In today's publishing world, the horror genre is bloated with much of the same thing. If it isn't an all out gore or sex fest, then it is a slow paced ghost story with the occasional hint of the Gothic. I'm not saying I dislike these types of novels. In fact, part of the reason I'm so drawn to the horror genre is because of its formulaic and occasionally trite yarns. It gives me something to expect--something to enjoy--and usually, when an author tries to break these genre molds, I find myself bored and irritated.
However, once in a blue moon you get a novel that seems to not only draw on the Gothic and pulp classics created by the forefathers of the genre--but also draws in new elements to create a story that, while remaining in line with many of the expected tropes of horror, creates a fresh experience.
Red Right Hand written by Levi Black and published by TOR is one such novel. It is filled with heralds of the father of pulp horror, H.P. Lovecraft, while also delving into new ideas and concepts to keep the story fresh and interesting.
Red Right Hand follows a young woman named Charlie, who has experienced a harsh and psychologically damning past. Through years of therapy and self defense classes she has come to a place where she may finally cope with her inner demons.
Unfortunately, as is often the case in this genre of fiction, the dark things the lurk beyond the invisible threshold arrive at just the wrong time. Charlie feels emotionally weak when she has her first encounter with the outer black. A demon, one of the great elder gods of old, arrives on her doorstep and forces her to be his acolyte.
To sour the deal further, he also enslaves her only friend and romantic interest, Daniel. The two young people are then dragged along for a chaotic ride through the realms of the great old ones--in a mission to murder many of the old gods.
Red Right Hand takes many elements of the much loved Cthulhu Mythos and shows us just how sinister and dark those forces can be. For me, this creates a sort of "love/hate" relationship with the book.
As a student of the Lovecraft's mythos I have strong ideas and impressions of how the elder gods may exist, act, or behave. I have a set idea of how the magic and mystical powers of that world work. Honestly, Black's vision of this world is one of the closest examples I've seen to how I personally view the outer black, but some of his plot choices also grate on me as a fan and reader of Lovecraft.
Without spoiling any details, I'll simply say that I wish certain elder gods played a larger roll--or appeared more powerful or sinister--than he made them out to be. Also, there were certain elements in the main character that came off as unrealistic and forced--particularly the "romantic" side of her character. Whenever any element of romance appeared, and even sometimes when she struggled with her harsh past, in the story I felt myself instantly broken from my willing suspension of disbelief. It was a frustrating occurrence that I felt broke up the action of the story unnecessarily.
On the other hand, the main elder god of the story is one of the most frightening and twisted villains of any story I've read. There are many sickeningly satisfying moments involved Charlie and The Man in Black. This makes Red Right Hand one of the only truly frightening novels I've had the privilege of reviewing.
Overall, Red Right Hand--despite its occasional weaknesses of plot and relative realism--is a fairly good balance of urban fantasy alongside cosmic horror. I think the story in general captures much of Lovecraft's original mythos while also attempting to keep it fresh. If you enjoy modern Lovecraftian adventures, and don't mind the occasional romantic hiccup, then Red Right Hand might just be for you.
I've gone back and forth about how I feel about the splatterpunk (also known as hardcore, also known as extreme) horror genre. In some ways, it is a very freeing--and surprisingly entertaining--sub-genre of horror fiction. It pulls the genre out of the stereotypical slow moving, quiet, psychological (and often boring) stereotypes usually associated with horror fiction and "literature."
On the other hand, the genre can often goes too far in its descriptions of sexual content, violence, and depravity. At times, this becomes such a prevalent issue, that lesser authors who are trying to write in the genre sacrifice good character development, storytelling, and decent writing all-together in favor of macabre and grotesque descriptions.
With the advent of self-publishing we are seeing more and more terrible splatterpunk novels hitting the market--thus giving the genre a bad name. While I am a huge advocate of formula fiction, I still expect my horror literature--especially the splatterpunk fiction I read--to be well planned, well developed, and well written. Luckily, there are still many small indie publishers and authors who produce quality extreme horror fiction.
Edward Lee is one such author. My first experience with Lee was over two years ago when I picked up a book--aptly named The Backwoods--on a whim and read it. Unfortunately, at the time I was less than thrilled with the story. Not only was this my first foray with Lee, it was also my first experience with Splatterpunk, and needless to say I was unprepared for the ultra dark writing that was present in Lee's novel.
Now, after these few years, I have given Mr. Lee another chance--having experienced, read, and even written a few short stories of my own in the splatterpunk genre. I was not disappointed. Header is one of Lee's most well know books due to its chilling and depraved premise. It deals with well meaning characters, corrupt law enforcement, and the sickest version of backwoods revenge one could imagine.
To give away even a hint of the story, or the horrible crimes committed therein, would be a tragedy for readers who--having the stomach--are interested in reading this book.
Lee does an excellent job of writing from both the law enforcement side who are investigating the murders to the backwoods hillbillies themselves who think they are only acting in God's will. Despite the depraved nature and attitude of both perspectives, we oddly find ourselves interested in these strange characters on the basest of levels. Love, compassion, and good intentions all play a role along side the crime, mystery, and horror elements.
Lee is an excellent writer who knows how to truly write interesting and engaging characters. Additionally, the plot is well scripted and fun to read. Header is one of the milder splatterpunk novels I've read, and yet it is still disturbing and strange in all the ways you would expect from a horror novel of this caliber. In fact, this novel isn't too far off from many of the Hard Case Crime novels I read as far as explicit content is concerned. I would go so far as to call Header more of a mystery/thriller novel that just so happens to have extreme horror elements.
