Horror reviews!

As promised, friends, here are all the reviews I left on amazon.com for the horror novels I bought on Kindle recently! 😀

 

The Specimen:

Let me get the bad out of the way first. The writing in this story doesn’t rise far above ‘competent’ (indeed, any book with a chapter titled “The Man With One Nipple” is unlikely to win the Nobel Prize for Literature), the characters, while likable (for the heroes) or eminently hateable (for the villains and shady-organization-that-opposes-the-villains-but-is-almost-as-bad) aren’t exactly realistic, and the premise behind the story is the stuff of old pulp comic books–with one turn in the plot I won’t spoil here (but it involves a dead character managing to revive, in a way) perhaps being too goofy even for those!

Despite all that, however, I still give this four stars. Why? Because for 3 dollars on Kindle, it’s a damn fun ride that doesn’t take itself too seriously. I mean, I can’t be too hard on a book that non-ironically uses a word like “nipplevore,” and there’s enough action of all sorts (shooting, explosions, all that sort of stuff, along with a sequel hook!) to keep you entertained! If you go in looking for great horror literature on the level of Stephen King or HP Lovecraft, sure, you’ll be disappointed. But if you’re looking for a fun romp to keep you occupied for a few hours, you could do a lot worse than “The Specimen.”

The Montauk Monster:

Watch out, small spoilers ahead!

This is, overall, a pretty good way to spend 2 dollars on Kindle and a few hours of your day, at least if you enjoy (as I do) tons of gore! The basic plot isn’t anything to write home about–beasties from a government experiment gone wrong escape into a nearby town to wreak havoc, people are torn to bits (and explode in suitably horrific fashion), and it’s up to our law-enforcement hero and heroine to put a stop to them, all while trying to avoid the nefarious forces of the US government, trying to cover up their involvement in the whole mess. The writing is servicable, and the characters not outstanding, but distinct enough for me to tell them apart and likable enough for me to hope they survive. So the author’s done solid, if not exceptional, work on that front.

There was one thing I particularly liked about this story, though: the research put into it. I’ll try to avoid spoilers, but I’ll say that while I had heard of the Montauk Monster before, I’d never heard of the infectious agent research center at Plum Island. I’d thought it was the author’s own invention, but looking it up, it really did exist, and did have some rather scary budget issues in the past! While, thankfully, it never produced any beasties as destructive as those in the book IRL, it’s still disconcerting to think of any biological research lab being “underfunded.” So I gave this book an extra star for being well-researched and bringing an important matter to the attention of its readers!

Parasite Deep:

This is, in my book, an “Okay” novel at best. None of the characters are particularly likable; by the end I found myself not caring if any died (even the male and female protagonists, who were relatively less grating than some of the other people in the story). It’s written well enough to understand, but not well enough to really stick with a person after finishing it. And the human villain was pretty dumb, IMO–he’s evil and crazy, but no clear reason is ever given for his state of mind, other than maybe some weird stuff with his family. Not very compelling.

I gave this 3 stars rather than 2, however, because the monsters were *scary.* Minor spoilers ahead:

I never thought anyone could make barnacles intimidating, but McKenzie succeeded in that. The image of sea zombies–made of human and marine life–lurching around, covered in pitch-black barnacles, with huge barnacle tentacles bursting out of every orifice in their bodies–was pretty striking. So, despite an overall mediocre effort, the monsters propel this book just barely into “not bad” territory.

The Black:

Out of the batch of cheap Kindle horror novels I bought recently (including stuff like Hunter Shea’s “The Montauk Monster,” Pete Kahle’s “The Specimen,” and Shane McKenzie’s “Parasite Deep,” among others) I think I might have liked this one the best. On an isolated oil rig equipped with the latest drilling technology, the roughnecks encounter a strange new species of deep-seafloor tube worm arranged in peculiar circular patterns, and at the same time manage to strike what they think is a huge well of black gold. But when they take a sample of the ‘petroleum’ up to research, they find out it’s something much more than oil–and those “tubeworms” they saw were part of something much bigger! As you can imagine, all hell quickly breaks loose.

