Category: Serial killers/maniacs
In defense of horror
We all have a postulate buried deep in our minds: that an interest in horror is unhealthy and aberrant. So when people say, “Why do you write that stuff?” they are really inviting me to lie down on the couch and explain about the time I was locked in the cellar three weeks. Stephen King, Danse Macabre (1980)
In preparation for this year’s Freedom to Read Week (Feb 20-26, 2011) I thought I would do my small part and defend a much maligned genre (while reviewing a pretty nasty book in the process). Too often horror in all of its manifestations comes under the cross-hairs of censorship (and the egregious act of book banning). Because it is a genre that constantly pushes boundaries (and buttons) and is often steeped in violence either explicit or implied, horror will remain an easy target of those small-minded individuals who wish to sanitize (and anesthetize) our minds.
Survivor by J.F. Gonzalez was a tough book for me to finish and I nearly threw it down in complete revulsion more than once. Yet there was also something so utterly compelling about the story that kept me riveted and turning the pages to get to the end. Let’s call it the "slowing down to look at the accident" compulsion. In order to survive the worst circumstances imaginable the female protagonist makes a choice no human should ever make in order to save her own skin. It's brutal and calculating and really got me thinking...in the same situation, would I do the same? Could I do the same? And if I did, could I live with myself afterwords? If this book was half as tough to write as it is to read, my hat goes off to J.F. Gonzalez.
Understanding the appeal factor of horror is difficult for some people to comprehend – the same people who will look at you with a wary expression that screams: "how can you read that stuff"? To them horror is illicit, offensive and quite possibly damaging to society at large. Consuming horror in any shape or form should make us feel guilty, as if we are somehow mentally warped or that our moral compass is dangerously askew. Don't worry, it isn't. Horror appeals to many fans for very solid, rational, non-psychopathic reasons.
We love it because it's a genre that probes sensitive, taboo areas and it asks the difficult questions. The best horror fiction reflects back to us our collective cultural fears and everyday personal anxieties. Most importantly, horror allows readers to safely explore humanity's dark side, giving us a place where we can face our deepest fears from a vantage point of complete safety. In his non-fiction magnum opus on the horror genre – Danse Macabre – Stephen King explains that what the horror writer seeks to achieve is to locate societal “pressure points….terminals of fear…so deeply buried and yet so vital that we may tap them like artesian wells—saying one thing out loud while we express something else in a whisper”.
King deftly explains our attraction to the genre this way, and I've yet to come across anyone else who sums it up any better (or more honestly) than this:
Here is the final truth of horror: It does not love death, as some have suggested; it loves life. It does not celebrate deformity but by dwelling on deformity, it sings of health and energy. By showing us the miseries of the damned, it helps us to rediscover the smaller (but never petty) joys of our own lives. It is the barber’s leeches of the psyche, drawing not blood but anxiety....We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones (Stephen King, Danse Macabre).
The Body Farm
“There is a patch of ground in Tennessee dedicated to the science of death, where human remains lie exposed to be studied for their secrets. The real-life scientist who founded the "Body Farm" has broken cold cases and revolutionized forensics . . . and now he spins an astonishing tale inspired by his own experiences.” (Description taken from “Carved in Bone”)
About the Author(s):
Jefferson Bass is the writing team of Dr. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson. Dr. Bass, a world-renowned forensic anthropologist, founded the University of Tennessee's Anthropology Research Facility—the Body Farm—a quarter century ago. He is the author or coauthor of more than two hundred scientific publications, as well as a critically acclaimed memoir about his career at the Body Farm, Death's Acre....
Jon Jefferson is a veteran journalist, writer, and documentary filmmaker. His writings have been published in the New York Times, Newsweek, USA Today, and Popular Science, and broadcast on National Public Radio. The coauthor of Death's Acre, he is also the writer and producer of two highly rated National Geographic documentaries about the Body Farm. (Taken from “Bones of Betrayal”)
About the Books: Although the story and the characters are fictional, the forensic details, methodology and the Body Farm itself are factual (three such farms are currently operating in the United States for those of you interested) and are taken from Dr. Bill Bass’s personal experiences.
Disclaimer: Just a note for you sensitive readers out there, evidently we are dealing with some pretty gruesome issues (i.e.: the very graphic decomposition of dead bodies, mayhem and murder) so this series may not be for everyone.
