Author: John C Adams

Epeolatry Book Review: Nightmare at 20,000 Feet: Horror Stories

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Title: Nightmare at 20,000 Feet: Horror Stories
Author: Richard Matheson
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Non Basic Stock Line
Release Date: 5th January, 2002

Synopsis:

Remember that monster on the wing of the airplane? William Shatner saw it on The Twilight Zone, John Lithgow saw it in the movie-even Bart Simpson saw it. “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” is just one of many classic horror stories by Richard Matheson that have insinuated themselves into our collective imagination.

Here are more than twenty of Matheson’s most memorable tales of fear and paranoia, including:

“Duel,” the nail-biting tale of man versus machines that inspired Steven Spielberg’s first film;

“Prey,” in which a terrified woman is stalked by a malevolent Tiki doll, as chillingly captured in yet another legendary TV moment;

“Blood Son,” a disturbing portrait of a strange little boy who dreams of being a vampire;

“Dress of White Silk,” a seductively sinister tale of evil and innocence.

Personally selected by Richard Matheson, the bestselling author of I Am Legend and What Dreams May Come, these and many other stories, more than demonstrate why he is rightfully regarded as one of the finest and most influential horror writers of our generation.

Nightmare At 20,000 Feet (336 pages, pub Jan 5, 2002) is a collection of twenty short stories, previously published in an eclectic mix of magazines from Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine to Playboy.

 In addition to his well-known novels, many of which have been turned into successful Hollywood films, Matheson has decades of short story publication behind him. He’s also written episodes for much-loved TV shows like “The Twilight Zone”.

 The title story, the first in the anthology, explores the terror of aviation flying. My son has a private pilot’s license, so I don’t believe that terror to be true, but it’s fun to suspend disbelief. The rest of the book explores a variety of themes. In “Mad House”, forty-year-old English lecturer Chris Neal is pushed to his limit by the breakdown of his marriage, the strains of teaching, and that old friend—writer’s block. He reminded me of a turbo-charged version of Vladimir Nabokov’s heroes—broken and overwhelmed by all the demands placed upon him, slowly losing touch with reality. Unlike Nabokov’s gentle sufferers, Chris embraces his anger:

 “His thoughts drained off. He felt empty and helpless. He felt as though he could never write another word for the rest of his life. Maybe, he thought, sullenly displeased with the idea, maybe it was only the upset of her leaving that enabled my brain to find words.”

 Pressures of a wholly different kind face Jules in “Blood Son”, a vampire tale with a difference. I don’t know why we always assume the victim resists that first bite. I love how Matheson’s short story comes with a lighthearted twist:

“He found the page on the vampire bat. He tore it out and threw the book away.

He learned the selection by heart.

He knew how the bat made its wound. How it lapped up blood like a kitten drinking cream.”

My personal favourite is “Wet Straw”, in which John passes the lonely hours with a visit to an art gallery where he discovers that the pictures trigger powerful and painful memories of his late wife:

“He stopped in front of it.

It was a painting of a countryside. There was a big barn down in the valley.

He began to breathe heavily, and his fingers played on his tie. How ridiculous, he thought after a moment, that such a thing should make me nervous.”

“Wet Straw” was sad and moving, but also profoundly discomforting. 

You could say that about a lot of Matheson’s fiction, and I think emotional honesty lies at the heart of its continuing appeal.

Enjoy!

Available on Amazon and Book Shop.

Epeolatry Book Review: The Shining by Stephen King

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Our reviews may contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through the links in this article we may receive a small commission or referral fee. This happens without any additional cost to you.

Title: The Shining
Author: Stephen King
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Hodder Paperbacks
Release Date: 10th November 2011, this edition (28th January 1977, first publication)

Synopsis: Danny is only five years old, but in the words of old Mr Hallorann he is a ‘shiner’, aglow with psychic voltage. When his father becomes caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, Danny’s visions grow out of control. As winter closes in and blizzards cut them off, the hotel seems to develop a life of its own. It is meant to be empty. So who is the lady in Room 217 and who are the masked guests going up and down in the elevator? And why do the hedges shaped like animals seem so alive? Somewhere, somehow, there is an evil force in the hotel – and that, too, is beginning to shine . . 

This novel is classic early Stephen King, one of that famous run where he moves from horror subgenre to subgenre methodically outdoing anything that came before him. It’s also the prequel to the book Doctor Sleep, out now in cinemas.

