One hell of a weird story! Surreal and spellbinding

what immortal hand

Johnny Worthen’s What Immortal Hand (Omnium Gatherum, October 2017) is one hell of a weird story. It’s the darkest horror I’ve read in a long time.

Michael Oswald stares into the Abyss. He’s already lost his wife, his home, his kids, and now he’s about to lose his job. He feels himself on a slippery slope sliding into nothingness. His self-destruction is nearly complete. He feels as if he has no past, no future. It’s as if time itself plays tricks on him. He loses hours, days, weeks, maybe even years.

He can’t remember his early childhood the way other people can. He can’t even remember half of what happened yesterday. To the world, Michael Oswald is a loser because he values none of the trappings of civilized society. Michael has always been different than others. He believes it’s because he was raised within the foster care system, a ward of the state. He’s had many names, a different last name each time he entered a new foster home, and he has no idea at all who he truly is, who his real parents are, or who raised him during those influential years from three to seven.

Who is he? Where is he? When is he?

What is he?

All his life, it seems, Michael has been aware that there is a caste system—a natural order—at work in the world, even in democratic America. There’s always been haves and have-nots. There’s always been thugs who prey on Travelers. Some people deserve to die and need to be killed as a public service. But, in the end, all living things must die.

If God gives you lemons, get another god. Everyone is born of a Mother, isn’t he or she? And isn’t everyone reborn again and again?

Heh heh.

One hell of a weird story! Surreal and spellbinding. Johnny Worthen’s What Immortal Hand is the darkest tale I’ve read in a long time.

 

 

 

Angels Versus Angels

lostness

When fallen angels live amongst humans, there’s always hell to pay.

I’ve been a fan of Billie Sue Mosiman’s stories since the 1980s, and LOSTNESS (January 2017) is no exception. A sequel to BANISHED and ANGELIQUE, this tale is set in 1940 with many of the same characters from BANISHED. Angelique returns, still in a child’s body. Nisroc (Nick) travels in Europe with Jody, the midget. Henry, the shape-shifter, is back, too. But fascinating new characters are introduced in LOSTNESS—Ladina, Jules, Tina, Will, Graham, Duma, Monty—to complicate the storyline. The great battle between angels—between the fallen and the unfallen—is about to begin.

My only gripes with the novel are the mention of the CIA and a few minor things a good copy editor would have corrected. The Central Intelligence Agency didn’t exist in 1940. The closest thing was the FBI, or Military Intelligence, or possibly the OSS.

I love Mosiman’s images of angels allowing their wings to expand. I love being inside Jules’ head when she dream-travels.

Once again, Mosiman shows there’s more in heaven and earth than dreamt in our philosophies.

 

Great Story, Competently Told

cataclysim-tim-washburn

 

Cataclysm by Tim Washburn (Pinnacle Books, November 2016) is the real deal. You know all hell is about to break loose in Yellowstone National Park when underground magma begins to shift in the caldera, causing earthquakes. Yellowstone is home to one of the world’s largest underground volcanoes. As the caldera rises, hydrothermal vents erupt as a precursor to a cataclysmic volcanic eruption that could threaten all life on earth.

What would you do if your own family were staying at the Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone? Is there any way you can get them, and the tens of thousands of others in or near the park, out of harm’s way before the volcano erupts? Doctor Tucker Mayfield is the staff geologist monitoring on-site activity at Yellowstone. His entire family — brother Matt, sister-in-law Jessica, and a young niece and nephew — are vacationing in Yellowstone when the caldera threatens to erupt. The park is filled with families, and Tucker realizes evacuating them all before the volcano blows will be impossible.

First come the earthquakes, minor tremors that escalate into full-scale quakes. Then the geysers erratically spew boiling water high into the air, scalding hundreds of people and inundating acres of land. Volcanic ash from newly-opened fissures clogs automobile engines and brings down aircraft. If the volcano blows its lid, the entire Midwest and west coast of America could be buried beneath billions of tons of hot ash that will make the soil sterile for generations to come.

Without food, water, electricity, or transportation, how will the country survive?

President Drummond, the first female POTUS, declares a national emergency too late to save millions of lives. None of her learned advisers knew when or even if the volcano would erupt after being dormant for 640,000 years.

Author Washburn adds sexual tension to the mix as Rachel and April vie for Tucker’s attention. I wanted to shake or strangle several of the characters for being so selfish or dense that they put loved ones at risk. When pyroclastic flows containing boiling lava and hot acidic ash incinerate thousands of people, I wanted to shout “I told you so” to those who got their comeuppance.

