THE HOUSE ON COLD HILL. (2015) BOOK REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS.

THE HOUSE ON COLD HILL BY PETER JAMES. PUBLISHED IN 2015 BY MACMILLAN.
BOOK REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

They said the dead can’t hurt you. They were wrong…

Evil isn’t born, it’s built…

This book had such an American feel to it that I was shocked to find it was written by an English author called Peter James, best known for penning crime thrillers and police procedurals featuring his well-loved fictional character, Detective Superintendent Roy Grace.

THE HOUSE ON COLD HILL, a haunted house book, is one of his stand-alone books. He’s obviously a big horror fan and a fan of horror movies in particular. He kills off an entire family, BURNT OFFERINGS-style, within the first few pages of the book, and before they even get a chance to move into the titular Cold Hill House, a run-down but still impressive Georgian mansion in the Sussex countryside.

BURNT OFFERINGS, as some of you will know, is a fantastic and really scary horror film from 1975, featuring Bette Davis, Oliver Reed and horror queen Karen Black. It scared me when I first saw it in 2014, and it’s scared me all the times I’ve watched it since. It’s scaring me now, just writing about it here! If you haven’t seen it, you really should try to find it and watch it. It was on YouTube, last time I checked.

Anyway, the real beginning of the book happens when the Harcourt family move into Cold Hill House, in the modern era of mobile phones, FaceTime and laptops in every home. Ollie is the dad, a web designer who works from home, and he’s really looking forward to the challenge of living in the countryside after being stuck in the city, Brighton and Hove to be precise.

Ollie doesn’t even mind that the house is what the estate agents euphemistically call a real fixer-upper, which in this case translates to a real fally-downy, and he’ll be lucky if the place doesn’t turn into a proper cash-guzzler. The 1986 film THE MONEY PIT, starring Tom Hanks and Shelley Long, is referenced in the book, and I’m sure Ollie can relate.

Ollie’s missus is Caro, a solicitor who’s going to commute to her office in Brighton every day now, and Jade is their teenage daughter, who cares about all the things you’d expect a teenage girl to care about: phoning her best friends from her old school whom she misses terribly, keeping in touch with a boy she likes, and pestering her father for ponies and puppies, now that they’re living in the countryside and have all the space in the world for four-legged friends.

The ghosts in the house make themselves known pretty damn quickly. I’ve read an awful lot of haunted house books over the years and, though I enjoyed this one very much, there wasn’t really a whole lot in it that was new and startling.

A ghostly old lady in an old-fashioned gown is seen gliding around the place by various members of the household, including a friend of Jade’s who sees the malevolent old woman standing behind Jade when they’re on FaceTime together.

The ghost can cause the temperatures to drop suddenly, or to make someone feel like there’s someone standing right behind them, when there’s really no-one there. Shadows abound in the house, there’s a strange man in Jade’s bedroom who looks like her father but isn’t, parts of the house are sopping wet one minute and dry the next, causing the family to have to sleep on couches in the living-room at times. Ollie feels the energy and vitality being drained out of him, something that happened in BURNT OFFERINGS as well.

There are some rather strange people floating around the village as well and there’s a distinct possibility that some of them may be late. As in, a late parrot. Deceased. Dead. Snuffed it. Clogs popped and buckets kicked good-style. You can only imagine what effect this has on an increasingly frazzled Ollie, who tries to shoulder the entire burden of the ghosts by himself in order to protect his wife and child, whom he loves dearly.

The rather grisly history of the house affords Ollie and Caro a partial explanation for the spectral goings-on, but unfortunately no comfort. When they turn to members of the clergy for this comfort and even some encouragement and help, the house reacts violently and makes its views known. And houses really shouldn’t have views on things, should they? They should mind their own business and leaves the opinions to their occupants. (I’m going to be haunted now for saying that, lol, aren’t I…?)

The ghosts have a disastrous effect on Ollie’s web design business too, for which they would have had to learn computer basics such as sending emails and rudimentary mobile phone use in order to be able to send out text messages. I found this to be funny, but also a bridge too far. When a poltergeist starts telling you its evil plans for you via computer or mobile phone, I think it’s time to throw in the towel and give up the ghost, if you’ll excuse the pun.

I think the author had also read/watched Shirley Jackson’s THE HAUNTING (OF HILL HOUSE), the book and the film, and seen THE CHANGELING starring George C. Scott and been influenced by it, and maybe by any other films featuring little hidden or bricked-up rooms within the haunted house itself.

You know that thing where you stand outside your haunted house and you look up at the front of it and count the windows while mentally matching them up to the rooms you know they’re in? Then you discover that there’s an extra, unmatched window, or a little window up there near the top of the house that can’t be accounted for in your calculations?

Then you run upstairs with a mallet and start breaking down walls and you discover a hidden room, and it turns out that the ghosts were either trying to alert you to the presence of this room all along, because it holds the key to the entire haunting, or keep you away from it for the same reason? You do? You’re familiar with this trope? I won’t bother going into any more detail, so…!

The book is quite similar to one I read before Christmas, a haunted house book simply called HAUNTED, which was written by Bentley Little, but, as I said earlier, it’s quite hard to find new stuff to put into ghost stories or haunted house tales.

