Dark Rite by Alan Baxter and David Wood – Review by Damien Smith

DISCLAIMER: Thirteen O’Clock is managed by Alan Baxter, Felicity Dowker and Andrew McKiernan as Contributing Editors. While the Contributing Editors’ roles at Thirteen O’Clock are editorial and critique, all three are primarily writers. It is inevitable that their own work will form part of the Australian and international dark fiction publications which are Thirteen O’Clock’s focus, and as such it is also inevitable that their work will be reviewed at Thirteen O’Clock (to prohibit this would not only be unfortunate for Baxter, Dowker and McKiernan themselves, but for their hardworking editors and publishers).

Thirteen O’Clock will always have a third party contributor review the Contributing Editors’ work. Such reviews will be unedited (aside from standard corrections to typos and grammar), posted in full (be they negative or positive), and will always be accompanied by full disclosure of Baxter, Dowker and McKiernan’s place at Thirteen O’Clock. At no point will Baxter, Dowker or McKiernan review their own work.

Dark Rite webDark Rite by Alan Baxter and David Wood

ISBN: 978-1940095004

Gryphonwood Press

Dark Rite is the inaugural collaboration between Thrillercast co-hosts Alan Baxter and David Wood. It sits on the cusp between a long novella and a short novel (just over 40,000 words for the pedantic) which means, whilst difficult for award judges to classify, it is able to deliver a novel’s worth of story and action in a package that’s easy to digest in an afternoon.

We open with our protagonist, Grant Shipman, heading to the tiny Appalachian hamlet of Wallen’s Gap to deal with the deceased estate of his father. Dumped remotely by his girlfriend of three years and no longer tied down to anyone or anything he seriously considers joining the seemingly friendly community permanently.

However, such thoughts are short-lived as he begins to unearth some disturbing facts about the town, its people and history. As a result, he quickly manages to inadvertently scare off Cassie, the only normal-seeming local, and have some disturbing run-ins with the resident banjo-wielding heavies.

With Cassie’s help, he begins to piece together an increasingly horrifying history of Wallen’s Gap and its occupants despite being stone-walled at every turn. Throw in a brutal public murder in broad daylight for good measure and Grant and Cassie realise they’re stuck firmly in the middle of a small town conspiracy of Hot Fuzzian proportions.

It becomes increasingly clear that there was more to the death of Grant’s father and the conspiracy enwrapping them is more than two people can handle. Dark cults, magic, brutal violence, witches and warlocks crash together and spiral towards a bloody and catastrophic conclusion with the unstopability of a demonic freight train.

Although I’ve not had the pleasure of reading David Wood’s works to date (something I plan to rectify shortly) I have read many of Alan Baxter’s works and whilst the dark cult was no shock, the main protagonist surprised me somewhat. Rather than being some heroic skull-cracking anti-hero, Grant Shipman is nothing more than an ordinary man. A young, fit, no-nonsense man for sure, but still with all the familiar problems and frailties of anyone else in the world and therefore easy to relate to.

Whilst nothing else particularly caught me off guard as the story played out, it was nonetheless a rollercoaster ride that kept me turning the pages until I was almost late for work. This story ticks all the boxes of a rollicking action / cult mystery, including the obligatory hook at the end, and would make a fantastic movie should that option ever arise. Wood and Baxter have managed to construct an engaging, punchy story that is dark enough to sate the bloody-minded but not too dark to keep the rest of us up at night, and for less than the price of the coffee, this is definitely worth the investment of an afternoon.

Damien Smith has heard that to be a great writer, one must read a lot and write a lot. While the former is covered off in spades, he reserves the latter for when he can actually imagine something stranger than his young family and the world around them can throw at him. If you’d met his family, the frequency of his writing may surprise you and give you some insight into his mind. Occasionally his stories even get published.


