Book of the Dead by Greig Beck – review by Geoff Brown

9781760082437_Book-of-the-Dead_cover1Book of the Dead

by Greig Beck

Momentum Books

(review by Geoff Brown)

Military horror. That’s what I like. Hell, that’s what I tend to publish through my own press. The term is pretty self-explanatory. Guys with guns shooting at things that shouldn’t exist. When you put it that way, it seems pretty basic, but it’s hard to pull off one of these tales without losing the reader. Things get too hard to believe, and then bam, the reader rolls their eyes and you’re lost them.

Australian writer of military horror Greig Beck manages to keep the reader engaged throughout his books, and I can tell you, that is hard considering some of the creatures that act as the villain in them. I’ve read Beck’s books since I first discovered This Green Hell, the third book in the Alex Hunter series, his most well-known works. As soon as I read that one, I raced off and found copies of the two earlier books, and then waited (somewhat impatiently) for the follow-ups. Since then, he’s written two more in that series, and a number of other books, all as exciting and thrilling as I had come to expect.

Book of the Dead is not an Alex Hunter novel. It follows a side character from that series, paleolinguist Matt Kearns, on a mission that even Hunter may not have survived. From the depths of history, word has carried through the ages of elder gods and of a time they will rise up. Many of the prophets of these events have been called mad, and to anyone listening to what they try to warn us of, they surely do seem insane. Yet… in this madness lies the seeds of a dangerous truth.

In our age, massive sinkholes begin to open across the globe, dragging anything on the surface down into the depths. When authorities investigate, they find no trace of any living thing. No bodies, no forensics… nothing. When these sinkholes start to get bigger and bigger, there are also reports of ‘things’ rising from the depths. As more and more people start to disappear, the government is forced to act. They recruit a team of specialists which includes Professor Kearns. The team explores one of the sinkholes, and find evidence to show that the ancient, elder gods are once again ready to rise from their ancient slumber. Their aim? Another catastrophic extinction event, just like the last few times they have risen. Life on Earth would cease to exist.

The team of military and civilian experts find themselves in a race against time, and against an unknown but powerful and ruthless enemy, to find the Book of the Dead before it’s too late.

Beck takes a man-made mythos, that of Cthulhu and the pantheon of elder gods he leads, and brings it blazing into the Twenty-First Century. Things that have only caused fear in legend and literature are now rising up to destroy the world. The characters are believable, the pacing is frantic, and the plotline is so incredible only a few authors could make it seem so believable. Beck is one of those authors. He has really hit his stride with Book of the Dead, and I cannot wait to see what he does with his next book.

- review by Geoff Brown

Geoff Brown AKA G.N. Braun is an Australian writer and Australian Shadows Award finalist-editor raised in Melbourne’s gritty Western Suburbs. He writes fiction across various genres, and is the author of many published short stories. He has had numerous articles published in newspapers, both regional and metropolitan. He is the past president of the Australian Horror Writers Association (2011-2013), as well as the past director of the Australian Shadows Awards. He is an editor and columnist for UK site This is Horror, and the guest editor for Midnight Echo #9.
His memoir, Hammered, was released in early 2012 by Legumeman Books and has been extensively reviewed. He is the owner of Cohesion Editing and Proofreading, and has now opened a publishing house, Cohesion Press.

Here With The Shadows by Steve Tasnic Tem – review by Mario Guslandi

mid_shadows1Here With The Shadows

by Steve Rasnic Tem

Swan River Press 2014

First Edition Hardcover, 165 pages

A review by Mario Guslandi

Here’s a short story collection by an American writer, published by a small British imprint, reviewed by an Italian reviewer and posted on an Australian website. Globalization has reached the world of dark fiction and this is a good thing because the present volume deserves to be enjoyed by as many readers as possible.

Steve Tem is a very prolific author of  “quiet” horror in its various shades, probing the secrets hidden in the human heart, which is the very source of any real horror. In his work you’ll hardly find monsters, gore and violence; you’ll find the sad, disquieting side of the horrors that affect our daily  life.

This particular collection is devoted to ghost stories, but, again, you won’t find here howling spectres lurking in old castles, but disturbing shadows lingering at the corners of our towns and cities. And most of those shadows are images of a past that still haunt our souls.

Among the fifteen tales assembled in the book, most are really outstanding examples of how good Tem is at his best.

The title story “Here with the Shadows” is a delicate, insightful piece where an old man lives his last days surrounded by a crowd of shadows, the shadows of the dead, while “A House by the Ocean” is a mesmerizing ghost story full of sorrow and despair, featuring two sisters separated for too long.

