cenobites from his novella The Hellbound Heart and the franchise of films. They have a variety of appearances and abilities and aren't necessarily good or evil, thus the “angels to some, demons to others” sentiment of Barker's stories is the theme of The Freakshow. Because of the variation, Smith's imagination runs wild. There's a two-headed succubus leader, a robotic clown, sexually depraved humans (if you can call them that), rolling heads that chomp flesh, you get the general consensus.

It's hard to find any characters to really cheer other than Heather, a young woman in an abusive relationship with her boyfriend and dealing with an ailing mother. She is the main character, but that's a loose term considering the book has a dozen or more characters. Mostly these characters are disposable and make for rape and torture targets. The story presents characters that are fighting the freakshow invaders or working for these supernatural beings. Mostly, the characters just dwell on perverse sex and creative ways to kill or maim each other. There's no respect for any higher authority beyond their own self-interest 

Overall, I found the book to be slightly better than average. With Smith's literary work, I manage my expectations, knowing that his narratives are saturated in over-the-top violence and gore. There's nothing wrong with that, but I normally like my horror to be more psychological than physical. If a unique, violent bloodbath is your thing, then The Freakshow will surely please you.

Note – Brian Keene's Urban Gothic and this book tie-in to a novel called Suburban Gothic, authored by both Keene and Smith. 

Buy a copy of the book HERE.

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Whiteout #01 - The Snow

Flint Maxwell is an Ohio native and author of horror and fantasy titles. He's authored a post-apocalyptic series called Jack Zombie, co-wrote the Midwest Magic Chronicles novels, and contributed to the short-story collection 25 Gates of Hell featuring horror authors like Brian Keene. The author's own short-story collection, The Bitter Cold, was published in 2018. My first experience with the author is his 2020 five book series of post-apocalyptic novels, Whiteout. I'm starting with the series debut, The Snow, published in multiple formats by Dark Void Press.

Through first-person perspective, readers are introduced to Grady Miller, an Ohio firefighter that experienced a harrowing tragedy that left a little boy dead. Trying to recover from the trauma, Grady pals around with his two childhood friends, Stone and Jonas. The three buddies want to celebrate July 4th in tradition in a lakeside cabin at fictional Prism Lake. The festivities of drinking beer and telling stories is fun for the trio, and the author conveys their friendship and inner-loyalty to the printed page quite well. However, “The Three Musketeers” are about to experience outright horror.

The three awaken to find that it's snowing. On the fourth of July. In Ohio. Once the snow starts falling, it never stops. The friends soon learn that the radio stations and internet are out and soon the power begins to fade. As a blizzard soaks the landscape, the three also learn that their fears, the things that trouble them the most, are becoming real things outside. The dead kid begins calling to Grady from the snow. Dark figures are seen in the distance. Spiders as large as cars start crawling. It's a nightmare scenario. But, is it any good?

For the most part I enjoyed the book for what it was. This is clearly the origin tale, and it ends right when the action begins to escalate. The setup was appropriate, the characters introduced, and doomsday ushered in to create the backbone of the series. I found it to be truly scary at times, but for the most part it's just gloomy and depressing. Like most post-apocalyptic tales, the team-building is a necessity and the survivors have to possess some sort of past tragedy to overcome in the post-apocalypse. It suspiciously reminded me of Christopher Golden's more superior novel Snowblind, which has nearly the same concept.

I plan on reading the next installment soon. I found The Snow to be enjoyable enough to warrant an extended look at the series. Flint Maxwell is creative, has a plan, and forms the story well. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of the book HERE.

Monday, September 27, 2021


Author Steven Savile was born in Newcastle, England in 1969. In 1997, he moved to Stockholm, Sweden and launched a prolific writing career. Savile has authored television and video game tie-in novels and stories in series titles like Warhammer, Stargate SG-1, Torchwood, Doctor Who and Stellaris. With over ten full-length novels and a number of short story collections and novellas, it was just a matter of time before I would stumble upon one. My first experience with the author is his horror novella Shiftling. It was originally published in 2013 by Dark Fuse.   

