Rob Crowther (R.J. Crowther Jr.) is a proud SF geek, horror connoisseur, writer, and long-time bookseller with a special place in his black little heart for the strange, baroque and bizarre.
Rob's Feature Nightmare — Every month our horror expert, Rob, picks his favorite new release and features it for 20% off!
The Hiding Place by C.J. Tudor is Rob's Featured Nightmare & Mysterious Galaxy's Fantastic First book club pick for February!
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There's a new dark star among the authors of psychological thrillers. Her name is C.J. Tudor, and The Hiding Place is killer. If Jim Thompson and Shirley Jackson had a love child, it might look like this hardboiled, Gothic-suspense nightmare, white-knuckled and swaddled in dreadful atmosphere. Summoned by a message that "it's happening again," Joe returns to the small town of his childhood, seeking revenge against the forces that destroyed his kid sister. He moves into a house where a mother killed her son before taking her own life, scrawling "Not my son" in blood after murdering the boy. Joe knows a new generation of kids will share his sister's fate if he can't defeat the darkness of the hiding place. Complicating matters is, Gloria, a blonde bombshell enforcer, who's tracked Joe down to ruthlessly collect his gambling debts, and picks off Joe's enemies to save him for herself. A pit of lies swallows Joe as he fights to stop history from repeating itself, but the lies he tells himself are the blackest hole of all. Thriller and horror fans will love this gripping tale, which packs a chilling double-twist that ties it like a bow.
--R.J. Crowther Jr.
The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay
Terror goes domestic in this gripping home-invasion thriller from the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS. When the four cultists of the apocalypse capture seven-year-old Wen and her two fathers, they give the family a horrifying ultimatum: sacrifice one of their own, or the world will end. The reluctant captors, brought together by cataclysmic visions, compulsively check death-watches that count down to extinction. The invaders are all-too human, desperate and frayed, trapped like Abraham and Isaac in the Biblical tale. Pressure-cooker tension builds as the family fights to survive, forcing the cultists to appease God with gruesome determination. A television reveals the horrors unleashed upon the world, but is the family’s defiance of God breaking the seven seals, or is awful coincidence greasing the cultists’ wheels? Would you sacrifice your family to save the world, if refusal meant there’d be no world to save at all? Tremblay is a master of ambiguity, and if you like safe books, this one’s not for you. CABIN AT THE END OF THE WORLD is a gut-punch of a novel, where believing is seeing, not the other way around.
—R.J. Crowther Jr.
A grisly murder in the past draws a chalk line around the future of four twelve-year-old boys, and Nicky, the only girl in their “Losers’ Club.” In this stunning debut thriller by C.J. Tudor, Eddie (Munster) meets the “Chalk Man” in 1986. The teacher, who suffers from albinism, helps Eddie save a girl’s life after a horrific accident at an amusement park, and inspires a secret code of chalk stick-figure men. When a series of chalk man clues lead to the dismembered body of a girl in the woods, the Chalk Man is assumed to be the killer. But thirty years later, the fab five are brought together by letters containing chalk figures that suggest the wrong man paid for the crime, and as Eddie tells us, children have their secrets. Fans of Stephen King’s “The Body” (Stand by Me), IT, and S.E. Hinton’s THE OUTSIDERS, will love the intimate characterization of the kids. Eddie’s hoarding and fetishism as an adult, show how PTSD can blossom into a poisoned garden. The grue is thick, the plot riveting. This haunting book will linger on the blackboard of your mind. –R.J. Crowther Jr.
The Aurora virus sweeps across the world like a sleeping curse of apocalyptic scale, leaving only the men awake to fend for themselves. Strange cocoons enshroud the women struck by the curse, and woe to the man who tries to free them from their pupal state. If disturbed, the infected women attack in savage rage. Evie Black, imprisoned for murder, is immune to the curse, can communicate with animals, and exhale magic moths. Some men view her as a savior, others as witch, who religious zealots cannot suffer to live. Is Evie (the dark Eve) Maleficent or Moses, as she offers women a promised land free of toxic masculinity? A vicious, timely fairy tale that will keep you up at night. -- R.J. Crowther Jr.
