Review: Hell Hole by Hunter Shea

hell hole

About Hell Hole

Deep in a Wyoming mine, hell awaits.

Former cattle driver, Rough Rider and current New York City cop Nat Blackburn is given an offer he can’t refuse by President Teddy Roosevelt. Tales of gold in the abandoned mining town of Hecla, in the Deep Rock Hills, abound. The only problem–those who go seeking their fortune never return.

Along with his constant companion, Teta, a hired gun with a thirst for adventure, Nat travels to a barren land where even animals dare not tread. But the remnants of Hecla are far from empty. Black-eyed children, strange lights and ferocious wild men venture from the deep, dark mine…as well as a force so sinister Nat’s and Teta’s very souls are in jeopardy.

There’s a mystery in Hecla thousands of years old. Solving it could spell the end of the world.

About the Author

Hunter Shea is the author of the novels Forest of Shadows, Swamp Monster Massacre, Evil Eternal, Sinister Entity and The Graveyard Speaks. His stories have appeared in numerous magazines, including Dark Moon Digest, Morpheus Tales and the upcoming 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 is also half of the Monster Men video podcast, a fun look at the world of horror. You can read about his latest travails and communicate with him at, on Twitter @HunterShea1, Facebook fan page at Hunter Shea or the Monster Men 13 channel on YouTube.

My Thoughts

(I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review via NetGalley.)

Hunter Shea’s latest is a weird west monster mash that finds Nat Blackburn and his compatriot, Teta, two of Teddy Roosevelt’s famed Rough Riders, squaring off against  demonic forces in the abandoned mining town of Hecla, Wyoming.

Hecla has a sordid history. There’s gold in them there hills, yet prospectors who venture into town are never heard from again. The entire town has up and disappeared, and the latest in a long line of missing are troops sent by President Roosevelt to investigate. As Nat and Teta discover, Hecla is far from abandoned. In fact, there’s all kinds of life cooped up in the mining veins of Deep Rock Hills. Only thing is, none of it’s human…

The first thing that struck me about Hell Hole is that I imagine Shea had a hell of a good time writing it. There’s a constant sense of fun infused in this off-kilter story, along with a sort of tongue-in-cheek tone that is absolutely essential to the proceedings. While it’s a bit of a grim story, and there is a definite darkness lurking about Hecla, it maintains a proper B-movie level of seriousness, and Shea keeps upping the ante monster-wise, leaving readers to wonder just what in the hell is going on here. The answer, of course, will be left unspoiled here, but I found it to be a terrific reveal as I have a bit of a soft spot for these mythological beasties.

The relationship between Nat and Teta is also really terrific. Shea provides a wonderful backdrop for their friendship and demonstrates on more than one occasion just how true and strong their bond is. Both are old-fashioned gunslingers, in the mold of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, or maybe The Lone Ranger and Tonto, with an intriguing shared history that solidifies their partnership.

My only complaint about Hell Hole is that there seems to be at least one action beat too many, and the middle part of the book feels a bit too drawn out and repetitious. There are two characters, Angus and Mattias, a sort of Wild West ghost-busting duo, who prove vitally important to the climax and I could have done with having them introduced a bit sooner. That said, the finale is a raucous amount of fun, and Shea has a knack for describing some truly strange creatures and demons set to oppose our heroes, with a well-constructed callback to Nat and Teta’s time in the war against the Spaniards as they find themselves neck-deep in a far stranger battle.

This is a fun read to be saddled up with, and I’m hoping we get to see more of Nat and Teta again in the future. Recommended.

Buy Hell Hole at amazon

Review: Surrogate by David Bernstein


About Surrogate

Rebecca Hardwick wants nothing more than to start a family with her husband. But when a series of tragedies occur, she is left unable to have children by natural means.

Jane Nurelle is in an abusive relationship filled with beatings, drinking and drugs. But when she learns of her pregnancy, she is determined to turn her life around, even if it means resorting to violence.

Through an unlikely series of events, these two women come face-to-face with a notable scientist who has perfected a way for couples to have biologically matched children through the process of human cloning. But his service comes at a price…and the women share more in common than they ever thought possible.

Surrogate is an unforgettable tale of life, love, revenge and maternal instinct.

About the Author

I am a dark fiction writer, because to say horror is a HUGE no no in today’s world. Ha Ha! I write the gamut, from subtle horror to extreme horror to dark fiction and thriller, oh, and the occasional bizarro tale.