Shifting, set in the 1980s, blends coming of age storytelling with a small town mystery.  Like Brian Keene's Ghoul and Ronald Malfi's December Park, Savile crafts his story around a select group of kids who find their lives disrupted by evil. The story has the required elements of good, traditional horror fiction - a sinister house, an underground lair and a carnival. Savile could easily conjure an elementary ghoul or goblin to prey on these young characters, instead his mature talents as a creator goes well beyond that. 

This compelling narrative uses two time frames to present the events, one in 1985 and another present day. It is this retroactive sequence of events that allows readers to interpret the past through the characters' hazy recollection and misguided memories. The central horror concept is an old house and a series of underground tunnels where the terror resides. 

While there are certain horrific scenes throughout Shiftling, it is the coming of age factor and its shedding of innocence that headlines this thought provoking tale. Kudos to Savile for a fantastic effort and one that clearly shows innovative ideas are still on the loose. Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Harry Stoner #01 - The Lime Pit

Jonathan Valin was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1947. He graduated from University of Chicago, and now works for Fi, a music criticism magazine he helped create. In the middle of his career were 11 mystery novels starring a Cincinnati detective named Harry Stoner. As a fan of 1980s crime-fiction, I decided to begin the series with the very first novel, The Lime Pit, published in 1980 as a hardcover by Dodd Mead.

Throughout the course of The Lime Pit, readers gain tidbits about Harry Stoner's life. The first thing we learn is that he served in the U.S. military as an M.P. during the Vietnam War. He has killed people before, and at one point he worked in Cincinnati's District Attorney's office. Now, Stoner is a private detective making ends meet taking on cases in America's mid-western heartland. As the book begins, Stoner is responding to an inquiry made by a Cincinnati man named Hugo Cratz.

Cratz is an elderly man living in the average community of North Clifton. He advises Stoner that a young woman he befriended, Cindy Ann, has gone missing. After the police dismiss the case, Cratz wants to hire Stoner to find her. The problem is that Cratz can barely rub two nickels together, so Stoner realizes he's probably working the case pro brono. The last place Cindy Ann was seen was with the controversial neighborhood couple. When Stoner interviews the couple, they tell him that Cratz is just hurt that his girl has run off with a biker. But, there isn't enough conviction in their story to fully satisfy Stoner. Combining this with Cratz's account that the weird couple are actually human sex traffickers peddling young women to Cincinnati's upper-crust thrusts Stoner into the investigation.

I read some online reviews about Valin's writing style and tend to agree with all of them. First and foremost, the guy can write his ass off. Second, his dialogue is convincing – this is how real people talk. So much that Valin even analyzes his own work by mentioning characters in other books fail to possess enough validity. He encourages his readers that his work is the real deal. I like that element and it reminded me of the great horror writer Brian Keene and his real-world presentation of average blue-collar people behaving in ways that genuinely seem valid and real. 

The Lime Pit drags readers through some really dark places within sex trafficking, politics, sports, and the lifestyles of the rich and richer. It's gritty, often disturbing, and very violent. Stoner is the capable protagonist guiding the readers through this seedy underworld. He doesn't necessarily break the law in an attempt to punish the lawbreakers, but he skirts the edges in a captivating way. I found comparisons to Loren Estleman's Amos Walker mysteries, with both detectives stalking their way through blue-collar towns to obtain justice. In fact, the first Amos Walker installment, Motor City Blue, has a similar plot to The Lime Pit, and was published the same year.

If you enjoy a great mystery filled with diverse characters, the The Lime Pit is sure to please. I loved this book and I'm anxious to read more Harry Stoner novels. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Thursday, September 30, 2021


I have had the pleasure of reading a couple of gems from horror novelist Tim Curran. His efforts on the creepy Fear Me was impressive, as well as the subterranean nightmare of The Underdwelling. I was anxious to try another of his novels and stumbled on a novella simply called Worm. It was originally published by Dark Fuse and now exists as an affordable ebook through Crossroad Press.

