Tyree’s Terrible Tirades, pt. 1

The eagle-eyed among you will have noted that, although I’ve written the vast majority of the content for this site, I did run one review by someone else — namely Mark Tyree, who reviewed Ryan Thomas’ Born to Bleed a while back.  I told Mark I was interested in running more reviews by him, but… Mark has a tendency to go off on tangents now and then — and not just minor deviations, either.  We’re talking about forks in the road that can wind up leaving the reader somewhere east of Timbuktu, with no map, compass, or clue.  That’s all part of his charm as a writer, though.  At least I think so.

Anyway, the point is: if I try to edit out those tangents, what you’re left with is … just not authentic Tyree any more.  It’s the editorial equivalent of emasculating a bull.  So I didn’t want to hack away at what he produced, but given that the goal for reviews on this site is to keep them in the ballpark of 500-750 words, well, Mark strays far off of that reservation.  All things considered, it seemed to me that the best option was to give him a column, with free reign to foam at the keyboard, rather than try and shoehorn his output into a standard review form.

So…without further ado, I present to you the first installment of what will be an irregular column from Mr. T.

=======================

PrimevalPrimeval: Werewolf Apocalypse Book II
William D. Carl
Permuted Press

First off, for this review (OK, column), I’ve started, stopped, deleted, monkey’d with, dumped in a fit of headshakes, disgust and giggles five times or so. Screw it. Lets let fly and see what sticks.

First, a huge apology to my well-respected host for the usual tardiness. No excuses, really. Just gotta realize, in these troubled times, my life’s not the only one that seems to be spinning on a never-ending patch of black ice. While spinning, things of leisure like reading are always on the back burner; chances of kicking back for a nice, relaxing read being sucked away into the hood vent, and the fact I’ve always been a painfully slow reader does not help matters, either. There was no earthly reason for me to be invited into the Twilight Ridge chateau, or for me to smear wet, dog-shit-laced leaves into his beige carpet, drink all the top-shelf booze, scratch his V-Roys CD, insist on a crappy “This is AWESOME!” Asian dvd pulled from a back pocket, pee on the water heater and pass out leaving a soppy, mashed-up puddle of single malt, juniper-and-vomit-reeking drool on the sofa cushion… and you’re all going, “Wow that’s some …fairly specific shit right there …”

Wink. But I mean, really folks. What Robert has put up with this past month shows a patience and understanding (“Where’s that f*****g werewolf book review, damn lazy bastard!”) that would rival that of Job. (Editor’s note: For what I’m paying Mr. Tyree, I can afford to be patient.)

Also, you guys ‘n’ gals come to this site for Robert’s knowledge, taste and recommendations in small press tales of horror (saves weeding through fungible titles spending hard-earned money, am I right ?), not some semi-retired plumber’s ramblings regarding a friend’s book. Yes, a friend’s book. Dumb move. Never EVER will I again open my yap to say “Hey buddy! Send me your book, I’ll read it and give my thoughts on Twilight Ridge. Deal?”

Nope. Dumbest thing ever, reviewing a good friend’s work they poured sweat and oozed blood into creating.  Why?  You need to ask?

If I were in your shoes, I wouldn’t trust someone who was stupid enough to review a buddy’s work in the first place. In particular, if said review was positive, would I trust the review from the writer’s friend? Hell to the no!

Fingers crossed. Only way out of this jam, for me, is one door: the fact the book really is good and worth picking up. And you’re gonna need to trust me.

Primeval is the second book in a series, the first being the well-received Bestial. In fact, I’m told that around 2011 Simon & Schuster swung a deal to re-publish several Permuted Press under the S&S imprint… and one of those titles was Bestial, which says something about the book’s quality. Now we have Primeval.

And let me tell ya, the book takes off out of the gate faster than a Bugatti Veyron with the sure-footed self-confidence of a Bowler Wildcat. In Bestial, the writer ripped apart his hometown of Cincinnati with the airborne Lycan Virus. That book had fantastic characters and I was pleased to see them return in this second gore-filled outing; it’s always a pleasure to encounter interesting characters tossed into a blood-soaked horror show.

Primeval initially takes us into the story using one of my favorite tricks for providing backstory: newspaper articles, this time from a rag called World Weekly News under the byline James Creed. Right off, we know Creed will be a major player in the events to come. His articles all concern the Lycan Virus and the fact is that it’s still very much in the here and now. According to Creed, there is no longer a need for a full moon to get things rolling, and the population afflicted now consider it an alternative lifestyle. I love that — “alternative lifestyle.” I could go on about that but, I won’t…

Creed also writes about New York City rats…large, aggressive muthas that look wildly different, besides the fact that they’re the size of cats…(Bowie anyone?) Creed hooks up with a homeless underground dweller named Michael Keene, who promises Creed a helluva story — not just Keene’s personal tale of woe, but a whole lot more. To show Creed first-hand what’s been going on, Keene and his dog lead Creed from the 42nd Street Subway station, down into the darkness…

