Review: ‘Nothing Lasting’ by Glen Krisch

Nothing Lasting by Glen Krisch
Cemetery Dance (November 20, 2014)

nothinglastingComing-of-age stories have long been fertile ground for horror writers – if “The Body” by Stephen King and Boy’s Life by Robert R. McCammon don’t immediately spring to mind when you hear the term “coming-of-age,” then you have some reading to do. But those are just two examples out of a mountain of stories and novels that feature young characters learning hard truths about life, family and self amidst difficult, often horrific, circumstances.

When you add Glen Krisch’s Nothing Lasting to that mountain, be sure and add it somewhere near the top. Featuring richly drawn characters, complex family dynamics and the requisite unsolved small-town mystery, Nothing Lasting doesn’t reinvent the coming-of-age story, but it does delivers a fresh take on the material.

Our young hero is a boy named Noah Berkley, he of the life recently turned upside-down. His parents have split up, his beloved grandfather has died, and he’s being taken back to his father’s hometown to live. To make matters worse, Noah’s mother isn’t putting up much of a battle to keep him, and it looks like his father has a second family already on standby:
Erin Dooling, his high school sweetheart, and her brooding son, Derek.

Derek immediately grabs the upper hand in their forced relationship, dragging Noah into some criminal mischief and then gleefully holding it over his head. As Noah tries to find some corner of this new life to fit in, he becomes aware of a long-ago tragedy that continues to cast a shadow over the town. Further complicating matters are a series of revelations about his own family that force him to confront the idea that his childhood has never truly been the ideal situation he believed it to be.

There is a lone bright spot for Noah, and her name is Jenny Sparrow. Jenny has never had the chance to believe her life was ideal, and these two wounded children gravitate toward one another, finally finding someone else to share in their once-private confusion, anger and resentment.

Krisch does a great job of building these characters and their relationships while slowly – but not too slowly – pushing the story forward with a series of expertly-timed reveals and revelations. Add a few red herrings and at least one monster of a twist, and you’ve got a
thoroughly satisfying page-turner of a mystery that doubles as an enjoyable character study. The book’s big reveal might be straight out of any number of serial killer stories – and might, in fact, be seen from a mile away by those playing particularly close attention – but it
doesn’t diminish the impact of the story as a whole.

In the end, you’ll be rooting for a happy ending for Noah and Jenny, because by the end you’ll have come to care for them. Whether that’s what you – and they – get is up for you to find out on your own.

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Review: ‘Dark Screams Volume One’ edited by Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar

e_chizmar01Random House chose wisely in selecting Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar to edit their new horror anthology series, Dark Screams. Chizmar, as many of you who regularly stop by October Country already know, is the founder of Cemetery Dance, one of the horror genre’s premier publishers, and Freeman is an integral part of that self-same company. Their work with Cemetery Dance has put Chizmar and Freeman squarely in the path of the genre’s biggest names and brightest up-and-coming talents. Who better to put together a lineup of stories that will educate readers new to horror on its vast potential, while still appealing to those who’ve waded deep into the genre’s depths?

To be honest, this first volume of stories is likely going to appeal more to those who don’t already have a bookshelf full of the scary stuff. Experienced horror readers may find that these stories tread some overly familiar paths in terms of the twists and surprises they have in store. On the other hand, Dark Screams Volume One could serve as a fantastic gateway drug to introduce those who aren’t overly familiar with dark fiction to that which they have been missing.

Who better to kick off a new horror anthology than Stephen King? “Weeds” is a story many people will be familiar with thanks to the movie Creepshow, which used this story as the basis for the segment “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill.” You know the one – it features King as a cartoonish buffoon who falls afoul of a meteor that lands on his farmland. But few will have read this version – it’s never been included in one of King’s short story collections. The movie version sticks fairly close to the original prose, although poor Jordy is not quite as inept as King portrayed him in the movie. It’s definitely reminiscent of King’s Night Shift-era work, and would have been right at home in that collection.

“The Price You Pay” by Kelley Armstrong reunites two old friends, Kara and Ingrid, who share a troubled past. Ingrid’s devotion to Kara has proved uncomfortably strong in the past, and Kara has found herself in a number of difficult situations as a result. When Ingrid shows up unannounced on her doorstep, Kara decides it’s time to take a stand. The story twists in on itself from there, and you’ll probably make at least one wrong assumption about where things are headed before all is said and done.

