Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Book Review: Candlenight


Book Review: 'Candlenight' by Phil Rickman
1 / 5 Stars

'Candlenight' (463 pp.) first was published in hardcover in 1991; this mass market paperback edition was released by Jove in September 1995. The cover artist is uncredited.

Phil Rickman is a UK author who regularly has been publishing mystery novels featuring the lead character 'Merrily Watkins'. As of 2022, there are 15 novels in the Merrily Watkins franchise. Along with 'Candlenight', Rickman also has authored five other horror novels, all set in rural areas of the UK.

'Candlenight' takes place in the UK of the early 1990s. The lead characters, Giles and Claire Freeman, are young professionals increasingly unhappy with the fast pace of life in London. When Claire gets word that her estranged grandfather, Judge Thomas Rhys, has died and bequeathed to her his cottage in rural Wales in the village of Y Groes (pronounced 'Uh Groyce'), Giles is rapt at the thought of taking up a rustic lifestyle. 

However, Claire's mother Elinor, who had little love for her father the Judge, is alarmed at the thought of her daughter moving into the cottage. And Giles's journalist friends warn him that the Welsh do not like the English, especially ones who appropriate housing better left in the hands of the long-suffering Welsh. But Giles is determined to embrace Wales and its culture, and anxious to contradict the image of the English as rude and insensitive interlopers. 

When Giles's friend, American journalist Berry Morelli, accompanies Giles on an inaugural visit to Y Groes, they both find the village to be the epitome of country life, and in some ways, almost too good to be true. But for Berry, Judge Rhys's cottage and its gloomy, austere furnishings evoke a sense of deep unease, even dread. However, his admonitions to Giles go unheeded, and in due course the Freemans move into the cottage.

Having not read Thomas Tryon's 1973 novel Harvest Home, the Freemans are of course oblivious to the sinister reality that underlies the bucolic charm of Y Groes and its friendly, but eccentric, inhabitants. A reality based on adherence to the Olde Ways, and the Olde Gods. Gods who must be propitiated............and if there are some witless Englishmen within easy reach come propitiating time, so much the better......... 

'Candlenight' essentially is a melodrama, set in Wales, with negligible horror content. While author Rickman writes with a clean, unadorned prose style, the novel has the lumbering, dilatory quality of too many 'Paperbacks from Hell' wherein the machinations of the plot take up so much of the text, that the scares inevitably are watery and unconvincing. 

Perhaps because I'm an American, 'Candlenight''s underlying theme of the antipathy between the Welsh and the English failed to resonate. I also quickly tired of trying to figure out how to pronounce words like 'Aberystwyth', and simply began treating them as if they were Mandarin. 

The worst part of 'Candlenight' is the denouement, which takes so long to unfold, and involves so many contrivances, that I nearly abandoned the book in dissatisfaction.

The verdict ? Even the most avid fans of Paperbacks from Hell are going to want to pass on 'Candlenight'. Had the book been 150 pages shorter and the horror content greatly reinforced it might have been memorable, but as it is, it deserves a one-star score.

Monday, October 3, 2022

October 2022 is Spooky Stories Month

October 2022 is Spooky Stories Month at the PorPor Books Blog !

Here at the PorPor Books Blog, we devote the month of October to reviewing books on the topic of horror. Novels, anthologies, even 'scrapbooks', all are on the table. I went and purchased a collection of Paperbacks from Hell (photo above) to supply myself with appropriate content through the near future. Stand by for reviews and overviews all through the next 30+ days !

Saturday, October 1, 2022

The Marsten House

The Marsten House
from 'Salem's Lot by Stephen King (1975)
The house itself looked toward town. It was huge and rambling and sagging, its windows haphazardly boarded shut, giving it that sinister look of all old houses that have been empty for a long time. The paint had been weathered away, giving the house a uniform gray look. Windstorms had ripped many of the shingles off, and a heavy snowstorm had punched in the west corner of the main roof, giving it a slumped, hunched look. A tattered no-trespassing sign was nailed to right-hand newel post. 

He felt a strong urge to walk up that overgrown path…..Perhaps try the front door. If it was unlocked, go in.

Part One: The Marsten House

Chapter One

Ben (I), 2

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Book Review: Caught in the Crossfire

Book Review: 'Caught in the Crossfire' by David Drake
3 / 5 Stars

'Caught in the Crossfire' (394 pp.) was published by Baen Books in July, 1998, and features cover art by Larry Elmore.

This book is a compilation of previously published 'Hammer's Slammers' novels and short stories, along with a novelette, 'The Immovable Object', especially written for this collection. 

