The Library of Count Gore De Vol and Creature Feature

 Tomb Top Ten 2014

Well, it was another grand year for reading, TombRats, and your funky and fractious old TombKeeper had the devil’s own time selecting the very best books from among those I reviewed here on Creature Feature, The Weekly Web Program during 2014. However, after exhaustive study and massive rumination, I present to you my personal favorites culled from a hundred or so books I reviewed (but which were not necessarily published during 2014). I have listed these titles in alphabetical order, because choosing a descending list is not possible. And so, if you missed any of these mind-blowing titles last year, all you need to do is click on the cover graphics to order your copies. Easy!
 
I’m looking forward to a hundred and more great books culled from Count Gore’s Teetering Towers of Terror Tomes in 2015, and I hope you’ll join me downstairs in the Tomb for the ongoing literary feast!


BIRD BOX by Josh Malerman

This riveting tale of exquisite high tension horror opens with a woman and two children fleeing down a river. That would be riveting enough, however, the woman and children are blindfolded, paddling their way down the waterway because there is something out there, something so terrible that if they so much as glimpse it, they will go insane and kill themselves. In a time-shift narrative, we follow the story of a young woman named Malorie who has just discovered a casual affair has left her pregnant. At the same time, a worldwide event is occurring—normal people are killing others and themselves for unknown reasons. Soon it becomes obvious all of the suicides are happening after the victims see something outside that causes them to go insane. The event begins as localized anomalies but quickly escalates into an apocalypse from which no one is safe, the only method of survival seeming to be closing one’s eyes to avoid looking at what are being called “creatures”, although no one who has seen one is alive to describe what they have seen. Blindfolded, alone and pregnant, Malorie navigates to a house containing survivors who take her in. They live in a suburban home with all of the windows covered, only venturing outside to get water from a well. As their supplies dwindle, it becomes necessary to move out through the neighborhood to forage, a formidable effort done blindly as is everything else is done outside of the house. One day, the scouting crew comes home with the titular box of birds that vocalize when they sense the creatures outside. Many theories are developed about what is happening, and it is not even known if whatever is causing the apocalypse is aware of what they are causing when seen. Many horrific incidents (and I mean horrific, y’all) happen that makes it necessary for Malorie and the children to abandon the only home the children have ever known and flee downriver. This is an absolutely phenomenal first novel that your jaded old TombKeeper found impossible to put down until the last page had been read. Whoa! This is the best horror novel I’ve read in quite some time, and I urge horror fans to click on the cover and get onboard for some major scares.
 



THE CHILDREN OF OLD LEECH: A TRIBUTE TO THE CARNIVOROUS COSMOS OF LAIRD BARRON edited by Ross E. Lockhart and Justin Steele

Author Laird Barron has made an immense impact on the horror genre in a relatively short period time with a somewhat limited publication history—think quality as opposed to quantity. His unique slant on the Lovecraftian-type tale of “cosmic terror” has updated and reinvigorated the kind of horror presently popular in print and in film, such as HBO’s recent smash hit, True Detective. Mr. Barron’s work has generated so much literary heat that an anthology of fiction has been assembled in tribute to his writing, and a fine anthology it is. Here’s the rundown: A woman goes mad excavating artifacts from her yard; a smuggling deal goes awry; a rich eccentric known for decadent parties holds the ultimate Walspurgisnacht revel; a insider’s view of a homicidal psychopath; a doctoral student’s questionable examination of a dark cult; a man awakens from a night of debauchery minus his memory and a finger; a fifties era shaman brings down the darkness; trees surrounding a woodland cabin are more than they seem; a notebook contains a detailed search for a tragic figure; a painter learns the true price of creativity; a plucky young New Zealand woman on a sheep station is haunted by her past; neo-Nazis get what’s coming to them; a sickly boy sent to the country to recover is visited by nightly horrors; elk hunters discover what has been killing large animals; an Iraq vet suffering from PSTD meets her trauma head-on when she’s hired to guard a mysterious man; a Samurai and a Roman gladiator go at each other, and warfare in the Big Easy is anything but easy. Each of these tales is grounded in Laird Barron’s dark world where nothing is what it seems and the monsters are waiting for us just outside the door. Contributors include Gemma Files, Orrin Grey, Michael Cisco, Jeffrey Thomas, Allyson Bird, Joseph S. Pulver, Jr., Daniel Mills, Cody Goodfellow, John Langan and others. All stories are exquisite indeed, but John Langan’s “Ymir”, in particular, is a horrifying gem that is well worth the price of the entire volume. Solid writing, solid anthology. And, if you are unfamiliar with Laird Barron’s fiction, this tribute will send you straight to the bookstore to catch up.

