Review: The Killing Kind by Chris Holm

Killing+Kind+CoverAbout The Killing Kind

A hitman who only kills other hitmen winds up a target himself.

Michael Hendricks kills people for money. That aside, he’s not so bad a guy.

Once a covert operative for a false-flag unit of the US military, Hendricks was presumed dead after a mission in Afghanistan went sideways. He left behind his old life–and beloved fiancée–and set out on a path of redemption…or perhaps one of willful self-destruction.

Now Hendricks makes his living as a hitman entrepreneur of sorts–he only hits other hitmen. For ten times the price on your head, he’ll make sure whoever’s coming to kill you winds up in the ground instead. Not a bad way for a guy with his skill-set to make a living–but a great way to make himself a target.


About the Author

Chris Holm is an award-winning short story writer whose work has appeared in a number of magazines and anthologies, including Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Needle: A Magazine of Noir, and The Best American Mystery Stories. His critically acclaimed trilogy of Collector novels, which blends fantasy with old-fashioned crime pulp, appeared on over forty Year’s Best lists. He lives in Portland, Maine.


My Thoughts

Chris Holm knows how to put together a mighty fine thriller, and with The Killing Kind he’s at his frenetic best.

While dueling assassins are old-hat in the thriller genre, Holm taps into a quick and easy rhythm that will keep readers glued to the page throughout. If it weren’t for the day job, I could have easily plowed through this book in a day, the pages kept turning so easily. In fact, I’m not sure that I’ve read a game of cat-and-mouse this engrossing since Thomas Perry’s Pursuit more than a decade ago.

Holm ably crafts his chase story in triangular fashion, with Michal Hendricks, a hitman who targets other hitmen, Engelmann, the hitman hired to locate and kill Hendricks, and the FBI agents trying to drum up any lead they can on the killer ghost that is Hendricks.

Hendricks, an ex-Special Forces operator, carries around a good amount of emotional baggage and conflictedness over his actions, and although he murders for money he operates by a set of rules and basic morality. The sort of ‘do a little bad to do a little good’ bit. Engelmann, on the other hand, is a wonderfully odd duck defined by his contrary nature. European, well-educated, nicely tailored, and possessing all the affectations that go along with that, he’s a cold-blooded sort and brutal in his executions, yet intriguingly and scarily deft in his tortures of those standing between him and his target.

The world in which both men operate in is nicely defined, and Holm tackles the big questions surrounding Hendricks’s choice of employment – like how does he figure out who needs help and who helps him along the way – quickly and succinctly, guiding readers through the plausible steps that define how a killer of killers would operate. And rather than feeling bogged down by a series of endless chases between disparate groups all running toward the same goal, there’s a beautiful sense of energy guiding the story.

Equally important, Holm avoids some of the typical expectations of the genre that most readers would expect – there’s no burgeoning romance shoehorned in between Hendricks and the female FBI agent that’s been chasing his ghost for years. These characters are utterly professional and proficient in their aims, which is another aspect I appreciated here. The focus is on keeping the tension torqued and the action moving.

And the action – well, there’s plenty of it, and it’s apparent that Holm had a great time writing and constructing this book. The Killing Kind is as clever as it is enjoyable, and Hendricks lays out several well thought out traps to ensnare his quarry, with a finale that is both satisfying and more than a touch ingenious.

The Killing Kind is a seriously fun read, and more than a few scenes recalled for me the glory days of the TV show Burn Notice (which, if you haven’t watched, you need to!). It’s energetic, propulsive, and eminently readable. Fans of smart action-thrillers, you’ve got your next read right here.

[This review is based on an advanced copy received from the publisher via NetGalley.]

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Review: The Killing Kind by Chris Holm

Review: Left to Darkness by Craig Saunders

left_to_darknessAbout Left To Darkness

A meteor strikes the Earth. Dirt and dust fill the air. Only a few people remain under the setting skies, and those who still live find it’s not God’s England anymore.

It’s the Devil’s turn.