There are only so many tropes to go round, so that sooner or later you’ll almost certainly have to repeat yourself or even other writers. It’s not what you put in the book that matters, though, as much as how you handle it, and Peter James handles old material pretty serviceably in THE HOUSE ON COLD HILL.

Good luck to Ols, Caro and Jade Harcourt, the protagonists, anyway, in attempting to evade the grisly fates of their predecessors. If BURNT OFFERINGS has taught us anything, it’s that some houses really, truly don’t want to give up their occupants. Well, why would they, when living humans can give so much… energy… to a place…? Enjoy the book, but it might cost you a night or two of comfortable sleep…

   AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
 
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO
Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:
https://www.amazon.com/Thirteen-Stops-Sandra-Harris-ebook/dp/B089DJMH64

CALLING ALL BOOK REVIEWERS!!! THIRTEEN STOPS LATER NEEDS YOU…!

FOLLOWING ON FROM THE EVENTS OF THIRTEEN STOPS…

Here we are again, and poor Selfie Queen Laura’s love life has dived head-first from the frying pan into the Towering Inferno; will she be able to cope? Just about, until she sees who’s coming out of the Disney Store on Grafton Street one Saturday afternoon . . . ! Someone who shouldn’t has got their beady eye on Fauve’s bouncing bundle of baby joy, and a face from the past returns to upturn Maroon-Vicky’s applecart of Happy Ever After with the dishy Graeme. The frazzled Carl is up to his tonsils in Tara’s Endless Legs and Things, and something very sinister is going on at Becks’s house . . . will her mother’s old summerhouse finally give up its grisly secret? All this and much, much more in THIRTEEN STOPS LATER . . .

Dear Book Reviewers and Bloggers, would you like FREE epubs of THIRTEEN STOPS and THIRTEEN STOPS LATER, the first two books in my Romantic Fiction THIRTEEN STOPS trilogy, in exchange for honest reviews?

If so, please contact Sandra on sandrasandraharris@gmail.com and we can talk more, I’ll be delighted to hear from you!

 

LITTLE BOOK OF HORROR: DRACULA. (2005) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

LITTLE BOOK OF HORROR: DRACULA. (0CTOBER 2005) PUBLISHED BY IDW PUBLISHING.

WRITTEN BY STEVE NILES. PAINTED ART BY RICHARD SALA.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

I recently discovered this little illustrated gem of a book on my son’s bookshelf, and remembered then having bought it for him when he was younger in an attempt to encourage him to read independently.

Now I’ve had a proper read of it, I’m making an executive decision and totally commandeering it for myself. It’s far too good to waste on the young, lol, and can only properly be appreciated by persons of mature(ish!) age such as myself.

It tells what I call the real Dracula story, as in the one Bram Stoker wrote, with little or no variations, which I like. I like the pure unadulterated story myself, and I tend to get heart attacks when people mess with it, such as in the 2020 New Year BBC television Dracula. Although I could forgive a hunky Dracula such as Claes Bang anything, especially if he’s going to do those delicious nudie scenes…

Anyway, the book starts, as it should, with real estate clerk John Harker making what is possibly the longest fictional journey ever to set the seal on a property deal. He travels to darkest Transylvania in Romania to meet with the mysterious and rich Count Dracula, who wishes to purchase a house near to where John lives in jolly old England.

I think it’s safe to say that the artist who did the fabulous illustrations in the book was a fan of the 1931 UNIVERSAL film version of Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi. He’s created a village very similar to the UNIVERSAL one, which I love because I adore those old movies.

It’s got winding streets, worried villagers clad in sort of Tyrolean dress like they are in the old fillums, and there’s even a barefoot busty blonde maiden crossing the street with her basket of produce who wouldn’t be out of place in a Hammer film.

Hammer Films, of course, had their Dracula-slash-vampire canon which we horror fans will know intimately by now. Christopher Lee was their Count in seven movies made between 1958 and 1972, but they made several other excellent vampire films as well, such as BRIDES OF DRACULA, KISS OF THE VAMPIRE and VAMPIRE CIRCUS.

Anyway, above the village on its very own mountain towers Castle Dracula, and when the villagers in the local inn find out that John actually intends travelling up there to meet the Count, they all have collective heart attacks. The portly, pint-pulling innkeeper and the two busty Hammer-esque barmaids are particularly well drawn in the pub scene.

John, as we know, has come all this way to do a job, so he supposes he’d better do it, and he makes his way up to the infamous Borgo Pass- try getting a taxi up there at night and you’ll see what I mean!- where a mysterious coachman with four super-spooky skeletal horses picks him up and takes him to where he needs to go… Castle Dracula…

The Count is waiting. His ramshackle castle looks just like Bela Lugosi’s in the 1931 film and is beyond cool. A crumbling staircase, bats, ancient candelabra, high windows; it’s everything you could wish for in a Dracula’s Castle-type situation. Except maybe for an armadillo or two…!

John has his meal and pricks his finger, making it bleed. Dracula’s strange reaction, and the presence in the castle of the three busty, sexy, negligee-clad corpse brides of Dracula complete with fangs and a raging blood-lust combine to convince poor John that maybe the villagers were right all along. Maybe Dracula is an evil, blood-sucking vampire and he should never have come up here…

By the time John realises this, of course, it’s too late. He’s a prisoner in Castle Dracula and the Count himself is hastening to England, and John’s hot fiancée, Mina. John has only the sex-crazed wives to keep him company, although, as this is a child’s book, the sex is only implied, lol.

