Phantoms (Dean Koontz)

At the beginning of this novel, the author has added an apology for writing it and I understand why. Phantoms is scary! There is something so extraordinarily powerful, capable of wiping out a whole town, capable of being everywhere at once, something omnipresent and omnipotent…and yet I had no clue what it was for a good chunk of the book. But I was aware that everyone in that town pretty much got their asses kicked (and worse), and I thanked my lucky stars that I wasn’t there with them. But I won’t give away any major plot spoilers. [Read more…]

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The Hour Of The Oxrun Dead (Charles L Grant)

Those staples of horror–the rundown graveyard, the sinister shape in the fog, the strange noises in the night–they’re all here in spades, but rather than feeling clichéd, the late Charles L. Grant (who wrote under 5 other names as well) has fashioned them into an engaging little novel of 1970s paranoia. And his style is very moody and languid. He makes you wait, and if you enjoy the journey, that seemed to be his goal. Grant was a leading proponent of the quiet horror movement. Other than the odd quirk that might annoy the reader, like his heroine repeatedly fainting, if you like misdirection and mystery this just might be your cup of tea.
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Murder On The Orient Express (2017 USA)

An update on the much revered original of 1974, here is the ultimate luvvie himself, Kenneth bloody Branagh, and he has actually come up with the goods here. Ignore the nay sayers…they declare he’s derailed Agatha Christie’s novel– but I say (and its my blog, so I can) that he’s certainly breathed enough steam into the old locomotive to keep it chugging to its destination: an entertaining and involving cinematic experience. Even Kenny’s much maligned mustache deserves an Oscar for effort. This is facial art without peer. [Read more…]

The Butterfly Garden (Dot Hutchison)

This is a psychological/mystery/horror thriller – that won’t be to everyone’s liking; due to the subject matter. (And there’s bound to be a big screen version) It starts off with two FBI agents, Victor Hanoverian and Brandon Eddison, interviewing a young woman, Maya/Inara, who was rescued with other girls that were being held captive by a person only known as ‘The Gardener.’ The garden is a New York–set paradise complete with beautiful trees and flowers, streams and ponds, a cliff and a waterfall. But in reality it is a prison, fully enclosed by walls and glass within a larger garden from which there is no escape. [Read more…]

The Ax ( Donald E Westlake)

Wanted: Middle management for the oversight of an assembly line in an industrial paper factory. College degree and experience a must. Homicidal maniacs welcome to apply. Burke Devore is a typical middle-aged guy with a steady job, a wife and two kids. When he gets laid off he spends 2 years looking for new employment and realizes that there are too many people with more education and experience looking for similar work. Donald Westlake wrote this in 1997, but his publishers missed an opportunity during the last economic bust to reissue this book with great fanfare because it’s even more poignant now. There is not a single dull moment in the entire novel and to top it all off, the ending is even more brilliant.
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The Owl Service (Alan Garner)

I can’t believe I haven’t reviewed this book until now. I read it when I was little, and it scared me quite a lot at the time. Now that I am not as much of a scaredy cat I can see it for what it is: an impressive novel originally intended for a juvenile readership but, as these things tend to do, ended up being just as popular with adults. A remarkably subtle and complex fantasy that could also be classed as weird fiction for young adults. The style is fast-paced, sparse, and doesn’t patronize the reader with pages, or even paragraphs of scene-setting. (By the way– it may be bad luck to gaze at an owl. That’s why I chose such a bland cover above instead of the more striking ones featuring our nocturnal feathered friends. Don’t want to tempt fate…) [Read more…]

The Ring Of Thoth (Arthur Conan Doyle)

Twice-Told Tales (1963 USA)

In Twice-Told Tales Vincent Price does what he does best: be mysterious. It’s good enough to compare favourably with the best films in the Price / Roger Corman / A.I.P. series of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations. But the slow pacing and length of the film may not sit well with some viewers, but others will take delight in the atmosphere, the performances, the story telling, and all the trappings of the genre. Possibly the inspiration for “Creepshow,” complete with a skeleton hand turning the pages between stories. Twice-Told Tales is sometimes funny, sometimes ridiculous, but always entertaining in that surreal sixties style I find so charming.
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The Passenger (Lisa Lutz)

book cA fun 304 page romp. Tanya Pitts husband is dead at the bottom of the stairs. She assumes he fell down them, because she had nothing to do with his death. Instead of calling the police, she decides to “cut and run” as the Americans say. She packs a bag, grabs what money she can find and takes off into the night. It becomes apparent early on that this isn’t the first time Tanya has had to run. After making a phone call to a mysterious man, she requests a new name with credentials and some cash. Hair coloured, disposable phones in hand, Amelia Keen is born and off to find a new back roads town to start over in. The big question is why?
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4:50 From Paddington (Agatha Christie)

One of the major joys of Christie’s books is that they manage the difficult feat of being full of corpses and yet free of angst – a trick the Golden Age authors excelled in and modern authors seem to have forgotten. Miss Marple (our “old pussy” as she’s referred to in the book) is at the absolute top of her game. She gives us some nice village parallels to shed light on the characters of the suspects; she twinkles affectionately at both young Inspector Craddock and Lucy; she does a bit of gentle match-making; and she gives us some very ambiguous pronouncements that leave the reader as beautifully baffled as the other characters. [Read more…]

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