Lines are drawn between the dark and light. For the darkness, James Finley and his cult for the end of days. On the side of light, Paul Deacon, the lost policeman, and Dawn Graves, the last mother.

To survive, they must put their lives in one man’s hands: Frank Liebowicz, a killer with a soft spot for lost causes. Because come Armageddon, God won’t choose his champions.

They’ll choose themselves.


About the Author

Craig Saunders is the author of over thirty novels and novellas, first published with ‘Rain’ in 2011. Stories include ‘Flesh and Coin’, ‘The Estate’, ‘Deadlift’ and ‘Masters of Blood and Bone’, called ‘A rare treat from a master of horror’ by The Examiner.

His writes dark fiction/horror with an element of crime or mystery, and epic fantasy. His shorter fiction appears in various anthologies and magazines. Sometimes he dabbles with humour – but only when he’s feeling serious.

Born in 1972 in London, England, Craig did some stuff (like growing up – abridged version), then studied Japanese and Law in Cardiff, Wales. After deciding the legal side of the law wasn’t much fun, he left British shores to live and work in Japan. He has experimented with jobs as diverse as a translator and interpreter, English teacher, editor, dog walker, carpenter, doorman, and others besides.

He lives in Norfolk, England, with his wife and children, likes nice people and good coffee.

Find out more at:
http://www.craigrsaunders.blogspot.com
http://www.facebook.com/craigrsaundersauthor
@Grumblesprout


My Thoughts

[This review is based on an advanced copy received from the publisher via NetGalley.]

I first became aware of Craig Saunders with the release of another DarkFuse title, Masters of Blood and Bone, in the early part of 2015. For me, that title was an elegantly written, and perfectly crafted, fusion of dark horror, fantasy, and noir. In short, it’s a tough title to beat and sets a rather lofty benchmark for Saunders to reach on subsequent novels. And so, I came into Left to Darkness with a certain measure of expectation.

The setting is England, in the months prior to and the days following a meteor strike that heralds the apocalypse. Saunders bounces the narrative around his primary characters – the overweight Paul Deacon, a policeman who has settled into his career after many years, a pregnant Dawn Graves, whose husband was recently murdered, and hitman Frank Liebowicz. Life in the End Days puts them up against a cannibalistic cult, its members clad in sack cloth and barbed wire crowns, led by James Finley.

And while the meteor-ruined landscape is an impressive locale, it’s the characters that are of prime importance here. Saunders displays a knack for developing each of them sufficiently well, enough that when danger befalls them there is an honest sense of worry and a few squirm-inducing moments that hit all the right “oh shit” notes one would expect and demand of a post-apocalypse survival horror story.

Frank pretty well steals the show here: not quite the hitman with a heart of gold pastiche, but still an easily relateable enough figure with an iron will. He’s a tough bastard, a friggin’ tank, bound and determined to survive, meteors be damned. Dawn, meanwhile, is utterly sympathetic – pregnant and alone, fending for herself and her unborn child, torn between the safety and security that being alone could bring, but needing to find and rely on other survivors for help in delivering her baby and keeping them safe. The cult members and killers they square off against are nicely drawn as well, but hanging out with Sid and Silvia is like stuffing your head inside a hornets nest. They’re a real bag of crazy, those two.

My only point of contention is that Left to Darkness lacks a truly satisfying resolution. The finale is action-packed and exciting, but there’s a host of information missing between the final chapter and the epilogue. I was somewhat let down by the open-ended nature, but would certainly dig in to any follow-up immediately because the story here is damn compelling, enough that I must know what happens next (or perhaps in between).

As I said earlier, I came into this story with a certain degree of expectation, which was mostly met. Saunders has a clean, straight to the point style that makes for a compelling voice, one that damn near happily drags you from word to word. This book might not have hit all the right notes that I savored in Masters of Blood and Bone, but he gets pretty close and has me fired up for more.

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Review: Left to Darkness by Craig Saunders

Review: Skinner by David Bernstein

skinnerAbout Skinner

For six close friends, a weekend away turns deadly when their vehicle skids off the road and crashes in a remote part of the Adirondack Mountains.