Do you know the rest of the story? Dracula, installed in Carfax Abbey; Mina losing more and more of her strength- and blood- every night thanks to his nocturnal visits; the doctors baffled, unable to help her; then the calling in of the eccentric Doctor Van Helsing to accurately diagnose the situation and suggest a solution.

The drawings of the Count’s Carfax Abbey cellar, complete with coffins and his deranged (only deranged BECAUSE of Dracula), bug-eating assistant, Renfield, are so bloody good that they make you feel you’re really there.

Will John be in time to save Mina, and also for the inevitable showdown between Van Helsing and the evil, power-crazed Count Dracula, who wants to suck the blood of everyone in England?

How would that work, anyway? Would it be like waiting for a vaccine, with portals and cohorts and online registration and all that? For something bad, they’d probably (ironically) get it organised super-quick, lol.

None of this old I’ve been waiting six whole weeks to get my blood-sucking and four of my neighbours, who are all younger than me with no underlying health conditions, have gotten theirs first and I’m spitting with rage bullshit. Can’t you just see it?

Wouldn’t that be funny, though? A frazzled Dracula would be on the news and all the talk shows, saying: I am doing my best to get around to everybody as quickly as I can, but I am only one man, for the love of God…! Until the government allocate sufficient numbers of flies and bugs for me to entice my helpers with, a good many more people will continue to walk around well and healthy and there will be nothing I can do about it…! Lol, lol, lollity lol.

Anyway, this is the best children’s book on the subject of Dracula I’ve ever come across. The story is simply and accurately told, with none of that nonsense of changing up the details and putting Dracula into the future and seeing how he copes with washing-machines and fridges and stuff.

The illustrations are superb, and evoke both the UNIVERSAL and Hammer-era films, which is amazing for fans of the old films like myself. Pick it up and have a read if you ever come across it; it captures the spirit and essence of the Bram Stoker book perfectly.

    AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:

The sequel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS LATER,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:

THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY. (1890) BOOK REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY. (1890) BY OSCAR WILDE.

BOOK REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘I choose my friends for their good looks, my acquaintances for their good characters, and my enemies for their good intellects. A man cannot be too careful in the choice of his enemies. I have not got one who is a fool.’

‘The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself.’

‘Philanthropic people lose all sense of humanity. It is their distinguishing characteristic.’

‘Youth! Youth! There is absolutely nothing in the world but youth!’

‘To get back one’s youth, one has merely to repeat one’s follies.’

‘Women are a decorative sex. They never have anything to say, but they say it charmingly.’

‘Being adored is a nuisance. Women treat us (men) just as Humanity treats its gods. They worship us, and are always bothering us to do something for them.’

‘Yet it was watching him, with its beautiful marred face and its cruel smile…… For every sin that he committed, a stain would fleck and wreck its fairness.’

‘I like men who have a future, and women who have a past.’

‘One can survive anything nowadays, except [Death.]’

It makes me proud as Punch, as an Irish person, to know that the two best horror novels in the English language were penned by Irish blokes; DRACULA by Bram Stoker and Oscar Wilde’s THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY. (Go on, argue with that if you dare, lol.)

The latter was published first in LIPPINCOTT’s monthly magazine in July 1890, although the editor had taken it upon himself, without Wilde’s knowledge or permission, to edit chunks of what he considered to be the most morally suspect bits.

The book tells the story of an exceptionally handsome young man, the titular Dorian Gray, who has come into money left him by his grandfather and is free to live the life of a rich Victorian gentleman, unencumbered by money worries or the need to work for a living. Nice work if you can get it, eh?

The two men who help to shape Dorian’s dreadful destiny are the painter Basil Hallward and the toff Lord Henry Wooton. Basil Hallward paints the titular picture of Dorian, and in it the young man’s extraordinary beauty simply shimmers on the canvas. Basil genuinely feels as if Dorian has inspired him to do his best work ever.

This is where the bored, jaded and ultra-cynical Lord Henry comes in. He is the master of the bon mot, and comes out with such witticisms as: ‘There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.’ And here’s what he has to say about the state of matrimony: ‘The one charm of marriage is that it makes a life of deception absolutely necessary for both parties.’ Oh, how utterly dazzling, Lord Henry, and what a wag you are!

Dorian says to him: ‘You cut life to pieces with your epigrams.’ And you’ll never guess what Lord Henry has to say about the fairer sex: ‘We have emancipated them, but they remain slaves looking for their masters, all the same. They love being dominated.’ What a jerk, lol. It would surprise no-one, I daresay, to find out that Henry’s own marriage in the book is neither happy nor successful.

It’s Lord Henry, who, when he sees the stunning portrait, rather nastily (and, let’s face it, probably jealously too) reminds Dorian that his physical beauty has a sell-by date that’s approaching stealthily even now. Dorian for the first time becomes uncomfortably aware of both his beauty and its transient nature. Here’s what he says:

‘How sad it is! How sad it is! I shall grow old, and horrible and dreadful. But this picture will remain always young. It will never be older than this particular day in June. If it were only the other way! If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old! For that- for that- I would give everything! Yes, there is nothing in the whole world I would not give! I would give my soul for that!’

