Recommended Reading – THE DARKEST HAND trilogy

I recently had the pleasure of reading TARN RICHARDSON’S THE DARKEST HAND trilogy. The final book in the series – THE RISEN – was released earlier this year. This is an excellent series of books which deserves to find a wide audience. Set in Europe in an alternative twentieth century against the backdrop of World War I, it’s the story of Inquisitor Poldek Tacit. Tacit is sent by the Catholic Inquisition to investigate the murder of a priest in France, and finds himself neck deep in a battle between demons, werewolves, and heretics to prevent the world spiralling into oblivion. Don’t get the impression that Tacit is a quiet little fellow in robes wandering around Europe dispensing words of wisdom to placate the opposing sides – he’s anything but. He’s a battle-damaged, emotionally scarred, vicious, ruthless bastard, and one of the most entertaining protagonists I’ve read about in a long, long time.

I had a blast with these books, and I’d like to encourage you to do the same. Here’s the spiel for book one, THE DAMNED:

1914 – the outbreak of war. In the French city of Arras, a priest is brutally murdered. The Catholic Inquisition—still powerful, but now working in the shadows—sends its most determined and unhinged of Inquisitors, Poldek Tacit, to investigate: his mission to protect the Church from those who would seek to undermine it, no matter what the cost.

Yet as Tacit arrives, armed forces led by Britain and Germany confront each other across No Man’s Land. As the Inquisitor strives in vain to establish the truth behind the murder and to uncover the motives of other Vatican servants seeking to undermine him, a beautiful and spirited woman, Sandrine, warns British soldier Henry Frost of a mutual foe even more terrible lurking beneath the killing fields that answers to no human force and wreaks havoc by the light of the moon.

Faced with impossible odds and his own demons, Tacit must battle the forces of evil, and a church determined at all costs to achieve its aims, to reach the heart of a dark conspiracy that seeks to engulf the world, plunging it ever deeper into conflict.

This is the perfect time to pick up THE DAMNED and work your way through the trilogy. The first book is the next novel to be featured on the excellent IN THE SHEETS podcast, hosted by Brendan Cooney. Head over to the site and join the discussion. And while you’re there, there’s still time to take part in the HATER re-read. I’ll be joining Brendan later this month to talk about HATER and answer questions about the novel, the rest of the series and the film adaptation etc.

THE DARKEST HAND trilogy – THE DAMNED, THE FALLEN and THE RISEN – is available now. Find out more about Tarn at his website. You can also pick up THE HUNTED, a free ebook prequel, and dive into Richardson’s bloody and brutal world. Highly recommended!

Recommended Reading – Stiff

I’ve only ever seen two dead bodies – those of my father-in-law and my father. Regardless of the emotional attachment, it’s always a sobering experience. I’m not a religious man (in fact, I’m as far from religious as you can get – anti-religion, if you like), so I don’t believe any part of a person survives past the point of death. My belief is that once you die, you’re done. You immediately stop being you and become, well… nothing.

But what about your shell? What about the husk you leave behind? What happens to that?

It’s a sensitive and often taboo subject, but it’s one journalist and writer Mary Roach tackles head on in 2003 book, STIFF: THE CURIOUS LIVES OF HUMAN CADAVERS. Written in a hilarious style which feels at once both keenly respectful and also cheeky and impertinent, Roach looks at a large number of ways the human body is used after death. Let me give you some examples of the subjects of her chapters:

  • human crash test dummies
  • studying the process of decay
  • what the bodies of the victims can tell inspectors after a crash
  • the scientific search for the soul
  • human head transplants…

…and it goes on. It sounds grotesque, I know, and Roach often writes with an unflinching eye, but she achieves something remarkable with this book: in talking about death and decay, she somehow leaves you feeling happier about life and your inevitable end. I originally picked this book up for research purposes (you think I make this stuff up? I’ll have you know the decay of my zombies is medically researched!), but by the end of a couple of chapters I was just along for the ride.

My dad died just under a year ago, and I was with him at the end. I’d had STIFF part-read on my shelf for a number of years, but losing Dad gave me a surprising incentive to pick the book up again and finish it. And I’m glad I did. It helped put things in perspective. Highly recommended.

I am Legend

IamLegendRichard Matheson’s I AM LEGEND is a remarkable book. Do a straw poll of a hundred horror authors and ask them to name the single piece of fiction which most influenced them, and I’ll wager that a good number will cite I AM LEGEND. It’s not just authors – the same is probably true of film-makers too. You can’t read the book without having scenes from George Romero’s original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD play out in your head.

There’s no question, therefore, that this is an hugely influential novel, and the fact it’s been filmed on no less than three occasions is further proof of that. Interestingly, though, it’s also a remarkably slight book, coming in at less than 200 pages. So how does Matheson cram so much into so little? I decided to try and find out. There will unavoidably be spoilers ahead.