After Carrie (his first novel) addressed coming of age in ways none of us are ever likely to forget, and Salem’s Lot took a good long look at vampires in a manner that scared us all witless in a rather different way, he looked inward for inspiration, drawing upon his visit to the Stanley Hotel in 1974 and combining it with a searingly honest portrait of the terrible effects of alcoholism.

The central characters are a family of three: failed English teacher and wannabe writer Jack Torrance, his long-suffering wife Wendy and their strange young son Danny. Back home in the east, Jack’s drinking and violent temper have made life too hot for him to continue in his position at an expensive prep school, and he’s urgently looking for a different way to support his family. Lacking much in the way of choice, he accepts the job of winter caretaker at the isolated Overlook Hotel high up in the Colorado Rockies.

The key trigger hinting that this career shift is unlikely to turn out well is the revelation that being stuck alone snowed in for months on end undermined the mental health of the last caretaker so badly that he killed himself and his family. The historic deaths of other hotel guests presents further reason for the Torrances to turn tail and follow the other staff back down the mountain pronto.

Jack descends into violent madness as the snow closes in around them in huge drifts and they get completely cut off. His mental unravelling is terrifyingly plausible. The hotel has a life of its own, playing its smug part in tipping Jack right over the edge while poor Danny is tormented by visions of blood and gore as he explores its lonely corridors.

The ‘shining’ after which the novel is named refers to Danny’s unusual ability to read people’s minds and imbibe something of their thoughts and feelings. This skill is shared to a lesser extent by the hotel’s chef Dick Hallorann, who Danny meets briefly before the hotel is closed up for the winter. It engenders a disturbing inner quality to the boy’s fear of what is happening inside the hotel, but also facilitates his eventual call for help from outside.

There’s so much to appreciate about this modern classic. It has a taut plot full of action and tension, which is deftly paced and satisfying even as it is terrifying to read. This is intermixed with considerable attention to the psychological portrait of the descent into insanity, triggered both from within by the effects of alcoholism on a naturally unstable individual and from without by the malicious meddling of a hotel which has a character and life of its own. It features just enough positivity to present a glimpse of how things might eventually turn out well, even as the odds remain against the protagonists all the way through. And there’s a glorious, cheeky plot twist to die for.

Enjoy!

5/5 stars

The Shining is available on Book Shop.

Epeolatry Book Review: Others by James Herbert

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Our reviews may contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through the links in this article we may receive a small commission or referral fee. This happens without any additional cost to you.

Title: Others
Author: James Herbert
Genre: Horror
Publisher: 12 April 2012
Release Date: Pan

Synopsis: In James Herbert’s Others, private investigator Nicholas Dismas is hired to track down a missing baby stolen away at birth, he finds himself immersed in a grim underworld of lies and deceit. His investigations ultimately lead him to a mysteriously located place with the seemingly innocent name of Perfect Rest, a nursing home where the elderly can live out their days in peace.

But appearances can be deceptive and Dismas discovers the shadowy presence of the Others lurking in the hidden rooms and passages of Perfect Rest. His own dark heart is called into question in the events that follow and, in an astonishing and spectacular finale, Dismas finally resolves the enigma of his existence and answers the disturbing questions. who and what are the Others?

I loved The Rats, The Fog, The Spear and countless other James Herbert novels so I thought I knew what to expect from one of his heroes. Then in 2000 I opened the first page of Others and all that was about to change.

Nick Dismas, foundling child and severely disabled, is a Brighton-based private investigator. Newly widowed Shelly Ripstone engages his firm to find her baby son, born eighteen years earlier in Dartford General Hospital. Shelly was told the boy had died. She never saw him. But she and her clairvoyant are convinced he’s alive. When Nick checks the birth and death registers at the General Registrars Office, there’s no record of Shelly’s little boy at all.

Nick tracks down Shelly’s old midwife, Hildegard Vogel, at the Perfect Rest Nursing Home. He’s immediately on his guard when the staff are cagey about her receiving visitors. At the front of the queue to dissuade Nick from pursuing the search for Shelly’s son is the owner Dr Wisbeech:

‘It was only later, when she began to remember certain things, that she became upset.’

It was then that I noticed a change in him, a stiffening of body, an even greater sharpness in those cold, blue eyes. It was barely perceptible, but alterations in moods is another thing I’m good at recognizing – or sending.

He scarcely missed a beat. ‘And what was it that the poor woman remembered?’

Nick begins to be plagued by dark and disturbing visions and dreams. Shelly’s clairvoyant, Louise, becomes concerned for his safety and perplexed, too, at the auras of frightened individuals reaching out for help:

‘They aren’t far away, Dis…Their presence is so strong, yet they’re so confused. Oh…Dis…they’re desperately afraid.’

