Book Reviews by Gabino Iglesias

Crogian by John Leahy

Crogian cover

At one point, there was nothing cooler in the horror genre than creature features and novels dealing with man-eating monsters. Packed with action, adrenaline, and gore, these narratives were entertaining even when their literary or cinematic merit was nonexistent. Then something happened and monsters became cheesy (the unbelievably awful low budget movies constantly churned out by a certain channel had a lot to do with it). Now, however, creature lovers have reason to celebrate: John Leahy's Crogian makes giant insects cool again.

A strange metallic object is unearthed in a shallow creek in Alaska. The mysterious thing turns out to be much bigger than the man who found it originally thought, so soon he's getting help from other folks in town to dig it out. Eventually, the buzz reaches the right ears and the U.S. Air Force intervenes and finishes the unearthing. What they find is unlike anything else in human history. Seven years later, and after much research, the military shows up in Speaker, Texas, and starts setting up a base in an abandoned chemical plant next to Ken Forde's farm. Ken is a family man, and he will have to do everything in his power to protect his family because the shady project that was being worked on inside the plant, something called Crogian, an acronym for CReator Of GIANts, goes horribly wrong and it leaks out when the base is destroyed. The apocalypse takes over the town: insects, fish, and reptiles turn into gigantic, fearless monsters, and people quickly drop to the very bottom of the food chain.

Crogian is a nice mix of horror and science fiction. The first third of the narrative is very descriptive and successfully sets up the catastrophe. From then on, the running, screaming, and dying start, and this is where the...

My Pet Serial Killer by Michael J. Seidlinger

My first encounter with Michael J. Seidlinger's prose came via his dark novel The Sky Conducting. The book stuck with me because Seidlinger pulled off two things that are rarely seen. For starters, the narrative was the first truly unique and engaging work of post-apocalyptic fiction I'd read in years. Also, the author's prose was the best example of economy of language I'd encountered in a very long time. In a way, it felt like reading a darker, more lyrical version of James Ellroy. With My Pet Serial Killer, Seidlinger has once again brought to the table the elements that make his work so enjoyable and then taken a step further: he's reinvented the serial killer thriller.

Claire Wilkinson is a graduate student of forensics who's obsessed with serial murderers. She navigates the phony, oversexed world of clubs in search of a man who appeals to her. When she finds an elegant, good-looking guy who seems to be making women disappear at will, the hunt is on. A strange relationship blossoms and, although it's clear who the killer is, soon dependency, obsession, and psychological punishment blur the line between victim and aggressor. Claire has what she wants and provides the killer, whose work gets noticed and earns him the name the Gentleman Killer, with what he needs. The arrangement is perfect for a while, but Claire also has a secret agenda that turns the bloodthirsty killer into a toy, a pet, a mere object of study.

My Pet Serial Killer walks the line between a thriller and a horror novel. The story moves along nicely thanks to Seidlinger's economic, straightforward prose, and Claire and the Gentleman Killer are treated very differently even if they somewhat share the spotlight when it comes to the crucial moments in the narrative. Despite...

Anon

Writing a novel with a great start that hooks readers in immediately is no easy task. However, if an enthralling beginning is accomplished, successfully carrying that narrative to a satisfying resolution is even harder to pull off. That's exactly what happened with Peter Giglio’s Anon: a very strong opening promised a definite must-read, but the plethora of disjointed elements worked into the story and lack of clarity turned a novel that could have been outstanding into one that's above average.

Rory Ellison is a man with a very dark past. Although some of the things he did still haunt him, he now has a job and an opportunity to go back and make things right with Faith, an ex-girlfriend he once physically assaulted. Anon, the company Rory works for, is a seemingly regular corporation, but something sinister is happening behind the scenes. Rory finds Faith's home and talks to her husband, but before he can come back and make amends with Faith, he has a car accident. While he's unconscious, Faith ends up taking care of him in the hospital. When he wakes up, Faith falls in love with him again and what had until then been a perfect family begins to disintegrate. Faith's two small daughters, who have always had a special gift, are caught in the maelstrom of evil and destruction that ensues. Ultimately, everyone will suffer at the hands of Anon, the wicked driving force behind the action.

Anon is a multilayered narrative that reads more like a dark supernatural thriller than a horror novel. Besides the interesting start, there are a few elements that make this a recommendable read. For starters, Giglio's prose is elegant and prone to poetic bursts that come at regular intervals. Also, he has a knack for conveying the emotional distress the characters...

The Last Final Girl

I've read three books by Stephen Graham Jones this year. With many other authors, this would be the point in which recurring themes, beloved phrases, and preferred narrative structure turn a bit monotonous. Fortunately, Jones is obsessed with reinventing his prose with every book. For The Last Final Girl, his latest release with Lazy Fascist Press, Jones created a novel/screenplay hybrid that pulls the reader along at breakneck speed and offers glimpses of the action through almost every character, including the killer.

The story takes place in a small Texas town. Lindsay, the homecoming princess, barely escaped death at the hands of a sadistic murderer in a Michael Jackson mask. It was dark and she was up on a cliff with no way out, but then her horse came to the rescue and she bravely defeated the killer (rumour has it she used her bra to snatch the killer's weapon). Surviving turned Lindsay into a legend. Better yet, it turned her into slasher movie cliché: a heroic final girl.

If you have seen a few slasher flicks, you know surviving the killer is just the beginning of the story (or the promise of a sequel). In the same small town where Lindsay escaped death, kids are jumping into a river where Halloween masks float downstream and remind us of the killer. Meanwhile, Billie Jean, the madman behind the mask, thirsts for blood, and Lindsay concocts a plan to make sure she's the last final girl. Unfortunately, there are other girls in school who have seen the right movies and understand how being the final girl works. When the bodies begin to pile, Lindsay chooses a group of virgins, misfits, and former final girls to replace the butchered members of her original homecoming court. Before we know who will be left standing in the end, a lot of...

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