Cormac McCarthy meets Stephen King in Nick Cutter’s off-the-rails fourth horror thriller, set in the backwoods of New Mexico. In 1965, an assassin, a bounty hunter, and a hired-gun named Micah, made an unholy truce in lieu of killing each other, and went to rescue an abducted child from a religious cult. In Little Haven, the evil they faced was both human and monstrous, including a preacher like Jim Jones channeling the Old Ones, and an eldritch Big Bad stitched from carcasses. The trio of rescuers were cursed by what they found there, echoing the horrors of “The Monkey’s Paw.” Fifteen years later, Micah’s daughter goes missing, forcing him to reunite with his partners in perdition, and return to Little Haven for a final showdown. A gruesome, poetic yarn with a rip-roaring finish. --R.J. Crowther Jr.
If Clive Barker and William S. Burroughs spawned a love child, you’d discover her secret self in Secrets of the Weird. We meet Trixie, a transgender woman on the streets of Sweetville, desperate to earn enough cash to finish her transition. The city Trixie haunts is a nightmare Pleasure Island, roamed by punks, prostitutes, and neo-Nazis, frosted with a heavy dose of the drug, Sweet Candy. A hive-mind of gaunt mutants, nicknamed Withering Wyldes, whose sexless husks emerge from chemical cocoons, take obsession with body image to morbid extremes. The Angelghoul leads a cannibal cult to “Consumption Enlightement,” holding up a black mirror to mindless consumerism. Identical twin narcissists with an investment empire, turn their appetites on each other like a self-consuming snake. In this funhouse of mirrors, Trixie finds true love, falling for a straight-edge punk who wants to save the world. She hides the flesh she loathes from him, fearing rejection. When a dwarf surgeon offers Trixie her final solution, she’ll have to decide if the knife is her friend or foe. Stroup’s writing is beautiful; his visons dangerous. “Reassign, realign, redefine.”
FEATURED NIGHTMARE - June 2017
Junior is his father’s son, and that’s a tragedy, in this terrifying and heart-wrenching story, which serves as a dark mirror to Native American culture, and the living-dead casualties of reservation life. After the death of his father, twelve-year-old Junior helps his mother raise his mentally disabled brother, and struggles to be a man as only a child can. In fugue states, he is visited by the ghost of his father, a fancydancer adorned with feathers and a porcupine quill bustle. But heritage can be a prison as well a skin, and a terrible resurrection isn’t far behind. The living feed the dead by repeating their sins. A legacy of addiction gives birth to a monster. As Junior becomes the suspect of unnatural crimes, he will have to choose whose skin he’s willing to walk in. This brilliant story cut deep and made me shed some tears. -- R.J. Crowther Jr.
HEX by Thomas Olde Heuvelt
The town-in-a-fishbowl trope swirls with fresh blood, in the grizzly ghost story of Katherine van Wyler, who was executed for witchcraft in the 1600s. With her eyes and lips sewn shut save for one corner of her mouth, Katherine’s ghost wanders Black Springs in a playback loop. Anyone who hears her whisper is driven to kill. The residents are trapped by Katherine’s curse, which compels those who leave to commit suicide. To protect their secret shame from the outside world, the residents have set up their own surveillance state, with a puritanical code as ruthless as the witch trials. When a group of local teens try to leak the story, and one of them tortures the witch after years of physical abuse, they discover that the witch is the lesser of two evils. The greater evil wears the mask of “the public good.” All it takes is a whisper to burn down the world. –R.J. Crowther Jr.