The Slammers franchise, for which Drake is best known, began all the way back in November 1974, when Drake published 'The Butcher's Bill' in Galaxy magazine. The following year Gordon R. Dickson featured the story in the anthology Combat SF

While in general editors were not particularly receptive to military-themed sci-fi during the 70s, with the founding of Baen Books in 1983 the sub-genre began to thrive, and while it has had its ups and downs, to this day it remains popular, with Drake one of its most successful practitioners.  

My capsule summaries of the contents of 'Caught in the Crossfire':

The Warrior (1991): sergeant Samuel ‘Slick’ Des Grieux is a thoroughly unlikeable man, prone both to disobeying his superiors, and placing himself in lethal danger due to an innate death wish. But he’s the best tank commander in the Slammers........ and when things turn dicey, it’s Des Grieux who winds up saving the day.

Caught in the Crossfire (1978): civilians hoping to avoid being involved in conflict react poorly to being drafted by the Slammer's adversaries.

The Immovable Object (1998): Denis Lamartiere, who secretly is a supporter of the Mosite Rebellion, has gotten a job servicing the Slammer's tank Hoodoo at the support base. When Lamartiere decides to take possession of property that isn't his, all manner of mayhem ensues....... 

Counting the Cost (1987): on the planet of Bamberia, in the city of Bamberg, Slammer’s captain Tyl Koopman, and United Defense Battery lieutenant Charles Desoix, must maintain a position of neutrality when a rivalry between local political factions erupts into mob violence.

This novel is rather dull, and its inclusion weakens the anthology. It suffers from a narrative that consists almost entirely of strained conversations between mercenaries and politicians.

The Interrogation Team (1985): when a civilian affiliated with the enemy comes into the hands of the Slammers, he is subjected to a benign form of interrogation. But the consequences of yielding information can be severe. This is the best story in the anthology, with a 'shock' ending that drives home the message: the Slammer's don't mess around.

Summing up, this book primarily will appeal to Drake / Hammer's Slammer's fans, but those with a fondness for action-oriented and military sci-fi also will find it engaging.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

National Lampoon September 1971

National Lampoon
September 1971
Let's take a trip back in time to September, 1971. The number one song on the Billboard Hot 100 charts is 'Go Away Little Girl' by Donny Osmond, and the top-rated TV show is 'All in the Family'.

The latest issue of National Lampoon is a special issue devoted to 'Kids', and there is some really funny, really offensive material to be perused. 

Let's start with a parody of My Weekly Reader, which every Baby Boomer could relate to. The Weekly Reader was a tabloid newspaper delivered to grammar schools all across the country, and featured articles on a variety of kid-friendly topics. Lampoon staffers George W. S. Trow and Anne Beatts were dead-on with their entirely warped version of the paper.......

Then there was Michael O'Donoghue's 'Children's Letter to the Gestapo', which
never would be printed nowadays. The thing is, quite a large proportion of the Lampoon's staff, including executives Leonard Mogel and Matty Simmons, were Jewish.........!? For the Lampoon, there was no such thing as a taboo subject.
O'Donoghue really shows his brilliance with a depraved parody of the bestselling 1955 children's book 'Eloise: A Book for Precocious Grown-ups', by Kay Thompson. 

Thompson's Eloise was a rather snobby little girl who lived in The Plaza Hotel in New York City and made arch comments about the people she encountered in her various adventures. But O'Donoghue places his Eloise in a welfare hotel (!) populated by deviants and criminals..............
Henry Beard and Hugo Flesch contribute a Hardy Boys parody, titled 'Chums in the Dark'.
In 1965 Charles Schulz, the creator of 'Peanuts', produced a book, titled 'Love Is Walking Hand in Hand', that paired illustrations of the comic's characters in association with bromides:
Needless to say, the trite banality of 'Love Is Walking Hand in Hand' was the perfect target for a parody by John Weidman: 'Death Is'.
Let's close out with a 'Foto Funnies', featuring Doug Kenney, a co-founder and editor of the magazine, who would go on to play the character of 'Stork' in National Lampoon's Animal House.
There you have it........transgressive humor from long, long ago...........!

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Book Review: 'Alfred Hitchcock: A Hearse of a Different Color'

Book Review: 'Alfred Hitchcock's A Hearse of a Different Color'
4 / 5 Stars

'Alfred Hitchcock's: A Hearse of a Different Color' first was published by Dell in November, 1972. A new edition (207 pp.; pictured above) was released in August, 1980.

All of the 14 entries in 'Hearse' first appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine during the interval from 1960 to 1970. As such, they are devoid of supernatural trappings (it's rather difficult to determine from the title alone, which of these Dell Hitchcock anthologies were devoted more to the horror genre).

My capsule summaries of the contents:

Dream of a Murder, by C.B. Gilford: Harvey Fenster is a rotter.......who might just get away with murder.

The Missing Miles, by Arthur Porges: even the 'perfect' alibi can have a flaw.