In the gentle  “G is for Ghost”, the main character is the ghost of a child, while in the subtly unnerving “Telling” the hidden secrets of a haunted house are finally disclosed.

“Back Among the Shy Trees” is an enigmatic, disturbing tale where a man returning to his now abandoned family house discovers some sinister facts about his long forgotten childhood.

“Seeing the Woods”, a story of intense lyricism, portrays an old semi-blind lady living in a cabin in the woods. Here the ghosts are those of her beloved trees burned down during a fire.

The nostalgic, melancholy “Smoke in a Bottle” depicts how the past is a ghost haunting our present and “Est Enim Magnum Chaos” is yet another great story about life and death, loneliness and old age, where people, as in the lyrics of the famous song “Ol’ Man River” are “tired of living but scared of dying”.

All great stuff.

-Review by Mario Guslandi

Caution: Contains Small Parts by Kirstyn McDermott – review

smallpartsCaution: Contains Small Parts

by Kirstyn McDermott

ISBN 978-1-922101-05-1

This book is a collection of four short stories by award-winning author, Kirstyn McDermott. There are themes here of gender and sexuality, damage and rehabilitation, but those themes never overpower the stories. It’s an excellent collection and well worth its recent Aurealis Award nomination.

McDermott is a powerful writer, evoking a great sense of place with all her work and her characters are well-drawn and fully realised. I found the writing in this collection to be a little less poetic than some of her other work, like the novel, Madigan Mine, for example, but no less impactful for that difference. And she retains her masterful use of language, the occasional phrasing that’s just so electrically right.

The four stories here are all bordering on horror and reality, skating that thin line between the real and the fantastic.

What Amanda Wants follows the trials of a counselor who has fluffed her way through actual qualifications because she has a supernatural ability to see to the very heart of people’s issues and actually, physically relieve them of those burdens. Until she is presented with Amanda, a troubled young woman whose walls are so solid, the powerful counselor can’t see anything through them.

In Horn, we have an unusual narrative broken into parts – regular storytelling, interviews, excerpts from academic papers – all slowly building the picture of a writer who hit the big time with a big fat fantasy series about warring unicorns and the problems that’s brought him. Very interesting asides into fantasy gender tropes in this story, but the format didn’t quite work for me as well as I might have hoped.

The title story, Caution: Contains Small Parts, is a poignant and disturbing horror story about a man haunted by a toy dog. He tries to get rid of it and can’t, it keeps coming back and will clearly continue to do so until he stops and works out what it wants. This is a very sad story, and powerfully written.

The final story is a long one, novelette length, I think, called The Home For Broken Dolls. This is a truly disturbing story about those realistic sex dolls that many people collect and truly obsess over. It’s told form the point of view of Jane, a woman horribly disfigured and traumatised in a moment of domestic violence, who has found peace in refurbishing damaged dolls. This story received a nomination for Best Horror Short Story in the Aurealis Awards as well as the collection as a whole getting a nod in the Best Collection category. You can see why. This is by far my favourite story in the book. McDermott does a great job in normalising the fetishes of these people, as of course, their fetish is entirely normal to them. It’s also very much on the border between literary/fantastic fiction and horror. It’s not a horror story like you’d expect, the darkness subtle and almost hidden behind the fantastic and the allegorical. But it is a truly excellent tale. And quite disturbing.

This is a great collection and a testament to McDermott’s skill. Highly recommended.


Bloody Waters by Jason Franks – review

BW_cover_eBook_t-193x300Bloody Waters by Jason Franks

Possible Press, 2012

ISBN: 978-0980813531

Bloody Waters is the debut novel from Jason Franks, maybe better known for his comics work. I reviewed The Sixsmiths here a while ago. This first novel was nominated for an Aurealis Award for Best Horror Novel last year and I can see why. Here’s the blurb:

When guitar virtuoso Clarice Marnier finds herself blacklisted she makes a deal with the devil for a second chance. Soon Clarice and her band, Bloody Waters, are on their way to stardom… but cracking the Top 10 is one thing; gunfights with the Vatican Mafia and magical duels quite another. Clarice is going to have to confront the Devil himself – the only question is whether she’ll be alive or dead when it happens.

I had no expectations going into this book, other than knowing it had an award nomination. I was really surprised. It’s a unique read. The writing style is tight and powerful, the book clips along at a solid pace. We start with young Clarice putting aside Barbie dolls for a guitar and we follow her progress through high school and into her first band and beyond, where nothing else matters but the music. Absolutely nothing. The chapters are short and the description spare but complete.