But most of the dead are ordinary people who simply happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The true horror is that this could actually happen to you or me tomorrow, and there’s nothing we can do to prevent it. The only thing we can do is be aware it could possibly happen and be prepared to run for our lives if it does.

Great story, competently told, with believable characters. Highly recommended.

A Complicated Mystery

all these perfect strangers cover

 

All These Perfect Strangers by Aoife Clifford (Alibi, July 2016) is a mystery within a mystery. The characters are complex, fully-developed, because Pen Sheppard is a keen observer and notices details most people don’t. Frank, Pen’s psychiatrist, even comments on Pen’s keen skills of observation as she relates her story.

Pen is a first-year University law student, away from home for the first time. Her classmates play a game they call “The Murder Game”. The object of the game is to mock-kill each your classmates when they least expect it. Pen’s friend Rachel boasts she has more kills than anyone else. Rachel loves to stab or shoot people in the back.

Then students start dying for real, allegedly attacked by “The Screwdriver Man”. Is there a serial killer stalking campus? When Rachel dies from drowning and other students die from drug overdoses, Pen becomes a prime suspect.

None of the people in this novel are nice, nor is anyone who she or he pretends to be. Everyone seems to be hiding something. Whether or not they are all guilty of murder is irrelevant. No one is completely innocent.

All These Perfect Strangers is a complicated story of relationships gone wrong. Recommended for readers who like to sort through all the chaff to find overlooked grains of truth. Worth a read.

New First Novel from A Writer to Watch

“If I was gonna kill someone, I’d probably read everything I could find on forensics,” says Ben, Sheriff Niko Quintano’s deputy, and that is so very true, not only about psychopathic serial killers but about crime writers worth their salt.

Crime writers need to read everything they can find about forensics, and it’s evident Sue Coletta has. Marred is the first published novel by Sue Coletta, a writer to watch. Sue Coletta includes lessons in forensics in every novel. She also includes keen insights on the failure of human communication gleaned from closely observing human interactions.

Sage Quintano, Niko’s wife and chief protagonist, is not only a best-selling crime writer but Sage is also a crime victim. Sage was brutally raped and nearly killed when Niko and Sage lived in Boston. Niko had arrived home in time to save Sage’s life but not the life of their unborn child. Even after moving from Boston to New Hampshire, Sage carries the scars of the killer’s intrusion on her body and in her mind. Niko thought taking a job as sheriff in a rural area of another state would keep Sage safe and help her to heal. But it seems the killer has followed Sage and Niko and now holds Sage’s twin sister hostage.

Sage’s fatal flaw is the unrelenting shame she feels from allowing herself to be raped. To save her own life—and the life of the fetus growing within her—she complied with the rapist’s demands. She should have fought. She should have screamed. But she didn’t. Sage’s shame prevents her from telling Niko the truth and keeps her from having a sexual assault examination performed that might have identified the killer through DNA; destroys the relationship she once had with her twin sister, Chloe; nearly ruins her marriage; and causes her to drive away her literary agent at a time she needs Jess’ help most. Shame and fear make Sage vulnerable. Vulnerable people tend to compound mistakes.

Niko’s fatal flaw is his failure to protect his wife. He has other shortcomings, too, and his failure to communicate—as does Sage’s failure to communicate—only compounds the situation. Niko doesn’t listen to others the way a good cop should. He seems insensitive to the feelings of others. He refuses to understand the needs of others and thinks only of himself. He needs to change if he wants to save his wife, save his job, and keep his marriage. But can he?

When they were first married, Niko and Sage made a deal. Only one of them would come unglued at the same time. Of course, that didn’t apply when both were under attack and neither could think straight. Niko and Sage both come unglued and, if the serial killer doesn’t kill them first, stress will.

Frankie Capanelli is Niko’s partner. By right of seniority, Frankie should be chief deputy and Niko’s choice to succeed him as sheriff. But Frankie is a bit too informal and unconventional in both her dress and demeanor for Niko’s tastes, and Niko decides to groom Ben to become the next sheriff instead. Ben is the perfect candidate from a male chauvinistic perspective: he wears the uniform correctly, has former military experience, follows orders, and is polite and respectful. But is Ben really what he seems?

Marred is a roller-coaster thrill ride that alternates points of view between Sages’ first person and Niko and Frankie’s third person. Human beings make mistakes, and sometimes they hurt the people they love most. Sage, Niko, Frankie, and Chloe feel hurt, so they hurt others in return.

Marred leaves open the possibility of a sequel. I can’t wait to read what happens next.