With that summary out of the way: The thing I liked most in this book were the characterization and attention to detail. In most of the other Kindle horror novels I’d read, the characters were at best “servicable”–just enough personality to get me to care about them, but not enough to differentiate them strongly, establish them as convincing people, or give them convincing motivations. In this tale, however, Cooley spends a whole lot of time establishing the characters, their personalities, and their motivations even before the scary action really starts. It very much paid off, in my estimation. Halfway through the book, I felt as if the various inhabitants of the oil rig–the divers, the rig chief, the chief engineer, the scientist, etc.–were all actual people rather than tools used by the author. Their thought processes were so well drawn-out that I was able to sympathize with each of them even when they were at odds, such as the engineer Calhoun and the rig chief Vraebel.

This also helps the pacing a great deal. This is a horror story I’d describe as a “slow boil.” The beginning might seem boring, since so much time was spent establishing the characters and their jobs on the oil rig, but there were enough glimpses of something suspicious–the strange worm formations, the way the ocean floor seems to *shift*–to keep your interest,

My one complaint would be with the monstrous antagonist itself (spoilers follow):

Things on the rig really start to go bad when one of the divers is infected by one of the samples they took from near a circle-worm formation. It turned out that the “worms” were actually part of this humungous beastie sleeping under the ocean floor, and the “oil” they’d been drilling was its blood! The diver got infected by its blood and turned into this liquid, goopy black creature that promptly begins to assimilate the rest of the rig crew, engulfing them and adding their biomass to its gooey self, dividing, and generally spreading across the rig with terrifying speed, melting away stuff around the rig as it does so.

This might seem really interesting and innovative at first (the huge monster the stuff came from is, sensibly, left mostly to the reader’s imagination), but I couldn’t help but think of Dean Koontz’s “Phantoms” as I read it. In that book, the main antagonist was a huge mass of amorphous black jelly that dissolved its victims with acid and added them to its biomass. Now, Koontz’s jellything was much smarter, as it actually absorbed the memories of its victims and could transform any part of itself into pretty much any creature imaginable. Cooley’s antagonist, on the other hand, doesn’t seem particularly smart and can’t duplicate its victims; it can only morph its shape into pseudopods, roughly human-looking things, and so on. Still, after reading Koontz’s book a few years back the monster in this one seemed decidedly underwhelming. Maybe it might seem more interesting in the side story, “The Black: Arrival,” which I may check out later.

Aside from that caveat about the monster, this struck me as a very, very strong book, and I definitely feel I got my money’s worth. I’d give it a little over 4 stars if I could, but as it stands, let anyone who reads this review know that I heartily recommend “The Black!” Now to see if “Arrival” matches it…

Grimweave:

In this novella, a Marine sniper in Viet Nam, Michael Spiers, encounters a bizarre, monstrous creature in the jungle that kills his commanding officer and sends him fleeing into the hands of the Viet Cong. They treat him to a harrowing time in a prison camp before getting rescued by U.S forces. Unfortunately, he’s promptly dragooned into a special mission to investigate the creature that killed his superior, and despite being accompanied by a hard-as-nails special ops team, things go from bad to worse as the soldiers discover that the jungle is full of monstrosities no human being has ever encountered and lived!

With that summary out of the way–and with a warning to folks here to watch out for some spoilers ahead–I’ll say that I rather liked this brief but intense little book. The combat scenes were very well written and had me on the edge of my seat, and I thought the dialogue fairly convincingly approximated the way actual members of the military speak. It also does a good job of building up tension and dropping little hints about the creatures until they (and their true nature) are revealed.