In the direct path of a blizzard, they are hurt, cold and scared, wondering if they’ll make it through the night. But the group’s luck seemingly changes when they take refuge in a small cabin.

Their plan is simple: wait for the storm to pass. But there is something else out there that has its own plans for them.

Invade. Reveal secrets. Invoke madness. Make enemies out of friends. Create chaos. And shed blood.


About the Author

David Bernstein is a dark fiction writer, a horror writer. He writes the gamut, from atmospheric horror to extreme gory horror to dark fiction and dark thriller, oh, and the occasional bizarro tale. Please visit him at davidbernsteinauthor.blogspot.com for more about him and his work or on Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/david.bernstein.3


My Thoughts

I have a bit of a soft-spot for horror set in snowy climes, so I was very curious to see what David Bernstein would have in store for readers in SKINNER. For the most part, I was pretty pleased.

The opening chapters hit all the right notes for me, satisfying expectations for a story of this type, but also offering up some intriguing differences. The group stops at a creepy old gas station along the mountain route to a cabin in the woods, and encounter the creepy old gas station attendant – pretty standard fare and an expected well-worn horror staple. When a crazy and sudden snow storm sets in and the travelers are forced off the mountain path in the wake of a car accident, the fun sets in. They find an abandoned shack in the woods, and tensions rise quickly as the supernatural element of the story barges in to wreak havoc and they find themselves surrounded by wolves.

There were some good surprises in the group dynamic, as these friends are forced to confront some awful truths about themselves, and the survival elements bring in a heady dose of fun. The action is well done, and the writing is pretty solid and well-paced. In fact, the good elements in this story far outweigh my few nitpicks. One point of contention is that some of the supernatural stuff here feels cribbed from a Grimm’s’ Fairy Tale and felt a little too borrowed from the fantasy genre for my tastes. Another issue I had, and I’ll issue a small SPOILER WARNING here is that multiple characters end up wandering down the tracks of similar trains of thought, mostly about how, when they escape, they’re going to get filthy rich off their story. They get so wrapped up in their imaginings that they completely forget about how much danger they’re in and have to be sucked back into reality by their buddies. I spent most of the story thinking this was a result of manipulations from the menace they face, but it happens a few times too often that I started to wonder if it was simply a one-note idea or if these characters were really all just that shallow. It’s a minor gripe, and one I’m largely willing to overlook simply because the ride was enjoyable enough.

So, as I said earlier, I dig snow-driven horror and climate-based survival stories are one of my favorite subgenres within horror. Ultimately, Bernstein delivered what I was looking for quite well. The fantasy elements weren’t my cup of tea, but the character interactions and bursts of violence and ratcheting tension held my attention and kept me glued to the page. Mostly it was just an entertaining and fun bit of reading. Nicely done, Mr. Bernstein.

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Review: Skinner by David Bernstein

Review: Tortures of the Damned by Hunter Shea

torturesofthedamnedAbout Tortures of the Damned

SHOCK…

First, the electricity goes—plunging the east coast in darkness after a devastating nuclear attack. Millions panic. Millions die. They are the lucky ones.

AFTER SHOCK…

Next, the chemical weapons take effect—killing or contaminating everything alive. Except a handful of survivors in a bomb shelter. They are the damned.

HELL IS FOR HUMANS

Then, the real nightmare begins. Hordes of rats force two terrified families out of their shelter—and into the savage streets of an apocalyptic wasteland. They are not alone. Vicious, chemical-crazed animals hunt in packs. Dogs tear flesh, cats draw blood, horses crush bone. Roaming gangs of the sick and dying are barely recognizable as human. These are the times that try men’s souls. These are the tortures that tear families apart. This is hell on earth. The rules are simple: Kill or die.


