After the death of his wife, insurance salesman Oswald Priestly hopes for a fresh start when he moves himself and his teenaged daughter Amy into NazarAfter the death of his wife, insurance salesman Oswald Priestly hopes for a fresh start when he moves himself and his teenaged daughter Amy into Nazarill, a centuries-old hulk of a building newly renovated into "luxury apartments." Unfortunately the renovations haven't entirely effaced Nazarill's bloody past, which lies closer to the surface than either Priestly is prepared for. When fifteen year-old Amy's adolescent (and totally normal) rebellions start to puzzle, then annoy, and finally infuriate Oswald, Nazarill's dark heart begins to beat.
The story is told in alternating narrative voices, and readers are privy to the perspectives of both Oswald and Amy, which begin to warp as the house goes to work on them. While Amy struggles against childhood nightmares come to life, she also becomes driven to uncover the secrets of her new home; put simply, Oswald becomes obsessed with stopping her at any cost. We can only watch helplessly as their lives absorb the taint of old violence from Nazarill's walls.
Nazareth Hill puts me in mind of The Shining, in that it tells of a house that feeds on poisoning its tenants' minds (and fathers in particular), but its vibe is more a a very British old-school ghost story. It relies heavily on a classic slow build of suspense -- strange noises, bad lighting, doors just barely cracked open, and shapeless revenants glimpsed but not-quite seen. All this it does excellently (view spoiler)[Amy's adventures with the first floor in particular were spellbindingly awful for me (hide spoiler)], so when the shocks do come, they are really shocking. OMG-gasp-out-loud shocking.
Where Nazareth Hill falls a star short of perfect is in the unevenness of its characterization: who knew a middle-aged man could write a more nuanced teenaged girl than he could a middle-aged man? Obviously, readers are meant to sympathize with Amy, but it's a shame that Oswald, who starts out as a hapless widower coping with the mysteries of adolescence, becomes an entirely repulsive, over-the-top character. It feels plain lazy to make the heroine's father a total monster; even Jack Torrance retained a shred of humanity to the end.
4 out of 5 stars for excellence in atmosphere peopled by unevenly executed characters. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I wish this book had been around when I was a kid . . . it would have taught me all kinds of ways to fight the monsters under the bed. Plus, adorableI wish this book had been around when I was a kid . . . it would have taught me all kinds of ways to fight the monsters under the bed. Plus, adorable illustrations. Buy it for the neurotic scaredy-cat in your life. :-)...more
One of the most consistently good neo-Lovecraftian anthologies I've read, which is not surprising, given Joshi's stature in the field. Under his deftOne of the most consistently good neo-Lovecraftian anthologies I've read, which is not surprising, given Joshi's stature in the field. Under his deft editorial hand the reader is treated to a fine selection of tales spanning close to a century (from 1933 to the present), each of which engages with Lovecraft and his legacy of cosmic horror in a markedly different way, yet as a whole flow and ring tonally true throughout. Not a single story bored me, and I tore through all 600+ pages of A Mountain Walked in about 3 days, but of course I had favorites:
- The now-classic "Far Below," Robert Barbour Johnson's 1939 tale of the brave men who work down in the deep, sunless tunnels to shield the New York subway system and its unsuspecting passengers against an unspeakable evil.
- "The Deep Ones," by James Wade, a chilling and perverse story of telepathic experimentation gone very, very wrong. You probably won't want to swim with dolphins anytime soon.
- W.H. Pugmire's dreamy "The Phantom of Beguilement," in which a suggestive but hazy painting by a mysterious Kingsport artist first attracts, then gradually reveals its true nature to a new owner. Quite lovely, in an elegiac way.
- "Virgin's Island," by Donald Tyson, is about two climbers who dare to scale an isolated and treacherous rock island and come to rue what they find at its summit. This one deftly combines the thrill of an explorer's adventures with chthonic terror. It's archaeology for the damned.
- Mark Samuels' "A Gentleman from Mexico" considers the possible metempsychosis of H.P. Lovecraft, and what it might signify for both the literary world and a cult of fanatics planning to raise his gods.
- Gemma Files' brilliant "[Anasazi]" tracks an ageless and nihilistic race as it invades human consciousness like a poisoned meme, an infection of random violence and eventual annihilation in just one terrible symbol.
- And finally, Caitlin R. Kiernan's "John Four" is a magnificently bleak vision of service in the Temple of the conquering Black Pharaoh, and it conjures the most impressively alien, "other" world in the collection. So many writers are good at the bits where the Old Gods are raised / summoned / awakened / eating your sanity, but here Kiernan masters the infinitely more difficult problem of After.
This collection followed me into my dreams. 5 full stars.
This slim alternative history takes us to WWII Paris, still occupied by the Nazis, but equally so by the colorful shifting visions and wild compositeThis slim alternative history takes us to WWII Paris, still occupied by the Nazis, but equally so by the colorful shifting visions and wild composite creatures of the Surrealist movement*. Harnessed by occult methods and released in a conjunction of greed and crossed ideological wires, a prodigious blast of imaginative power - the "S-Bomb" - rolls in waves over the city, transforming everything as it goes. Partially contained in the high-numbered arrondissements, traditionally bohemian, and cordoned off from the Nazi-occupied center, the citizens of "New Paris" go about life during wartime in a brave new world.
In Mieville's best book since Embassytown, his politics, playful imagination and innate Weirdness find a charming balance. In a tale that's part spies and rebels, part art history, and all wide-eyed phantasmagoria that wonders what it would be like if art really could change the world, Mieville packs his best aspects into a small but unforgettable gift. I loved this book. 5 stars.