You may read one of my books and think “that’s his style” but then read another and be shocked at how different it is. My novels published by Samhain are usually more toward the true horror side–frightening/gore, whereas my DARKFUSE novels are more experimental or dark thriller/horror. While my Severed Press novels are zombie-related or post-apocalyptic.

Please visit me at for more about me and my work or on Facebook.

My Thoughts

Surrogate is one of those titles where I absolutely loved the premise, but wished it would have gone farther in its execution.

Author David Bernstein does a fine job of creating a credible atmosphere that is ripe with all sorts of potential horrors – from evil doppelgangers to the dark consequences of science run amok. The idea of creating a full-fledged clone for the purpose of surrogate pregnancies is imaginative and just borderline possible enough to make that willing suspension of disbelief all the easier. The measure of desperation that the book’s leads, Rebecca, and her husband, Tom, experience make them sympathetic and their choices understand and reasonable, despite the fact that we, as readers, know that everything will soon be going to hell in a hand-basket.

I’m issuing a slight spoiler warning here so I can discuss what didn’t work for me, and why.

What didn’t work for me was the nature of the threat and the lack of credible underpinnings supporting the Hardwick’s adversary, Jane. Jane is an abused spouse who ends up killing her husband on the eve of her delivery, but then ends up dying in a car crash. With little in the way of a satisfactory explanation, Jane’s soul somehow comes to inhabit the empty shell of Rebecca’s clone and goes on a murderous rampage.

My first problem with this may be due to personal bias. I’m not into spirituality and after an author has gone to such length to develop a plausible scientific rationale to set the story in motion, to suddenly rely on a scant mention that Jane returned from Heaven to get back her daughter is to ask me to stretch my ability to suspend disbelief a bit farther than I’m capable. Although I certainly enjoy a good ghost story, I don’t believe in ghosts or goblins or demonic possession in real life. So, in fiction, when a story has already been establish to not be in that type of genre, well, it’s really reaching with me and lost quite a bit of credibility as an effective horror story. It felt like a significant chunk of story on Jane’s side of the plot was missing entirely, or either lost in editing or, worse, completely forgotten about. To structure this story around cloning and then having an entirely separate individual come to inhabit that cloned body off nothing more than sheer “just because” struck me as really weak story-telling.

My other issue is that when we first meet Jane, she’s a beat-up housewife who has been suffering her husband’s torment for, it seems, quite a while. And since we never get to really know her, or are allowed to inhabit her headspace for long enough before her demise, to then have her resurrected as some kind of cold-blooded executioner was way off-kilter. Again, it seemed like another instance of Jane behaving this way because the plot demanded it, or “just because,” without any prior – and badly necessary – buildup.

End Spoiler

 While there were a few things I enjoyed – the struggles between Rebecca and Jane, primarily, and the moral and ethical dilemmas surrounding the Hardwick’s choices and repercussions of their deals with The Agency – I ultimately felt that Surrogate failed to gel as well as it should have. Either one of the narrative’s conflicts would have made for a fine story in their own right, if fully developed. Instead, this novella feels more like two half-developed ideas sparsely glued together, with one hamstringing the other and both refusing to set properly.

buy surrogate at amazon

Dinner Is Served: Consumption Release Day


My new short story, CONSUMPTION, is out today! It retails for only 99 cents and you can find it at the following etailers (Nook link coming soon!):

| Amazon | Kobo | Nook |

| iBookstore | Google Play |

| Smashwords |

I’ve been lucky enough to get some advanced review coverage on this one, and here’s what the readers are saying:

Your stomach will turn, your throat will restrict, and jaw will clench tighter than a bull’s arsehole in fly season.

- S. Elliot Brandis, author of Irradiated and Once Upon A Time At The End Of The World

Consumption is wonderfully paced and a real treat for horror fans. … I read it with the lights off and my Kindle screen turned up, and it was a totally immersive and satisfying experience.

- Franklin Kendrick, author of The Entity series.

Hicks takes the reader to some twisted, nightmarish places and if you’re a horror fan with a strong constitution, add Consumption to your reading list – you won’t regret it.

- Teri Polen, Books & Such

wonderfully macabre! Cleverly thought out, I was both disgusted and excited by this tale. This a MUST read for horror fans.

- Great Book Escapes

Consumption means a lot to me, and it’s a bit of an ode to the sort of horror I love. It’s a gory, fatalistic creature feature, full of atmosphere and creepiness. I had a tremendous amount of fun writing it, and I hope that joy comes through in the story. I’ve already written about how this story came about, and it’s a huge departure from my debut work, Convergence.