Meanwhile, expert sniper Nicole Truitt, recovering from the earlier events in Cinci, is on on a wind-down vacation with her partner Sandy in New York when she’s suddenly tossed back into action. Sandy’s there to visit the 9/11 site, where she lost a loved one; to be alone with his spirit and to “Have my moment with Timmy. See what they’re putting up as a monument.” Nicole’s boss, General Taylor Burns, just happens to be in the same hotel, and gives her some b.s. story about why he’s there, too. Burns is Carl’s best character — sad, lonely, ruthless and mean when needed, and the best at what he does. He also considers Nicole to be his own flesh and blood; the love he carries for her is that deep and to the bone. The scene where Nicole tells him she and Sandy are lovers is very, very funny — Burns is, like, “What, do I look stupid?”

Sandy is riding the subway back from her visit to the hotel when the train grinds to a halt, lights flickering… She’s stuck there in the car with a wonderfully rendered, racially diverse group of New Yorkers and, of course, her Blackberry isn’t worth a damn as she tries to contact Nicole who’s watching things go down alongside Burns. The virus is sweeping through at an unstoppable rate, Manhattan being chewed from the inside out via swarms of highly contagious vermin, hungry vermin where a mere scratch changes a human into a beast that would bite the head off their own children…which one does in a graphically filthy theater scene.

Here’s where I hit the pause button for a sec. One of the first horror books I read was James Herbert’s The Fog. What had me ripping through that genre classic was the way Herbert would veer away from the main characters to toss-away characters simply because, (as I read years later in an interview) he was bored, and wanted to kill a bunch of folks in the most fun and ghastly of ways. So he did!

When reading Primeval, I was immediately taken back to the joys of The Fog and yeah, yeah, I know, you’re thinking — why not The Rats, doofus! Because what Herbert did was, to me, simply for fun. Whereas Carl takes us to the hows/wheres and, more importantly, the whens of New Yorkers being attacked, changing, then rip-shit-tear-assing– we’re talking blood-and-guts-a-go-go, here people! He’s letting readers see the progression of the virus. It’s a hoot, too, especially when you recognize a lot of the names involved, including yours truly… Another book I was reminded of was Brian Keene’s ground-breaking The Rising but you’ll have to read Primeval to see exactly what I’m referring to. Sorry.

Anyway, while our two men and a dog grapple with their own horrors underground, Sandy remains trapped, and General Burns and Nicole stand stunned in front of their TV and window, watching one horror after another. It soon becomes apparent that the only way to contain the virus is to cut off Manhattan from the rest of the world. Jets are dispatched, missiles fly. Fun starts. Think road trip underground.

Non-sequitur: another thing I love about reading is, when you’re in good hands, deeply involved with the plot out of the blue, a writer will toss in something along the lines of:

“By the time the smoke cleared, the bridge Walt Whitman had once called ‘The best medicine his soul had ever experienced,’ the world’s first steel suspension bridge, a mile of brilliant design and architecture, was little more than rubble in the churning water.”

First, I’m learning an interesting fact and, second, any writer who can make me feel as saddened by the loss of a freaking bridge as much as the loss of a character is one to keep an eye out for.

I urge you to pick up Bestial before you read Primeval. Sure, you can start Primeval as a stand-alone novel but it’s always more rewarding when investing time in a series to start at the beginning and that rather-obvious remark could not be more true than as with the case of Bill Carl’s werewolf saga. I have to tell you, good folks, in this age of zombies, zombies and more zombies, and silly, sissy, romantic, metrosexual vampires saturating pop culture, well-written, good, old-fashioned werewolf novels, with a brilliant twist, are a breath of fresh air… even if said air is exhaled through monstrous, drool-covered fangs, smelling of chewed meat and fresh, raw blood.

 

Tracking the beast with J.L. Benet’s Wolf Hunter

WolfHunter

I’m typically a big fan of war/horror hybrid novels (there’ve been more published than you might think), and I’m also often a big fan of werewolf novels… so when I heard that author J.L. Benet had made his novel-length debut with Wolf Hunter (published by Belfire Press), a book that combines WWII, Nazis, and werewolves, I was all, “where do I sign up?”  And when it turned out that Benet was, like me, a graduate of the University of Michigan, and that much of the story was set in Ann Arbor, I felt like Wolf Hunter and I were a match made in heaven.  But, as college football pundit Lee Corso would say, “not so fast, my friend.”

I don’t want to imply that the book was a complete disappointment, as it does have some things going for it, beyond just the alluring (to me) subject matter…but there are definitely some rough edges as well.  More than anything, Wolf Hunt feels like a modern pulp novel, with an upside of audacious ideas and pell-mell pacing, and a downside of occasional hokey melodrama and awkward dialog.

The book opens with a brief section set during the latter stages of World War II, where Viktor Huelen is one of several subjects of an experiment conducted by a desperate Third Reich.  Under the direction of Himmler, they’re attempting to turn the tide in the war by developing super-soldiers in the form of werewolves, using a device bearing the rather clumsy moniker of “Feraliminal Lyncanthropizer.”  Despite the fact that the scientists are able to induce the transformations, the experiment fails due to a not-surprising inability to control the creatures post-transformation.

