Book Review: Stranger Sins by Michaelbrent Collings

Stranger Sins

Michaelbrent Collings

Written Insomnia Press (November 25, 2022)

Reviewed by Andrew Byers

Stranger Sins is the latest stand-alone entry in the Michaelbrent Collings’ horror thriller series “I Am Legion.” I reviewed the first book in the series, Strangers, way back in 2013, as well as books two (Stranger Still) and three (Stranger Danger).

In this latest entry of the series, itinerant serial killer-turned-vigilante Legion is nursing his wounds and finds himself in Las Vegas (the seedy parts of the city that tourists don’t venture into). He comes to the aid of a mother and daughter clearly on the run from professionals. Legion can’t help but intervene, and finds himself embroiled not just in the personal drama of these two strangers but the family and associates of a couple of the monstrous killers Legion did away with in Stranger Still. You see, in the course of his career as a monstrous righter-of-wrongs Legion has crossed paths with some very bad people—the unspeakably evil kind, not just run-of-the-mill crime bosses—who are now very interested in finding him and taking their revenge. Some of these very same people are the ones after this mother and her daughter that fate, or some higher power, have brought into contact with Legion. Legion thus finds himself the target of revenge while also trying very hard to save two innocents.

Over time, Legion’s personality has become much richer; he’s no longer the implacable and unstoppable slasher killer of the first novel, nor is he some sort of Dexter clone struggling to fit in with normal society. These developments are very much welcome. His dead brothers’ personalities still inhabit his mind, though he begins to question if they’re really just figments of his imagination or parts of his own personality in conflict with itself. While those brothers (“Fire” and “Ice”) have not always been my favorite parts of the series, their banter here is interesting rather than that of two younger brothers who can’t stop arguing with each other. In our journey into Legion’s psyche, we also see the addition of Father, the monstrous paternal figure who raised Legion and his brothers and made them the twisted killers that they became.

As with previous entries in the series, Stranger Sins’spacing remains tight and I found the action, horror, and violence satisfying. This is a book about bad people—very, very bad people (and a couple very, very good ones)—and Collings doesn’t shy away from showing his villains at their worst. There was a very nice set-up for a sequel to this one at the end (recurring villains are always fun in horror thrillers), so I am looking forward to seeing where Collings takes Legion next. As with the first three novels in the series, I very much enjoyed Stranger Sins and recommend it to fans of serial killer-based horror thrillers. Collings is at his best when he’s at his most unhinged and really unleashes the bizarre characters that populate his novels to do their worst. We’ve got plenty of that here, and I’m looking forward to more of these delightfully over-the-top villains in the next Legion novel.

This review originally appeared in Hellnotes.

Week 251 – Weekly Horror Short Story Reviews: Shiel, Ford, Doran, and Bloch

Welcome to Week 251 of my horror short fiction review project! Some odd little stories this week, each imperfect in their own ways; my favorite was “The Delicate” by Jeffrey Ford, which I would almost liken to a kind of magical realism tale, which as you probably know by now, I don’t typically care for. This one about a strange kind of vampiric being operating in the cold wastes on the fringes of civilization was my kind of weird though.

The Black Magic Omnibus, edited by Peter Haining (Taplinger, 1976)

“The Primate of the Rose” by M. P. Shiel

Crooks and Smythe begin the story with a tantalizing conversation about secret societies in London and then…nothing much happens. Another disappointment from a collection that seems to include far more misses than hits. I can now see why this collection has fallen into such obscurity.

The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories, edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer (Tor, 2012)

“The Delicate” by Jeffrey Ford

A strange little story about a kind of demonic vampire—“The Delicate,” who also goes by Harding Jarvis—preying upon the inhabitants of a small town perched at the edge of civilization. It’s very magical realism in tone in that it can’t possibly be taking place on our Earth, nor does it really pretend to, and it’s full of magic and terror and wonder presented matter-of-factly. I liked it, and will be the first to admit that I don’t typically like tales like this.

Caped Fear: Superhuman Horror Stories, edited by Steve Proposch, Christopher Sequeira, and Bryce Stevens (IFWG Australia, 2022)

“The Omnivore” by Colleen Doran

A kind of Legion of Super-Heroes setting (far future with a team of young super heroes). The Omnivore can eat anything but he doesn’t eat meat, and why that is becomes clear by the end of the story. Ultimate is a time traveler who uses an element that animates dead bodies. The action takes place at one of those body farm-type places where they do experiments to see how flesh decays under certain conditions, only this one is for the bodies of supervillains’ victims. Omnivore has to start eating the zombies and, well, loves it. Gross story and pretty silly, though I do recall meeting Doran at a comic book convention in Virginia Beach in the late 1980s and she was very sweet and a lovely person.