And there you have it. On one glorious summer’s day, the die is cast, the Faustian pact made. The picture will bear the brunt of all of Dorian’s years and excesses, while Dorian himself will remain always as youthful and as handsome as he is now.

In the years to come, heavily influenced by the satyr-like Lord Henry, who is as bad a friend and as base an influence a young innocent boy could ever despair of having around him, Dorian experiments with every vice available to the rich young Victorian gentleman and, as we can imagine, that’s probably a hell of a lot of vices.

The book is sparing on the detail, but we imagine all sorts: women (just look at what happened to the poor tragic little actress, Sibyl Vane!), brothels, sadomasochism and every kind of sexual experimentation known to man, booze, opium and other drugs, gambling, extreme selfishness, manipulating, using and abusing friends, girlfriends and others and ultimately letting them down with a massive bang, to name just a few of the earthly vices. Egged on by Lord Henry, Dorian does it all.

And are there really no consequences? Well, the brother of the ill-used Sibyl Vane wants to avenge his sister: ‘And believe me that if this man wrongs my sister, I will find out who he is, track him down and kill him like a dog, I swear it.’

Also, keeping the portrait a secret from the people in his life proves to be an almost unbearable strain for Dorian. He locks the hideous thing, which changes for the worse every time Dorian commits yet another evil deed, into a disused room in his mansion and puts a screen over it, but it haunts him night and day nonetheless.

It’d be a bit like being put in charge of a stinking decomposing corpse and secreting it somewhere in your gaff, whilst hoping against hope that the stench won’t permeate through the rest of the rest of the house and alert the neighbours…

Dorian finds temporary escape in his intensive study of jewels, perfumes, music, tapestries, embroideries and even ecclesiastical vestments, but nothing can distract him forever from the Portrait in the Attic. His reputation is in shreds all over London: association with him brings shame, ignominy and even death to all who consort with him. And then comes an incident which causes things to unravel at an alarming rate:

‘Alan, in a locked room at the top of this house, a room to which nobody but myself has access, a dead man is seated at a table…’

THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY, Wilde’s only novel, is easy to read and about 256 pages in length. I’ll leave you with another quotable quote from a book that is positively chock-a-block with them: ‘Eternal youth, infinite passion, pleasures subtle and secret, wild joys and wilder sins, he was to have all these things. The portrait was to bear the burden of his shame: that was all.’ Yes, that was all, indeed…

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books.

BLESS THE CHILD. (1993) BOOK REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

BLESS THE CHILD BY CATHY CASH SPELLMAN. (1993)

BOOK REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

The child everybody wants… even the DEVIL…

This book had the potential to be absolutely phenomenal, given its premise- a battle to the death between Good and Evil- but, like the film from 2000 based on this book, it turned out to be a really damp squib, a major disappointment.

Mrs. Margaret Cavan O’Connor is an American widow who owns an antiques business. God has sent her one of the worst of all human trials, a daughter who is addicted to heroin. The daughter, Jenna, missing for a good while, presumably off doing drug addict stuff, turns up out of the blue one day with a baby, her baby, in tow.

Mind her for me, she begs Maggie, then she legs it again to God-knows-where. Maggie, shell-shocked at first, grows to worship her little grand-daughter, Cody, which is why it’s so hard to give her up when Jenna turns up again, three years later, demanding the child back.

Things have changed a lot for Jenna in three years. She now has a husband, a handsome, charismatic billionaire businessman called Eric Vannier, who pulls all Jenna’s strings and keeps her provided with the drugs she craves, so long as she goes along with his twisted plans for world domination…

When an anonymous phone call reveals Eric’s link to a sinister and deadly Satanic cult called Maa Kheru, Maggie becomes convinced that Cody’s life, not to mention her immortal soul, are in terrible danger from this evil, sadistic cult.

It turns out that Cody is a very special child known as the Messenger, and Maggie is the Messenger’s protector, by virtue of her past life as a handmaiden dedicated to the goddess Isis. Maggie accesses this past life with the help of her witch friend, Ellie, who’s into Tarot card readings and the cosmic alignment of planets and all that jazz.

Anyone who can capture Cody, control her and correctly harness the power she possesses can rule the world. You can imagine, therefore, that such a child will be popular with people like Eric Vannier, for whom world domination has always been his primary goal. It’s time to unearth that old cliché, stop at nothing; as in, Eric and Maa Kheru will stop at nothing to get their hands on that little girl and her magical powers.

Maggie enlists the help of a New York detective, Lieutenant Malachy Devlin, a man with tragedy in his past, and Father Peter Messenguer, a questioning cleric who’s sailing pretty damn close to the wind as far as his superiors are concerned, to get Cody back from the Vanniers and Maa Kheru.

She has endless and, it has to be said, endlessly boring conversations with these two men about religion, spirituality, past lives and their beliefs and hers, in which the author shows off the prodigious amount of research she’s done into things like the history of magic, ancient Egyptian gods and goddesses, the left-hand path versus the right-hand one, astrology and mysticism.

It’s to her credit that she’s done all this painstakingly detailed research, but you can’t read for too long in the book without tripping over one of the many enormous information dumps she’s left scattered throughout the narrative. Quite honestly, I thought I’d never finish reading this particular book, and I normally love reading about all things supernatural.

