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03-23-12: The Devil's Coattails edited by Jason V. Brock & William F. Nolan Reviewed by Mario Guslandi

"...a veritable cornucopia..."

Editor's note: Mario Guslandi manages to find the best horror fiction, and this one, illlustrated, sounds particularly fine as a real book.

Eclectic artist and horror enthusiast Jason V. Brock teams up again with horror legend William F. Nolan to produce a sequel to their fortunate anthology 'The Bleeding Edge.'

Once again, the book is a veritable cornucopia for horror fans, featuring a number of accomplished, new horror stories as well as some works of dark poetry, a lost Twilight Zone script and several disquieting drawings and pictures, some by Brock himself, some reproductions of famous artists such as Bosch, Goya, Doré, Ernst and others.

Lovers of real books will find here many reasons for declaring the superior quality and the beauty of a printed volume as opposed to the practical but anonymous layout of an e-book.

As for the fiction itself, I'm happy to say that the book includes a remarkable amount of excellent material.

In Ramsey Campbell's masterful, unsettling "The Moons," a bracelet lost on the beach by a little girl starts a nightmarish adventure involving a group of children.

Co-editor Jason V. Brock contributes "Object Lesson," a perceptive tale featuring a man who tries to cope with sickness and death in his family, while John Shirley provides "Gunboat Whores," the very enjoyable, well crafted portrait of Wyatt Earp as a young man and his adventures on a 'gunboat.'

"Night Food" by Jerry E. Airth is a curious, but effective mix between SF and erotic horror, where mosquitoes play a main role.

In the vivid "Dying to Forget," by Sunni K. Brock, a man experiences various, different deaths…and one too many, while in "On the First Day" by James Robert Smith, a spooky SF piece (or, as the author states a 'paranoid fantasy') God sends aggressive spiders to take care of the human race.

Melanie Tem's "Best Friends" is a poignant, atypical ghost story revolving around the end of a long-lasting friendship, while "Catiwampus" by husband Steve Rasnic Tem offers an original take on the subjects of were-monsters (here we actually have a female were-wildcat) seen from the viewpoint of family members.

Richard Selzer's "Crimean Vespers" is not quite a horror tale but rather a beautiful love story inspired by the works of Anthon Chekov.

And now, on to my two favourite tales. Gary A Braunbeck's masterful "..And Dream of Phaedian Fancies...", conceived as a movie script, probes the mysteries of human nature by showing the chain of events brought about when a bouquet of flowers is left on the steps of an abandoned house.

In the outstanding "The Woods Colt," by Earl Hamner, graced by a superb storytelling, a man visiting his now empty family house recalls painful childhood memories and finds out the truth about himself.

On the whole, the combination of excellent horror fiction and splendid, dark images makes the book an invaluable item to any horror reader.

03-20-12: Archive Review: Frank Delaney Makes the Long Journey to 'Tipperary'

Careful With the Truth

Editor's note: I just heard from Frank Delaney via Facebook, and was happy to do so. I realized that I could unearch this review, and point listeners to our wonderful interview from 2007. I hope he returns soon!

When I first saw 'Ireland' by Frank Delaney, it was hard to let it go. I like a fat historical novel now and again, and this looked to have the right density and correct length to provide that go-somewhere-else immersive experience. No need to turn up the furnace on chilly evenings. Frank Delaney's 'Tipperary' is just overheated enough to warm the coldest hands, and charming enough to hang around in for nice winter's week.

"Be careful about me," Charles O'Brien, one of the novel's narrators tells us. It's easy enough to be wary of this garrulous storyteller. The tone is hardwood rich and shiny, the prose warm enough to bring a light sweat to the unprepared brow. O'Brien is an Irish Everyman, an understated and overwritten hero. But he's the one telling the story, and it's hard not to both like a believe him. He's not a firebrand, but a well-spoken gentleman who is just outside the forces that swarm through early 20th century Ireland. He's confident, not overly so, and the sort of man who ends up meeting the likes of Oscar Wilde, William Butler Yeats and George Bernard Shaw. He's pretty sure you're going to like him, but manages to avoid being smug. Delaney's prose is perfectly pitched here, with the combination of formality and intimacy that the character and the events demand. This is not to say that some readers won't find O'Brien a little over-the-top. But the flow is fast and complicated and full of choice details. It's easy to let go.