Adventure of the Haunted Library, by August Derleth: a 'Solar Pons' story from Derleth. I can't say I've ever found these Pons stories to be very good pastiches of Sherlock Holmes, and 'Library' won't change my opinion: the 'ratiocination' used to explain the haunting of the library is more than a little contrived. 

In fairness, the MPorcius blog has a more complimentary attitude towards the Pons franchise; a review can be accessed here.

An Estimate of Rita, by Ed Lacy: Rita is a Swell Dame, married to the son of a very wealthy man. Nothing good ever comes of this, of course.

The Full Treatment, by Rog Phillips: never go over the speed limit near the sleepy, inbred hamlet of Bethel ! A great treatment of the 'Small Town from Hell' theme, and one of the best stories in the anthology.

Another Day, Another Murder, by Lawrence Treat: two cops investigate what seems to be an open-and-shut case. A very well-crafted story, with an ending that took me by surprise. Another of the better entries in the anthology.

The Living Doll, by Richard O. Lewis: it could be the most clever heist anyone ever has pulled off.........

The Flat Male, by Frank Sisk: undertaker Thaddeus Conway has an eccentric client.  A neat little tale, with Roald Dahl-ish humor.

Chaviski's Christmas, by Edwin P. Hicks: the eponymous Chavinski can't stay away from the station house on Christmas. And maybe that's a good thing.

The Case of the Helpless Man, by Douglas Farr: Uncle Rudolph, paralyzed from a stroke, must endure indignities.

Fat Jow and the Sung Tusk, by Robert Alan Blair: Chinatown resident Fat Jow investigates the theft of a priceless artifact. There are political ramifications. This story suffers from a failing, common to those stories of its era, in that the 'Oriental' characters speak a unique sort of stilted English............

Echo of a Savage, by Robert Edmond Alter: a variation on the theme introduced in the 1913 chestnut 'Fishhead', by Irvin S. Cobb. This time, the eccentric swamp man is named Jube.

The Nonconformist, by William R. Coons: the first-person narrator assures us that Robert Cressy is going to die.

The Sapphire that Disappeared, by James Holding: in Buenos Aires, the husband and wife detective team of Landis and Landis investigate a theft.

Summing up, 'A Hearse of a Different Color' represents another good showcase of stories from the era when detective and crime fiction magazines enjoyed considerable popularity with the literate members of the American public. There are enough good stories in this volume to justify a solid four-star rating. With their emphasis on well-crafted plotting and composition rather than mood and atmosphere, they retain value some 60 years after they first saw print.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

The Art of Luis Garcia

The Art of Luis Garcia
by David Roach
Dynamite, 2021
'The Art of Luis Garcia' (240 pp.) was published by Dynamite in 2021. It's a well-made hardbound book, printed on slick paper, measuring 12 1/4 x 9 1/4 inches.

'Luis Garcia' is another in a lineup of books, all dealing with comic / graphic art, authored by the UK's David Roach: The Art of Jose Gonzalez, The Art of Vampirella: The Warren Years, Masters of British Comic Art, and Masters of Spanish Comic Book Art. Some of these are out of print and becoming rare (and pricey).
Luis Garcia was born in Puertollano, Spain in 1946 and from an early age displayed considerable talent in art. While only 13 he began to work as an apprentice for the Spanish comics publishing outfit Creacciones Editoriales Bruguera, after which he joined the staff of the Selleciones Illustradas (S.I.) agency and contributed artwork to romance comics in the UK.

In the early 70s Garcia, growing tired of illustrating romance comics, began supplying work for the French comic magazine Pilote. Some of those pieces later were reprinted in English in the Warren magazines in the U.S. 

Garcia's comics quickly became some of the most memorable imagery to appear in Vampirella and Creepy in the early 1970s, and 'The Art of Luis Garcia' provides a hefty selection of Garcia's work for Warren. Seeing this work on high-resolution, slick paper displays his skill as a draftsman.

Along with recounting Garcia's adventures in comics, author Roach provides some interesting anecdotes and insights, from Garcia himself, about the artistic milieu in Spain and Europe in the era of the 1960s and 1970s. Fort example, it was Garcia's girlfriend, Carol (Juana) De Haro, who served as the model for Vampirella:

In 1982 Garcia's comic series 'Nova 2' was printed in Heavy Metal magazine, and became another standout in his comics career. Unlike his previous works for the UK comics, Pilote, and Warren, 'Nova 2 reflected Garcia's increasing interest in exploring 'deep' themes of existential and psychological crises.

Also during the 1970s and 1980s, Garcia provided illustrations for historical and political graphic novels appearing in European, and Spanish magazines (revistas). In the 1980s, he changed roles to become the editor / publisher of Rambla, a comic magazine that sought to exploit the new, more liberal attitudes governing content in the Spanish media following the death of Franco. While his editorial duties took up most of his time, Garcia was able to contribute art to Rambla, which emphasized 'erotica' (or what those inclined to pudibundity might call 'softcore porn'). 