The gore/horror scenes had enough description and detail to disturb without going over-the-top as many splatterpunk novels do. The ending, although dark and horrific, was pitch perfect for the story. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and would recommend it to any horror fans who have a taste for extreme horror in the vein of Saw, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, or The Hills Have Eyes. Although I usually can only take splatterpunk in small doses, I did enjoy Header and plan to read more form Edward Lee in the future.
When an author you love has been writing for longer than you've been alive it is always fun to go back in time and read novels they penned in their younger years. Lawrence Block, one of the leading authors of pulp crime fiction, has been writing since the 1950s.
I recently reviewed one of his newer novels The Girl with the Deep Blue Eyes. I found it to be an interesting and engaging read. After I finished that novel I jumped back in time to his 1958 novel Borderline.
Borderline is a true classic pulp from the 1950s. It is a story that houses the crime, sex, violence, and debauchery that would have never been allowed on the big screen, television, or radio of the day.
Borderline is a piece of fiction that takes its time to change between multiple perspectives. We are introduced to a group of five people--with no apparent connection--who have some serious problems, and serious addictions and desires, in their lives.
One woman is a recent divorcee who is looking for sexual excitement. Another is a professional gambler seeking his next big score. Another is a pair of young girls working in the Mexican sex industry. And finally, there is a serial murderer who is fleeing to Mexico.
In the beginning of the novel the only thing these characters have in common is the fact that they all happen to be in El Paso Texas at the same time. The story seems incoherent at first. Each character weaves their own personal yarn about the troubles they experience while living on the border of Mexico in El Paso.
Then, slowly throughout the tale we see each of them meet. Their worlds collide and come together until there is simply an eruption of violence and debauchery. Ultimately, each and every character in this novel pays for their indulgent sins. And it isn't a pretty sight when all is said and done.
Block is a brilliant writer, but it is obvious this was written earlier in his career. The novel is more sensational than it is engaging. It simply doesn't have the snap that Block's newer work tends to have.
At the same time Borderline is an interesting look into his writing history. The title, Borderline, is a fitting one. It speaks not only of the physical border separating America from Mexico, but is also a metaphor for the moral and criminal line in which a character has gone to far. And while all the characters begin the novel with borderline morals and behavior they ultimately cross that line into debauchery in the end.
Borderline is also an interesting look into the deep world of pulp fiction from the 1950s. The book is overloaded with sexual content, grotesque violence, and characters with no respect for life or morality. While I felt the amount of content in this particular story went a overboard, it is interesting to see what was being read by pulp fiction fans of the time.
Overall, the story and the characters were interesting. However, the plot seems a little disjointed and slow. The story seems more like a slice of life (from the crime ridden underworld of El Paso) than a specific mystery or crime story. And the main driving force of the work was in the shock and sensationalism of the sex and violence.
Borderline isn't my favorite pulp novel I've read. And if you are offended in any way by sexual content or violence I'd say this story is one to be missed. There is little redeeming quality among the characters or plot in that arena. However, if you are interested in Block's work or in the history or pulp style fiction it could well be worth the read.
The Girl With the Deep Blue Eyes by the famed author Lawrence Block (best known for his novel A Walk Among the Tombstones) is a interesting take on a classic pulp trope. This novel was an interesting, enjoyable, and surprising read.
The story follows a man named Doak Miller. Doak is an ex-cop from New York City. And while he isn't officially licensed as a private eye, he does manage to do small favors, investigative work, and even legwork for the local sheriff for a little extra money.
Doak lives in small town Florida since his retirement from the force. It is here in this town where he meets Lisa. Lisa is an unhappy housewife to a rich businessmen. While Doak is supposed to be helping the police in a sting operation he instead falls in love with Lisa. And he and Lisa decide they need to kill Lisa's husband.
The Girl with the Deep Blue Eyes has a nice balance of pulp, noire, and realism in it all together. The characters are interesting, even if the majority of them are despicable people. The story goes at a slow, but steady, clip. I could have been interested in a little more action, but this book was obviously more of a slow brood, a character study almost, of a normal man turned murderer.
I felt the novel, although well written and enjoyable, had a slight abundance of sexual content that was unnecessary to the plot. I also see points where Block shied away from sexual content when he could have easily played it up. However, I still felt that the main relationship between Lisa and Doak (as well as their sexual rendezvous) could have been implied, or "off screen," rather than blatantly on the page.
I also felt that the use of rape as a plot point was unnecessary. It seems that many male authors fall into the trap of using rape in their stories either as a plot point for a female character or simply to add a shock value to the story. I feel that Block could have gotten the same meaning across without the rape scene. But sexual content aside, it was ultimately the characters who carried this story--and that is what made this novel shine.
Leading up to the very end I grew anxious. I found myself quickly growing frustrated with where it seemed the story was going to end. All the foreshadowing throughout the book (mostly played out in Doak's choice of TV programming) seemed to point to one thing, and yet the story was doing another thing.
I was frustrated with it up until the very last sentence, which completely summed up the theme of the novel and the characters perfectly. This last line is what made this book amazing for me. It was a good read, with good writing that kept you going. Don't expect an action packed pulp mystery with twists and turns. But DO expect an interesting view of the "wife+lover murder husband" formula.
N.C. Patterson is a writer of mystery and horror fiction. He has been an active publicist, journalist, and blogger in the indie horror community for over five years.
Author of Horror Fiction