The Devil’s Only Friend by Dan Wells (John Cleaver book No.4)

The Devil’s Only Friend is the first in a new Trilogy starring John Wayne Cleaver.  There have apparently been three earlier books but The Devil’s Only Friend can be read as a standalone and indeed it’s not difficult to pick up on what took place previously.  Having said that I really enjoyed this and to a cetain extent wish I had picked up the previous books, even though I admit that I probably won’t do so now, but just purely from a character development perspective.

In The Devil’s Only Friend John is now working with the FBI.  His prior experiences dealing with, and by that I mean killing, demons (or the withered as they’re called here) make him a necessary part of the team.  He’s not completely trusted by his colleagues of course, and let’s face it that’s hardly a surprise given his personality.  John definitely suffers from an antisocial personality disorder – I would say that he is a sociopath (or maybe even a psychopath)?? and maybe his backstory would have been a bit more definitive in that respect.  For now I’m going with sociopath.  He fantasises, in a fairly calculated manner, about killing people and animals and he seems to have a set of rules by which he keeps his tendencies under control – including counting sequences.  Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself.

The world we’re dealing with here is a modern, everyday setting, the difference being that demons live amongst the humans.  They, for the most part, look human and integrate into society.  They’re very strong and dangerous though and for the purpose of this story they’re called the withered – because they lack something, something that they need in order to survive and something that they usually have to take, forcibly, from others.  John’s role here is to find out what that special ‘something’ is in each particular case so that the FBI can, in as carefully controlled and safe a setting as possible, kill the withered they’re currently tracking.  Now, the FBI, may finally be aware of the withered but that doesn’t mean that there doesn’t exist a LOT of doubt and skepticism and the team John works with is relatively understaffed and under resourced as a result.  A situation which isn’t going to help when the enemy becomes aware of their existence and decides to bring the war to them instead of remaining as sitting ducks.

I thought this was a really good read.  When I first picked it up I wasn’t sure if it would all be horror and whilst there is horror involved this is a bit deeper than that.  We of course have the withered – but these creatures are not simply evil – they’re driven themselves by whatever it is they lack.  Then we have John, and it’s difficult to really know yet whether I really like him or not as some of his internal thoughts are frankly a bit scary, who suffers from his own personality disorder and would be considered to be damaged or maybe even missing something fundamental to human nature himself.

There are a number of characters involved, none of them are really particularly well expanded upon – and I don’t mean that in a negative way but just more that they play a lesser role that John – and I will also just mention that the author is fairly ruthless with his cast so you might want to bear that in mind.

The one constant in John’s life, carried forward from his past experiences is Brooke – a previous friend/girl next door who has rather unfortunately become the hidden weapon in John and the FBI’s arsenal against the withered.  I won’t go too much into that other than to say she is an interesting character to read and I would enjoy more involvement from her.

The Devil’s Only Friends was a great start to this new series.  Part murder mystery, part horror, part psychological thriller with an unusual main protagonist.  I’m definitely interested in seeing how John develops.  Like I say, I’m not sure what to feel about him just yet although, in spite of his inner turmoil, he’s clearly not all bad and at least wants to be ‘better’.

I will definitely read on with this series.

I received a copy of this from the publishers via Netgalley for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

Brood by Chase Novak

Posted On 27 September 2014

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Brood by Chase Novak was one of my holiday reads – not exactly a beach read (but then I’m not really a beach person!).  The story starts with Aunt Cynthia winning her custody case to take Adam and Alice, her niece and nephew back to their old home.  Adam and Alice have been kept in a string of foster homes since the violent deaths of their parents.  Apparently Brood is the follow up to Breed.  I haven’t read Breed but I don’t think that was detrimental to this read as I think it stands very well on it’s own.  There is some backstory but not enough to be annoying, just enough to clue you in to a story that takes off at a rather rapid pace.