Whispers, edited by Stuart David Schiff (Jove/HBJ, 1979)

“The Closer of the Way” by Robert Bloch

Very meta. This is a story about the author Robert Bloch, who has been admitted to a psychiatric ward. His psychiatrist thinks he is secretly deeply disturbed, and uses Bloch’s fiction as a rationale for that analysis. As it turns out, the shrink is correct and Bloch beheads him before escaping.


Buy the book on Amazon


Buy the book on Amazon


Buy the book on Amazon


Buy the book on Amazon

Book Review: In the Haunting Darkness by Michael R. Collings

In the Haunting Darkness

Michael R. Collings

Hemelein Publishing (September 20, 2022)

Reviewed by Andrew Byers

Michael R. Collings is one of those writers who doesn’t get nearly the attention that he deserves. A retired academic, he has written extensively on the work of Stephen King, Orson Scott Card, Milton, and many others. He’s also a talented poet and horror writer. And, not least of all, he’s a three-time Bram Stoker Award nominee and World Horror Convention Grand Master. With In the Haunting Darkness, Collings has recently published a new collection of essays, poetry, and short stories. Even if (maybe especially if) you’re unfamiliar with Collings’ work, you should give this one a try.

I would describe In the Haunting Darkness as kind of a best hits compilation of Collings’ work that reprints some pieces I’ve seen elsewhere in various collections along with some entirely new content. I reviewed Collings’ Writing Darkness way back in prehistoric times (2012) and as much as I enjoyed that collection, I think that In the Haunting Darkness might just be the superior collection because it combines some of the best pieces from Writing Darkness (and elsewhere) with a large selection of Collings’ prose and poetry.

In the Haunting Darkness is organized in three main sections—essays, prose, and poetry—that vary considerably by topic and theme. The essays cover topics as disparate as the horror genre itself (and why literary snobs ought to pay it greater respect) to Frank Herbert’s Dune to writing tips that we all (regardless of the genre we work in) can benefit from. The essays are interesting and insightful reflections from someone who has been immersed in the genres of horror and science fiction, writing about it critically as a literary scholar, and writing his own horror fiction for most of his life. They’re very approachably written—by no means does the reader have to be a scholar to get full enjoyment out of any of these essays—and I think that any serious fan of genre fiction would enjoy these useful and thought-provoking essays. Included is a set of essays on the building blocks of good writing that we can all use an occasional refresher on. Collings provides us the simple, clear, pragmatic foundations we need for constructing the prose needed to effectively tell our tales of horror. As a horror writer, I found several of Collings’ essays especially helpful in cogently framing the essential elements of horror fiction and offering tips and suggestions for improving one’s own writing.

The prose likewise varies considerably in content, from horror and weird fiction to science fiction and everything in between. One of my favorite pieces is the novelette that formed the basis for Collings’ novel ShadowValley. Here we have the very sad history of a polygamous Mormon family in an isolated community and what became of the women left behind as the family dwindled over time. The rest are a genre mix of horror, science fiction, and humor with fantastical elements (see “Dame Ginny McLaserbeam and the Dastardly Duke”). It’s all very well-written as Collings’ work always is, and a good sampling of his varied output as a prose writer.

Collings is known not only for his path breaking work as a literary scholar on Stephen King and several other important writers and as a writer of fiction himself, but also as a poet. While I personally lack the talent to really discuss poetry in a serious way, I can attest to the breadth of Collings’ poetry included here, which varies from cleverly humorous limericks to epic poems, and everything in between. All the genres noted above are featured prominently in this collection.

Collections this broad in terms of content, themes, and even formats like In the Haunting Darkness can be hit or miss, their breadth almost ensuring that some of the contents won’t work for all readers, but there’s a great deal here that is deeply engaging and useful for a wide array of readers. Recommended. Let me also give a quick plug for three of Michael Collings’ horror fiction novels (these can be read as stand-alones in any order: The House Beyond the Hill, Static, and The Slab. I enjoyed each of them immensely and am always delighted to introduce new readers to Collings’ work.