About the Author

Hunter Shea is the author of the novels The Montauk Monster, Sinister Entity, Forest of Shadows, Swamp Monster Massacre, and Evil Eternal. His stories have appeared in numerous magazines, including Dark Moon Digest, Morpheus Tales and the Cemetery Dance anthology, Shocklines : Fresh Voices in Terror. His obsession with all things horrific has led him to real life exploration of the paranormal, interviews with exorcists and other things that would keep most people awake with the lights on. He lives in New York with his family and vindictive cat. He waits with Biblical patience for the Mets to win a World Series. You can read about his latest travails and communicate with him at http://www.huntershea.com.

My Thoughts

[This review is based on an advanced copy received from the publisher via NetGalley.]

Hunter Shea’s latest finds the Padilla family, and their neighboring couple, Buck and Alexiana, toughing out life in a post-apocalyptic Yonkers where, seemingly, everyone and everything wants them dead, right down to the skunks and racoons.

After a series of attacks on the US mainland force the Padilla’s into Buck’s bomb shelter, they emerge to find a radically changed world. A chemical assault has killed off most of the human population, and animals all across the spectrum – from racehorses to domesticated dogs and cats – have gone berserk. Venturing out into this brave new world for the first time, Buck and Daniel, the Padilla patriarch, are attacked by a tidal wave of rats, forcing everyone out of the bomb shelter and into this stark, new reality.

Shea is a proficient horror author and he drums up a few scenes here that are gut-twisting, including an early introduction into the horses gone wild and, later, a scene where Daniel and his wife, Elizabeth, are forced to confront a naked, knife-wielding lunatic with truly depraved intentions. The action is pretty frenetic and makes for a quick and propulsive read, with all kinds of different scenarios and variations on man vs. animal and man vs. man themes.

My only complaint is that, for me, the characters felt somewhat flat. We learn enough about them to feel comfortable as they’re set off on their less-than merry way, and Elizabeth, a nurse, is called into action more than a few times, but we never really get to know their histories or the depths of their souls. The Padilla family is pretty large, which leads to most coming off as a bit one-note. Max is the angry teen, Gabby the scared the kid, Elizabeth the worried mother, etc.

Where I cannot fault Shea is in giving each character a great moment to shine. Their father, Daniel, gets a nice scene where he performs a necessary evil that would have been impossible for him to carry out in a more civilized world, and when a certain tragedy befalls Alexiana, her reaction and fears are suitably realistic. The ordeals endured by the Padilla’s generate a solid dose of emotion and a few uncomfortable squirms that helps the material live up to the promise set forth in the title.

All in all, Tortures of the Damned is an entertaining read, with plenty of great action scenes, but not one in which I felt terribly invested in character-wise. Still, the climax is resoundingly exciting, punchy, and more than a little brutal. I definitely recommend that fans of post-apocalypse survival fiction give it a shot, particularly if you’re looking for some zombie-free fare but one with a nice little spin on the typical tropes.

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Review: Tortures of the Damned by Hunter Shea

Review: A Song of Shadows by John Connolly

asongofshadowsAbout A Song of Shadows

Still recovering from his life-threatening wounds, private detective Charlie Parker investigates a case that has its origins in a Nazi concentration camp during the Second World War.

Parker has retreated to the small Maine town of Boreas to regain his strength. There he befriends a widow named Ruth Winter and her young daughter, Amanda. But Ruth has her secrets. Old atrocities are about to be unearthed, and old sinners will kill to hide their sins. Now Parker is about to risk his life to defend a woman he barely knows, one who fears him almost as much as she fears those who are coming for her.

His enemies believe him to be vulnerable. Fearful. Solitary.

But they are wrong. Parker is far from afraid, and far from alone.

For something is emerging from the shadows . . .


About the Author

John Connolly is the author of The Wrath of AngelsThe Burning SoulThe Book of Lost Things, and Bad Men, among many others. He is a regular contributor to The Irish Times and lives in Dublin, Ireland. For more information, see his website at JohnConnollyBooks.com, or follow him on Twitter @JConnollyBooks.


My Thoughts

[This review is based on an advanced copy received from the publisher through NetGalley.]