There is one really cool chapter in which Eric Vannier authorises for Maggie to be the victim of something truly dreadful called a ‘Sending.’ Maggie barricades herself inside a pentagram chalked on the floor of one of the rooms of her house, while Maa Kheru flex their black magic muscles by ‘sending’ her various demons and nightmarish entities to mess with her head and terrify her into submission.

It’s very similar to the scene in the Hammer horror film THE DEVIL RIDES OUT, based on the book by Dennis Wheatley, in which Christopher Lee as Nicholas, Duc de Richleau, and his friends, are forced to defend themselves against a night of black magic attacks sent their way by Mocata, the charismatic leader of the evil cult trying to lure the Duc’s friend’s son, Simon Aron, over to the dark side.

Anyway, there are lots of extremely cool and interesting references to the various aspects of black magic in the book, but the book as a whole could have done with being a lot less long-winded.

Instead, the writer’s gone and heaved the entire bloomin’ kitchen sink at us, which is why it’s genuinely hard to see the wood for the trees here. Less is more, as the fella says, and, in this case, he might just be right…

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books.

A BOOK OF HORRORS, EDITED BY STEPHEN JONES. (2011) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

A BOOK OF HORRORS. (2011) EDITED BY STEPHEN JONES. PUBLISHED IN ENGLAND BY JO FLETCHER BOOKS, AN IMPRINT OF QUERCUS BOOKS.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This is my favourite anthology of horror short stories ever, with Stephen King’s NIGHT SHIFT coming a close second. I’ve read A BOOK OF HORRORS several times now, and it still retains its power to spook me and to make me go to sleep at night facing my bedroom door, rather than with my unsuspecting back to it.

Anyway, it’s fitting that I’ve already mentioned the undisputed King of Horror, Stephen King, because he’s the guest of honour here and his story is first in the book. Entitled THE LITTLE GREEN GOD OF AGONY, it’s the story of a billionaire called Newsome, the sixth-richest man in the world, who survives an horrific plane crash, but broken limbs and daily agonising pain is the price he pays for his survival.

Kat is his nurse, and she’s a little brusque and brisk with her billionaire client, because he seems to think that all his fabulous wealth should really entitle him to live a charmed, pain-free existence. For this reason, Kat is a little less sympathetic towards him than she should be, considering she’s his nurse, or, as he calls her, his ‘Queen of Pain.’

When we come in, a minister from the sticks called the Reverend Rideout, has come to ‘cure’ the billionaire of his constant pain. ‘He was tall and very thin, maybe sixty, wearing plain grey pants and a white shirt buttoned all the way to his scrawny neck, which was red with overshaving. Kat supposed he’d wanted to get a close one before meeting the sixth-richest man in the world.’

The sceptical and battle-hardened Kat, whose gig with Newsome is the best-paid job she’s ever had in this or any other life, doesn’t believe for a second that this ascetic-looking minister from the sticks can alleviate the billionaire’s pain for a second.

In fact, she thinks he’s just another charlatan, come to fleece the rich man of a few million bucks in exchange for some muttered words of spiritual mumbo-jumbo over his shattered limbs. She couldn’t be more wrong…

The book features some really gripping horror stories by such esteemed authors as John Ajvide Lindqvist (LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, 2004), Ramsey Campbell and Richard Christian Matheson, the son of screenwriter and fiction writer Richard Matheson.

Richard Matheson Senior was a ridiculously talented man, who wrote numerous film and television scripts as well as the novel, I AM LEGEND, which has been filmed under its own name and also as THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (1964), starring horror legend Vincent Price.

My three favourite stories in the anthology, apart from the Stephen King one that opens the proceedings, are as follows: A CHILD’S PROBLEM, by Reggie Oliver, in which a young boy called George St. Maur is sent to live with his horrible old uncle in pre-Victorian times while his parents live abroad for a bit.

While at the uncle’s country mansion, wee George uncovers a mystery that seems to involve a black man, Brutus, a black spaniel called Dis, and the most beautiful woman that the young George has ever seen, the late Lady Circe St. Maur, his nasty uncle’s deceased wife, a woman from the West Indies of whom very little is known. A never-ending chess game seems crucial to the mystery also.

George’s life is endangered, the closer he comes to the heart of this chilling mystery. But, child or not, he displays a courage, strength of character and even a coldness, rather like his uncle’s, far beyond his years: ‘He considered whether he could live with the possibility that he might have imprisoned a man alive in a coffin with a corpse. It did not take him long to decide that he could…’ Good for you, Georgie boy, lol.

SAD, DARK THING by Michael Marshall Smith puts me in mind of TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and other similar films, not because any kind of massacre takes place but because it features a lonely man, driving round the back roads of America with no particular goal, coming across a rather odd ‘attraction’ in the backwoods that at first fascinates him, but which he may just live to regret ever clapping eyes on…

Finally, NEAR ZENNOR by Elizabeth Hand is a sort of folk horror tale set in Cornwall. It scared me so much when I first read it that I immediately gave the story to my daughter to read, with the words: ‘Do you find this story terrifyingly scary too?’ After reading it, she agreed that she did, and I felt so vindicated that I now re-read the story every summer as a mark of respect for its ability to put the willies up me anew, smoothly and effortlessly, with every reading.