Clarice herself is an interesting main character. She’s very well-realised by Franks as a balls out, takes no shit hero of rock’n’roll. If I have any complaints about this book it would be that sometimes Clarice is a bit too cold and calculating. I would have liked to see a few more moments of humanity in her, but it’s no surprise they weren’t there. She is a force of heavy metal nature and no one gets away with messing with her. Except, perhaps, the Devil himself…

This book definitely had extra appeal to me as I’m a guitarist and a total metal head myself. I’ve played in bands, I’ve worked in music journalism and been on tours (nothing major, I should add – I’m talking pubs and university gigs, not stadiums). But I’ve also been backstage at major metal events thanks to friends in the industry and journalistic bonuses. I say all this to clarify my credentials when I say how authentic the music business side of this novel is. From the gigs to the dressing rooms to the record industry execs to the fans and inter-band rivalry, Franks maintains an authenticity that I couldn’t see through. That’s really important in a book like this. And it’s icing on the cake for anyone who’s a fan of rock and metal as well as a good horror yarn.

The plot is clever and convoluted, but it’s always clear and it leads to a conclusion that I certainly didn’t see coming, which is always a bonus and a good achievement on the part of the author. The supernatural elements don’t come into the story for a long time, but when they do it’s a slow build that leads to massive things. And I have to say, Clarice’s boyfriend and Bloody Waters frontman, Johnny Chernow, is perhaps my favourite character of the whole thing. He’s the mellowest warlock you could imagine.

This is a great book, superbly written and one of those things you can call truly different. I hope we see more from Franks if this is where he’s starting out with novels.


NOS4A2 by Joe Hill – review by Marty Young

HillJ-NOS4-UK&US_thumb[1]NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

ISBN: 978-0575130678

Reviewed by Marty Young

“Victoria McQueen has a secret gift for finding things: a misplaced bracelet, a missing photograph, answers to unanswerable questions. On her Raleigh Tuff Burner bike, she makes her way to a rickety covered bridge that, within moments, takes her wherever she needs to go, whether it’s across Massachusetts or across the country.

Charles Talent Manx has a way with children. He likes to take them for rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the NOS4A2 vanity plate. With his old car, he can slip right out of the everyday world, and onto the hidden roads that transport them to an astonishing – and terrifying – playground of amusements he calls “Christmasland.”
Then, one day, Vic goes looking for trouble—and finds Manx. That was a lifetime ago. Now Vic, the only kid to ever escape Manx’s unmitigated evil, is all grown up and desperate to forget. But Charlie Manx never stopped thinking about Victoria McQueen. He’s on the road again and he’s picked up a new passenger: Vic’s own son.

Exclusive to the print editions of NOS4A2 are more than 15 illustrations by award-winning Locke & Key artist Gabriel Rodríguez.”


I’ve been a fan of Joe Hill’s ever since I read his collection of short stories 20th Century Ghosts, and in particular his short tale called ‘Pop Art,’ about a friendship with a living inflatable boy. It sounds odd and somewhat crazy but it was a highly emotional tale that knocked me for a six. As I’m quickly discovering, Hill is very capable of making the odd believable and fuelling it with a lot of emotions along the way.

Since that first encounter, I’ve read Heart-Shaped Box and Horns, along with the brilliant Locke & Key, and have enjoyed them all. Subsequently, I was excited about NOS4A2 ever since I knew it was coming out. But the problem then is that expectations kind of get huge and you know the damn book won’t live up to it. I ended up having Hill’s monster tome (it’s 692 pages) sitting on my desk for several weeks before I dared pick it up and begin reading, not wanting to ruin just how good the thing looked (my hardcover came with deckle edging and included fantastic artwork by Hill’s Locke & Key partner Gabriel Rodríguez).

So was it worth it? Did it live up to my expectations? Yes, for the majority. Is it worth reading? Absolutely, without a doubt.

At first, the story sounded somewhat odd when I tried explaining it (there’s a guy who drives an old car that is an extension of himself and he rejuvenates himself by kidnapping kids and taking them to an imaginary world called Christmasland, where nothing bad ever happens, except the kids become frightful things with rows of small hook-like teeth and a desire for playing bloody games, while the heroine is mentally scarred by what happened in her past and can travel to her own make-believe world by a magical bike over a bridge that doesn’t exist but can be seen by others, meeting along the way a stuttering librarian who has her own magical scrabble tiles that tell her what’s going to happen…), but the more I thought about it, the more frightening it started to sound. Either way, the insanity is believable, the story engrossing, and the characters, each of them broken and troubled, connect strongly with the reader, and that empathy is what makes this novel work so well and what makes it so damn terrifying.