This review originally appeared in Hellnotes.

Week 250 – Weekly Horror Short Story Reviews: Crowley, Spencer, Malzberg, Dann, and Leiber

Welcome to Week 250 (!) of my horror short fiction review project! This is quite a milestone. I never imagined that I’d still be doing this 250 weeks later, but here we are. Today also marks the first week of a new collection, Caped Fear, which is nominally about superhero-themed horror, but it’s off to a bit of an inauspicious start as you can see below, so we’ll see how it goes. The best story of the week was “The Ocean and All Its Devices” by William Browning Spencer, which is set in the bright summer sun at a beachfront hotel in North Carolina, suggesting that not all horror has to take place in darkened rooms and shadowed, gloomy halls–as we all know, but need a periodic reminder, horror can be present anywhere, at any time.

The Black Magic Omnibus, edited by Peter Haining (Taplinger, 1976)

“The Dream Circean” by Aleister Crowley

I didn’t get much out of this one and can’t recommend it. I had expected much better from Crowley. It’s meandering, boring, and not much happens. Very disappointing.

The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories, edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer (Tor, 2012)

“The Ocean and All Its Devices” by William Browning Spencer

George runs an oceanfront hotel in North Carolina. Every year, they are visited by the Franklin family (parents and a daughter) who always seem morose and keep to themselves. This year Mr. Franklin drowns, his wife seems terrified and has to be institutionalized, and the twelve-year-old daughter likewise seems very strange—perhaps even with knowledge or an attitude beyond her years. George learns that the daughter apparently died at the beach the first year the family visited, but they brought her back by making some kind of bargain with beings in the ocean; this contract must be renewed annually. This entity(-ies) end up killing George’s daughter’s boyfriend. Really very good, with outstanding character studies.

Caped Fear: Superhuman Horror Stories, edited by Steve Proposch, Christopher Sequeira, and Bryce Stevens (IFWG Australia, 2022)

“The Towers of Eden” by Barry N. Malzberg and Jack Dann

Exactly the kind of psychedelic/metafictional story that I associate with the SF of the late 1960s and early 1970s that I hate. Michael Breverd is driving through the desert in 7216 AD that may be gods or mental constructs or (likely) something else entirely, I’m unsure. He has sex with these beings (of course, what else would he do with them?) and plays roles in or at least watches several historical events unfold, including the JFK assassination and the 9-11 attacks. No idea what to make of this story. I also don’t know why it was included in the collection, much less leads it off, because the story contains neither superhumans (except perhaps in the loosest sense) nor horror. Not an auspicious start to the collection.

Whispers, edited by Stuart David Schiff (Jove/HBJ, 1979)

“The Glove” by Fritz Leiber

The narrator’s neighbor is an older, annoying woman who is raped one night in the apartment next door. She later finds a grey glove worn by the rapist, and through circumstances, he is asked to hold onto it until the police can pick it up in a day or two. That night, he is woken up by the glove, or thinks he has been; it seems to move around his apartment and touches him. Eventually the police do show up and the rapist turns out to be a creepy neighbor.


Buy the book on Amazon


Buy the book on Amazon


Buy the book on Amazon


Buy the book on Amazon

Book Review: Where Night Cowers by Matthew M. Bartlett

Where Night Cowers

Matthew M. Bartlett

JournalStone Publishing (September 30, 2022)

Reviewed by Andrew Byers

Matthew Bartlett has received a good deal of attention as a contemporary weird fiction writer, though I was new to his work before reading Where Night Cowers. I’m pleased to say that his talents are on full display in this new collection. Comparisons between Bartlett’s work and that of other talented writers like Ligotti and Padgett are probably inevitable given Bartlett’s subject matter and approach to the bleakness of life in a postmodern society, but I would also compare Bartlett to Mike Thorn, another new talent who takes a similar approach to his writing as Bartlett.

Because this is a meaty collection of nineteen tales, I won’t go into each of them in detail but will highlight some of my favorites. These reactions may seem just a tad disjointed because of the breadth of topics and themes that Bartlett writes about, but suffice to say that this is one of those incredible collections in which each story holds tremendous promise and offers a journey of discovery because they are each almost entirely unlike every other story in the collection.

“Effigies of Former Supervisors”: I absolutely loved this story. It’s a brutal, almost Ligottian, view of life inside modern white-collar workplaces. This one hit so hard because it’s so true to life. If you’ve ever had a soul-crushing job like this, “Effigies” will not simply resonate with you, but you will come to believe that Bartlett was one of your former co-workers. Bartlett pulled absolutely no punches on this story.