The back history to this is that Cynthia’s sister and husband were struggling to conceive children and in a last ditch, not to mention rather expensive, attempt they undertook radical and painful treatment that resulted in the twins birth.  Unfortunately the side effects were severe and most of the parents who took the treatment were little able to cope with the changes which seemed to turn them almost into animals themselves.  It was from this that Alice and Adam escaped and as the story picks up we realise that they are in a desperate struggle themselves.  They already know that the onset of puberty could start to bring about drastic changes to their own nature and they’re desperately trying to fight time.

I did enjoy this book and found it quite a compelling read.  It’s also quite a thought provoking novel in more than one way looking at family and how miscommunication or lack of communication can be fundamental to huge gaps in understanding.

Cynthia, Adam and Alice make an attempt at trying to become a family but whilst Cynthia may think she loves the twins she really has very little notion of their true character.  They also, whilst wanting to be ‘regular’ kids and wanting to contain their inner nature are actually most comfortable when running with their own kind.  A feral pack of children who were the result of similar treatment and have now converged to live together in Central Park.  Hidden from most people they are free to roam there and let their true natures roam free.

On top of this there is the added element whereby somebody seems to be seeking out these children and abducting them for who knows what reason.  This person currently has his sights set on Alice and Adam and his stalking their home.

The home itself adds another element to the story.  The house bore witness to all sorts of atrocities before the children escaped and was left in a ravaged state overrun by vermin and partially destroyed.  Cynthia, always a little envious of her sister’s wealth coveted this house and now, with the custody of the children, she finally moves in.  Frankly, I confess, I wouldn’t want to live there!  Not just because of it’s horrific past but it’s so damn big – you wouldn’t know if somebody was living in one of the other rooms.  You’d certainly never hear them.  And, on top of that the house still seems to play host to a number of critters, living in the walls and cellar.  Bats and Rats!

This is a fairly short and quick read so I’m not going to elaborate further.

As I said, I enjoyed this but I did have criticisms.  For example, as someone wanting to start afresh would I personally take these children back to their former home.  No.  I just don’t think I would.  (Although this could have been difficult to get round in terms of the custody agreement).  On top of that I think there could have been a little more psychological build up.  I wanted more chills really and think there was just a touch of creepiness missing and a missed opportunity in a way.

Having said that the author definitely achieves horror aplenty from the attacks in the park to the horrible guy who is stalking the children.  There’s also the whole element that you want to believe that the children will behave like children, that they’re just misunderstood somehow!

A book of nature vs nurture with nuances of ‘be careful what you wish for’!  On top of this there is an underlying theme of parenting and the struggles that occur as their children, once so angelic, turn into beastly teenagers.  Okay, it’s a very exaggerated look but nonetheless!  Whilst I might not have absolutely loved this I think it does perfectly what it sets out to.  It’s a little chilling, particularly at the start of the novel, it’s scary, in terms of being scared for your children and also being scared of them.  It has a certain level of tension and also scenes of horror.  Really very readable and well written although if you’re a little squeamish you might not like certain elements of the story.

I received a copy of this through the publishers through Netgalley, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

I’m submitting this for one of my RIP reads over at Stainless Steel Droppings.

American Elsewhere by R J Bennett

Just finished reading American Elsewhere by Robert Jackson Bennett.  I’ve been longing, nay gagging, to read this book for quite some time, partly because I’ve really enjoyed all this author’s other books and also I read a stellar review over at Little Red Reviewer.  What can I say – other than it doesn’t disappoint.

In usual Bennett fashion the book seems to defy any particular genre.  Is it sci-fi?  Yes, in some respects.  Is it horror? Definitely in certain places.  Is it spooky and paranormal? The first half of the book definitely fits into that, well, actually, so does the second half!.  Is it quirky and are there tentacles aplenty…I couldn’t possibly say, or at least if I told you I’d have to kill you – so think on!