When Nick strikes up a rapport with Constance, one of the nurses in the rest home, he begins to find out for the first time what it feels like to have someone be attracted to him and want to be with him despite his disabilities.

I enjoyed the book very much the first time I read it. It’s full of satisfying action and plot twists that come together seemlessly at the end, and it has a likeable but flawed narrator.

Others came into its own for me after my husband became severely disabled. Reading it again I enjoyed even more having a hero who isn’t able bodied and a heroine who has a disability of her own to struggle with. The writer conveyed a real sympathy and an understanding of what it feels like to be (or be with) someone that people stare at in the street – although thankfully in that regard the world is changing for the better.

Enjoy!

4/5 stars

Others is available on amazon and all good bookshops.

Epeolatry Book Review: A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising

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Our reviews may contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through the links in this article we may receive a small commission or referral fee. This happens without any additional cost to you.

Title: A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising
Author: Raymond A. Villareal
Genre: Horror 
Publisher: Mullholland Books
Release Date: 5 June 2018

Synopsis: In this wildly original debut – part social-political satire, part international mystery – a new virus turns people into something inhuman, upending society as we know it.

The body of a young woman found in an Arizona border town, presumed to be an illegal immigrant, disappears from the town morgue. To the young CDC investigator called in to consult with the local police, it’s an impossibility that threatens her understanding of medicine. Then, more bodies, dead from an inexplicable disease that solidified their blood, are brought to the morgue, only to also vanish. Soon, the U.S. government – and eventually biomedical researchers, disgruntled lawmakers, and even an insurgent faction of the Catholic Church – must come to terms with what they’re too late to stop: an epidemic of vampirism that will sweep first the United States, and then the world.

With heightened strength and beauty and a stead diet of fresh blood, these changed people, or “Gloamings”, rapidly rise to prominence in all aspects of modern society. Soon people are beginning to be “re-created”, willingly accepting the risk of death if their bodies can’t handle the transformation. As new communities of Gloamings arise, society is divided, and popular Gloaming sites come under threat from a secret terrorist organization. But when a charismatic and wealthy businessman, recently turned, runs for political office – well, all hell breaks loose.

“It was like the Mafia: once you were in, you couldn’t leave until you were smoked. Blood in, blood out.”

This fictional oral history taps the post-modern novel with deftness and confidence – interview transcripts and witness statements jostle alongside footnotes to their text and magazine articles in order to build up a multi-perspective viewpoint of the uprising as the narrative unfolds.

The premise underlying the choice of structure is very simple: bodies disappear from morgues and gradually an epidemic of vampirism spreads across America. They are sufferers called ‘Gloamings’ and they rapidly become successful, prominent and influential in society. Soon, lesser individuals are queuing up to be ‘turned’. The Gloaming section of the population faces threats from terrorism and public scrutiny when one of their own runs for public office. Vampire fiction has long included a strand where vampires, courtesy of their virus and longevity, are smarter, better informed, fitter and stronger than the rest of us. This novel has already acquired a well-earned place within that sub genre.

Against a backdrop of real socio-political trends in the US, increasingly mirrored here in the UK and Western Europe too, it isn’t surprising that this interesting and fascinating novel garnered huge attention upon publication. A film is set to follow, and as a story it should translate well to the big screen. Think ‘Outbreak’ with Dustin Hoffman combined with an ‘X Men’ feel.

We live in divided times, and in contemporary societies questions abound about elitism and meritocracy, alongside ‘the other’ as horror metaphor or as generic trope wielded for political purposes. Our wonderful diversity as human beings means that we are each of us by definition somebody else’s ‘other’. This novel provides an interesting consideration of whether someone’s differences to us can be embraced when what makes them uniquely special yields them greater influence, income and prestige than you or I enjoy (or believe we deserve). This is exactly the situation the Gloamings find themselves in.

There are no easy answers to these issues, and in fairness the author does not attempt to provide any. Think of it more as a book that raises questions and elucidates them through fictional characters struggling in highly uncertain times. This isn’t a drawback, in my view, since it may still be too early to expect any literature to be able to provide answers to the challenges we are facing right now.

I enjoyed this novel very much. Notwithstanding the post-modern structure, the characterisation was deftly developed so a personal note pervaded its pages, with plenty of focus on the individual’s experiences and quite a bit of action. It really felt like I was reading something innovative and fresh.

Enjoy!

5 out of 5 stars

A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising is available on Book Shop and Amazon.