As I type I’ve literally just finished re-reading the book for the umpteenth time. I thought it would be interesting to give you my thoughts on the novel and then, over the next few weeks, to look at each of the film adaptations in turn (and if you’re not aware of the movies, they are as follows: LAST MAN ON EARTH, THE OMEGA MAN and I AM LEGEND).

I’m sure you know the basic plot by now but, just in case, here’s the back cover blurb: Robert Neville may well be the only survivor of an incurable plague that has mutated every other man, woman, and child into bloodthirsty, nocturnal creatures who are determined to destroy him.

By day, he scavenges for food and supplies, desperate to find any other survivors who might be out there. But all the while the infected lurk in the shadows, watching his every move, waiting for him to make a mistake…

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Recommended reading – DISCOVERING SCARFOLK

514dP3zdZYL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_A unique book recommendation for you today – one that’ll certainly appeal if you’re of a certain age (ie mid-forties, like me), and if you grew up in the UK in the 1970s and 1980s. DISCOVERING SCARFOLK is hilarious and unsettling in equal measure, and that’s a great combination. To set the scene, here’s the back cover blurb…

“Scarfolk is a town in north-west England that did not progress beyond 1979. The entire decade of the 1970s loops ad infinitum. In Scarfolk children must not be seen OR heard, and everyone has to be in bed by 8 pm because they are perpetually running a slight fever…”

Part-comedy, part-horror, part-satire, DISCOVERING SCARFOLK is the surreal account of a family trapped in the town. Through public information posters, news reports, books, tourist brochures and other ephermera, we learn about the darker side of childhood, school and society in Scarfolk.

A massive cult hit online, Scarfolk re-creates with shiver-inducing accuracy and humour our most nightmarish childhood memories. 

I first became aware of DISCOVERING SCARFOLK through the Scarfolk website and Twitter account (@Scarfolk). They caught my eye because of the brilliant artwork – let me give you a couple of examples:

This stuff is so brilliantly produced that it catches you off-guard, and the detail involved is incredible. The DISCOVERING SCARFOLK book collects some of the best of these pieces and wraps it up with a narrative that’s part-LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN and part-WICKER MAN. The story is less engaging than the artwork, but that doesn’t matter. Author Richard Littler has produced something hugely original and not a little unnerving, and I can’t wait to see where he takes his creation next (rumour has it there’s a Scarfolk TV series in the works).

Don’t take my word for it – visit the website and trawl the Scarfolk archives, then get your hands on the beautifully produced book which is available now from Ebury Press.

For more information, please re-read this post.

Recommended Reading: Dead World Resurrection

deadworldWind the clock back a decade, and you’d have found far fewer zombie novels on the shelves than today. There was just a handful of us telling tales of the undead back then… myself, Brian Keene, David Wellington, and Joe McKinney to name but a few. Back to today, and it’s great to see all of my old undead compatriots still producing plenty of top-quality horror fiction. Joe, in particular, has been consistently prolific.

I was honoured a while back to be asked to write an introduction for DEAD WORLD RESURRECTION: THE COLLECTED ZOMBIE SHORT STORIES OF JOE MCKINNEY and I of course jumped at the chance. In this collection (which was recently released by Journalstone), all of Joe’s zombie shorts are gathered together. I hardly need to do the hard sell, do I? This is definitely a book I’d recommend you pick up, and I’ll quote myself as proof (if that’s not too pretentious): “In this collection, by writing about the living dead, Joe has reminded us what’s so great about being one of the living. I hope you enjoy reading (or re-reading) these stories as much as I have.”

DEAD WORLD RESURRECTION is available now.

The Night of the Triffids

NightoftheTriffids.jpgNIGHT OF THE TRIFFIDS is a book I avoided reading for a very long time. As many of you might know, whenever I’m asked to cite my favourite book or the book that’s had the biggest influence on me, I always talk about John Wyndham’s seminal DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS, and the idea of a non-Wyndham sequel never appealed to me in the slightest. But then I got to know the author, Simon Clark. I’d heard a lot about Simon when HATER was first released, with people mentioning my book alongside his BLOOD CRAZY (a great read which I must feature here in the near future). Simon and I both had stories appear in the MAMMOTH BOOK OF BODY HORROR and we met at an event to launch the book a few years back. I caught up with him again at a convention a while later, and was able to talk to him about all things triffid-related. It was immediately clear that this was no cash-in: he wrote a sequel because of his love of Wyndham’s original.

First published in 1991 and given a long-overdue re-release this month, the book takes place some twenty-five years after the events of DAY. Here’s the synopsis. Click the link below for my thoughts.

In John Wyndham’s classic bestseller The Day of the Triffids, the world has been overwhelmed by killer plants that have blinded almost the entire population. As the novel ends, Wyndham’s narrator scientist Bill Masen is escaping, with his wife and four-year-old son, to the Isle of Wight where a small colony of survivors is holding out. Simon Clark’s sequel picks up the story twenty-five years on.