And that's when you meet another man, a man of our time who has found O'Brien's manuscript and serves it up to us, interspersed with his commentary. That's the time when this reader starts to really perk up, because the presence of two narrators so well balanced and placed against one another, suggests a plot and creates a tension beyond the wide-open non-confining confines of O'Brien's pixilated life story. We're hearing that story for a reason that is compelling to an equally literate yet more demure storyteller. Give yourself a chance and you'll be swept away.

Moreover, you're going to learn a lot about a slab of history you may or may not be familiar with. I'm the latter, so getting to learn the details and big stories that shaped Ireland is a pretty big bang for me. Delaney does a great job of filling in the timeline without too much obvious lecturing. And when the lecture come — oh yes, they come all right — well, that's what you signed up for, innit?

Delaney has one essential quality that keeps him above the fray, a sense of wonder that would not bee out of place in a science fiction or fantasy novel. Of course, these days, lots of fantasies are little more than imagined histories; this is history imagined anew, and has a similar feel. Ireland is a land of imagination and magic; Delaney is both careful and able to capture it with the kind of prose that you can almost hear him reading aloud.

You may or may not think you like this sort of book. And Delaney, as O'Brien, knows this. He plays his hand carefully, fully, sometimes even flamboyantly. He smiles. You smile. It's a big fat life out there and in there. What you realize as you read 'Tipperary' is that your life is just as full, just as complex. And that somebody probably needs to be careful about you.

03-19-12: Kim Harrison Draws 'A Perfect Blood'

Million Dollar Demon

Serial fiction requires plotting at two levels; within each novel and over the series as a whole, and they have to happen simultaneously in each novel. It's a delicate balancing act, but not the end of the story; we also need to see the character grow and change over the course of time as well. Kim Harrison delivers on all three levels and has room left over for a ripping yarn in 'A Perfect Blood,' the tenth book in the Hollows series.

Even this deep into the game, Harrison is finding new nooks and crannies for heroine Rachel Morgan to explore. The result is a novel that thrills when it wants to and satisfies when it needs to. Harrison has clearly learned the lesson that Rachel is in the process of learning, and with the great power of an author, she takes on the great responsibility of writing both a novel and an entry in a series of novels.

'A Perfect Blood' begins with a great, funny scene; Rachel is stuck in the DMV, trying to get her license, which is impossible because she's no longer a witch, but not yet a demon — by choice. She's caught in an absurd Catch-22, which should give readers an idea as to the sort of humor that runs through the novel, keeping it light and limber even when the killings begin. Soon enough, Rachel is called to the site of a grisly, surreal murder. Those behind it appear to be humans, members of HAPA (Humans Against Paranormal Activity), and their goal is essentially genocide of all things supernatural. The nature of the murder suggests they're well on their way to achieving that goal.

'A Perfect Blood' benefits from this toe-tapping storyline, but it's not alone. It also introduces some great new characters, in particular a duet of vampires, Nina (the clerk at the DMV) a low level "living" vampire and Felix, an ancient and powerful creature who makes use of Nina's body. It's a tribute to Harrison's writing skills that readers will be tempted to think Nina should be nominated for some sort of in-book performance award. Harrison effortlessly creates a complex interaction between Rachel, Nina and Felix that is really fascinating to read. Returning characters get interesting new gigs as well, as Harrison infuses a nice bit of romantic ambiguity into the relationship between Rachel and Trent. But the romance here is nuanced, dialed back from any overheated prose. There are also a variety of domestic scenes with the supernaturals that are charming, funny and entertainingly surreal.

Harrison does not hold back on the plot and the set pieces, which are compelling and exciting. She knows how to create her geography, and how to hurtle Rachel and her crew into perilous and horrific situations. But she is also quite adept at slotting these into the much larger arc of the series as a whole. We may not know where this is all going — we shouldn't at this point — but the story is clearly converging on an endgame.

Readers who might have been wondering whether or not the series was going to deliver, and holding off in this regard should start at the beginning and look for the rewards of this novel down the line. If you're already invested in the Rachel Morgan story arc, you should find this a perfectly delightful series entry, snapping at the heels of the characters and the plot in a lively and entertaining manner.

For all the gore and weirdness in this novel, there's a wonderfully light-hearted overall feel. Harrison seems to have a bit of the screwball comedy writer in her, just a tiny notch that keeps matters dire but never dour. 'A Perfect Blood' is just the sort of novel that series readers look forward to; fat and full of new stuff, fast-paced and exciting, but familiarly fun. The opening scene really nails it; a witch from the bad dreams of our childhood stuck in the bureaucratic hell of our adult life — and she's the one we identify with. We've become our own nightmares, stuck in the nightmares we have so cleverly created.