*Familiarity with the Surrealists isn't absolutely necessary, but be prepared to Google some of the more obscure elements. Mieville thoughtfully includes notes on his sources, and you'll really want to take a look at this stuff anyway....more
Tobler's prose and story are both rich and strange, but The Kraken Sea, a longish novella, might have gained a fifth star had it been, well, even longTobler's prose and story are both rich and strange, but The Kraken Sea, a longish novella, might have gained a fifth star had it been, well, even longer. Fueled by characters you'll remember in a world that feels like the tip of an iceberg, the racing story seems to be over just as the reader is finding her footing. I'm no fan of gigantism for its own sake, but for a change I'm going to say a book could have used another hundred pages....more
Another great entry in a fantastic series. You'll laugh, you'll cry . . . but what I NEED to know, is (view spoiler)[ where the hell is Lying Cat? (hiAnother great entry in a fantastic series. You'll laugh, you'll cry . . . but what I NEED to know, is (view spoiler)[ where the hell is Lying Cat? (hide spoiler)] I'm worried....more
Jeremy Bates may be on to something here. At first I thought the "Scariest Places" shtick seemed kind of goofy, but boy does Bates put those places toJeremy Bates may be on to something here. At first I thought the "Scariest Places" shtick seemed kind of goofy, but boy does Bates put those places to good use. In the first installment, Suicide Forest, he conjures up a palpable sense of dread, but the characters kept on doing REALLY stupid things, seemingly only in the service of generating plot twists.
The good news is that this second installment, set in the labyrinthine tunnels of the Paris catacombs, feels more authentic. Most of the characters are experienced "cataphiles" -- urban explorers well equipped for the dangers of their passion. (Plenty of batteries, proper equipment, even something like a map.) The only noob is our narrator Will, an American who has come to Paris to recover from personal tragedy. When his alluring language-practice partner Daniele invites him to take a trip underneath Paris with her cataphile buddies to investigate the source of a disturbing found video shot in the tunnels, he goes along on what becomes a nightmare for the entire group.
Again, the location does a lot of heavy lifting - dark, endless, unmapped tunnels full of bones are pretty creepy to begin with - but Bates' descriptive skills bring you on an amazing virtual tour of the Catacombs that you're unlikely to get in real life. And it's not all just bones; along with our intrepid explorers, you'll discover deeply hidden rooms full of murals, or furnished with rotting antiques, even a purported Nazi bunker. But it wouldn't be a horror story without something lurking around the next turn, in the dark. The dark is also a big star in this show.
The details of that lurking fear I'll leave to you, but I will say the plot moves along at a galloping pace, and it's hard to put down once you've started. One thing I didn't love was the way POV chapters were handled. The switch from Will's POV (the primary one) to other, less central characters' felt jarring sometimes, but I'm not sure how the full story could have been told in the way it was without them. Barring that stylistic nitpick, I really enjoyed The Catacombs; it's a quick, atmospheric and suspenseful read. 4 stars. ...more
Full disclosure: I spent Halloween 2006 in Doolin, and all that happened was that I got a fabulous meal (a giant bowl of mussels in wine and garlic buFull disclosure: I spent Halloween 2006 in Doolin, and all that happened was that I got a fabulous meal (a giant bowl of mussels in wine and garlic butter, so big I couldn't finish it), a festive night at the pub* and a hideous hangover which pretty much prevented me from appreciating the stunning Cliffs of Moher at all the following day.
Largely as a result of the traditional music scene, today's Doolin is more of a destination (though there are still only three pubs) than when Ryan wrote Cast a Cold Eye. However, its position on the myth- and history-haunted west coast of Ireland makes for a superbly atmospheric setting, and Alan Ryan captures the paradoxical, uncanny attraction of the region as well as any Irish writer, barring Yeats. It's a classic romantic landscape, a land of "terrible beauty," as the great poet once wrote; the alien stretches of the Burren, the sweeping Atlantic vistas, the kindly but aloof locals, relentless sea and punishing weather combine to cast a compelling melancholy, not unlike the sound of uilleann pipes. The romantic shadow of Yeats hovers over the book's title as well, as it's taken from the great poet's "Under Ben Bulben," and reads in full "Cast a cold Eye / On Life, on Death. / Horseman, pass by." Also of note, these words are Yeats' self-chosen epitaph, etched into a headstone in a tiny, ancient Sligo churchyard.
Which brings us, fittingly, back to the grave, as Cast a Cold Eye opens on a damp, chilly night in an ancient burial ground, and it closes there as well. The tale in between concerns Jack Quinlan, a popular Irish-American writer who decides that a stay in the remote west of Ireland will be a boon to both his writing and his research on a book about the Great Famine. He obtains a house in Doolin for three months, and settles in to a pleasant routine of writing in the mornings and spending convivial evenings at the local pubs listening to traditional music. But before long, Jack begins experiencing visions of piteous, gaunt phantoms -- collapsed at the roadside, wandering the Burren, and even pacing his car in the dark Irish night. Are the isolation and research into the region's tragic past playing tricks on him, or is something darker afoot? The answer lies in a silence kept by four old men and the local priest, who tries to befriend Jack, in his way.
I'll say no more, except this secret, when it comes out, may not be at all what you think. In a way Cast a Cold Eye reminds me a bit of Thomas Tryon's very scary Harvest Home, in that the story's tension arises from newcomers engaging with ancient local traditions, whether purposely or not. Compared to today's extreme horror, it likely won't shock you too much, but it packs a deeply resonant mythic punch, especially stark and pagan when set against its very Catholic milieu. Hibernophile that I am, I adored this book, entrenched as it is in the very blood of Ireland's tragic past, and filled with the uncanny magic of its singular landscape.
Five well-earned stars. And I wish I could get a poster of that awesome new Valancourt edition. Anybody know the artist?