I can only imagine how difficult it must be to keep a long-running series feeling so fresh and vibrant, but after thirteen books John Connolly is still, somehow, plugging along and not only providing a satisfying series read, but continuing to grow and improve. Readers, like me, who have been following Connolly from the very beginning and have invested now more than a decade in the cast of characters circulating through these Parker novels will find another winning entry into the canon for sure, but also a damn good read that continues to plumb a lot of this honeycomb world’s depths.

After so many novels, it should be readily apparent that Connolly knows his characters inside and out, and although he manages to introduce a few nasty surprises and shocking violence, it’s this apparent comfort that makes each new entry warm and inviting akin to the finest and heady soul food. Readers, too, know these characters and their idiosyncrasies very well by now and will likely find several reasons to laugh out loud as the dashes of humor surrounding the nature of Louis, Angel, and Parker and how the surrounding world views each man, along with a sequence of events surrounding the Fulci brothers that had me snickering for pages on end.

I absolutely relish these annual releases, and have been anticipating A Song of Shadows since finishing A Wolf In Winter last year, which left our title character, Charlie Parker, in some seriously dire straights after surviving an attack. The Charlie Parker we see here is very much the private investigator readers have come to know and love, but he is a changed man. After the grueling ordeal that befell him in the prior novel, how could he not be? Here, he’s the walking wounded, slowly making strides toward recovery. His mind his sharp, but his body is not – he’s slower, his reflexes dull, his muscles weak to the point that he can barely grip well enough to give a good handshake, let alone use a gun. Even injured, Parker is still a formidable adversary with loyal friends who are no stranger to killing and exacting revenge on behalf of the investigator. And, of course, his history carries enough weight that even while hurt so badly his presence in Boreas prompts one local cop to think that “It was like having a grenade rolling around, one you had been assured was defused but hadn’t had time to check out for yourself.” While he may be at his lowest point physically, he’s also more driven than he’s been in quite some time, imbued with a purpose that rises far above the latest mystery. Parker has always been a bit of an avenging angel figure, even when serving as a pawn of the nebulous shadow groups that often manipulate the world around him, but here he’s finally learning to truly own his position and status in this stratum.

Parker’s recovery and the shifting balance among his friends, Louis and Angel, provide much of the emotional spine for a story that otherwise revolves around Nazi atrocities and the mysterious, interlinked killings in the present-day that appear connected to the deportation of recently discovered ex-Nazi officers living under assumed identities in Maine. The scenario is certainly compelling enough on its own, but by plugging the story into the ever-developing mythology of the Parker novels, Connolly raises the stakes a notch or two, coupling it with the changing nature of evil and splashes of paranormal activity that have long since given this series its edge.

If you’ve been following Connolly’s career and are a Parker devotee, than reading A Song of Shadows is a no brainer. If you haven’t gotten invested in these works yet, then you absolutely must start with Every Dead Thing and work your way forward, as this is a series that demands being read in order. Meanwhile, I’m off to pine away another year waiting for book 14.

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Review: A Song of Shadows by John Connolly

One Small Step For Man…

Gorgeous Pluto! The dwarf planet has sent a love note back to Earth via our New Horizons spacecraft, which has traveled more than 9 years and 3+ billion miles. This is the last and most detailed image of Pluto sent to Earth before the moment of closest approach, which was at 7:49 a.m. EDT Tuesday – about 7,750 miles above the surface — roughly the same distance from New York to Mumbai, India – making it the first-ever space mission to explore a world so far from Earth. This stunning image of the dwarf planet was captured from New Horizons at about 4 p.m. EDT on July 13, about 16 hours before the moment of closest approach. The spacecraft was 476,000 miles (766,000 kilometers) from the surface. Images from closest approach are expected to be released on Wednesday, July 15. Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI #nasa #pluto #plutoflyby #newhorizons#solarsystem #nasabeyond #science

A photo posted by NASA (@nasa) on

One Small Step For Man…

Review: The Harvest (The Heartland Trilogy, Book 3) by Chuck Wendig

The HarvestAbout The Harvest

Blood will water the corn…

It’s been a year since the Saranyu flotilla fell from the sky, and life in the Heartland has changed. Gone are the Obligations and the Harvest Home festivals. In their place is a spate of dead towns, the former inhabitants forced into mechanical bodies to serve the Empyrean—and crush the Heartland.