The heroine, Vic McQueen is a bad-ass tattooed biker mom with a foul mouth, who would do anything to protect her son from the true villain of the book, Charles Talent Manx III. She is troubled and damaged in the most extreme ways, even setting fire to her home by putting all of the telephones into the oven, and spending time in a mental hospital as a result (you can’t blame her, though, as dead kids from Christmasland were calling her, and that’s probably enough to derail the most sane of us). As a kid, she discovers she can ride across the Shorter Way Bridge on her Raleigh Tuff Burner bicycle to her ‘inscape,’ the world inside her. Everyone has an inscape; Vic uses hers to find lost things, while Manx visits his via his Rolls-Royce Wraith and takes what doesn’t belong to him. And as all inscapes are connected, Vic and Manx soon run into each other, adding the biggest scars to Vic’s then young life, and the reason for Manx’s desire for revenge.

The tale spans several decades, and when we leave Vic as a child and return to her as an adult with a young boy of her own, we can see the results of her troubled past gleaming from her eyes and colouring in all she does.  She has tried to convince herself her inscape was a delusion, but then the stuttering librarian turns up and sends her spiralling into madness again. Vic McQueen is a wholly believable character whose suffering drives her on and you can’t help but feel for her plight. Her obese geek husband (who saved her as a child) is like a giant but protective teddy bear, and you’re thankful for that ‘cos you know he is always going to have her back, and Vic deserves someone like that. Hell, I’d have her back. No bastard would hurt her under my watch.

Hill’s characters are the driving force of this story. Even Bing Partridge, Manx’s mentally challenged sidekick, evokes feelings of pity instead of hate. Bing believes he is doing the right thing throughout the book and has no idea he’s one of the villains, something which perhaps makes him come across as even more pitying and horrifying at the same time. That’s the same with Manx, too; he doesn’t see himself as evil, only as necessary in order to ‘save’ the children from a life of misery caused by unloving parents. But whereas Bing is the creepy guy you feel sorry for, Manx’s cheerfulness is always unsettling. He’s not nice at all.

There is a lot of horror in NOS4A2 but the novel is by no means explicit. The abduction of a child would be most parent’s worst nightmare, and the kidnapping of a parent as well is family-shattering. Bing has his horrible way with the parents but this horror is conducted off the page, with Bing thinking about the deep loving conversations he had with them as he teaches them about love. As Arthur Conan Doyle once said, “Where there is no imagination, there is no horror.” Here, Joe Hill leaves us to vividly imagine what these poor people endured in their final hours, and this shaded horror works a treat.

Perhaps the biggest sticking point for this reviewer was the ending, which didn’t really do the book justice. It’s difficult to comment too much here without giving it away, but it will suffice to say a character I had spent many hundreds of pages getting invested in, isn’t really afforded their dues. And to be honest, this left a bitter taste in my mouth. However, this is a small gripe about an otherwise highly enjoyable read. The ending doesn’t ruin the book and nor should it put you off.

The sneaky little references to the works of Hill’s dad, Stephen King, were a neat touch, too; there’s Pennywise’s Circus, Mid-World, Shawshank Prison, the True Knot (from King’s upcoming Doctor Sleep), and even a mention of King’s fictional town of Derry. Hill has said in interviews that instead of trying to hide from his father’s huge shadow, he would embrace it, and have a little fun. Indeed, despite the stark horror filling the pages of NOS4A2, there is a lot of playfulness throughout the book. Hill also references is own earlier work, in particular the Treehouse of the Mind from Horns, and the town of Lovecraft, MA, from Locke & Key.

NOS4A2 is a highly recommended book that can be devoured as easily as Charles Talent Manx III devours children. Joe Hill is already a wonderful storyteller, and NOS4A2, his biggest book in both size and scope to date, proves he is only getting better.