Where to begin with this review!   The book opens with a funeral and a will reading.  Mona’s father having passed away has bequeathed upon her his worldly goods.  No real sorrow here as there seems to have been little love lost between the two.  Mona seems to be there for one purpose only – to get her hands upon her late father’s red sports car – that is until she discovers that there’s a house also involved in the will.  A house that appears to have belonged to her mother and is situated in a place called Wink!  An opportunity to maybe finally discover more about the mother she lost at such an early age and in such strange circumstances that the details have been indelibly imprinted upon her mind.

And so Mona sets off to lay claim to her property.  Of course this isn’t as easy as it at first appears.  The town of Wink seems to be unheard of.  It doesn’t show on any maps, nobody can give you meaningful directions, you basically have more chance of happening upon Brigadoon.  Remember that horror movie, I think it was called Children of the Corn (but I could be making that up) where once you’ve driven into the village, no matter which road you take to exit it leads you straight back?  Well, this is the exact opposite.  Wink seems to exist in a bubble. That being said Mona somehow manages to find a way in – making a rather dramatic entrance in her flashy red car as she interrupts a rather sombre funeral that practically all the town seems to be attending.

Wink is a strange place.  Picture postcard perfect and yet goose bump forming with its quiet streets and creepy inhabitants.  You could be forgiven for thinking Mona has entered the land of Stepford and yet this isn’t all about perfect partners in flowery pinafores making preserves.  Things in Wink are not quite as they seem.  The facades are perfect but inside the walls a different story unfolds.  And, people don’t go out at night. There seems to be an unspoken agreement that its best to stay indoors!  In trying to uncover more background about her mother Mona begins to reveal the weirdness that is Wink.  Sometimes out of the corner of her eye things look different than they first seemed and after forming a tentative friendship with a couple of the more eccentric locals cracks begin to appear in the outer veneer.  Is it wise to dig too deeply and has Mona’s arrival in the small town of Wink become the catalyst for a string of events that everyone will come to regret.  Like I’m going to answer that!

The problem with reviewing this book is that it would be so easy to spoil the reveal and I really don’t want to do that so I’m basically not going to elaborate on the plot at all.  On to other points

This is a big book with plenty of detail and information and yet it doesn’t feel slow.  There’s this delicious creepiness that draws you in until you realise that you’ve read what effectively is the first half of the novel and what then turns into the fundamental turning point for the whole story.

In terms of characters.  Lets just say they’re an eclectic bunch – not only the inhabitants of the town (and the outer boundaries of the town) but the owner and employees of a rather sleazy bar called the Roadhouse (situated just out of the town boundaries) – rather a den of iniquity with drugs, fighting, prostitution and a sinister and bizarre partnership between the owner and an unknown man who supplies the drugs that make the place a magnet for certain types.  Of course he doesn’t supply these drugs out of the goodness of his little old heart and the services he requires in exchange are odd at best and nightmare inducing at worst (plus – there’s a particular scene which leads to the discovery of where these drugs actually originate and it’s pretty revolting to say the least – I think it would be enough to make anybody think twice!)

Plus, there are even odder characters that live in the forests on the outskirt of Wink – giant characters that seem to inhabit strange places and one particular character that dwells in a cave filled with tiny rabbit skulls – be very afraid of this particular person!

Then we have Mona – she’s really quite cool.  Got a whole bunch of attitude and I confess a bit of a potty mouth but it fits in with her persona and doesn’t feel gratuitous.  Mona never really settled down and a series of sad events in her past seem to have turned her into a bit of a hard case loner.  She certainly isn’t a shrinking violet and doesn’t need rescuing – she can damn well look after herself thank you very much.  I wouldn’t say I love Mona but she is a good character to read and the whole turning into a ‘green beret’ type kick ass in the forest was great readingl.

In terms of criticism I think the only point I would make is that I didn’t feel any particular attachment for any of the characters.  I didn’t dislike them and I was crazy intrigued to know what was going on but I didn’t have that strange reader/character bond that you sometimes seem to feel for these imaginary people.  That confessed it certainly didn’t stop me from feeling gripped and I wonder if it’s the author’s intention that you feel this way towards the characters – they’re all a little odd after all.

