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Craig's Book Club
Book Reviews

Horror reviewed with a discerning eye.

Stephen Jones and Kim Newman (editors), Horror: 100 Best Books

I have had a copy of Horror: 100 Best Books since the early 1990s and I come back to it often to read and re-read the comments given by the various authors on their favorite horror books. It is an interesting experience to be able to see, within these covers, the growth and evolution of horror, inspiring itself over and over to become the phenomenon it is today. From The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus (the first work chronologically) to Dark Feasts (the last, this selection was printed in 1988), we get to see a veritable timeline of horror.

Lists of this sort are invariably subjective. The authors commissioned for Horror: 100 Best Books were asked to write about their favorite book, not to describe the best books, so some great works are going to be left out. But it is an excellent starting point and this list (along with the Suggested Reading in the back) should keep any horror aficionado trembling for years to come. (Recently, a follow-up, aptly entitled Horror: Another 100 Best Books has risen to offer up even more suggestion for readers who simply cannot get enough scare fare.)

Stephen King, Rose Madder

I was really enjoying Rose Madder, the story of a woman and how she eventually gets free of her abusive marriage. The story was barreling along towards the denouement, when King dropped this absolute schlock of an ending on my head. It has ruined the whole book for me.

And it's not like he couldn't do better.

I've read most of his books (however, I've only begun reviewing them recently, thus the limited pickings on this page), and I guess I just expected more. Up until the end, Rose Madder was gripping and inspiring, at least a four-star read (probably five). However, given how picky I am about endings, this was just the pits!

Stephen King [writing as Richard Bachman], Roadwork

An early Bachman originally published under that pseudonym, and then in an omnibus called The Bachman Books (no longer in print due to the removal of Rage from circulation), Roadwork is a far cry from the normal Stephen King novel (but, then again, that was part of the point, wasn't it?).

It is the story of one man's response to the news that a new freeway is being built through where his house stands (shades of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, anyone?). To be short, he doesn't like it; and after a while, he decides to do something about it.

I won't say anymore about the story, but Roadwork is in many ways a character study more than a horror novel. It is not plot driven; a lot of it is just watching this guy go about his daily activities and getting a bead on what he is thinking while he does them. Things happen, but they are not "important" things. This is much more low-key than the other Bachman books, but still satisfying.

David Morrell, The Totem

Shaun Hutson recommended The Totem in Horror 100 Best Books. The review written there spoke as if this were the Indy 500 of books -- fast paced, quick reading. I found none of that here.

At 50 pages in, I was not yet involved and began to put it down. At 100 pages, I got more interested, especially with the part about the kid. As things went further along, I was torn between wanting to finish it and moving on to something else.

There were many things here that a seasoned writer should not have done. Several of the sentences pulled me out of the story, and I had trouble telling some of the characters apart. On the other hand, the suspenseful scenes were well done and I was drawn along with them.

So, this is really a so-so book. I would be interested to read the Totem that Hutson read, instead of this mess -- an expanded version already rejected by his publisher once -- that Morrell pulled out of his file cabinet.

  • Angel of Darkness by Charles de Lint [writing as Samuel M. Key] -- Bit of a departure for de Lint about a musician who records the screams of his victims in order to make a new kind of music.
  • Cheechako by Dan McFadden -- Epic novel set in a remote fishing village in Alaska about a strange force that takes over the village after a mysterious explosion.
  • The Dark Descent edited by David G. Hartwell -- The horror collection featuring stories covering the breadth of history represented by the horror genre.
  • From a Buick 8 by Stephen King -- No Christine ripoff, this is King showing that he's still got what it takes.
  • A Harvest of Horrors edited by Eric Protter -- A terrific collection of dark tales by several of the greats: Lovecraft, Bloch, Dahl, Bierce, just to name a few.
  • ...more to come...