Richard Chizmar, the editor and publisher of Cemetery Dance Magazine, presents a masterclass collection of his own horror stories. His forthcoming novel, GWENDY’S BUTTON BOX, co-written with Stephen King, will make him a household name, but his original work is a chilling exploration of family, loss, and regret. Everyday men and women are pushed to horrific extremes, but their lives and deaths are tempered with humanity. In his heartbreaking, post-apocalyptic story, “After the Bombs,” when a man searching for his father asks, “How did he die?”, an old blind man replies, “I’d rather tell you how he lived.” Memories are a recurring theme in these stories, but they are lies protecting us from the truth. You’ll find many memory boxes of various shapes and sizes, each one a metaphor for a secret self, filled with awful and amazing revelations. In the titular story, the friend of a killer says with bitter irony, “It’s funny the things you remember—and forget.” These tales will haunt you like photos of the dead.
Just in time for Disney’s release of their live-action musical version of Beauty and the Beast, a tale as old as time arrives in a glorious new, unabridged edition. Miraphora Mina and Eduardo Lima, the graphic artists behind the MinaLima design studio, were responsible for many of the props in the Harry Potter movies. As with their previous editions of Peter Pan and The Jungle Book, they’ve made a new edition of a classic, a classic in its own right. Originally published in 1740 as La Belle et la Bête, De Villenueve’s story of a young woman’s courage, and a love that sees beneath the surface to the beauty in the beast, comes to life with stunning illustrations, a map of Beauty’s French city, a 3D fold-out of the Beast’s castle, a spinning ring, pop-up windows, and lovely ornaments. A must-have for book lovers who cherish beautiful books.
And Then There Were None meets Alien in this locked-room, SF-thriller, which grips you from the first scene in the frozen depths of space. On the generational starship, Dormire, Maria bolts awake in a cloning vat, her core-self freshly imprinted after she was killed. Five other crewmates have been brutally murdered, and their new incarnations awake near their own floating corpses. The artificial gravity is off, the ship is far off course, and the A.I. that runs the ship is starting to reboot. The cloning machine that saved Maria has been sabotaged, so if someone kills her now, there’s no coming back. One of the Dormire’s crew is the murderer; problem is, all of them have blood on their hands. Two thousand hibernating souls will never revive if she doesn’t stop the killer before she dies again.
Elizabeth Sanderson knows true horror when her teenage son goes missing, and her son’s friends have made a pact to hide a terrible secret. Is the apparition with black-hole eyes the ghost of her son, Tommy? Who keeps leaving pages of his diary on the floor? In this chilling tale of the seductive power of evil, and the willful loss of innocence, the Devil’s strength lies in silence. Tremblay is a master of misdirection, playing Three-card Monte with the reader’s wits. Just when you think you’ve finally solved the mystery, the supernatural boiled away to the dregs of human evil, Tremblay uncorks a shocking revelation that will leave you doubting all your assumptions. Fans of Stranger Things will love this riveting novel, by the Bram Stoker Award winning author of HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS. –R.J. Crowther Jr.
The Devourers by Indra Das
Once in a great while, a novel comes along with such wondrous storytelling, such lush, vivid prose, that it swallows you whole and spits you out transformed. Das’ The Devourers is that rarest of books. We meet Alok Mukherjee, a closeted historian, as he is seduced in the seething, spicy-sour markets of Kolkata by a stranger who claims to be half-werewolf, born of a shapeshifting rapist and Cyrah, a Mughal prostitute. Alok is seduced by the stranger’s stories, which come to life with hallucinatory vividness, carrying Alok back to 17th century India. The stories are the journals of Cyrah and the stranger’s father, filled with guilt, the lust for vengeance, the beautiful, gruesome transformative power of the shapeshifters, and the universal hungers for love, to create, and to shed our social skins. The shapeshifters tear off their skins to reveal a purer self, beyond race, beyond gender, or binary sexuality. There is real horror here, but even the most gruesome scenes are suffused with sensuality, reminiscent of Anne Rice’s early novels. Alok is liberated by the stranger’s stories, but liberation rips with the teeth of love and tragedy. I was up ‘til dawn devouring The Devourers, and woke with the scents of blood, musk, and sandalwood in my nose, not to mention tears in my eyes. Astounding.