Alas, that writing wasn’t stellar beyond those strong points, and while the protagonist’s superior (a bloodthirsty crazy who loves war a bit too much) was quite striking, the protagonist himself, along with the Marine Force Recon team he joined later on, weren’t really memorable or distinctive. I also found the end of the story to be a little hard to swallow (major spoilers ahead, watch out):

It turned out that all the monsters were actually aliens, which came from a huge ship that had landed in Viet Nam centuries ago. They’d been using the area as a ‘game preserve’ for all that time, hunting humans, of course. The book ended with the buried spaceship lifting off and going back into the stars. Spiers implies the U.S government knew this, because they gave the team leader an “omega clearance” and wouldn’t have sent anyone in anyways to investigate a monster story unless they knew there was a goldmine of alien tech to be gained. But if they knew, why would they just send a single team in? The chance of getting alien technology struck me as the sort of thing the U.S would send a whole army to secure, not just one special ops team, no matter how highly trained.

Still, despite this, I found the novel very enjoyable overall. Definitely a fun read, and worth the price, too.

Below:

Seems as if I’ve been giving this review a lot recently. Ryan Lockwood’s “Below” doesn’t do anything poorly, but it also doesn’t do anything exceptionally well either, in my estimation. The writing is generally clear and understandable, and the characters are portrayed well enough to differentiate themselves from each other and keep me from hating them, but they’re not very memorable, either. I gave this book an extra star because the science behind the tentacled antagonists (I don’t want to say more than that, for spoilers) is actually reasonably plausible, which I liked. For those of you not as easily impressed, though, you can probably consider this a 3-star book.

What Lurks Beneath:

A sequel to Lockwood’s “Below,” taking up some time after that book left off. The male and female protagonists of the previous novel, Will Sturman and Valerie Martell, come up against *another* oversized, carnivorous cephalopod eating a bunch of people (this time around the Bahamas). I liked this book less than the first one, simply because it felt, to me, like just a retread. Though Val and Will’s shaky relationship (and the way their problems get resolved) wasn’t poorly done, the structure of the novel as a whole felt too derivative. Many-tentacled monster gobbles up some unfortunate mooks in the beginning, protagonist finds out and prepares to investigate for herself, monster eats more people, then the good guys band together and kill it in its ‘lair.’

Now, there are a few semi-interesting subplots involving the history of the Bahamian natives and US Navy hydrophones, but nothing particularly relevant to the monster itself or the conclusion of the book (there was also a brief bit with a ‘wise old woman’ type stock character which I found kind of dumb). Lockwood also gives a plausible scientific explanation for the size and aggressiveness of the beastie in “From Beneath” as well, but I didn’t find myself as impressed with that the second time around. I can’t give this a negative review since it still had me turning the pages, wanting to see what happened, but it’s just not good enough for me to give a glowing review either.

Tidal Grave:

A pretty OK novel. The protagonist, a curmudgeonly but good-hearted ship captain, was the strongest part of the story for me, I liked his characterization and dialogue. Aside from that, though, it’s a pretty standard “Drilling rig wakes up ancient beastie that promptly starts eating everybody” type of tale. Nothing particularly bad about it, but nothing particularly striking either.

Still Water:

Not exactly up there with Stephen King, but for 3 dollars on Kindle it’s a damn good value, in my estimation. The protagonists, Kyle and Maya, are likable (though I didn’t find Kyle’s spunky lesbian sister to be particularly realistic) and reasonably well-written. The supernatural antagonist and its minion monsters are suitably scary and graphically described. I do have to admit they’re not particularly original, though–without giving away too much, I didn’t find much separating the bad guy in this novel from other kinds of Ancient Lovecraftian Evils common among horror books. Still, if you’re looking for a quick read to pass the time, you could do a lot worse than this. I think I may check out the rest of Mr. Macumber’s work!

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One comment

  1. […] everything I wrote about Hunter Shea’s other work, “The Montauk Monster,” applies to this one as well. There’s nothing exceptionally compelling about this little […]

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