When Cael awakens from a Blightborn sleep, miles away from the world he remembers, he sets out across the Heartland to gather his friends for one last mission. As the mechanicals, a war flotilla, and a pack of feral Empyrean girls begin to close in on the Heartland, there isn’t much time to make their next move. But if they can uncover a secret weapon in time, Cael and his friends might just find themselves with the power to save the world—or destroy it—resting in their hands.


About the Author

Chuck Wendig is a novelist, screenwriter and game designer. He’s the author of many published novels, including but not limited to: Blackbirds, The Blue Blazes, and the YA Heartland series. He is co-writer of the short film Pandemic and the Emmy-nominated digital narrative Collapsus. Wendig has contributed over two million words to the game industry. He is also well known for his profane-yet-practical advice to writers, which he dispenses at his blog, terribleminds.com, and through several popular e-books, including The Kick-Ass Writer, published by Writers Digest. He currently lives in the forests of Pennsyltucky with wife, tiny human, and red dog.


My Thoughts

[This review is based on an advanced copy received from the publisher through NetGalley.]

Chuck Wendig returns to the Heartland one last time to wrap up his cornpunk opus in grand fashion.

The previous novel, Blightborn, left our MC, Cael McAvoy in seriously dire straights, but Wendig wastes no time in resolving it and jumping right into the action one year later. Tasked with a mission by the Maize Witch to recover a decades-old weapon that could destroy the Empyrean empire for good, Cael and his Obligated, Wendy, are off to save the Heartland! Along the way, familiar faces from past novels return to reestablish the cast of friends and enemies as the tyrannical rule of the evil skylords grows ever more constrictive. As the Heartland inches closer to war, McAvoy and his old crew of Sky Scavengers are simultaneously reunited and torn apart by conflicting loyalties, emotional turbulence, and a devastating attack by the Harpies, a band of teenage female warriors with self-inflicted scarring across their faces.

Across three novels, Wendig has expertly plumbed the emotional depths of his cast of characters, thrusting them into uniquely dark situations that make their hard-scrabbles lives all the more difficult and turbulent. The Harvest is no exception as, come hell or highwater, these new adults are forced to make very mature choices as they find their way in a very old world, fighting against a system that seeks only to oppress and dominate. The stakes are higher than they’ve ever been, particularly for Cael who, previously, had no ambition to change the world but to simply make his small part in it better for him and his. With adulthood thrust upon him, Cael is learning that the world is larger than he imagined, and much bigger than merely himself.

The world-building and mythology that has been developed in this series is utterly top-notch, drawing its cues from real-world food politics, comic books (I couldn’t help but sense shades of X-Men‘s Dark Phoenix Saga in one character’s progression through the story), and epic works, like Star Wars, which Wendig’s trilogy, and The Harvest in particular, have drawn multiple allusions to and several loving odes. Naturally enough, the Lord and Lady has seen fit to have Wendig author an upcoming Star Wars title, which is due out soon and will most definitely be hitting the top of my TBR stack upon release.

While I would certainly love to see Wendig return to this world in some capacity in the future, I’m quite happy with the time I was able to spend among the Sky Scavengers. I suspect my appreciation and fondness for this body of work will only grow stronger in the coming years, and I’ve grown a certain affection for this series across the three books. The Harvest is not only a solid work in its own right, filled with plenty of action and flotilla’s worth of heart and genuine emotion, but, equally important, it serves as a fitting finale to The Heartland Trilogy. There’s a sense of darkness to the proceedings here, but also a promise of hope and brightness. Fair warning, though: not everyone gets a happy ending, and not everyone walks away unscathed. But, that’s just life in the Heartland.

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Review: The Harvest (The Heartland Trilogy, Book 3) by Chuck Wendig