Carved in Bone
Renowned anthropologist Dr. Bill Brockton has spent his career surrounded by death at the Body Farm. Now he's being called upon to help solve a baffling puzzle in a remote mountain community. The mummified corpse of a young woman dead for thirty years has been discovered in a cave, the body bizarrely preserved and transformed by the environment's unique chemistry. But Brockton's investigation is threatening to open old wounds among an insular people who won't forget or forgive. And a long-buried secret prematurely exposed could inflame Brockton's own guilt—and the dangerous hostility of bitter enemies determined to see him fail . . . by any means necessary. (Product Description)
My Review: Not bad for a fictional debut. I did find this book a little too detail oriented and not in a Patricia Cornwall or Kathy Reichs kind of way…it was more like being lectured at in a university setting, which I guess makes sense given the author’s background. However, there was enough plot and action that carried the mystery and held my interest. At any rate, I thought highly enough of this book to continue on with the series…
Flesh and Bone
Anthropologist Dr. Bill Brockton founded Tennessee's world-famous Body Farm—a small piece of land where corpses are left to decay in order to gain important forensic information. Now, in the wake of a shocking crime in nearby Chattanooga, he's called upon by Jess Carter—the rising star of the state's medical examiners—to help her unravel a murderous puzzle. But after re-creating the death scene at the Body Farm, Brockton discovers his career, reputation, and life are in dire jeopardy when a second, unexplained corpse appears in the grisly setting.
Accused of a horrific crime—transformed overnight from a respected professor to a hated and feared pariah—Bill Brockton will need every ounce of his formidable forensic skills to escape the ingeniously woven net that's tightening around him . . . and to prove the seemingly impossible: his own innocence. (Product Description)
My Review: I enjoyed this rendition of the Body Farm much better than its debut. Bass corrected many of what I felt were the shortcomings from Carved in Bone to make this book on par with some of the other forensic mystery writers out there. The forensic details were just interesting and grisly enough to be interesting but not too “teachy” and the main characters were much more fleshed out. Suspenseful and entertaining, this book was the clincher for me to continue on with the series.
The Devil’s Bones
A burned car sits on a Tennessee hilltop, a woman's lifeless, charred body seated inside. Forensic anthropologist Bill Brockton's job is to discover the truth hidden in the fire-desecrated corpse. Was the woman's death accidental . . . or was she incinerated to cover up her murder?
But his research into the effect of flame on flesh and bone is about to collide with reality like a lit match meeting spilled gasoline. The arrival of a mysterious package—a set of suspiciously unnatural cremated remains—is pulling Brockton toward a nightmare too inhuman to imagine. And an old nemesis is waiting in the shadows to put him to the ultimate test, one that could reduce Brockton's life to smoldering ruins. (Product Description)
My Review: The devil was in the details with this one, as in too many details and plotlines not enough momentum to propel the story. I found myself just waiting around for something to happen which should not be the case in a thriller especially since there was three main subplots all occurring at the same time. Unlike the previous novel, this one was not tightly written or well planned. Bass seemed to have too many balls juggling in the air and thus was unable to fully develop and conclude any one of them satisfactorily. Despite its glowing reviews from all over the place I found this title to be the weakest one in the series.
Bones of Betrayal
The latest Body Farm novel finds forensic anthropologist Bill Brockton looking into an unusual death. A man’s body is pulled out of a swimming pool in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The autopsy reveals that he appears to have died after ingesting a highly radioactive pellet. When Brockton discovers that the victim was a key player in the Manhattan Project—that, in fact, he designed a reactor that was instrumental in the creation of the first atomic bomb more than 60 years ago—he realizes that to solve the crime, he must penetrate the secrets-laden history of the Manhattan Project itself. (From Booklist)
My Review: Bones of Betrayal is by far my most favorite book in the series. Brockton’s wry humour and Miranda’s (his research assistant) quiet insightfulness captures the reader from the very first page. The raw emotions and the unknown danger the characters find themselves in made me empathize with them that much more. I’ll admit, I found myself rooting for a happy ending.
The details in this book not only supplied the reader with the usual forensic information, but unknown historical facts regarding World War II as well. The very, very descriptive autopsy was...well umm…interesting...I could almost smell it! Overall, this forensic mystery was a captivating read with a very unpredictable ending.