 


COLDBROOK by Tim Lebbon

Hidden deep within the fog-shrouded Appalachian Mountains is a top-secret scienctific laboratory called Coldbrook where staff researchers have established a portal to a newly discovered parallel world and, as scientists will, they open a doorway without due regard to what they might unleash. Through the gateway lurches a horror they could not have envisioned, a humanoid that launches a savage, unexpected attack that initiates a virulent disease that will kill…and reanimate. Yes, this is a zombie apocalypse novel, but not like any zombapoc fare you’ve read heretofore. There’s gore and horror aplenty, to be sure, but the narrative encompasses an overarching compassion as the some of the characters begin to question the humanity of killing the diseased rather than curing them. A cure is being sought, of course, and it becomes apparent that the only way to save mankind is through genetic immunity. Seen through the eyes of scientists as well as ordinary people struggling to survive, Mr. Lebbon brings a verisimilitude and grace to his novel that the current glut of zombie horror most often neglects in favor of hardcore gore. This is not to say that Coldbrook is not filled with action and graphic horror, which it most certainly is, but what truly satisfies is the affecting characterizations, attention to scientific detail, and craft of story that makes this compelling novel tower above its brethren. Click on the cover and preorder this book, which is due to drop on April 8. For more about the author, please visit his online resting place at www.timlebbon.net.
 



GRAVEDIGGER’S DANCE by G. O. Clark

Fans of dark poetry will love the newest collection from award-winning poet G.O. Clark, a whirling midnight frolic into delicious shadowy places that delight and horrify. Attend a bloody fabulous rave with all the cool monsters at the castle of a billionaire where a mortician is waiting to usher you inside. Join the dancing skeletons for a Dia De Los Muertos celebration, snap your fingers to cool jazz in the “Vaults”, applaud a diva’s last opera performance…forever, fly through the darkness with “Ten Thousand Crows”, and revel with the gravediggers as they dance among the gravestones. But it’s not just a party here in this collection, oh no. Lurking amidst the dancing and carousing are shadowy terrors: a deathly fog, a “Predator Moon”, a sinister white sedan that glides through the night, a weeping stone angel, the clawing demons of a guilt-ridden mind, the busy roots of a graveyard tree, a hitchhiker you dare not let into your car, a trio of terrible brothers, and more! GRAVEDIGGER’S DANCE is a masterful collection of unsettling poems perfect for a rain-lashed night. Sweet dreams! For more about Mr. Clark, you will find his website here: http://goclarkpoet.weebly.com/

 




THE IRON JACKAL by Chris Wooding

Ready for some rollicking, badass, steampunky space opera in the Firefly/Serenity mode? Here you go! Meet the rough-hewn and roguish Captain of the Ketty Jay, Darian Fey, who never encountered a sideways deal he couldn’t turn around. He and his extremely dysfunctional (but crazy fun!) crew think nothing of transporting contraband, faking out fat cats for cash, and robbing the occasional money-stocked airship, or whatever illegal option to make some money comes his way. In this, the third installment of the Ketty Jay series, the Ketty Jay gang is enjoying some down time, for once without the law on their tails or anyone trying to shoot them down. In fact, their last caper went so well that they are being hailed as saviors and heroes. Even Darian’s former fiancé and long-time arch enemy, Trinica Dracken, seems to have found an old soft spot for the captain, going so far as offering him and the Ketty Jay crew a job that would earn them a major haul. The job will require the Ketty Jay to fly into the desert land of Samarla where they must evade bitter enemies if they are to be successful. As usual, however, nothing is as it seems and everything goes wonky in an imminently corpsifying fight-for-your-life kind of way, making THE IRON JACKAL an enjoyable edge-of-the-seat romp full of derring-do and swashbuckle. If you’re looking for a fast, fun science fiction novel that won’t break your brain, grab a copy of THE IRON JACKAL. For more about the author, you will find him at www.chriswooding.com.