Bill Pronzini’s “Magic Eyes” features as unreliable narrator as you’re likely to find: Edward James Tolliver, currently residing in an asylum after murdering his wife. Tolliver is keeping a journal at the encouragement of his therapist, and Pronzini structures Tolliver’s entries so that we get a real sense of the hopelessness and paranoia closing in on the man. Tolliver believes that something invaded and possessed his wife, and that was what he was trying to kill – and whatever that entity was, he believes something similar has followed him into the institution. Is he crazy, or is he right? Pronzini does a great job of keeping both his characters and his readers off-balance throughout the story.

“Murder in Chains” by Simon Clark is the most brutal offering here, a visceral tale that provides plenty in the way of action but little in the way of answers. A man wakes up in a subterranean tunnel, and he’s chained by the neck to another man. His chain-mate wakes up in a nasty mood, and begins brutally murdering people who have been chained to the walls of the tunnel. From that simple, unsettling premise Clark spins a violent and unpleasant tale that’s probably going to divide readers right down the middle because of its ambiguity.

Ramsey Campbell wraps the volume of tales up with “The Watched,” a quiet tale that’s surreal and unsettling. A young boy, Jimmy, is recruited by a former policeman to keep an eye on the neighbors. Jimmy is afraid to spy, and he’s afraid not to, and even when the cop is involved in an accident the young boy can find no relief. Although the policeman couldn’t still be at their meeting spot, something is there…and as Jimmy watches, that something seems to be moving closer.

This is a solid collection of quick reads, a nice selection of appetizers that represent the horror genre and many of its incarnations well.

A Halloween Treat from Kealan Patrick Burke

DeadLeavesKealan Patrick Burke is a favorite here in October Country, an extremely talented (and, in my opinion, under-appreciated) writer who combines a keen eye for detail and atmosphere with an innate understanding of the importance of the human element in horror fiction. He’s got a deep catalog of stuff out there, but if I had to recommend my favorites I’d include his update/overhaul of the hillbilly slasher genre, Kin, as well as his excellent Timmy Quinn series: The Turtle Boy, The Hides, Vessels, Peregrine’s Tale and Nemesis: The Death of Timmy Quinn).

Those are all longer works, and they’re all excellent, but Burke’s greatest strength as a writer may be his short story work. So it’s great news indeed that Burke has made a collection of his Halloween-flavored short stories, Dead Leaves: 8 Tales from the Witching Season, available for free from Smashwords through November 1. In addition to stories like “Carve the Pumpkins,” “Tonight the Moon Is Ours” and “The Tradition,” he’s included a list of his favorite books and movies for the Halloween season and a new introduction.

I’ve followed Burke’s writing from the beginning, and I can tell you that this collection is worth a whole helluva lot more than the “nothing” that he’s charging, so please take advantage and check it out. I think  you’ll discover, as I did several years ago the first time I cracked open my copy of The Turtle Boy, that this is an author worth reading.

A new Tom Piccirilli book, and a new chance to help the author

A new Tom Piccirilli book is always cause for celebration, but these days it’s also a sobering reminder of the fight the author has found himself in.

As we’ve discussed before, Piccirilli is currently fighting brain cancer. Reports indicate that he’s doing a pretty good job of kicking its ass so far, but he’s got a long and expensive fight ahead of him. Fortunately, the horror genre is all kinds of awesome, and several publishers, authors and fans have stepped in with gestures and donations and support of all kinds.

Now here’s another opportunity to throw some support and encouragement his way. Dark Regions Press will be releasing a new Piccirilli book, The Walls of the Castle, on November 13 via its Black Labyrinth imprint. The synopsis (which you can read at the previous link) is pure Piccirilli, describing a twisted, surreal pyschological thriller that touches on his familiar themes of family, grief and redemption. Dark Regions has five different editions planned for the title, ranging from a digital edition to an ultra-deluxe version of 13 copies bound in cowhide and containing a bonus novelette and essay by the author. Best of all, 20% of all hardcover proceeds and 100% of the digital proceeds will go directly to Piccirilli.