Be careful who you slight
Slights by Kaaron Warren
After an accident in which her mother dies, Stevie has a near-death experience, and finds herself in a room full of people - everyone she's ever annoyed. They clutch at her, scratch and tear at her. But she finds herself drawn back to this place, again and again, determined to unlock its secrets. Which means she has to die, again and again. And Stevie starts to wonder whether other people see the same room...when they die (Product Description)
First of all, can I just say how much I love this cover? A bunch of new paperbacks arrived at the library a few months ago, and this immediately caught my eye for its supreme creepiness. For some reason it reminded me of that movie Jacob's Ladder, but I digress.
This is an exceptionally well-written book, with an original premise that's solidly executed, but reader beware: it is a dark, depressing, claustrophobic read that never lets up. It is a richly textured novel, quite literary, but also ruthless in its barbarity. This book will shock you and make you squirm, of that I am certain. It is a mystery wrapped up in devastating family secrets.
Stevie is a villain like no other I've read in a very long time. Getting inside her head is akin to cracking open a log on the forest floor and having all sorts of creepy crawlies come pouring out -- beetles, centipedes, maggots, you name it. The ick factor is off the charts. I wanted to feel sorry for her, find some reason for empathy, but she is just so completely rotten to her core that you can't. I'm telling you, you can't! Just when I felt myself starting to soften, my burgeoning empathy was squashed by a cruel or selfish word, thought or deed.
And it's not just Stevie: no one is likable in this book. There is no one to root for and I struggle with that kind of post-modern existential reading experience. I need a hero, or at least an anti-hero, someone with one redeeming quality to hang my hat on. But everyone is horrible. Maybe it's because they're seen through Stevie's eyes, but it doesn't matter because the end result is the same.
The first half of the novel reads like a coming-of-age story with lots of jagged edges. It's a slow build, but Stevie's reminisces are painful, ugly and uncomfortable to read because Warren's language is graphic, brutalizing, and scalpel sharp. Certainly not for everyone, but an intriguing and impressive debut.
By Alex Kava
After Albert Stucky, a brutal and clever serial killer known as "The Collector," escapes from prison, he forces FBI profiler Maggie O'Dell, the agent who originally captured him, to play a deadly game when he targets her and everyone associated with her, pushing her to the very edge of sanity. (Description taken from Fantastic Fiction)
My Review: Split Second is the second installment of Kava's Maggie O'Dell series (after A Perfect Evil) and it is much better than the first. The tone and maturity is evident in Kava’s sophomore novel as the rookie mistakes (i.e.: the amateurish and out-of-place romance scenes) are replaced with a more tightly plotted thriller/murder mystery. Although Nick Morelli makes a reappearance in this book, Maggie O’Dell takes center stage and her character is much more developed than the first. An entertaining read to curl up with on the patio as the days of summer slowly turn to fall.
Copy Cat Murderer?
A Perfect Evil
By Alex Kava
My review: Convicted killer Ronald Jeffreys is executed for the murder and desecration of three little boys. He wholeheartedly admits his guilt to one of the three, but goes to his grave professing his innocence for the other two murders. In three short months after the execution, another body of a young boy is found killed in a similar manner. Small town sheriff Nick Morrelli realizes he’s in over his head and lacks the resources to deal with an investigation of such a scale. He enlists the help of Maggie O’Dell, one of the FBI’s best but headstrong and sometimes reckless criminal profiler.
Typical yet entertaining as far as serial killer novels are concerned. The perspective changes from character to character usually at the beginning of each chapter which is great. It allows the reader an insight into the makings and mind of the killer and answers the question of “why.”
Although there are a few twists and turns along the way, my biggest complaint is that the killer’s identity is revealed far too early in the novel. The second concern would be the forced romance between the two main characters. In such a tightly plotted thriller, there was no room for a clumsy and almost “teenage-like” romance.
The open-ended storyline and lack of closure guarantees the reappearance of the killer but readers will have to read through until the 5th book in the series A Necessary Evil to be reacquainted with him.
The Rogue Reader
Wanna go for a joyride?
Joyride (Leisure, 2010)
by Jack Ketchum
I love Leisure Books and here's why -- as publishers they rescue some of the best horror out there from oblivion (the hard to find stuff where the original publication was for maybe 350 copies) -- and re-release it as mass market paperbacks. Now authors who you might never have discovered are easy to find at your local bookstore -- and library!
Authors like Richard Laymon, Brian Keene, Edward Lee and last but never least ... Jack Ketchum. Like Laymon, Ketchum is not for the faint of heart. His books are white-knucklers that go straight for the jugular. But if you like your horror horrific, then you simply must give Ketchum a try, especially his classic The Girl Next Door.