This really is a superior horror anthology. Some of the stories I didn’t really get, but even these ones still scared me and made me really ‘see’ them in my mind’s eye, a very impressive feat, as I hope you’ll agree.

There’s no sweeter feeling than having the heart put crossways in you (Irishism, lol) by a creepy story in a book or by a scary film, when you’re not in any personal danger yourself. It’s why we watch horror films and read horror stories. We get all the thrills, but none of the spills, see? Happy reading…

‘George identified the coffin at last because it was the newest and its wood was covered in green baize pinned down with brass tacks, almost untarnished. Jem would not look, so George lifted the lid and peered in by himself.

The figure in its winding sheet was slender and still retained the vestiges of her beautiful shape. The features, too, were almost intact, though the eye sockets were empty. Black lustrous coils of hair hung down on each side of a face whose exquisite bone structure was covered by a delicate membrane of golden skin. Over the folded skeletal hands, on one finger of which a sapphire ring still sparkled, had been laid a pair of common iron slave manacles.

George picked them up, then gently closed the coffin lid on the Lady Circe’s remains…’

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books.

LITTLE ANGIE, BY EMMA CAVE. (1977) A PSYCHO-SEXUAL THRILLER REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

LITTLE ANGIE. (1977) BY EMMA CAVE. PUBLISHED BY PAN.

BOOK REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This is one of the strangest books I’ve read in a long time. It was described by Auberon Waugh of the Evening Standard as ‘a dazzling psychosexual thriller; a corker of a book,’ and, yes, it was a good enough read, but it didn’t exactly blow me away, either.

It’s really just a very unpleasant story about a mentally fragile woman who is dominated, abused and even gaslighted by the three main men in her life: her father, her husband, and then someone else’s husband, and she is also manipulated and manoeuvred by her friends. It’s really quite ghastly to read about.

Angela Maclintock was born into a super-privileged American family. Her father is a millionaire, and the most important person in her life. Certainly, she loves him better than she does her mother, whom she despises and abhors.

But her father dies when she’s still quite young, and it devastates the impressionable Angie. She never really recovers from it, even though, as her father’s heir, she has all his vast stores of money with which to console herself.

If her father had lived, given the way father and daughter felt about each other, we might have been reading a story about incest. In fact, the story reminded me a lot of Andrea Newman’s sexy shocker BOUQUET OF BARBED WIRE, the book and the television series, which last I reviewed here recently. It features implied father-daughter incest and caused quite a kerfuffle in Britain at the time.

Anyway, Angie eventually transplants herself to England and goes to university, her father’s dearest wish for her. She tries to fit in with the other students and even attempts to greatly play down her wealth so as not to alienate herself from them. But she leaves college after a year to marry the horrible posh Richard, whose sexual proclivities leave Angie not just cold, but positively freezing.

Richard comes complete with his closest friend Jessica, a greedy and manipulative bitch, who from the start has pound signs in her eyes when she looks at the super-minted but also super-naive Angie, who just really wants to be loved. She wants to be loved and happy, just like everyone else in the world does. What’s wrong with that?

But Angie doesn’t live in the real world: she lives in a world where the fairytale princess waits patiently in her castle tower for her prince to come. To come and rescue her, that is, from nasty old real life with its problems and annoying trifles. Angie can’t cope with the real world, or with Richard and his vile, disgusting sexual preferences.

That’s why, when Sir Peregrine comes along with his easy, dominant charm and courtesy towards an Angie who’s been almost destroyed by her marriage to Richard, and who has fled to the English countryside for safe harbour, the emotionally fragile young woman falls into his lap like a peach tumbling from a tree. If Richard almost destroyed her, then the machinations of Sir Peregrine will surely finish the job…

I love poking about amongst old books from the 1970s and early 1980s. You literally never know what you’re going to find. I wouldn’t exactly call LITTLE ANGIE an undiscovered gem of vintage horror fiction, but I wouldn’t give it the cold shoulder either. It’s such a curiosity, it’s definitely worth a read or two.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

LITTLE SISTER DEATH: THE ‘LOST’ HORROR NOVEL OF WILLIAM GAY REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©


LITTLE SISTER DEATH: THE ‘LOST’ HORROR NOVEL OF WILLIAM GAY. FIRST PUBLISHED IN 2015 BY DZANC BOOKS.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©


Walls rose plumb and sheer to a dizzying height. A staircase climbed into near-dark shadows. Arched doors opened left and right, shadowy furniture crouched shapeless in shroud-like draping.


Something old and evil had happened here, so evil that everything that had come after was just echoes, just spreading ripples in the water so intense that Beale and his family had ultimately abandoned the house and rebuilt in the place he (David Binder) was now moving into.


They ran out choking and retching into the night. The six of them silently aligned before the dark house. It set still and impassive as if it were watching them back.