LOVECRAFT’S MONSTERS edited by Ellen Datlow

Fans of the HBO True Detective series (and those who are not) will love this new themed anthology from acclaimed genre editor, Ellen Datlow. There are several selections written by authors whom Nic Pizzolatto cited as influential to the series, so let’s look at them first: Laird Barron’s “Bulldozer”, features a rough, resilient Pinkerton Man and a traveling circus strong-man enmeshed in cosmic mystery; Karl Edward Wagner’s “I’ve Come to Talk With You Again” tells of an American author of Lovecraftian tales on holiday in London who invokes the Yellow King himself; Thomas Ligotti crafts a narrative nightmare about a man who unwittingly locates a hidden world, and John Langan contributes a brand new and spectacular dark tale, “Children of the Fang” about an old woman who returns to her grandfather’s home to reveal secrets she and her brother stumbled upon as children. The rest of the stories contained in this anthology stake new territory in the Lovecraft mythos as well, several of them set in Lovecraft’s fictional town of Innsmouth by Neil Gaiman, Kim Newman, Brian Hodge and Catlin R. Kiernan. Elizabeth Bear’s darkly humorous “Inelastic Collisions” finds a pair of exiled (and very hungry) creatures marooned in attractive female human bodies shooting pool in a bar while hunting prey; Steve Rasnic Tem goes full dark with his tale of a hybrid human/monster traveling with his human wife and hybrid children; Howard Waldrop and Steven Utley collaborate on a lively weird tale set in the Old West; Gemma Files contributes two disturbing poems, and much more. There are eighteen varied and marvelous pieces included in this anthology and, strangely enough, the one story I felt most closely aligned with the True Detective series is written by the inimitable Joe R. Lansdale, a hard-boiled noir detective story titled “The Bleeding Shadow” set in mid-1950s Texas, in which an unlicensed and unorthodox private detective who is on the trail of his ex-lover’s missing brother finds a darker world than he ever imagined possible. As Editor Ellen Datlow states in her Introduction, she sought stories that bring something new to the mythos of Lovecraft’s Old Ones and their minions rather than pastiches that cover well-trodden tropes. Mission accomplished! Each story is a dark wonder and the volume itself is absolutely gorgeous, sumptuously illustrated throughout with steampunky-baroque original art by World Fantasy Award-winning artist John Coulthart. LOVECRAFT’S MONSTERS is a must-have for every fan of dark speculative fiction, so click on the cover graphic and grab it! For more about Ellen Datlow and her award-winning anthologies, charge on over to her website by making clicky-clicky here: www.datlow.com.
 



NIGHTMARE CARNIVAL edited by Ellen Datlow

Come one, come all--the show is about to begin! Ringmistress Ellen Datlow cracks her editorial whip over a terrifying anthology of carnival and circus related dark fiction from the greatest horror authors in all the land! This is such a timely book, considering American Horror Story, Freak Show is currently holding audiences in thrall. But I tell you, Twisty the Clown has nothing on these stories of dark doings wherein the reader is led into the center ring of terror and imagination. Beyond the tent flap—er, cover—of this book, you will encounter the horrifying and extraordinary: a richly deserved performance staged for a bloodthirsty audience; a beautiful fire eater who evokes flames of desire; a man with a particular talent who is chosen for a bizarre presentation; a family who disappears in the wake of a traveling carnival; a fatal sexual obsession; a group of academics who chase the memory of a carnival into the darkness; vicious, anthropomorphic fleas; a singing voice to die for; caged lions that are not what they seem; a delightfully horrific twist on the killer clown trope; a carnival’s association with mass murders in Alaska; and my favorite story of all, Nathan Ballingrud’s “Skullpocket”, a wonderfully warped and brilliant tale that resonates with Bradbury’s darkest “Something Wicked” period. Every story in this collection is a marvel crafted by the most talented authors of dark fiction working today: N. Lee Wood, Priya Sharma, Nick Mamatas, A. C. Wise, Terry Dowling, Joel Lane, Glen Hirshberg, Jeffrey Ford, Dennis Danvers, Genevieve Valentine, Stephen Graham Jones, Robert Shearman, Nathan Ballingrud, Livia Llewellyn, and Laird Barron. Katherine Dunn, author of bestselling novel about carnival freaks, GEEK LOVE, provides an entertaining, insightful Introduction to NIGHTMARE CARNIVAL, kicking off a memorable anthology that leaves behind haunting echoes of a calliope as the last page is turned. For more about this anthology and its editor, please visit www.datlow.com.
 



