Filler content with miscellaneous novellas

This is part 2 of the chunk of miscellaneous reviews from Black Static #33 that I started posting yesterday:-

The latest offering from John Llewellyn Probert, THE NINE DEATHS OF DR. VALENTINE (Spectral Press paperback, 85pp, £5.99) opens with the police called to the scene of a horrific murder. A man has been burned alive while suspended from the Clifton Suspension Bridge, and it subsequently transpires that he was dressed in a gorilla suit. Further baroque deaths occur, with one victim impaled on a unicorn statue and another dunked in an acid bath. DI Longdon and Sergeant Newham discover two links – all the victims are medical men and women, who took part in failed surgery on the daughter of a Dr Valentine (missing, presumed dead) and each of the killings is modelled on a scene in a Vincent Price movie.

This novella is dedicated to the memory of Vincent Price and the debt to films like Dr Phibes and Theatre of Blood is obvious. One could, at a push, regard it as metafictional, taking its source material and reinventing it to fit this new reiteration, but it’s more about Probert celebrating the films we all love and applaud for their garish and in your face joie de la mort. The end result is marvellous fun, with a fast paced plot, decent characterisation and some lively death scenes, topped by an appropriately Grand Guignol finale, and horror aficionados will probably get an extra thrill out of spotting the references and in-jokes long ahead of the baffled Longdon and Newham. All in all, an accomplished crowd pleaser from a writer who knows his horror and isn’t afraid to use it.

TRINITY (Dark Fuse eBook, 216pp, $4.84) by Kristin Dearborn takes alien abduction as its theme. The Tylwyth Teg are parasites who infest host bodies and hope to breed a human with the superior mental abilities of their great rivals the Sangaumans, something the latter wish to prevent. Valentine Slade is newly released from prison after serving a six year sentence for statutory rape, and partner Kate is now of age and eager to pick up where they left off, despite the hostility of her brother, police officer Rich, once Val’s best friend and now intent on killing him. To further complicate matters, Val’s mother, a famous abductee, is dying of cancer and trying to convey to him the truth about his heritage. Warring alien races with the hots for his DNA is about the last thing Val needs.

There are interesting themes here and the book is cleverly written, with the back story of Val’s mother inserted through sections quoted from the book written about her by an expert in ufology, past and present conflated so that we can never be quite sure of what is going on until the author lays her cards on the table. The aliens rather reminded me of the Goa’uld and Asgard from Stargate, one a parasite and the other mental giants. There’s violence on both sides, though the Sanguaman didn’t seem especially pro-active in preventing their rivals’ plans coming to fruition, their main act the introduction of a monster to protect Val, with resultant bloodshed that seemed more like a sop thrown to the horror crowd than plot necessity and gave our hero an embarrassing surplus of dead bodies to dispose of.  Dearborn takes a considerable risk in making her protagonist a statutory rapist, and while the fact that Kate was willing means he isn’t entirely beyond the pale I felt the ploy was only half successful. I could feel for Val as the victim of undeserved persecution, but overall he’s not really a sympathetic character, and so I wasn’t as invested in his fate as much I wanted to be, instead finding that the secondary Kate was more effective as a viewpoint character. Despite a feeling of contrivance about it, Trinity had some decent writing and ideas, and I enjoyed the book, but as a way to pass the time rather than anything more vital.

Alan Ryker’s THE HOARD (Dark Fuse eBook, 141pp, $4.85) has farmer Pete Grish discovering his mother Anna unconscious at her house, having fallen over the accumulated rubbish. Social worker Rebecca explains that Anna is a hoarder, and has to be kept away from the property, which is condemned as a biohazard. But larvae of a possibly new species of insect are found at the house, creatures that infect human beings and use them as hosts. Anna is infected and the rest of Pete’s family are placed in deadly danger as the contagion spreads, with the authorities forced to take extreme measures to prevent infestation on a national scale.

The book’s title is a clever play on the different meanings and spellings of hoard (horde), with the plot developing into an action packed tale along similar lines to Sarah Langan’s Virus, as hosts are miraculously cured and empowered by their “masters”. As far as that goes, there is plenty of bang for your buck and an exciting story that has all the hallmarks of classic horror. Where it really stands out from the crowd though is in the sensitive handling of the mental illness of which hoarding is an outward sign, with Pete put into the difficult situation of a man who wants to do his best for his loved one and yet has the needs of his own family to take into consideration. The character of Rebecca is paramount, putting a brave face on the often maligned role of the social worker. Adding yet another dimension to the horror, is the tragedy in the Grish family’s past that finds an echo in events in the present day, so that we can understand the appeal of the infestation to Anna, why she is willing to be a host and sacrifice her own identity, while the workings of a group intelligence is convincingly demonstrated so that we never doubt the alien nature of the thing that has insinuated itself into the lives of these people. I was impressed with this short novel, which manages to do so many things and all of them splendidly well.

 

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