Curran places the reader on Pine Street in a normal, small American town. Quickly, readers are introduced to a half-dozen town residents and interesting facts about their lives. Interrupting these smooth character introductions is a riveting earthquake tremor. Shortly after, a thick black sludge erupts from the crevice and begins to envelop part of the street.

Like a 1950s science-fiction film, disgusting creatures soon emerge as if given birth through this sludge substance. These creatures have a malevolent desire to eat the town's inhabitants. Throughout the novella, the assemblage of characters interacts with each other in a unified attempt to survive the sludge and creatures. 

The pacing and action was superb, but I found myself with very little sympathy for some of the characters. They all seem to be flawed in ways that violate certain ethics and moral conduct for me personally. It is that disconnection with the character that seems to be the basis for my slight disappointment. However, Curran absolutely delivers a hair raising good time with his horrific creations. 

Worm is a throwback to films like The Blob and Night Of The Creeps in a modern style similar to Brian Keene's novel The Conqueror Worms. It is this delightful tradition and homage that makes Worm a quality read for genre fans. Get it HERE

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The Widow

In 1952 and 1953, the U.S. House of Representatives formed the Select Committee on Current Pornographic Materials, also known as the Gathings Committee. The committee investigated the exploding paperback and comic book market with the goal of proving that these new forms of entertainment would drive men to rape the daughters of god-fearing American voters. Common sense apparently won out, and the Gathings Committee became a national laughingstock. In the face of government censorship, America chose books, and paperback original publishers doubled down on the sensational covers and sexy storylines.

This congressional farce set the stage for the successful literary career of Orrie Hitt and his 1950s publisher, Beacon Books. The sleaze paperback featured lurid, painted covers with promises of hot, sexy action inside the pulpy pages. Oddly, by today’s standards, the descriptions of sex acts in these novels are pretty tame. Chests heave and bodies grind, but seldom are private parts or their functions ever mentioned with any specificity. The books succeed or fail based on the quality of the writing and the stories justifying the erotic situations, and that’s why Hitt’s books endure to this day.

Stark House Books has reprinted two Hitt classics in one volume: Wayward Girl (1960) and The Widow (1959) with an introduction by Brian Greene. “The Widow” was originally packaged with a rapey-looking cover and the tag line, “The savage story of a man gone wrong and the woman who led him astray!” In fact, it’s a compelling femme fatale noir novel that will be familiar in structure to fans of the Fawcett Gold Medal paperbacks of Harry Whittington, Gil Brewer or Day Keene.

The book follows a lothario loser named Jerry who suddenly finds himself terminated from his ditch-digging job after punching out his supervisor. He quickly meets an impossibly sexy married woman named Linda who is neglected by her mechanic husband. Linda sets Jerry up with a job working for her mother-in-law, a mean old lady who owns the local cabin motel and diner. This evolves into some heavy-duty sexual tension between Jerry and Linda as well as a murder plot to swipe the old lady’s nest egg. Throw in a seductive, 21 year-old nude model, and we have a compelling love triangle adding to the tension.

More than his contemporaries, Hitt knew how to dial the erotic intensity of his stories up to maximum volume. This is a straight-up sexy novel without ever being graphic or explicit - quite a trick, actually. Hitt’s writing is crisp and dialogue-driven, much like Lawrence Block’s style. Interestingly, Block also wrote erotic noir fiction for Beacon Books under the name Sheldon Lord at the same time Hitt was cranking out these paperback quickies. Hitt’s protagonist is a real heel, but his misdeeds only add to the dark, seamy feel of this softcore noir. 

The love triangle gets more attention than the murder plot, but both storylines are compelling enough to keep the pages turning fast. The twist ending wasn’t a complete surprise, but it didn’t really detract from the fun ride along the way. This one is an easy recommendation for anyone seeking to kill a few hours with an erotic crime novel from a bygone era. Recommended.

Buy a copy of this at