“The Museum of Laughter”: A meditation on the horrors and absurdities of life, literally from birth. The story’s opening is the most horrifying, but probably most accurate rendering of the perceptions of a newborn infant I have yet read, and then it goes on from there.

“Dr. 999”: A tale of body horror told via online customer reviews. What could be more viscerally true than such a thing in our consumerist culture?

“Provisions for a Journey”: This story was so good it hurts. Rickel is a hitman who works for very discriminating clients of an esoteric sort. You don’t want to be one of Rickel’s targets. He attends a child’s birthday party; there’s a piñata, and tragedy, of course, follows. I’m not going to spoil this one for you, but it’s got just the right combination of supreme weirdness, violence, horror, and cosmicism. Only a master like Bartlett could conceive of let alone execute something like this.

“Call Me Corey”: Corrine is an…unusual elderly woman riding in a bus full of senior citizens when the bus unexpectedly travels to Hell. If that premise alone doesn’t intrigue you, I don’t know what to say.

“We Pass From View”: Really, really good story. A man befriends the owner of a local used bookshop. He is unwittingly drawn into a terrifying occult conspiracy. While that may sound humdrum if you’re a jaded reader of horror, Bartlett paints such a vivid picture of this bookshop and its owner that you’ll recall every one of these same kind of little shops that you’ve been in over the course of your life.

“The Storefront Theater”: A lonely, isolated man growing increasingly financially desperate is drawn to a local stage theater where he is offered a job. Sinister. Oh so sinister.

“Deep into the Skin”: Wow. This one hit hard. A tattoo artist is forced to tattoo a large spirit board tattoo onto the flesh of an unwilling woman by several sinister occultists one night, then he is drawn deeper into their plans for the woman.

The collection closes with “Mikeytown,” which is one of the longest stories as well as perhaps my favorite. The premise is simple enough: Two old friends are taking a car trip when they stop off for lunch at a diner and have one of those unsettling small-town experiences that just gets weirder and weirder and more sinister by the minute. I love these kinds of inexplicable tales where the reader is just left to ponder what just happened. I really can’t say more about what they encounter in Mikeytown, as that would spoil the fun and the dawning realization, but this novelette is well worth the price of admission alone.

While many of the stories are explicitly set in the towns of Leeds and Hulse in Western Massachusetts, I don’t find the stories necessarily interconnected; my impression is that this is more of a geographic setting that Bartlett is slowly developing across his fiction. If you have any interest whatsoever in contemporary weird fiction and cosmic horror, you’ve really got to check out Matthew Bartlett’s work, and Where Night Cowers is a great sample to start with. Bartlett is a terrific prose stylist, whose voice and choice of subject matter are unlike anyone else writing today. Highly recommended.

This review originally appeared in Hellnotes.

Week 249 – Weekly Horror Short Story Reviews: Arthur, Simpson, Wilson, and Drake

Welcome to Week 249 of my horror short fiction review project! This week we’re starting a new collection, Whispers, and we’ll bid farewell to A Taste for Blood this week. Starting next week that one will be replaced by Caped Fear, a new supers horror collection. Some decent stories this week, but my favorite was “Last Rites and Resurrections” by Martin Simpson, which is just a great little weird tale about a man who can commune with the spirits of dead animals. It’s super creepy, and kind of gross, but poignant nevertheless.

The Black Magic Omnibus, edited by Peter Haining (Taplinger, 1976)

“The Mirror of Cagliostro” by Robert Arthur

Really good. Harry is a professor who becomes trapped in a magic mirror, his body possessed by the eponymous Cagliostro., who uses it to indulge his lust and murderous desires. Cagliostro, it seems, has done this several times throughout the centuries, including with that poor sap who became Jack the Ripper. Harry and a young woman who is also trapped in the mirror with him must thwart Cagliostro’s plans. A darker ending that I had imagined.

The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories, edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer (Tor, 2012)

“Last Rites and Resurrections” by Martin Simpson

The narrator is a divorced man whose son died of cancer. He seems to have gained the ability to hear the voices of roadkill on his travels. Out of sympathy, he finds their bodies and buries them, while also listening to their stories. Really nice characterization here. A great example of a weird little story.