The setting is really very well portrayed and the town easy to envisage.  Shrouded in mystery – why is this town here, how come nobody ever leaves.  What strangeness exists in the woods and who is the guy with the long rabbit like ears (or could they be horns)!

On top of this – there’s this whole scene where one of the more unusual characters uses a scene from a Gene Kelly film – I loved that scene.  Sorry, I know it’s a bit of a teaser to write this in this way but there’s nothing else for it!

Plus – who’d have thought sibling rivalry could be so drastic.

Anyway, that’s all I’m going to not say about it!  Consider yourself teased and go check it out for yourselves.  If you want to read about a mysteriously creepy little town and the whys and wherefores of the strange inhabitants who live there then pick up American Elsewhere.

Other novels by RJ Bennett – all really good: The Troupe/Mr Shivers/The Company Man.

The Ghosts of Sleath by James Herbert

As part of my Classics Club challenge I recently undertook to join the Classic Spin (see here).  For this a book was picked from random from a list of your own chosen classics book list.  The number 14 was picked and my No.14 was The Ghosts of Sleath.

I haven’t read any James Herbert for many years so was keen to see how I felt about this particular novel or more to the point how this experienced would compare to my younger self.

The story’s main protagonist is a psychic investigator – or ghost hunter if you will – called David Ash.  I hadn’t realised in picking this book up that David Ash appeared in Herbert’s earlier novel Haunted where he investigated a haunted house – I’m pretty sure I’ve seen a film or screen adaptation of the Haunted.  Anyway, at the start of the novel David is asked to go check out a possible haunting in the small village of Sleath.  However, this is much more than just a haunted house.  This is a whole haunted village.  Of course, even in spite of David’s previous ghostly experience he still remains sceptical of the whole ghostly phenomenon and so strides boldly into Sleath with every intention of setting up his paraphernalia and exposing a fraud.

As soon as he reaches Sleath, which isn’s easy as it seems to be nestled away, he immediately encounters a small boy on the road into the village who he nearly hits with his car.  Upon further inspection of course there is no boy to be found.  Sleath sounds like a chocolate box type of village.  Picturesque cottages nestled around a village green, a pond, small school and a church.  Why then is the place so unknown.  Visitors stay away and the welcome at the local inn is less than cheerful.  David then takes himself off to meet the local vicar – whose daughter is responsible for calling for the investigation in the first place following a number of suspected ghostly visitations and apparitions.  And the two seem to share a strange psychic connection which develops into more as the story progresses.

Immediately there is a very strong sense of paranoia.  The villagers are all unfriendly, which you could mistake for simple suspicion of outsiders, but comes across as something more.  A lot of them seem nervous and look sleep deprived and within very short shrift of David arriving two people have been murdered, one in a particuarly grisly fashion.

On top of this we have the remains of the local country manor which was burnt down.  A place which seems to ooze ominious darkness and the local school where school children can be heard singing ‘The Lord of the Dance’ – even though the school is no longer open!

I must admit that I’m glad I read this.  I guess it’s a combination of ghost and horror story mixed in.  It’s not all particularly unique and I wouldn’t say there were any major ‘wow’ moments but I really enjoyed the writing style.  It comes across almost as an old fashioned tale and puts me in mind a little of Susan Hill.  I would also say this isn’t character driven, in fact there’s such an abundance of characters that we jump between that there’s very little time to get to know anybody particularly well or form any real attachment but again, I think because there’s such a lot happening and all told in a way that is really quite intriguing there is literally never a dull moment!  And you can’t help but be totally intrigued about what will eventually happen – not to mention it would be a little pointless getting too attached to some of these characters as Herbert is pretty ruthless to say the least.

What I did think was interesting is that although Herbert is writing about a haunted village here rather than a haunted house – it’s almost as though he treats it in the same style in terms of being a self contained haunting.  The ghosts never leave the boundaries of the village in much the same way as ghosts don’t leave the house they’re haunting.  Even when a pea soup fog descends it stays masking the village and doesn’t spread further afield.