This book was published after the death of its American author, William Gay, in 2012 of a heart attack. He’d left behind all his notes and drafts for the book, which was then published posthumously in 2015. I came across it in a second-hand bookshop about a year ago, and read it for the first time this week during the Great Covid-19 Lockdown of 2020.
I was wildly excited about the book when I read the blurb, which claimed the book was inspired by the true life Bell Witch haunting in nineteenth century Tennessee and, even though the book ultimately didn’t live up to my, admittedly, very high expectations, it’s still well worth a read by all the horror fans out there and, particularly, the fans of so-called ‘lost’ horror fiction.
The original Bell Witch haunting, now a prominent legend in Southern United States folklore, seems to have happened to a Tennesseean family in the early 1800s. An ordinary slave-owning farming family known as the Bells suddenly became plagued by this entity that physically attacked the father of the family and his favourite daughter, Betsey Bell, pulled the bedclothes off sleeping family members and generally caused havoc in the old Bell homestead.
Strange lights were seen bobbing about the place. Rats were heard gnawing like mad in the walls but no material traces of these rodents were ever found. The noises were so bad, however, that family members felt that their very beds were being gnawed to buggery by the rats and no-one in the house got any sleep, especially not once chains started to be heard dragging across the floors of the house and unseen dogs fought each other to the death.
The entity developed the power of speech, could discuss the Bible and religious texts and church sermons at great length and apparently delighted in telling dirty stories about the Bells and their neighbours.
Sight-seers and looky-loos from all over the county flocked to the Bells’ homestead to see the witch, although I personally would have stayed away.
There’s a line in William Gay’s novel that reads: ‘That thing has followed me home,’ he said…You get where I’m coming from, right?
The Bell witch’s main aims seem to have been bringing about the death of John Bell Senior, the paterfamilias of the Bell family, and the breaking off of young Betsey Bell’s engagement to her sweetheart and school-teacher, Joshua Gardner. In both of these instances, the witch seems to have been successful.
The legend has long outlived the Bell family, and, to this day, you can explore (for a small fee) places like the Bell Witch Cave, the place to which the entity is supposed to have fled after finally leaving the old Bell homestead.
Anyway, let’s move on now to the story, LITTLE SISTER DEATH, named for a line from the writings of William Faulkner, a favourite scribe of the writer in the book, David Binder’s, and presumably of William Gay’s too. As a writer myself, I adore reading books about writers, especially when they’re struggling. It makes me feel less alone on this long arduous journey we’re all taking…!
David Binder is the fictional writer in question. After working as a factory operative in Chicago for x number of years, the novel he’s been working on at night is an unexpected literary success. It doesn’t sell enough copies for David and his family to be able to retire on, but it is at least critically acclaimed.
David writes a second novel, but it’s lacking in the same ‘oomph’ possessed by the first one. Write a horror novel, something we can sell to the paperbacks, his agent tells him. It’ll pay a few bills, something to tide you over until you get your mojo back. Okay, says David, that sounds good to me. I’ll give it a go…
So David moves his family, his pregnant wife Corrie and their little daughter Stephie, to Beale Station in his native Tennessee, the site of the original Bell Witch hauntings of the nineteenth century. He’s fascinated by the legend and thinks it might make an interesting topic for a book. He doesn’t know the half of it…
The ‘ruined backwoods mansion’ to which David has relocated his little family, is as haunted as hell itself. Like in Stephen King’s THE SHINING, to which this book has been likened, it works its evil magic mainly on the father.
Why? Because, as a writer, he’s more imaginative and sensitive than most? Maybe. Maybe the fact that, by moving onto the old haunted homestead, he’s gone out of his way to invite the evil entity that still haunts the place into his life and into his home. As local old-timer Charlie Cagle puts it:
Listen, he said, somebody starts beatin’ on your door in the middle of the night, you don’t have to get up and open the door, do ye? Your telephone rings, you can let her ring, can’t ye? What I’m tellin’ you is you let stuff like that in. Me, let’s just say I heard somebody knockin.’ I left the door shut, though.
He saw with a kind of momentary and ice-cold clarity that the place had attracted them, had drawn them as a magnet draws iron filings, dangling its erotic past before already faulted vessels, biding its time during the tenancy of those it
could not use, waiting.
You let such as that in.
Interspersed throughout the book are the stories of some of the people who have lived on the haunted homestead since it was built. Owen Swaw’s tale from the ‘Thirties is particularly grim.
But spare a thought for David Binder and his little family, alone in the Overlook Hotel for the winter. (Haha.) Does he still deserve everything that’s coming, just because he pretty much deliberately chose to ‘let such as that in…?’ The reader can make up his or her own mind….

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:
sandrasandraharris@gmail.com


https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry


https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

THE SURROGATE: BY LOUISE JENSEN. (2017) BOOK REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

THE SURROGATE: BY LOUISE JENSEN. (2017)

BOOK REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This lady has a few domestic thrillers to her name by now (THE GIFT, THE SISTER, THE DATE, THE SURROGATE), and all with the most gorgeous, eye-catching covers you’ve ever seen.

THE SURROGATE, as you can probably guess, involves a woman having a baby for another woman, one who can’t have her own for whatever reason. Katherine White, known as Kat, seems to have it all, but only on the surface.

Sure, she’s got her handsome hubby Nick, her lovely house and her fulfilling job at her husband’s best friend’s charity, but her hubby is being distant towards her and Kat suspects he may be having an affair, may even have fathered another woman’s child, and she’s convinced that someone is watching her lovely house, might even have broken into it at one point, but for what reason?