A Taste for Blood, edited by Martin H. Greenberg (Barnes & Noble Books, 1992)

“Midnight Mass” by F. Paul Wilson

Vampires have taken over the world, leaving it severely depopulated with a collapsed civilization. Along comes a rabbi named Zev, who seeks out his old friend, a Catholic priest named Joe, who is now an alcoholic, to help him destroy some vampires. The local band of vampires is led by a former Catholic priest who has become a true mustache-twirling villain. Not really subtle or sophisticated at all, just an action fest. There was some minor suspense and decent action scenes, but ultimately there was nothing surprising here. Just okay.

[previously reviewed] “Son of Celluloid” by Clive Barker

Whispers, edited by Stuart David Schiff (Jove/HBJ, 1979)

[previously reviewed] “Sticks” by Karl Edward Wagner

“The Barrow Troll” by David Drake

Ulf Womanslayer (what a great name!) is a Viking who has kidnapped a Christian priest to help him fulfill a prophecy about how Ulf can defeat a troll who possesses a great treasure and lives in a barrow mound. Brutal action and savagery, though no actual horror content here.


Buy the book on Amazon


Buy the book on Amazon


Buy the book on Amazon


Buy the book on Amazon

Book Review: Unknowing, I Sink by Timothy G. Huguenin

Unknowing, I Sink: A Strange and Horrifying Novella
Timothy G. Huguenin (October 1, 2022)
Reviewed by Andrew Byers

Unknowing, I Sink is an entertaining and quick read firmly in the realm of Lovecraftian horror (though it’s not explicitly connected with the Cthulhu Mythos). This novella was originally published by Independent Legions Publishing in 2020 but has been newly re-released with new cover art in an ebook format. Timothy G. Huguenin was a writer new to me, but I’m looking forward to reading more of his work.

Set in rural West Virginia, Unknowing, I Sink is the story of fifteen-year-old Julian, who finds a job cooking and cleaning for a wealthy eccentric who lives at the top of a mountain near his home. At first Julian’s concerns are pedestrian: he’s willing to perform drudgery because he simply wants to save up enough money to buy his first car so that he can impress a girl. But the more he works for the mysterious Mr. V, the more he realizes that something is terribly, terribly wrong.

Mr. V is an old man with some significant health problems (and eating habits, to say the least) who seems to be entirely homebound. He spends his days in his vast library, reading, thinking, and trawling through the internet while Julian cooks and cleans his moldering mansion. This is a pretty weird situation, though it pays well, but eventually Julian’s curiosity—and his need to impress a girl—get the better of him and he violates some of Mr. V’s strict rules. That doesn’t bode well.

This is a quick read with a fast-moving plot and polished prose. Julian isn’t exactly an intellectual, so he comes off as shallow, but that feels more intentional than not. The novella as a whole has a strong sense of verisimilitude, with the story of an ordinary teenager ringing true, though of course the tension and stakes ratchet up considerably when Julian gets sucked into a world of cosmic horror beyond anything he can fathom.

I’d have liked a bit more resolution of the story at its close, but sometimes the most satisfying stories are the ones where a weird series of events occur for reasons unclear to the reader and we’re just left to deal with it. Recommended.

This review originally appeared in Hellnotes.

Week 248 – Weekly Horror Short Story Reviews: Bixby, Utley, McGrath, and Hodge

Welcome to Week 248 of my horror short fiction review project! This is the final week of The Children of Cthulhu; next week that one will be replaced by Whispers in our line-up. This was one of those rare weeks where I thoroughly enjoyed all four of the stories. My favorite would have to be “The Firebrand Symphony” by Brian Hodge for its sheer imaginative breadth and the hints at a larger cosmology that are truly new and different from everything that has come before it. Needless to say, that is no small thing, so that one in particular is a must-read, but they’re all good.

The Black Magic Omnibus, edited by Peter Haining (Taplinger, 1976)

“The Magic Potion” by Jerome Bixby

Pierre is a nasty little apothecary in Paris who is asked to brew a strange potion for a customer. He doubles the recipe and tries it on himself. The potion restores his health and vitality (if he had simply copied the recipe he could have sold it and revolutionized human civilization….) The same customer comes back a week later and asks for a different potion. This one makes Pierre irresistible to women. Pierre of course betrays this customer, who gets the better of him. Short but good one.