Joyride (2010) was previously published as Road Kill (1995) Summary: Hoping to escape from her abusive ex-husband, a woman and her lover successfully carry out their plot to murder him, only to find themselves at the mercy of an obsessive, twisted stranger who witnessed the crime.
A Serial Killer Thriller
By Ted Dekker
A Texas serial killer called BoneMan is on the loose, choosing young girls as his prey, His signature: myriad broken bones that torture and kill - but never puncture. Military intelligence officer Ryan Evans is married to his work; so much so that his wife and daughter have written him out of their lives. Sent to Fallujah and captured by insurgents, he is asked to kill children not unlike his own. The method: a meticulous, excruciating death by broken bones that his captor has forced him to learn. Returning home after the ordeal, a new crisis awaits. A serial killer is on the loose, and his method of killing is the same. Ryan becomes a prime suspect, which isn't even the worst of his problems: Ryan's daughter is BoneMan's latest desire. (Product Description)
My Review: Very original, though highly unlikely serial killer/ thriller novel. There were aspects of this book that intrigued me, but my overall impression is still a little bit reserved. For a decorated and highly trained military officer, Evans’ actions were quite elementary and emotional. The issues with his family were not developed which made some of the characters hard to empathize with. But the aspect that bothered me the most was that the mind, history and motivations of the perpetrator was very underdeveloped which left the reader wondering what really happened in the killer’s past that made him to the things he did. Sure, there were subtle hints at his childhood but not enough to buy the monster he turned into.
That being said, I must admit the plot was very unpredictable and there was never a dull moment. Dekker attempted to send a political message with part of his novel which I thought was an interesting way to look at the cost of war and collateral damage (but this storyline abruptly ended as well). Despite its many shortcomings, it was an entertaining and suspenseful read. This was my first go at Ted Dekker and I think I will try more of his works. Let me know what you think.
Not Your Average Serial Killer
The Face of Death (2007)
By Cody McFadyen
After witnessing the torture and murder of her beloved family at age 6, Sarah Langstorm has lived a lifetime’s worth of anguish and despair. A sadist serial killer known as “The Stranger” has targeted 16 year old Sarah for nearly a decade by slaughtering everyone she has ever cared about calling it “his Justice”. But when her latest foster family is found maimed and dead, she enlists the help of Smoky Barrett and her Violent Crimes Team to catch this sicko once and for all.
Smoky, scarred both physically and emotionally is still recovering from her previous case which saw the murder of her beloved husband, daughter and best friend. Unsure of her readiness to return to work, Smoky is thrown back in the midst of one of her most disturbing cases to date.
This sequel to McFadyen’s debut The Shadow Man is just as good (and disturbing) as the first. The premise of the story—systematically ruining a single victim’s life (but not outright killing her) similar to the way the perpetrator’s life was ruined— is very different from the usual serial killer police procedural. Horrific, haunting, yet compulsively readable, The Face of Death will keep you up at night!
The Darker Side, which is the third book in the series, is also currently available at RPL as is the fourth book Abandoned.
New Richard Laymon now available!
Thanks to the new One Province One Library Card system, it's now easier than ever to get your hands on some of the hottest horror out there. Books are just a click of the Request It button away, like these two Laymon classics, re-released by Leisure Books in 2009 -- Dark Mountain and Flesh.
Even when Laymon isn't at his best, I still find myself turning the pages and unable to put the book down. His books are often dreadful, compelling stuff -- trashy but satisfying, everything a pulp-riff-page-turner should be. For me, Laymon is the equivalent of a greasy cheeseburger and fries -- consume in moderation and enjoy -- and try not to feel guilty about it later!
Find Richard Laymon in the all-new One Province Encore catalogue!!!!
A new "twist" on possession
Summary: After witnessing the horrific murder of her twin sister Lilin, Agnes Hahn developed a multiple personality disorder in the form of her dead sibling and was admitted to the Napa State Mental Institution, simply known as "Imola" to its residents. By controlling her sister's body, Lilin escapes from the institution and begins a killing spree throughout northern California. Calling on the lessons learned in her therapy sessions and with the support of investigative reporter Jason Powers, Agnes begins to challenge her maniacal sister. Wrestling with the secrets of her dark past and her persistent inner demon, Agnes finds herself in the ultimate battle to regain her life.
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