The Awakening by Brett McBean – Reviewed by Greg Chapman

awakeningThe Awakening by Brett McBean
Publisher: The Asylum Projects/Tasmaniac Publications; First Edition edition (2012)
Paperback: 432 pages
ISBN: 978-0-9871-9492-3

The Awakening, by Melbourne horror author Brett McBean is a novel that proves the value of horror fiction as a story.
For horror to work it has to have heart, not only in its characters, but also in what the story is trying to say and McBean lays the “heart” on thick in this tale.
And at its heart, The Awakening is a tale about a boy growing up, but it’s also an intricate exploration of prejudice, retribution and forgiveness.
The basic premise of the story centres on young Toby, a boy on the cusp of adulthood and his curiosities about life after grade school, girls, alcohol – and the strange old man across the street – Mr Joseph, a black man, who many in the town regard as a freak.
McBean takes his time in the first half of the book, moulding Toby, Toby’s parents and friends and creating an air of mystery around Mr Joseph, but when another stranger arrives in town, an apparent acquaintance of Mr. Joseph’s, the story goes into overdrive.
After Toby and his friend are brutally attacked on their way to an after school party, Toby is set on a path where he gets to know Mr Joseph on a very personal level and we discover the old man’s origins and a dark past that takes us back to Haiti and zombis!
Through the course of their interaction, Mr Joseph teaches Toby about the real world, but at the same time the old man learns a lot from the boy, especially about letting go of the past.
With an overload of zombie fiction, involving viruses or plagues, it was a joy to have McBean take the zombis back to their Haitian roots. The author, in my humble opinion, made the monsters worthy again.
And with great skill McBean manages to weave everything together for an edge of your seat climax where many mysteries are solved and the characters we’ve cared for are actually “re-awakened”.
The Awakening reminded me a lot of the film Stand By Me, based upon a story by Stephen King, yet it stands on its own as a new classic in not just the horror genre, but fiction as a whole.
I should also congratulate Tasmaniac Publications for creating the wonderful hardback edition of McBean’s book, including Erin Wells’ interior art and Ray Garton’s inspired introduction. The end product speaks very loudly to the fact that an e-book just can’t shine a light to a proper paper book made with love.
Although the limited edition hardback has sold out, rumour has it that a paperback edition will be released in the near future.
Highly recommended.
Review by Greg Chapman (http://www.darkscrybe.blogspot.com/)

Australian Shadows Awards Winners 2012

The Australian Horror Writers Association is pleased to announce the Winners of the 2012 Australian Shadows Awards. The Shadows are awarded to the stories and collections that best typify the horror genre, delivering a sense of ‘creeping dread’, leaving the reader with chills and a reluctance to turn out the light.

Congratulations to the Winners, selected by a panel of judges, each an authority on the horror genre.


Perfections – Kirstyn McDermott


Sky – Kaaron Warren


Birthday Suit – Martin Livings


Surviving the End – Craig Bezant


Through Splintered Walls – Kaaron Warren

Congratulations to all the winners and the other very worthy finalists. Horror writing in Australia remains a force to be reckoned with.


The Bone Chime Song and other stories by Joanne Anderton – Review

17557764The Bone Chime Song and other stories by Joanne Anderton

FableCroft Publishing

ISBN – 0980777097 (ISBN13: 9780980777093)

The Bone Chime Song and other stories is the debut collection from Australian short story writer and novelist, Joanne Anderton. Anderton’s science fantasy novels from Angry Robot Books (published as Jo Anderton), Debris and Suited, have been brilliantly received and garnered a slew of award nominations. Her short fiction has been equally well received and has also gathered a lot of award attention. In fact, one of the stories in this collection, Sanaa’s Army, is currently a finalist for both fantasy short story and horror short story in the Aurealis Awards and Best Short Story in the Ditmar Awards. The title story from this collection, The Bone Chime Song, is also a finalist for Best Short Story in the Ditmar Awards this year. So there’s no doubt that Anderton’s short fiction is the kind of work that demands attention.

