Review: Blood in the Woods by Joe Willie

Continuing my horror novel reviews, I’m delighted to share my thoughts on J.P. Willie’s Blood in the Woods. Horror fiction comes in many forms and this is a novel with broad appeal far beyond horror fans.

“For Jody, growing up in the late eighties and early nineties in the small Louisiana town of Hammond with his best friend Jack was filled with wonderful childhood memories.  Time spent playing in the woods, shooting pellet guns, blowing up mailboxes, fighting at school and upon the dawning of interest in the fairer sex, their carefree lives typical of children with few responsibilities and no worries beyond the next pop-quiz or getting to second base. As they grow older together and experience the joys and pains of life, love, family and friendship, they uncover a grim secret that their home town has kept, and through little more than an innocent, idle curiosity, Jody and Jack stumble upon something horrific in the woods and their lives quickly take a most sinister and dangerous turn as they find themselves hunted by an unspeakable evil…”

Blood in the Woods takes the reader into the back blocks of southern of America, God-abiding territory, and devil worship and dark rituals lie at the heart of the narrative, pulsing a backbeat. The prologue not only sets up the story to come, it demonstrates the longevity of the evil taking place in the woods around Hammond, secret practices that have been going on for decades.

The story opens with the narrator, a veteran recently returned from a stint in Afghanistan, coming to terms with his past. Through the lens of a man examining his childhood, Blood in the Woods  is as much a meditation on boyhood and coming of age as it is a tale of terror. The narration is warm, conversational, the narrator self-effacing. Jody and his friend Jack love to run amok, inventing games and having adventures and always in trouble. Yet their escapades are innocent, and deep down they are both good kids, and the reader cannot help but be charmed by them. Willie’s storytelling reminds me of Tobias Wolff’s in This Boy’s Life, especially in the early parts of the novel, and to begin with the narration has the flavour of memoir. Little wonder, as Blood in the Woods is based on truth.

To Willie’s credit, his account of the sorts of evil practices going on in Hammond and its surrounds is measured and balanced. Through the eyes of both Jody’s grandfather, Jerry, and a fast-food cook come Satanist, the author is at pains to explain that not all cults and not all who worship Satan are evil and do bad things. Making this point early in the story, and reinforcing it later, serves to offset prejudice and ignorance, enlightening the reader without labouring the point.

Entertaining and chilling in equal measure, Blood in the Woods is an earthy and believable story, one laced with social realism. The story has soul, it lives and breathes. The horror simmers in the background, popping up now and then over the backyard fence with ever increasing intensity, until it breaks out in a gripping, breathtaking finale.

Without doubt, Blood in the Woods is a novel that deserves a wider audience. Sometimes genre labels shackle a book, especially when many readers are spooked by the very word ‘horror’. If that is you, don’t be put off! You’ll be missing out on a highly entertaining read!

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Review: Biddy Trott by Donna Maria McCarthy

Continuing my journey into the realm of horror fiction, I am thrilled to share my review of Biddy Trott, a fine novella composed by talented author, Donna Maria McCarthy.

“‘If Biddy knows no rest, then none shall…’ A tragedy born of malice and evil, a tortured body and soul. The townsfolk of Royal Rumney have a conscience, a secret that tears away at their sanity. Any soul shall be offered up in place of the damned; ‘And ever the church bells tell a lie, is Biddy who comes and another will die. Set in eighteenth century England in the small market town of Royal Rumny, Biddy Trott is a Gothic Horror novella with tragedy at its core.

A young girl, falsely blamed for a fire which destroyed the town and killed many, is hunted down, tortured and killed gruesomely, with no conscience. Lord Abner Alexander, a member of the elite and privileged, travels to the town in search of some peace and respite from his very bawdy and raucous lifestyle. The town seems pleasant enough and the people welcoming, although unyielding where their dark and harrowing past is concerned. Amongst some, shame, amongst others a distorted pride. Abner’s first indication that something evil lurks here is on his first night, where the Abbey bells toll two, and he finds himself witness to a terrifying slaying… not knowing whether it a dream or not, he remains, and becomes bewitched by a passion to record any horrors he feels he witnesses.”

The setting of Biddy Trott pre-dates the era of the penny dreadful by about a century, and the astute reader might be forgiven for anticipating an f in the stead of an s in the text. From the perspective of today, the seventeen hundreds are as Gothic a setting that ever was, a time of transition when the first glimmerings of the industrial revolution were being felt, yet most of Britain languished in traditions of yore. Perhaps in essence, Biddy Trott even pre-dates the works of Ann Radcliffe and is more in keeping with Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, published in 1764. For from the very first sentence the reader is invited into a narrative spun out of the sentiments of mid-eighteenth century England.