– R.J. Crowther Jr.
STRANDED by Bracken MacLeod
The chills cut through you like daggers of ice in Bracken MacLeod’s STRANDED, a brilliant tale of Arctic horror with echoes of John Carpenter’s The Thing and the historical tragedy of the H.M.S. Terror. What starts off as a survival thriller veers into nightmare territory as Noah Cabot, deckhand of the Arctic Promise, watches his crewmates succumb to a bizarre illness after a storm sends the ship into a preternatural fog. Ice locks in the ship and paranoia grips the crew, who soon begin to see things that shall not be revealed. Noah and the strongest of the crew head across the ice, after they catch sight of a structure in the distance. They pray their trek through the frozen waste will lead to their rescue, but what they find is a puzzle as dreadful as their secret selves, with a signpost up ahead -- “this way lies madness.” –R.J. Crowther Jr.
Once Upon A Time a girl spoke with the birds, and a boy-genius built a wrist watch that could turn back time. Broken and outcast, they met and fell in love, aliens not from other worlds but from society, and more importantly, aliens within their own skins. So begins the journey of Patricia and Laurence, who respectively join tribes of witches and scientists bent on saving our world from destruction. Science and Magic have different ideas of what salvation means, and the war between them may destroy all they hope to save. As they grow into their skins, so too grow their powers. Patricia, healer, shape-shifter and sometimes assassin harnesses the power of nature. Laurence develops inter-dimensional quantum tunneling, with the hope of implementing the “10 percent solution,” to send refugees from our world to an alternate reality. Burning in the ashes of this apocalyptic story are live coals of profound philosophy and keen observations about humanity, conveyed with Anders’ perfect-pitch ear for dialog, sharp wit and flashes of absurdity. Fans of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians will love this debut novel by the managing editor of io9.
- R.J. Crowther Jr.
Made to Kill is a hard-boiled, pulp SF thriller with Ray Electromatic, the last sentient robot, cast as an analog Philip Marlowe, who solves cases by day and turns hitman at night, when his memory tape gets switched by his boss, a chain-smoking supercomputer named Ada. Rip off your E-ticket and take this thrill ride, filled with black comedy, sultry femmes fatales, Soviet spies, and secret weapons of mind control. At stake is nothing less than the American Dream, cast in false light upon a silver screen. I loved the way Christopher took the retro SF tropes and filtered them through the lens of Raymond Chandler, parodying Chandler’s language and gritty noir style while capturing its essence in his weird comic love note. The odd choice of setting the book in alt-’65, despite the fact that everything but the date screams 1940s, makes cold war fears and McCarthyism's chilling effect on Hollywood the real boogeymen of the story. As Ray hurtles down the Boulevard of Broken Dreams, the grit and glitter blow back from existential themes of moral culpability and identity, making this pulp fiction a worthy read. – R. J. Crowther Jr.
With Three Moments of an Explosion, Miéville has earned his place in the pantheon of short fiction fantastical writers, joining such dark luminaries as Harlan Ellison, H.P. Lovecraft, and Clive Barker. The twenty-eight windows into the weird you’ll find in this collection offer bizarre, wondrous, and terrifying vistas, some as vast in scope as the space between the stars; others claustrophobic as a padded cell. In “Polynia,” airborne icebergs overshadow London and coral reefs sprout from buildings in Brussels as man-besieged Nature returns the favor. In “After the Festival,” participants in a modern shamanistic ritual don the heads of severed animals, and to their horror lose control of their inner beasts. “Säcken” pits two women’s love against a hungry sack that devours souls as a chilling punishment. There’s more, so much more, in this mind-expanding brood of dangerous visions, but be warned, they strike with fangs of philosophy. Miéville’s revelations made me gape in awe.
-R.J. Crowther Jr.