This collection concentrates on Anderton’s horror stories, with most being science-fiction and post-apocalyptic horror. There’s a smattering of contemporary horror, in stories like Always A Price and Shadow of Drought. But for me, Anderton is at her absolute best when she plays with future tech and the breakdown of society, as she always manages to approach it from a completely human perspective, no matter how far out her settings and situations.

And they are often far out. Anderton’s work delves into the truly surreal and her exploration of that surreality is utterly convincing. She expertly sets up an environment with such confidence, and so little backstory and development required, that we simply accept it without question and are immediately invested in the trials of her characters.

Those characters are usually focused on the maintenance of family and individuality in the face of apocalypse, the saving of loved ones against the tide of technology gone feral. Her stories are all about family, all against authority, constantly finding the humanity in the face of the apocalypse. Always in her work, despite the horror, there is hope. But that hope isn’t always rewarded.

Anderton is a writer with a deft touch, creating something we can see, feel and even smell, and then she gently twists it into something weird and disturbing. Every story is like this to one extent or another. There isn’t a bad story in this collection – it’s one of the strongest single-author collections to come out for a long time – but it’s impossible not to have favourites. The beauty of the variety here is that everyone is likely to have different favourites. For me, the stand-out stories are Out Hunting for Teeth, Sanaa’s Army and Mah Song (one of two originals in the collection – the other original being Fence Lines.) But those three are almost arbitrarily picked, because every story is great. Tomorrow, in a slightly different mood, I might pick three different ones.

The Bone Chime Song and other stories is a powerful and compelling debut collection from an author who is barely started on her journey and already producing work of incredible quality. I can’t wait to see where she goes from here.


Horror! Under the Tombstone, selected by David A Sutton – review by Mario Guslandi

under-the-tombstoneHorror! Under the Tombstone

Selected by David A Sutton

Trade Paperback , 333 pages

Publisher: Shadow Publishing , UK 2013

The ‘70s  were mythical years for the British horror scene, as regards both books and movies, but , with a few exceptions, the names of the authors of supernatural fiction of that long gone era  are now mostly forgotten.

Reprinting a bunch of stories that previously appeared in the anthologies New Writings in Horror and the Supernatural vol 1 & 2 (1971 and 1972) is an interesting venture not only as a mere tribute to nostalgia, but also as a way to document the canons and the style of a dark fiction born and developed in a different age.

Predictably, a good amount of the stories  sound a bit outdated, even naïve, when read some forty years later. Only great literature survives the passing of times and fashions, and this is certainly not the case for the majority of the tales included in the present volume, even when the authors are the likes of Ramsey Campbell, Rosemary Timperley, David A Sutton, Robert P Holdstock and so on.

Some of the tales, however, do maintain their strength and are still able to entertain and disquiet the reader just as if written today.

Among those tales I’ll mention, first of all, “Goat” by David Campton, a solid piece of supernatural fiction portraying the uncanny, lethal powers of an old man using witchcraft to terrify and kill, and “The Hollow Where” by Michael G Coney, an odd tale where two couples of farmers keep shifting roles, due to  the paranormal influence of a haunted area on the hill nearby.

Bryn Fortney’s “Shrewhampton North-East” is a very fine example of Kafkaesque nightmare, served with a touch of black humour, about a group of passengers indefinitely stuck in an unknown train station.

“The Inglorious Rise of the Catsmeat Man” by Robyn Smyth is a very enjoyable, although not quite original story revolving around a delicious catsmeat of disreputable origin while “Infra-Man” by Roger Parkes  is a bizarre yet powerful story where a husband who shouldn’t be there appears in infrared pictures, much to the dismay of his displeased wife.

In the claustrophobic “Under the Tombstone” by Kenneth Bulmer, inhuman creatures lurk under a tombstone in an ancient, now deconsecrated church, while in the pleasurable “A Bottle of Spirits” by David A Riley a young man manages to get hired as the assistant to a stage magician and to discover the secret of his supernatural powers.

In short a pleasant and interesting  journey into the horror and supernatural fiction of a  not too distant time when the world was less sophisticated and our fears were perhaps more simple.

- Mario Guslandi