The survivors are safe, for the time being at least, on their island, where they have continued efforts to combat the triffids, while also striving in various ways to build a new civilization – in a Mother House, for example, women spend their lives endlessly giving birth. Elsewhere in the world, similar colonies cling to survival, while the triffids persist in their attempts to destroy humanity.

One morning Bill Masen’s son, David, now grown up, wakes to a world plunged into darkness. Now, the triffids have an advantage over even sighted humanity.

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Suffer the Children by Craig DiLouie

10291305_531390210305279_7043635267076570044_nNow I like my character-driven horror fiction to be dark, but in his most recent book, Craig DiLouie has taken dark to a new extreme.

SUFFER THE CHILDREN (out now from Simon and Schuster/Permuted Press) is a genuinely horrific book, extraordinarily uncomfortable reading. DiLouie takes that most precious of things – the relationship between a parent and their child – and pushes it beyond breaking point. The synopsis follows. Click the link below for some thoughts on the book from Craig himself.

“One day, the children die. Three days later, they come back. And ask for blood.

With blood, they stop being dead. They become the children they once were.

But only for a short time. Too soon, they die again. And need more blood to live …

The average body holds ten pints of blood. How far would you go for your child?”

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Recommendations

The eagle-eyed amongst you might have already noticed this, but I’ve added a new page to this site which lists all the films and books I’ve recommended over the years. Head on over to the snappily titled ‘Recommendations’ page now!

And while we’re on the subject, I’ve got another interesting film piece coming up for you tomorrow (hopefully), and I’ve also got another 40 or so movies queued up to watch and review. But I want more! If you’ve got a particular favourite post-apocalyptic movie that you’d like featured on the site, either contact me or leave the name in the comments here or on Facebook or Twitter.

PLASTIC JESUS by Wayne Simmons

plastic-jesusBy now Wayne Simmons should need no introduction. He’s a good friend, my industry partner in crime, and a fine writer. His new novel, PLASTIC JESUS, was recently released by Salt Publishing, and it goes without saying that I’m going to recommend you read it. But I’m not just saying that because Wayne’s my mate, I’m saying it because PLASTIC JESUS is an original and thought-provoking novel and it’s a damn good read. The book has a wonderfully realised setting (more about Lark City in a minute), and a cast of genuinely interesting (and hopelessly flawed) characters. Here’s the blurb. Click the link below to find out more.

Plastic Jesus grabs you by the throat. From the opening paragraph, without warning, it plunges you into a world of fear and confusion and visceral emotion. When it spews you back out again, you are left dizzy, overwhelmed – and desperate to read more. And it’s then that you take your first fearful steps into Lark City…

It is the near future, following a devastating Holy War. Once part of the US colonies, Maalside, the New Republic, now stands alone in the Pacific, separated from the heartland by 200 miles of salty ocean. Lark City is its capital, watched over by a 50 foot, pouting, stiletto-heeled and garter-belted ‘Miss Liberty’, a crude parody of the famous landmark across the water.

In this brutal neon jungle, Code Guy Johnny Lyon writes a Jesus social networking AI, to rebrand religion following the war. But something goes wrong; a virtual hell breaks on the streets of Lark – a violent, surreal and uncontrollable social breakdown.

Caught in this terrifying web of danger are Sarah Lee, Johnny’s co-worker, drug lord Paul McBride who is determined to exploit the chaos to wipe out his enemies, and McBride’s junkie daughter, a prostitute called Kitty.

Now, only Johnny can save Sarah, Kitty and the city.

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Paul Kane’s Sleeper(s)

SleepersCover2I’m sure many of you know of Paul Kane. Paul and I go back a fair few years now – I think we first spoke around the release of HATER in early 2009. Our paths crossed more recently when Paul and his other half Marie edited THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF BODY HORROR which contained my story, ALMOST FOREVER (and that’s an anthology well worth checking out – click here to remind yourself).

Paul’s back with a new novella – SLEEPER(S). It’s a great book with a real Quatermass-like vibe to it, and I was honoured to be asked to write the introduction. Here’s the blurb:

The sleepy English locality of Middletown is about to get even sleepier, as a strange malady starts to affect the population. It spreads quickly, causing the authorities to quarantine this small city, and seek out the only person who might be able to help: Doctor Andrew Strauss. However, Strauss has a secret, one that has linked him to this place all his life, one that has linked him to a particular person there, though he doesn’t yet know who. But he’s not the only one hiding things – and as he ventures into Middletown to collect samples with an army escort, a mixture of UK and US troops, cracks soon begin to appear in the operation. Especially when his team come up against the most terrifying threat humankind has ever known…

SLEEPER(S), from Crystal Lake Publishing, is available from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.