- review by Marty Young

Marty Young is a Bram Stoker nominated and Australian Shadows award winning editor, writer, and sometimes ghost hunter. He was the founding President of the Australian Horror Writers Association from 2005-2010, and one of the creative minds behind the internationally acclaimed Midnight Echo magazine, for which he also served as Executive Editor until mid-2013.
Marty’s first novel, 809 Jacob Street, will be published in late October by Black Beacon Books. His short horror fiction has been nominated for both the Australian Shadows and Ditmar awards, reprinted in Australian Dark Fantasy and Horror (‘the best of 2008’), and repeatedly included in year’s best recommended reading lists. Marty’s essays on horror literature have been published in journals and university textbooks in Australia and India, and he is also co-editor of the award winning Macabre; a Journey through Australia’s Darkest Fears, a landmark anthology showcasing the best Australian horror stories from 1836 to the present.

His website is


The Gate Theory by Kaaron Warren – review

gate_theory_final_hiresThe Gate Theory is the debut release from new Australian small publisher, Cohesion Press. Kaaron Warren is an established name in the field of Australian (and international) horror, so Cohesion did well to score this short reprint collection for their first title. The Gate Theory is a collection of five previously published short stories, without any particular theme other than Warren’s incredible and unique style. But, at heart, each story does address the pain of humanity and the blurred lines between good people and bad.

The title comes from A Concise Encylopaedia of Psychiatry where Warren, according to her website, came across the term “The Gate Theory of Pain” and knew she had found her title. It’s a fitting name.

The cover is classy and evocative, though as this is only an ebook release it suffers from not being legible in a thumbnail size, which might work against it for casual buyers. There is an introduction by A J Spedding, then the five stories are:

Purity, a story of a young girl pulled into a strange cult, run by an even stranger, very charismatic leader. Warren does a great job in this yarn of making laughter completely horrible and creepy.

That Girl is essentially a ghost story, but one with a very sad and poignant edge. It’s set in Fiji, where Warren lived for some years, and the tale captures the feel and superstition of that island nation very well.

Dead Sea Fruit is a story of anorexia and revenge, with a truly disturbing twist. It makes you wonder just who are the victims and who are the perpetrators.

The History Thief is by far my favourite story of the five. It’s a gentle and slow build, the tale of a quiet and isolated man and his adventures after death. The concept behind this story is truly inspired, again with a disturbing twist, and it’s expertly woven by Warren.

The Gaze Dogs of Nine Waterfall is possibly the most surreal of the collection, requiring the biggest suspension of disbelief, but again Warren takes the truly bizarre and makes it so very normal and human. Disturbingly so.

Each of these stories stretches the boundaries of both storytelling and character. Warren’s is a unique voice in horror. She has an ability to take us to places so utterly disturbing yet simultaneously so mundane and believable, that you start to look at people you meet with a sidelong glance. I call it The Warren Perception. It’s unavoidable. Read her work and you will start to look at people as she does. This is not necessarily a good thing, but it’s fascinating. I really hope this reprint collection helps to spread Warren’s fiction to a wider audience and I’m glad these stories are getting another outing. Highly recommended.


Lexicon by Max Barry – review

lexiconAt an exclusive school somewhere outside of Arlington, Virginia, students aren’t taught history, geography, or mathematics—they are taught to persuade. Students learn to use language to manipulate minds, wielding words as weapons. The very best graduate as “poets”, and enter a nameless organization of unknown purpose.

This is the description of Lexicon, the latest novel by Melbourne-based author, Max Barry. And it is a masterpiece. The story focusses primarily on two characters – street-smart teen runaway, Emily Ruff, and confused and innocent victim, Wil Parke.

Wil is brutally kidnapped by men who claim he is the secret weapon in a war between strange people with powerful magic, though he knows nothing of what is going on. Emily is recruited for her naturally persuasive skills after a poet watches her conning punters with a find-the-lady card game on the street.

The story is told in a mosaic of history style, following Emily’s education and introduction to the powerful and mysterious organisation of poets, alongside Wil’s present-day battle alongside the strange and enigmatic Eliot.

Barry’s handling of the timelines and the seemingly broken way the story is told is masterful, but that’s not the real genius of this book. For me, it’s in the connections Barry draws between modern privacy and data collection concerns and ancient ideas of persuasion and magic. He dissects language as a tool and as a weapon in fascinating and, frankly, quite frightening ways. The ideas behind the powers of coercion and the very real possibility of an organisation like that of the poets in this book are sobering.

There are a few small issues I have. Without spoilers, things like where the word in Broken Hill came from and how it was managed by the lab techs was probably the biggest issue for me. That’ll make sense when you read the book. And read the book you absolutely should. Aside from a few unanswered questions and small flaws in the internal logic of the story, this is nonetheless an ambitious and really quite astonishing achievement. One of the best books I’ve read in ages, I highly recommend it. I’ll certainly be looking to read this author’s other work now.