PRISONER 489 by Joe Lansdale

Who’s ready for a full-on horror thriller? Legendary East Texas genre author Joe Lansdale pulls out all the stops in this novella that harkens back to his early supernatural fiction. Bernard is the caretaker of a small island that receives the bodies of electrocuted prisoners from a secret government prison situated nearby on a larger island. The inmates of the prison are what may be referred to as “peculiar” in that they are too dangerous to place anywhere else. One night after a particularly harrowing four-shot electrocution, a huge chain-wrapped metal box is ferried across the water to Bernard’s necropolis, where he and his two employees, Toggle and Wilson, perform yet another burial. Kettle, who has brought the body to them, tells a terrifying tale about the dead 6 foot 7, 400 pound prisoner, who did not eat for the three years of his incarceration and took more electricity to kill than any other prisoner ever executed. Later that night a howling storm whips across the burial island, but that’s not the only howling going on. Bernard and Wilson investigate strange screaming noises and find their colleague, Toggle, torn to pieces amid the branches of a fallen tree. Whatever they buried in the metal box is no longer interred, and Bernard and Wilson will have to fight for their lives alone with all communications down. And it is ON, y’all! PRISONER 489 is Joe Lansdale writing horror like no one else can, 100 pages of literary lightning that will have your jaw hanging slack and your heart hammering. This novella is going to make a killer film, mark my words.
 



THE SHOTGUN ARCANA by R. S. Belcher

R. S. Belcher follows up his acclaimed first novel, THE SIX-GUN TAROT, with a novel set in the same ghost-haunted town of Golgotha, Nevada. Golgotha is a center of creeping weirdness that draws the strangest—and most dangerous—visitors. Not that the inhabitants aren’t quite odd. The sheriff’s already been hanged and his deputy is a coyote hybrid. There’s a practicing mad scientist and all manner of unnatural folk making up Golgotha’s demographic, and they’ve seen their share of supernatural violence. Now a veritable army of evil is on the road toward Golgotha, a band of thirty two cannibalistic madmen in search of a ghastly relic of the doomed Donner Party. Sheriff Highfather and his men are busy with any number of horrible murders, robberies and unsavory paranormal occurrences plaguing Golgotha when they are called upon to put down the insurance of maniacs that are converging upon the star-crossed town. R. S. Belcher’s first novel appeared on my Tomb Top Ten list last year, and I guarantee you that THE SHOTGUN ARCANA will appear on this year’s list as well. Beautiful imagined, masterfully written and entertaining as all get-out, if you are a fan of entertaining fiction of any sort, this book should be on your shelf, pardner. Giddyup!
 



THE UNTOLD TALES OF OZMAN DROOM by Robin Spriggs

There are certain authors whose prose styles are instantly recognizable and whose voices are so distinct that imitation is futile. Robin Spriggs is one of those authors, and his new collection (following the triumphant DIARY OF A GENTLEMAN DIABOLIST) continues the humorous, dreadful and always entertaining Gothic musings of a most exceptional and elegant gentleman of letters and dark shadows, the elusive Ozman Droom. This compilation of stories and poems further elucidates the life and times of a mysterious man who might very well be a modern prophet, but whose writings are certainly delightful, strange, and often horrific. Fans of the recent hit television series True Detective will enjoy cosmic bleakness and Baroque weirdness narrated by a man who may or may not be a sorcerer, actor, madman, or, perhaps…the author himself? Curious footnotes accompany each entry, but who can vouch for their authenticity or accuracy? Not I. Case in point: Page 147, a revelatory short story titled “Spurlos Vershwunden”, footnote—“This story is neither here nor there. And so are you.” Exactly! Fanciful, sly, and always brilliant, author Robin Spriggs evokes a splendid world of eccentric darkness that is his and his alone. For more about the author, visit his online realm at www.robinspriggs.com.

 


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