From there, the tale jumps to the present day, where the plot centers on two characters, the first of whom, Jack, is an Ojibwa Indian — and a shapeshifter — residing in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  His tribe’s shaman elder statesmen have sent him on a mission to dispose of one Albrecht Nachtwandler, another survivor of the Nazi werewolf experiments.  The other primary character is Steve Williams, a frustrated, misanthropic loner, seemingly the type of maladjusted kid who might bring a gun to school one day to settle some scores, but in Steve’s case he chooses to immerse himself in werewolf lore:

Always an outcast and he was beginning to come to terms with always being one. His skin was only the outward marking of his difference; he knew it really went much deeper, into his very soul.

Perhaps that’s what drew him to study werewolves. He was already torn between two worlds, why not make the most of it? … The werewolf was not afraid of becoming an outcast, of losing touch with his humanity.

Through his research, Williams learns of Huelen and blackmails him into helping to reconstruct the experiments.  In turn, Jack receives further instructions from his elders, this time to kill Williams and Huelen, and prevent the revival of the European-style werewolves (more on that below).

Along the way, Benet offers some interesting variances on traditional werewolf mythos, although sometimes the twists seem to add little, or even border on plot contrivance.  Here are a couple examples of the liberties he takes with lycanthropy:

“…if we kill while we are shifted, we would be doomed to walk the North woods forever as an evil wendigo… You will be protected from the evil spirit because of your white man’s blood but you still cannot let the spirit of the shift take control of your soul.”

and

“A bearwalker is a type of American Indian werewolf. They are evil shaman who put curses on people so they die… The European-style werewolf is much stronger. They can only be harmed by silver bullets, fire, or other werewolves. A bearwalker can be hurt by anything that can harm a man.”

Despite some interesting touches, and a plot filled with forward momentum, I can’t truly recommend Wolf Hunt unless you’re a hard-core fan of werewolf fiction.

Mark Morris’ It Sustains Has True Staying Power

it-sustains-signed-jhc-by-mark-morris-1707-pBritish author Mark Morris has been at it now for longer than I care to think (a comment on my age, not his talent), with nearly 20 titles published since his debut, Toady, appeared in 1989.  His latest, It Sustains, from Earthling Publications, sports an Introduction by Sarah Pinborough and a gorgeous cover illustration by Edward Miller; more importantly, it’s a taut, coming-of-age novella that winds up going places you probably won’t expect.

Fifteen-year-old Adam is living a fairly normal, happy life in the small village of Stretton Mere, where his father and mother own and operate the Maypole pub. That idyllic existence is destroyed when a group of drunks, angry over their expulsion from the pub, return to the scene looking to cause some damage but wind up killing Adam’s mother.

The meaning of the book’s title is revealed in the following passage, describing a half-hearted, or even mocking, message from one of Adam’s mother’s killers.

Just before the funeral we got a card from Danny Thorpe, white with a silver dove on the front — In Deepest Sympathy.  Inside the card he had written: ‘So sorry to hear about what happened. A terrible loss.  But ultimately it is love, not grief, that sustains.’

Seeking a new start, or at least fewer painful memories, Adam’s father moves the two of them several hours away, to operate another pub.  But placing many miles between them and their tragedy not surprisingly fails to blunt the emotions of their recent tragedy. In the following scene, Adam hears his father, who’s been pretty hard on Adam, while seemingly staying strong himself in the face of the tragedy, unburdening himself of his pain in private.

…I hear sobbing.

It’s not much, little more than a whimpery hitching of breath, but it is this very thing — this stifled, exhausted quality — that makes it seem so desolate.  It is sobbing without hope, without release; it is sobbing in the knowledge that it won’t make you feel even the slightest bit better afterwards — and it is that that makes it scary.

Haunted by memories and regret, Adam begins to be plagued by unsettling dreams and visions… and the irretrievable loss of innocence, as captured here:

…what he has now been reminded of, in the cruelest way possible, is that life is temporary and fragile, that each day we step out onto thin ice that will eventually, inevitably, splinter beneath us, and that, contrary to what we are told as children, there are no happy endings.

At the same time, he faces far more commonplace complications for someone his age — a growing attraction to schoolmate Adele, and confrontations with bullies, followed by initiation into their “gang,” and brushes with the law.

It Sustains is a powerful tale, full of sadness, despair and unexpected plot developments…but the final plot development may be just a little too unexpected.  Meaning that there’s no justification or rationale presented for a twist that seems decidedly different from what’s come before.  Not that I want or expect rationalization for everything — I have plenty of appreciation for ambiguity and the unexplained — but in this case, the change was sufficiently out of left field to leave me feeling off balance.  Nonetheless, the surprising finale of It Sustains serves to detract only a bit from the substantial strengths of this fine novella.