The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories, edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer (Tor, 2012)

“The Country Doctor” by Steven Utley

The narrator returns to the small town he grew up in just before the whole place is flooded for a reservoir. He visits the cemetery where his many ancestors are buried, where a team of archaeologists is unearthing the bodies, to study and then move them. They find that many of the townsfolk had really major physical deformities. They also discover that the old country doctor who lived in the town, Dr. Sweeny, seems to have been an alien who disguised himself with advanced prosthetics so as to appear human. They speculate that he may have experimented on the locals by inducing the mutations. Fascinating and horrifying.

A Taste for Blood, edited by Martin H. Greenberg (Barnes & Noble Books, 1992)

[previously reviewed] “The Lost Art of Twilight” by Thomas Ligotti

“Blood Disease” by Patrick McGrath

What a strange story! (Trust me when I say that even by my jaded standards, this is a weird one.) In 1934, an anthropologist called Congo Bill manages to return to England, though he is very sick from malaria. His wife Virginia and young son Frank pick him up at the dock, but are forced to stay at a roadside inn before they can get home. There they meet Ronald, a young dandy and distant cousin of Virginia’s, with whom she has a one-night stand. Ronald’s manservant is a supposititious fellow, who someone realizes (we don’t know how) that the inn is run by a group of murderous, cannibalistic people infected with pernicious anemia, so he runs off to get help. That help does eventually arrive, but not before Ronald, Virginia, and Frank are slaughtered in the cellar and their corpses drained of blood. Oh and there’s a subplot with a diseased monkey that is somehow returned from the dead(!) and the innkeeper’s gimpy daughter. It’s all interesting enough—I found myself reading along to find out what bizarre elements were coming next—but I don’t know what to make of it all. It’s over-the-top, for sure.

The Children of Cthulhu, edited by John Pelan and Benjamin Adams (Del Rey/Ballantine, 2002)

“The Firebrand Symphony” by Brian Hodge

The narrator is the son of a dead rocker from the ‘60s whose uncle Terrance is a scholar who goes on archaeological digs with Miskatonic University. He inherits a skull that seems to vibrate (or chant) in resonance with deep space recordings (this makes more sense than my terse description suggests here). As it turns out, the Earth seems to have been periodically seeded with gigantic humanoids in the deep past, which the narrator (and his mother) are descendants of. Some really, really intriguing elements here, including hints of a fascinating, all-new cosmology/mythos—this is really rare. Hodge doesn’t seem to have ever revisited this story of its mythos from what I can tell. This novelette is very much worth reading for the unsettling implications. Definitely recommended.

[previously reviewed] “Teeth” by Matt Cardin


Buy the book on Amazon

Buy the book on Amazon


Buy the book on Amazon

Buy the book on Amazon

Week 247 – Weekly Horror Short Story Reviews: Russell, Laidlaw, Lee, and Ochse

Welcome to Week 247 of my horror short fiction review project! Some good ones this week, though my favorite was “A Spectacle of a Man” by Weston Ochse. Long-time readers of the blog will recall that I’m a sucker for stories that mingle cosmic horror with body horror (my favorite combination of horror types), and this one certainly does that in spades.

The Black Magic Omnibus, edited by Peter Haining (Taplinger, 1976)

“The Rhythm of the Rats” by Eric Frank Russell

The lone survivor of a plane crash lands near a remote village that seems to still live under medieval conditions. And they’re terrified of going out after dark and there don’t seem to be any children around. Oh and they treat rats very well. The plane crash survivor encounters a strange piper one night who nearly drives him into madness with his flute-playing. Yes, this is of course the village of Hamelin and the locals believe that the rats are their transmogrified children. Not bad, but not great either.

The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories, edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer (Tor, 2012)

“The Diane Arbus Suicide Portfolio” by Marc Laidlaw

Brovnik is a detective who is also a photographer. A female photographer kills herself and it becomes clear hat someone watched her die and took photographs of the suicide, though the photos themselves cannot be found. Brovnik is contacted by someone who says she has the photos; this person turns out to be—I think—a kind of photo negative of the dead woman. He then encounters other “photo negatives” of various dead people later in his career. Interesting.