So, you get a new book from one of the most unique voices in the genre today, and you know that a good portion of your cash is going directly to where it’s needed the most. Sounds like a win all around to me.

Here are some more opportunities to help Tom Piccirilli:

Brian Keene on making donations directly to Tom Piccirilli
Tom Piccirilli at Crossroads Press

The ‘Nightmare’ begins in October

It’s almost here.

I’m talking about October, of course. Hands down it’s my favorite month of the year. That autumn weather is rolling in, and the Halloween season is in full swing. Scary decorations are the norm, horror movie marathons are in the planning stages, haunted houses and haunted hayrides are popping up all over, and there is a permanent chill – both literally and figuratively – in the air.

But that’s not all I’m talking about.

Back in May I directed you to the Kickstarter campaign for a new digital publication called Nightmare Magazine. The campaign hit its goal (and then some), which means that the Nightmare is about to become a reality. The first issue of the magazine, edited by John Joseph Adams and published by Creeping Hemlock Press, is now up for preorder and will go live on October 1.

While future issues will feature two reprint stories and two original stories each month, the Nightmare crew is pulling out all the stops for their debut, which will contain all original fiction by Laird Barron, Sarah Langan, Jonathan Maberry and Genevieve Valentine.  There’s no word on the site about the nonfiction features of the first issue, but I’m sure there will plenty.

Each issue’s contents will be serialized online throughout the month, but you can pick it all up at once for your electronic reading device of choice for $2.99 per issue, or $24.99 for a 12-issue subscription.

Start the month off right with this brand-new Halloween treat – I know I plan to.

King, O’Nan combine to make a scary ‘Face’

Stephen King isn’t publishing a new novel this fall, but Constant Readers have had plenty of material to occupy them as of late. One of his most recent releases is this second collaboration with Stewart O’ Nan (co-writer of Faithful), the digital-only short story “A Face in the Crowd.”

“Face” introduces us to Dean Evers, a typical King character if there ever was one. He’s a displaced Red Sox fan, living in Florida and grudgingly pulling for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. His wife died months ago after a second stroke, and since then Evers has been floating through a lonely existence, waiting around for something to happen.

“Something” comes in the form of his childhood dentist, a man long dead who appears one night on Evers’ television during a Devil Rays game. There the man sits, looking exactly as he did when Evers knew him decades earlier. That’s bad, but not as bad as the next person Evers sees in the stands, a young boy Evers went to school with. A young boy who would be an old man now, had he lived. A young boy who points at Evers from his seat behind home plate as though he can see him through the television screen and mouths ominous words at him.

That’s bad. And it’s only the beginning.

King and O’Nan have combined seamlessly to produce a Twilight Zone-ish tale of regret. Evers seems likeable enough at first, but as more and more phantoms begin popping up at Tropicana Field a lifetime of selfishness comes to the surface, forever changing our perception of the man as well as his perception of himself. Most will spot the ending from a mile away, but that doesn’t lessen the enjoyment of the path the authors take to get us there.

While not as creepy as King’s recent “The Little Green God of Agony” or as visceral as “In the Tall Grass,” his twopart collaboration with son Joe Hill, “A Face in the Crowd” is an enjoyable diversion, a little something else to tide us over until the next short story or novel appears.

Internet crime in one ‘Click’

A little over a week ago I shared a link with you to a new online horror magazine some very talented people are working to get off the ground. (If you haven’t pledged support to them on their Kickstarter page, I’d like to pause here and ask you to consider doing so. Thanks.) Now I’d like to point you in the direction of an online crime fiction venture that’s already off and running with its second issue now available: The Big Click.

The Big Click is a bi-monthly mag featuring fiction and nonfiction devoted to the crime genre. Contents from the current issue are serialized on the website, and current and back issues are available for downloading at an extremely reasonable price. The first issue, which contains fiction by Ken Bruen and an interview with Joe R. Lansdale, can be had for a buck, and this month’s issue is dirt cheap at $2.99.

These kinds of ventures are popping up like mushrooms as digital publishing continues to gain a foothold, and I for one welcome them with open arms. Affordable, targeted content by talented people with a vision for what’s good and unique – what’s not to love? Let’s help the good ones thrive, shall we?