The Scarlet Gospels is a phantasmagoric masterpiece, a revelation writ in dripping red grotesqueries. Grand tableaux of beautiful terror and terrible beauty form the chapter and verse of Barker’s revelation, which tells the tale of Pinhead, his most famous creation, as the Hell Priest starts a war and sets his sights on godhood. Harry D’Amour, a battlescarred occult detective, is forced to make a devil’ s bargain with the Cenobite: chronicle the Hell Priest’s gospel like a modern Dante, or witness the death of everyone he loves. Weaving through this gospel, binding it together, are surprising cords of love and humanity, which celebrate the power of diversity. Clive Barker owes much to William Blake and Bosch, but Poe too is evident in this symphony of horror, with “The Conqueror Worm” serving as the chorus: “That motley drama--oh, to be sure, it shall not be forgot!... And much of Madness, and more of Sin, and Horror the soul of the plot.” If you have any doubts about Barker’s vision, The Scarlet Gospels will make you a convert. - R.J. Crowther Jr.
What Ridley Scott did for outer space, Nick Cutter does for the ocean, in his iron lung of a horror novel, The Deep. A devastating plague is ravaging humanity, scarring its victims’ skin with ulcers like mold spots before eroding their minds like Alzheimer’s disease. Eight miles down in the Mariana trench, a research station built to harvest a “miracle cure” goes silent. A submersible rises to the surface, containing the partially regenerated body of a mutilated scientist. Luke Nelson takes the plunge to investigate what happened to the research team, which was headed by his brilliant, narcissistic brother. We descend with Luke into a permanent midnight of relentless claustrophobia, body horror and madness, hitting bottom in a monster maelstrom where regenerative medicine is the disease. Fans of hardcore horror—this grue is for you.
- R.J. Crowther Jr.
(Warning: book contains scenes of animal cruelty)
Glassy-eyed antique dolls huddle in a Gothic parlor like dead children holding court at a mad tea party. Marionettes with too-wide eyes wave their withered arms as animal armies created by a mad taxidermist fight eternal wars beneath a veil of dust. These are just some of the wonders Catherine encounters when she’s sent to appraise the holdings of Red House for auction. The offerings are priceless, but less so than her soul, which like her sanity is really on the table as the ghosts of the past place bids on her life. Catherine is every bit as haunted as the mansion, plagued by memories of a series of unsolved child abductions that left her with a chilling imaginary friend who may hold the key to escaping Red House. With every page the dread builds, the atmosphere weighs like lead, and the climax will grip your heart in an icy, porcelain hand. - R.J. Crowther Jr.
Daniel Levine’s revisionist take on The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is an enthralling feat of storytelling, which not only does justice to the classic tale, but explodes it to reveal darker, deeper truths. We meet Hyde sitting in Jekyll’s laboratory, gazing at the envelope containing Jekyll’s account of the drug induced schism that doomed them both. Disgusted with Jekyll’s sanitized apology, Hyde pens his confession of what really happened. We peer as voyeurs through Hyde’s eyes as he is wrenched into the world, a frightened, half-formed, shadow of a shadow, more akin to Frankenstein’s monster than a sociopath, and watch him grow more savage, trapped in Jekyll’s hide, gnashing at man’s hypocrisy as a domestic animal. Like us, Hyde is desperate to know, “Why am I here?” Is he just a pawn in a deadly chess game Jekyll plays with himself? Levine’s London is a sordid, soot-stained beast, rendered with magnificent historical detail, a mirror labyrinth of mind as much as stone and brick. Hyde will make your heart pound like a cornered animal and haunt you long after the book-serum wears off.
– R.J. Crowther Jr.