New to the Agony Column

09-18-15: Commentary : William T. Vollman Amidst 'The Dying Grass' : An Epic Exploration of Simultaneity

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with William T. Vollman : "...a lot of long words that in our language are sentences..."

09-05-15: Commentary : Susan Casey Listens to 'Voices in the Ocean' : Science, Empathy and Self

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Susan Casey : "...the reporting for this book was emotionally difficult at times..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 213: Susan Casey : Voices in the Ocean: A Journey into the Wild and Haunting World of Dolphins

08-24-15: Commentary : Felicia Day Knows 'You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)' : Transformative Technology

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Felicia Day : "I think you have to be attention curators for audience in every way."

08-22-15: Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 212: Felicia Day : You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)

08-21-15: Agony Column Podcast News Report : Senator Claire McCaskill is 'Plenty Ladylike' : Internalizing Determination to Overcome Sexism [Incudes Time to Read EP 211: Claire McCaskill, Plenty Ladylike, plus A 2015 Interview with Senator Claire McCaskill]

Agony Column Podcast News Report : Emily Schultz Unleashes 'The Blondes' : A Cure by Color [Incudes Time to Read EP 210: Emily Schultz, The Blondes, plus A 2015 Interview with Emily Schultz]

08-10-15:Agony Column Podcast News Report : In Memory of Alan Cheuse : Thank you Alan, and Your Family, for Everything

07-11-15: Commentary : Robert Repino Morphs 'Mort(e)' : Housecat to Harbinger of the Apocalypse

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Robert Repino : " even bigger threat. which is us, the humans..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 208: Robert Repino : Mort(e)

07-05-15: Commentary : Dr. Michael Gazzaniga Tells Tales from Both Sides of the Brain : A Life in Neuroscience Reveals the Life of Science

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Michael Gazzaniga : "We made the first observation and BAM there was the disconnection effect..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 208: Michael Gazzaniga : Tales from Both Sides of the Brain: A Life in Neuroscience

06-26-15: Commentary : Neal Stephenson Crafts an Eden for 'Seveneves' : Blow It Up and Start All Over Again

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Neal Stephenson : "...and know that you're never going to se a tree again..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 207: Neal Stephenson : Seveneves

06-03-15: Commentary : Dan Simmons Opens 'The Fifth Heart' : Having it Every Way

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Dan Simmons : "...yes, they really did bring those bombs..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 206: Dan Simmons : The Fifth Heart

05-23-15: Commentary : John Waters Gets 'Carsick' : Going His Way

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with John Waters : " change how you would be in real life...”

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 205: John Waters : Carsick

05-09-15: Commentary : Jeffrey A. Lieberman, MD and 'Shrinks' : A Most Fashionable Take on the Human Mind

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Jeffrey A. Lieberman, MD : "..its influence to be as hegemonic as it was..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 204: Jeffrey A. Lieberman, MD : Shrinks: The Untold Story of Psychiatry

04-29-15: Commentary : Barney Frank is 'Frank' : Interpersonally Ours

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Barney Frank : "...while you're trying to change it, don't ignore it..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 203: Barney Frank : Frank: A Life in Politics from the Great Society to Same-Sex Marriage

04-21-15: Commentary : Kazuo Ishiguro Unearths 'The Buried Giant' : The Mist of Myth and Memory

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Kazuo Ishiguro : ".... by the time I was writing this novel, the lines between what was fantasy and what was real had blurred for me..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 202: Kazuo Ishiguro : The Buried Giant

04-17-15: Commentary : Erik Larson Follows a 'Dead Wake' : Countdown to Destiny

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Erik Larson : "...said to have been found in the arms of a dead German sailor..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 201: Erik Larson : Dead Wake

04-15-15: Commentary : Peter Bell Reflects 'A Certain Slant of Light' : Strange Stories of Modern Scholars

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with Peter Bell : "...I looked up some of the old books..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 200: Peter Bell : Strange Epiphanies and A Certain Slant of Light

03-14-15: Commentary : Marc Goodman Foresees 'Future Crimes' : Exponential Potential

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Marc Goodman : "...every physical object around us is being transformed, one way or another, into an information technology..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 199: Marc Goodman : Future Crimes: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable and What We Can Do About It

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