Slayground (Richard Stark)

This is the fourteenth entry in Richard Stark’s (the writer’s real name Was Donald E Westlake) excellent series about Parker, the amoral criminal whose carefully-laid plans almost always come undone because of some unforeseen accident or because of an act of carelessness by one of the other crooks involved in the plan. In this case, it’s the getaway driver who screws everything up. This is not the driver that Parker would have preferred, but it’s the driver that Parker had to settle for. And it’s Parker who will now have to pay the price. [Read more…]

Hell House (Richard Matheson)

Matheson really was a master of his craft. He took the conventional Gothic structure and threw it out of the window. Assaulting the reader with carnal, palpable terror, from its first page to the very end. Readers new to Hell House will be wondering how far are things going to go regarding the repulsive sexual shenanigans… What would have been shocking and new to audiences in 1971 has become a tad too familiar today, unfortunately. While this speaks volumes to the book’s cultural and literary impact – the fact that it has been copied and imitated by so many on film and on the page detracts from the book’s overall contemporary wow factor. I bet Stephen King used this as some inspiration for The Shining. [Read more…]

Animal Farm (George Orwell)

Written between November 1943 and February 1944, but not published straightaway, because of the USSR’s status as an ally in the Second World War. Orwell was a socialist writer, so the fact that he chose to do such a savage critique of the Soviet Union may come as a bit of a surprise to the present-day reader. One might have expected him to choose the far right, rather than the far left. But he personally felt that Soviet Russia had itself become a brutal dictatorship, and that its original ideals had become perverted. I personally don’t believe any of the original Bolshevik leaders who overthrew the Tsar had any ‘ideals’ other than a brutal, bloody dictatorship that would impoverish the majority of its citizens. And so it proved! Socialism can only work in a racially homogenous nation with no ethnic Trojan horses. (Scandinavia in the 1960s probably came closest to the Socialist ideal) [Read more…]

If You Could See Me Now (Peter Straub)

The blurb of my copy of the book manages to drop three spoilers in the space of two sentences, and then reiterates one of the spoilers just in case I was slow on the uptake. I shall endeavor to avoid doing something similar. Straub brings class to horror unlike anyone I’ve ever read. He has literary tricks up his sleeve that will keep sophisticated readers happy throughout. He is a master of tone. And not just with the mystery he puts forth in this novel, but with the way he sets up our narrator as this haughty know-it-all faced with a town of plebeians that plague him. This book is a wonderful ride to take for that reason. [Read more…]

From The Earth To The Moon (Jules Verne)

What makes From the Earth to the Moon so enjoyable is it’s sheer earnestness. Entire chapters are filled with debates about figures and equations. Verne loves to write about all the details of his little thought experiment. This is very clearly his fantasy, and had he the money, I could imagine him attempting something like this. There are some charming details. For example, they launch from southern Florida, which at the time was a large swamp with forts to guard against the indians. Also, when packing their capsule for provisions, they load up 50 gallons of brandy, because that’s how a gentleman spaceman travels.  [Read more…]

The Wrong Quarry (Quarry #11 by Max Allan Collins)

What is it about “hit man” books that attracts some of us? I suspect it’s the lifestyle, the hunt, the tracking, etc. The Walter Mitty quality of it all. I think it would be great fun — except for the killing part. There I draw the line. Guess I’d be a lousy hit man. For those new to Quarry, he is a hitman with a difference – he is attractive, funny and mixes business with pleasure. (Btw, this tale is set in the early 1980s). You know he is invincible. It’s entertaining, smartly written, not at all challenging fare. Like a McDonalds Happy Meal for Adults. I just had to not read too fast, as I wanted to digest each part without missing anything essential. [Read more…]

Tau Zero (Paoul Anderson)

Author James Blish considered this book the ultimate hard science fiction novel. There is something to be said for that. Praise indeed… I have rarely read a novel with such rigorous scientific underpinnings. Anderson had a degree in physics and in other novels it is quite clear that he thought about the properties of fictional planets he created. Anderson had a degree in physics and in other novels it is quite clear that he thought about the properties of fictional planets he created. Anderson takes hard science fiction as far as it will go here.
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Dune (Frank Herbert)

In order to enjoy Dune you have to enjoy complexity. All authors create little worlds in their stories but Herbert created a world. He puts people on the planets, governments, conflicting cultures, conflicting religions & conflicting ways of life that are thought out to the Nth level above and beyond anything else I’ve ever read. You could write a sociology dissertation on the societal relations Herbert conceived for Dune. Most authors need more than one book in order to tell an epic coming-of-age story. Herbert did it in one. Part of his genius as an author was his ability to imply far more about his world than he actually showed.  [Read more…]

The Perfect Stranger (Megan Miranda)

Leah Stevens needs to find the Exit sign immediately if not sooner. Her short career as a Boston journalist, newly crossing the threshold, is soon to hit the skids. Leah was following a story in which multiple female suicides had happened at the local university. Suspicion wafted in the air and Leah followed through with her story. Although she never fully divulged the name of the perpetrator in her article, the damage was done and the newspaper would likely face libel charges. Even her boyfriend convinced her to quit and leave town…. [Read more…]

The Thirteenth Tale (Diane Setterfield)

A gothic suspense novel with echoes from several Victorian novels. The familiar device of a “story within a story” is employed, and sometimes it even contains another story. This story-telling tradition strongly reminds the reader of earlier classic tales. In fact the “rule of threes” goes throughout this book echoing its fairytale feel. There is the structure of the book itself, “Beginnings, Middles and Endings”. There are three generations in the earlier saga. This is the author’s first novel, and promises well if she stops being so rooted in the gothic canon and makes a bold leap into the unknown and the supernatural she is clearly so drawn to.   [Read more…]

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