Donna Maria McCarthy writes in an old-school style commensurate with the times; the result is a novella that demands of the reader their concentration. Those willing to make the effort will not be disappointed, for the tale is a good one, gripping from first to last. Many will be forgiven for beginning the work again, to pick up on the nuances. The narrator inhabits Royal Rumny and compels the reader to do the same and with such intensity, it is as though the author, in conjuring the narrative voice, has cast a spell, for the story itself is a haunting.

Biddy Trott is filled with grotesque characters, maimed and crippled, haunted and possessed, and downright evil. Even during the day, there is no sense of light. The action is gruesome, bawdy at times, and sharply witty. A compelling read, fast-paced despite the language, and filled with twists and turns; the reader rendered as confused as the protagonist, compelled to discover the horrible truth that curses Royal Rumny.

The young girl at the root of the darkness, Biddy Trott, is much more than a mere character in this novella, she embodies a theme, she is the vessel for a concept, one born of the author’s incredible insight and rich imagination. To say more would be to spoil the story.

Biddy Trott will appeal to fans of Gothic literature, for those who want to read their horror stories more than once, and for collectors of rare finds. I, for one, am looking forward with keen interest for more from this author.

Buy your copy here.

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Review: Demons, Devils and Denizens of Hell: Vol 2

I’m thrilled to share my review of Demons, Devils and Denizens of Hell: Vol 2, and anthology of horror stories compiled by P. Mattern, edited by Ztina Marie and published by HellBound Books.

http://www.hellboundbookspublishing.com/demonsdevilsdenizens2.html

“Another anthology of otherworldy delights, tales of horror, dread and hellish inhabitants, – all lovingly compiled by award-winning author P. Mattern.

Our second journey into the darkest recesses of Satan’s pit has superlative tales of nefarious delight by: Andrew MacKay, Ryan Woods, PC3, Richard Raven, Dante Crossroad, Josh Schlossberg, Brianna M. Fenty, Paul Lubaczewski, Marcus Mattern, R.L. Chambers, Gerri R Grayson, John T. M. Herres, James Nichols, Feind Gottes, P. Mattern & Lynne Ligocki Gauthier, R.L.Chambers, Richard Alan Long, Jaap Boekestein, James H, Longmore, Savannah Morgan, DJ Shaw, Bill Evans, Sergio “ente per ente” Palumbo, Jay Michael Wright II, and the incomparable Stephanie Kelley.”

As a reader of short stories I’m hard to please. I’m looking for substance and depth. I want to know the author has thought long and hard about character, setting and life in general. I’m not interested so much in being shocked or horrified. I’m interested in how the author is pulling it off. I want to be impressed. Also, I want wit. I guess that makes me hard to please. Especially regarding an anthology, a book readers will delve into when the fancy takes them, sampling rather than reading from end to end.

I opened Demons, Devils and Denizens of Hell: Vol 2 not knowing what I was to be treated to, save each story was destined to be either revolting, terrifying or both. What I discovered was a delight. Demons, Devils and Denizens of Hell: Vol 2 brims with cracking reads; the hallmark of the volume, strong writing. From the thoroughly revolting, edge-of-seat horror-crime story ‘Duplicate Counterpart’ by John T.M. Herres, to the mysterious and compelling, and ultimately shocking ‘There Shall Be No Night’ by Josh Schlossberg, and beyond, there is much to savour between the covers of this anthology.

Each story is distinct. James H. Longmore’s ‘My Possession: An Introspective’, a presentation of the state of mind of a sales executive turned writer wrestling with his inner demon called Dave, provides incisive wit and dark hilarity. As does ‘Beauty is the Beast’ by Gerri R. Gray, her protagonist, Vanity de Milo, a macabre twist on the children’s fairy tale the story alludes to.

Quoting from ‘The Huntress’ by Savannah Morgan, gives a taste of the sort of writing to be found in the anthology:

“Guts and entrails fell out like gruesome chunky soft-serve ice cream from a dispenser on the fritz.”

No matter the genre, sentences like that make a reader like me tingle.

Feind Gottes foreshadows his dark tale, ‘Black Lodge’, with some powerful imagery:

“A simple black lodge in a forgotten wood where ghosts feared to haunt but memories were free to crush a man’s soul.”

Like the other stories in this anthology, Gotte’s tale grips to the very last sentence.

The authors of these dark tales have stretched their imaginations, brought to bear their wit and drawn on their many and varied insights into the human condition. Not only that, they’ve applied themselves to the task of writing, and writing well. The result is a must read.

Buy your copy here.

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