In terms of criticisms I don’t really have a lot.  I enjoyed the writing style but the only thing I would say, and perhaps this will be a bonus for some people, is apart from a particular instance based inside the church, I never experienced that chill that you have sometimes when reading something a bit creepy where the hairs on the back of your neck seem to literally rise and you have a horrible feeling of somebody watching you!  But, I wouldn’t necessarily say this was a bad thing.  Like I said, the story very much crosses over into horror and the last hundred pages kept me hooked waiting to see what was really going on and how it would pan out.

So, how did this compare.  Well, I think if I’d read this when I was younger and going through my horror/slasher/thriller stage I probably would not have enjoyed this, even though it’s fairly fast pace – I think I was probably looking more for the creeped out factor then.  As it is now and with a little more patience this wasn’t the case and I liked the style of writing.

So, I’m pleased to complete my Classic Spin challenge and also this counts as my first read from my Classics Club list – one down – 49 to go!

 

Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig

Just finished reading Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig which was frankly outstanding and I quite literally couldn’t put it down.  Now, I wasn’t really planning on reading this series and I have in fact not read the first book Blackbirds.  Basically, I ordered this from the library – not realising I was picking up the second in this series.  I did of course realise my mistake when I went to pick it up but I thought I’d just give it a few pages and see how things went.  I confess that I’d read a few negative reviews for Blackbirds that made me hesitate to pick it up and starting off with Mockingbird I could relate a little to those comments I’d read but within a few chapters I was under the spell.

Mockingbird brings to us Miriam.  Miriam, following a trauma in her early adult life, has been gifted with the strange ability to see how and when a person will die.  Unfortunately, she has no control over this strange psychic ability and it therefore occurs whenever she has physical contact with another person, so shaking hands or exchanging items or any other of the many ways in which we have regular contact with others.  It’s not a particularly endearing ability this – looking at people in their final throes of death – whether it be through disease, accident or any of the other many ways to die such as murder or suicide.  At the start of this book Miriam is trying to live a regular existence with Louis, who she apparently met in book No.1.  She has a job at a 9 to 5 and even a home of sorts.  But, she’s getting itchy feet – or more to the point itchy hands.  She’s been controlling her ability and it’s starting to build a tension inside that’s about to erupt.  Everything is about to get turned on it’s head in a very dramatic fashion.

Basically put we have a horror story with a difference and there’s certainly a pretty horrid story involved here with rather grisly murders.  I’m not going to deny that this book is harsh.  Bad language and then some.  Murders galore.  It’s not a pretty thing.  Miriam has led a hard life so far and this hasn’t given her any airs and graces.  She’s a bit foul mouthed, she’d as soon insult people as make friends and yet in this story you can definitely see she’s not as tough as she acts.  She does have a hard exterior but it’s starting to crack, just a little.  But even with all her cussing and such like she can be pretty funny.

I really liked the story line in this and the eventual reveal.  I enjoyed all the little appearances with talking blackbirds and visitations from dead people. I also liked the way the story was interspersed with interludes that were like small snippets from Miriam’s past.  It seems that we’ve started to explore this ability of Miriam’s a little and we’ve also had an introduction into other elements.

This isn’t to say that I didn’t have any criticisms.  At the beginning I struggled a bit to get on with Miriam and I think I know why that is.  She does have a bit of a masculine voice although this improved after the first few chapters.  Just sometimes it felt like the way she reacted or spoke was more masculine.  Not really articulating that very well so will swiftly move on….

I will definitely read future books in this series – I think it has the potential to be really good and I could hardly put this down.  I’m not sure that I’ll go back and read Blackbirds – from some of the reviews it seems that Miriam may have been a bit more subdued in this edition – and I think I might prefer this version of Miriam.  Looking forward to the next instalment.

And, on a separate note – these book covers are really something else.  Just really take a good look at Mockingbirds – it has so many extra little things that at first glance you don’t notice.

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