Welcome to Wink, a small town trapped in a Norman Rockwell nightmare, where only some of the Ozzie-and-Harriet residents are human. After ex-cop Mona Bright loses her father, she inherits a house in Wink that belonged to her mother, who committed suicide when Mona was a child. Mona soon discovers Wink can’t be found on any maps, but faded, family photos offer clues on how to get there. Wink straddles “the bruise”--a breach into a sea of cosmic horror, which ruptured during an early experiment in quantum physics, and is awful proof of Nietzsche’s infamous warning--“If you gaze too long into the abyss, the abyss gazes into you.” American Elsewhere peels back reality layer by layer, and takes us on a joyride from uneasiness to terror along with a host of strange and moving characters.
– R.J. Crowther Jr.
The sins of the father are visited upon the son, and thanks to “the shine” the ghosts of the past are dragged into the present in Stephen King’s thrilling, chilling sequel to The Shining. Doctor Sleep is a parable about self-enslavement – to alcohol, to memories, to the spark of life itself – and sometimes the only way to break free of those shackles is to shake hands with the Angel of Death. More than ghosts, Dan Torrance fears he’ll turn into his father, so he does karmic penance as a hospice caregiver. Dan becomes a psychic midwife for the dying, helping their troubled souls cross-over with the shining, earning him the nickname Doctor Sleep. Contacted by a girl who eclipses his power, Dan is drawn into a war against the True Knot, a tribe of soul-sucking nomads who prey on “Shiners.” Doctor Sleep gives a whole new meaning to “passing the torch.” It had me flipping pages with abraded fingers.
– R. J. Crowther Jr.
This brilliant debut novel is a western fantasy that turns on steampunk cogs greased with lots of grue. We ride into the story with fifteen-year-old Jim, who carries the eye of his dead father in his pocket –a jade prosthetic crafted by Chinese sorcery. Jim and his horse nearly die as they ride across the desert, but are rescued by Mutt, a Native American shape-shifter. Mutt leads them to the mining town of Golgotha, where a Lovecraftian god is rising to undo creation (with a little help from a certain fallen angel). Joining the battle to save the world are an undying sheriff who was hanged three times and has the scars to prove it, a woman with the blood of Lilith in a vial around her neck, a Mormon minister with an “unnatural” secret, and a taxidermist who knows death far too intimately. Every chapter is named after a Tarot card which, when interpreted, informs the narrative. I’m putting all my chips on The Six-Gun Tarot making the short list for the World Fantasy Award.
– R.J. Crowther Jr.
Breed is a terrifying tale of gothic body horror, a fairy tale seen through the lens of David Cronenberg. Alex and Leslie are beautiful and wealthy, and live in a historic New York townhouse, but more than anything they desire a child. They’ve spent a fortune on infertility treatments, and Leslie grows despondent as every effort fails. In a final act of desperation, they travel to Slovenia and undergo experimental gene therapy. The treatment turns them into animals in heat, but once the animal is unleashed, there’s no going back. Leslie gives birth to twins, who we meet ten years later, trapped inside their dilapidated home. Every night, the twins are locked in their rooms, terrified by the bestial sounds coming from downstairs. Flesh gives way to fur, reason starts to slumber, and when mommy says, “I’ll eat you up,” you better believe her. Nightmare of the Year Award.
– R.J. Crowther Jr.
“This is the story of a bloodstained boy.” So begins a thrilling, dystopian adventure by award-winning author, China Mieville, which will enthrall readers of all ages. We meet Sham as he joins the crew of an ancient diesel train which thunders across the Railsea on an endless hunt. The crew harpoons the giant moles that burrow through the wasteland, which, like the whales of old, provide food and oil. Captain Naphi, a Steampunk avatar of Captain Ahab, is obsessed with killing the great white beast that made her less than human. Sham longs to escape the horrors of the hunt, and the fearsome monsters that attack the crew. He gets his chance when he finds a relic in a derelict train that hints at a miraculous world beyond the sea of rails. On his quest to find the world, Sham becomes the hunted, and learns a secret with the power to undermine the Railsea. A cautionary tale about unbridled industrialization, and a mind-blowing feat of imagination.
- R.J. Crowther Jr.