The book has some interesting observations from Garcia about the rewards and travails of editing a suite of magazines in the era before the advent of digital / computer layout and composition software.
Following the unfortunate dissolution of Rambla in 1985, Garcia took stock of his career as an artist, and decided to dedicate himself to studio art. He met with considerable success as a portrait painter, and those works (along with nudes and still lifes) are showcased in the closing chapters of 'The Art of Luis Garcia'.
One area where 'The Art of Luis Garcia' suffers is in the presence of a few too many typographical errors, a problem I've seen in other books authored by Roach and published by Dynamite. It's hard to see how these escaped the page proofing process.........?!
Summing up, if you're a fan of the Spanish artists who contributed to American and European comics during the 1970s and 1980s, as well as a fan of graphic art, then 'The Art of Luis Garcia' is worth acquiring.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Two articles on Baby Boomer Favorites

Two articles on Baby Boomer Favorites
Two articles about subjects that should appeal to Baby Boomers:

'Solving stories with boy detectives', posted by Colin Fleming to The Smart Set online journal , is an affectionate look at the 'Three Investigators' series of Young Adult novels

Fleming offers some revelations; for example, I for one didn't know that Mary Virginia Carey began writing entries in the series in 1971. I knew that Robert Arthur wrote some of the 43 entries in the series, but Carey was a major factor in imbuing the books with a more supernatural atmosphere. Fleming notes that the Three Investigators books are quite sophisticated for literature aimed at a 'tweener' audience, and superior to much of the 'MFA-machined fiction drivel' now being printed.

And, over at 'Attack of the Fifty Year-Old Comic Books, Alan Stewart goes back in time 50 years to the inaugural first two issues of Jack Kirby's comic book 'The Demon'. Lots of scans of panels and pages, with accompanying commentary, that remind me how effective Kirby was as an illustrator.

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Book Review: Solomon Kane novelization

Book Review: 'Solomon Kane' by Ramsey Campbell
5 / 5 Stars

'Solomon Kane' (290 pp.) was published by Titan Books in February 2010 as a tie-in with the film of the same name (the film was released in Europe and the UK in 2009, but due to legal reasons, it didn't appear in the U.S. until 2012).

I don't usually review books published after the early 1990s, but I occasionally make exceptions. In this case, it's because I've previously covered the Solomon Kane franchise, particularly the comics that appeared in the pages of Marvel publications during the 1970s and 1980s.

The novel is based on the screenplay, by Michael J. Bassett, who also directed the film.

Campbell does a reasonably good job of giving the novelization a ‘literary’ coating that expands on the screenplay and, unsurprisingly for a novelization by Campbell, gives greater emphasis to the horror aspects of the story.

The Kane in the screenplay, which is set in England in 1600, is different from that of the original Robert E. Howard stories. Rather than a dour Puritan who wanders the earth quoting scripture and dispatching evildoers, the Kane of the movie is a man convinced that his past transgressions have damned him to Hell, but nonetheless is hoping to gain Salvation by renouncing violence and trusting in the forgiveness of the Lord. 

As the novelization begins Kane reluctantly has agreed to depart a monastery, where he has been immersed in penitence, to make his way to Axmouth, his family's hereditary estate. Kane has not been in Axmouth since his childhood, when a moment of violence led to his banishment.

But in the screenplay's setting, even a simple journey home to Axmouth will be hazardous for Kane. The initial chapters of the novelization, which are the best, introduce him into a bleak and wintry landscape where bands of cutthroats and marauders are terrorizing the populace, and Kane's pacifistic attitude does little to spare him from undergoing all manner of cruelties. 

Can Kane adhere to his vow to renounce violence in the face of the atrocities committed by the minions of the sorcerer Malachai ? For if Malachai's provocations cause Kane to break his vow, then Kane's soul will belong to Satan......... 

I finished the novelization thinking it worthy of a 5 star rating. I did not expect to do so, since 
historically I have not been a big Ramsey Campbell fan. But Campbell avoids the ornate, highly stylized prose that characterized his output during the 1970s and 1980s in favor of a blessedly more restrained locution, one which makes the novel quite readable.

He also introduces some scenes that apparently were cut from the final script, and these give added depth to the storyline. Campbell's descriptive passages of the English landscape ably complement the 'desaturated' coloration of the film, a visual style that has become something of the status quo for contemporary fantasy feature films (Snow White and the Huntsman) and television (The Witcher).

Summing up, if you're a fan of the Solomon Kane character, sword-and-sorcery literature, or the works of Ramsey Campbell, then the novelization of the film is worth acquiring. I also recommend viewing the film (if you are an Amazon Prime subscriber, it's free to watch - although you do have to sit through commercials).