A Taste for Blood, edited by Martin H. Greenberg (Barnes & Noble Books, 1992)

“Bite-Me-Not, or, Fleur de Fur” by Tanith Lee

A scullery maid, Rohise, bears an uncanny resemblance to the deceased daughter of the Cursed Duke. The castle where they live is tormented by a flock of flying vampires who seem more like birds of prey rather than transformed humans (nice take on vampirism). Rohise escapes with one of these vampires after he is wounded and captured. There are some other related elements: the Duke is waiting for a mysterious flower to bloom that can repulse the vampires; Rohise is actually his daughter, who he didn’t realize he had sired. This one wasn’t as wonderful as most of Tanith Lee’s fiction, but it’s not bad.

The Children of Cthulhu, edited by John Pelan and Benjamin Adams (Del Rey/Ballantine, 2002)

“A Spectacle of a Man” by Weston Ochse

Some interesting surreal body horror with cosmic elements (you’ll recall this is one of my favorite horror combinations). Alvin witnesses people being tormented/crucified by a betentacled being (Gog-Horr) and the transformations these torments bring about before undergoing a similar transformation himself. Bizarre, but give it a chance. I don’t want to oversell this story, but it was enjoyable.


Buy the book on Amazon

Buy the book on Amazon


Buy the book on Amazon

Buy the book on Amazon

Book Review: When I Was Lost by Jordan Kurella

When I Was Lost

Jordan Kurella

JournalStone Publishing (October 14, 2022)

Reviewed by Andrew Byers

Jordan Kurella is an author who’s new to me, but I’m very impressed with his breadth of themes and settings—stories in When I Was Lost are set across time and space in a variety of historical settings and genres, including fantasy, science fiction, and post-apocalypse. Many of the collection’s stories center on themes of love and loss, secrets and desires that can never be, lovers who are lost but who can never be forgotten. This is a heady, poignant collection of a dozen stories that are well worth the time of any reader of dark fantasy or those who like their historical and science fiction tinged with gloom.

For reasons of concision I’ll touch on just a few of my favorite stories in the collection.

“The Forgotten Case of Mme Augustine Calou, Witch” provides a great start to the collection. Set in rural France in the 1830s, this is the story of the eponymous Madame Calou, an elderly woman, who faces off against a werewolf (one of her neighbors), who has killed and eaten one of her pigs.

From there we move onto the Wild West, which serves as the setting for “The True and Otherworldly Origins of the Name ‘Calamity Jane.’” Here we have the story of the eponymous Calamity Jane, who was not merely a gunslinger as the history books would have us believe but was rather a hunter of evil faeries. Fun and suspenseful. This is also the start to a sequence of thematically connected tales of unmet needs and wishes that are granted by untrustworthy fairies and witches. “Three Dandelion Stars” is another such story. This is the tale of two lovers, Shai and Amarine, who have their wish to be together granted by a swamp witch. Kurella does a good job with this nice twist on the star-crossed lovers trope. “The Hollow Tree” similarly involves a wish. A young girl, Pira, just wants her family to be happy. Her father is an abusive monster and Pira makes a bargain with a faerie to solve her family’s problems. Another enjoyable story of secrets and wishes and dark desires.

Kurella has included several stories about life after the collapse of human civilization. In “The Black Hearts of La Playa” vampires seem to be ascendant, with the few remaining humans forced into armed camps in service to warlords while vampires roam the desolate areas surrounding these last few outposts of humanity. None of this stops Marrin, a young woman living in one of these camps, from trying to find love and fulfillment after a disappointing series of relationships. Perhaps the vampires aren’t so bad after all. In “A Wake for the Living,” I’m not so sure that there are any humans left. It’s told from the perspective of a vulture outcast, who, like Marrin in the earlier story, is also seeking fulfillment and partnership. This one was surprisingly poignant—it’s not every day a reader comes to genuinely care about the fate of a scavenger feasting on dead flesh.

My favorite story in the collection was “Personal Histories Surrounding La Rive Gauche, Paris: 1995-2015.” I absolutely loved this one, despite it involving a topic I never considered to be of any real interest: mermaids. Here, Victoria is now with a man named Percy, having lost her lover Lynne to a mermaid, who took her under the sea when they were students in Paris. Twenty years later she is compelled to return to the Seine. Another tale of one of those never-forgotten former lovers at which Kurella excels.

Kurella’s prose is effortless and evocative and touching. It would be hard to come away from this collection without feeling anything, without feeling at least some of the poignancy and heartache and loss from having lost a lover or possessing some desire that can never be fulfilled. Definitely recommended.

And if there’s one takeaway from When I Was Lost, it’s probably that you should be careful what you wish for….

This review originally appeared in Hellnotes.