Kat is a woman with a lot of secrets from her past life. Tied up inextricably with this past life is her best friend from her childhood and teenage years, Lisa. Lisa has turned up again in Kat’s life, just when Kat is trying to cope with the crushing disappointment of her and Nick’s second attempted foreign adoption having fallen through.

‘Why don’t I have a baby for you and Nick?’ Lisa eagerly offers. Kat is shocked. After everything she and Lisa have been through together in their past, stuff which we as readers are not yet privy to, why would Lisa offer to do such a monumental, selfless thing for her? But Kat’s longing to one day hold her own baby in her arms over-rides her doubts and she finds herself agreeing to Lisa’s bizarre proposal.

Lisa gets pregnant with Nick’s sperm (enter Mr. Turkey Baster!) almost immediately. Kat is in the seventh heaven of delight. But little things keep niggling at her. For example, who is the man with the salt-and-pepper beard who is watching their house from the road and, sometimes, from even closer than that?

Why has Nick left his blue scarf in Clare’s house, and why does Clare’s daughter Ada look so much like Nick? Who is the man from Kat’s past whom she loved, and maybe still loves, even more than she loves Nick, and what does he have to do with Lisa?

And, speaking of Lisa, why does she seem reluctant to let Kat accompany her to her baby scan? After all, Kat and Nick have shelled out thousands of pounds to Lisa so far, for agreeing to have their child for them. They’re out of pocket because of it at this stage. Is there a chance that Lisa could be scamming them, perhaps with the help of another man from Lisa and Kat’s joint past…?

The twists come thick and fast in this one. In fact, it’s so twisty-turny that I had trouble keeping up with it, and I found one or two of the twists a trifle hard to believe as well.

Still, fair play to Louise Jensen; she’s worked out a good, complicated little plot that gradually (or for the most part, anyway) knits together and presents the reader with a neat little parcel tied up in a bow.

There was one red herring, as it turns out to be, that I thought could have been gifted to the reader as yet another startling plot twist but, alas, it wasn’t to be. The writer also has an obsession with her characters’ physical skin, I mean their actual epidermis, that I found made me feel a bit squeamish, especially when she was putting it on nearly every page: ‘My skin prickles; my skin is tingling; my skin is slick with sweat.’ Hmmm. Methinks someone has an itty-bitty little fetish…!

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline.You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

BEHIND CLOSED DOORS, BY B.A. PARIS. (2016) BOOK REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

behind closed doors

BEHIND CLOSED DOORS. (2016) A NOVEL BY B.A. PARIS. PUBLISHED BY HARLEQUIN MIRA, AN IMPRINT OF HARPER COLLINS PUBLISHERS.

BOOK REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

The perfect marriage? Or the perfect lie?

Jack, handsome, dedicated lawyer, loving husband.

Grace, elegant, consummate housewife, prisoner…

I had great hopes for this one, a domestic thriller set in England about a marriage gone badly wrong. I expected the cracks to show slowly, barely perceptibly at first, then to start widening and popping up all over the place. I expected the wife to come to a gradual realisation that the man she’d married had feet of clay, but no.

Jack Angel, rich and handsome top lawyer who makes it his business to defend battered wives from their horrible husbands, announces to Grace once they reach Thailand, their honeymoon destination, that her dream is over and her nightmare is only just beginning.

He was never looking for a wife, this evil disturbed man, only ever a prisoner whom he could emotionally abuse and whose fear would be a turn-on for him. Not only that, though, as if all that wasn’t bad enough on its own, but Jack makes it abundantly clear that it’s Grace’s teenage Down’s Syndrome sister Millie that he’s really gunning for.

When Millie turns eighteen and leaves the school where she’s been boarding happily for years, the plan is for her to come and live with her beloved sister Grace (their selfish parents have buggered off to New Zealand to live their own lives) and Grace’s wonderful new husband Jack. Jack’s even preparing a special bedroom for Millie, but it’s not the one she’s been dreaming of…

I don’t mind thrillers about frightened wives and abusive husbands (in fact, I normally love them), but this one almost goes too far, it stretches belief. Okay, if you tell me that a guy as sick and twisted as Jack Angel really exists, I suppose I’d have to concede that, yes, there are some pretty evil people in the world. But do I find Jack believable as a character? That’s the bit I have trouble with.

I probably had trouble believing that someone would really be prepared to devote so much time and energy to being evil as Jack does. Doesn’t he know that there are bound to be repercussions at some point? He couldn’t keep the two women prisoner forever without someone somewhere becoming suspicious, someone from Millie’s school, for instance.

And I didn’t like all the references to starvation and dehydration, two very horrible processes indeed that hopefully none of us will ever have to suffer in our lives, but they’re two of the things a prisoner has to worry about happening to them, say, if something happens to their jailer and no-one else in the world has a clue about their whereabouts. I also really hated what happened to poor little Molly the dog. Animal abuse is nearly harder to read about than the abuse of a human being.

I guess I just didn’t care much for this book, with the evil Jack as the villain who’s just too bad to be true and the theme of keeping a woman (and her differently abled sister) as your prisoner rather than as your beloved wife. It all gets a bit harrowing in places and, dare I say again, a bit unbelievable. It’s well written and everything and I suppose you could say that it’s well plotted also, but the plot has a few holes in it as far as I’m concerned. That’s about it, really…!

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com