I talked about all this with S. Elliot Brandis over the weekend, and he’ll be posting his interview with me over at his site. Keep an eye out for it soon. I think it’ll be a pretty good read, if I do say so myself.

Then, head over to your favorite eBook hustler and plunk down a mere 99 cents for a good old-fashioned Halloween treat.

Review: Factory Town by Jon Bassoff


About Factory Town

Russell Carver, an enigmatic and tortured man in search of a young girl gone missing, has come to Factory Town, a post-industrial wasteland of abandoned buildings, crumbling asphalt, deadly characters, hidden secrets and unspeakable depravity. Wandering deeper and deeper into the dangerous, dream-like and darkly mysterious labyrinths in town, Russell stumbles upon clues that not only lead him closer to the missing girl, but to his own troubled past as well. Because in Factory Town nothing is what it seems, no one is safe, and there’s no such thing as a clean escape.

From Jon Bassoff, author of Corrosion, comes a dark, gritty and surreal novel that is at once a compelling mystery and an exploration into the darkest recesses of the human soul. Welcome to the haunting, frightening and disturbing experience that is Russell Carver’s search for the truth…

Welcome to FACTORY TOWN.

About the Author

Jon Bassoff was born in 1974 in New York City and currently lives in a ghost town somewhere in Colorado. His mountain gothic novel, CORROSION, was called “startlingly original and unsettling” by Tom Piccirilli, a four-time winner of the Bram Stoker Award, and won the DarkFuse Reader’s Choice Award for best novel. His surrealistic follow-up, FACTORY TOWN, was called “A hallucinatory descent into an urban hell” by Bram Stoker award-winning author Ramsey Campbell. Both novels have been adapted into films with CORROSION slated to begin filming in 2015.

My Thoughts

Discussing Factory Town is a bit difficult, since its plot hinges so directly on an early action taken by the book’s central character, Russell Carver. I’m going to give you a great big SPOILER WARNING for this whole damn review, and it begins now.

The book opens with Carver’s suicide with a bullet to his temple, and what follows is a mental sojourn through the shattered mind of a man in his death throes. The material is part nightmare, part memory, part remembrance, all of it filtered through a dying, gunshot shattered brain.

Told in first person point-of-view, author Jon Bassoff takes us through the surreal, fluid dream-scape of Factory Town and its ever-shifting landscape. For instance, Carver enters a run-down, abandoned theater, but exits a hospital. He hears music playing from a radio, but discovers it’s actually an a cappella band. These aren’t errors of the author or a failing of the editor, so much as it’s an effort to capture the “logic,” such as it is, of a lucid, waking nightmare. Things shift – people, buildings, the entire town – with the impermanence of a truly screwy dream.

The characters that exist beyond Carver are representations of figures in his own life, stand-ins from his own abusive childhood and the living traumas that were his parents. During Carver’s urgent search for Alana, a lost runaway, the narrative is rife with figments of the things that could have been in Carver’s own life. Virtually everything in Factory Town is shaped by Carver’s personal history and experiences, both the things he remembers and that which he is trying to hide or escape from.

Bassoff uses all of this as a template to explore the repercussions of abuse, and how the sins of the father are inherited by the son. It’s a story of the nature of evil, and whether or not we can actually control our destinies. How much of our inner demons are genetically encoded, and how much of is learned behavior? A lot of the horror in this book is buried in symbolism or tucked away in inferences, but there’s a few shocks to be had for sure.

I found Factory Town to having a surprising amount of depth, and the writing is crisp with a few fun turns of phrase. One of my favorite lines in the book explains the strangeness of this disturbed city with “All them chemicals leaking into the town’s hippocampus…” I also expect this book to be a rather divisive read, depending on one’s patience for a rather non-straightforward narrative. This one is a far cry from conventional horror, but rich in character and environment. If you’re curious what an abstract, hellish, industrial What Dreams May Come by way of David Lynch might look like, this one is well worth the investment.

buy factory town at amazon

Reblog: Review: Consumption by Michael Patrick Hicks | S. Elliot Brandis

I am utterly blown away by Elliot’s review of Consumption, as well as humbled and grateful. And I think he won the internets with this line:

Your stomach will turn, your throat will restrict, and jaw will clench tighter than a bull’s arsehole in fly season.

Exactly what I was going for!

Check out his review in full:

Review: Consumption by Michael Patrick Hicks | S. Elliot Brandis.

And pre-order Consumption today at Amazon! It releases this Tuesday. While you’re there, definitely pick a couple of Elliot’s terrific books, as well!

Review: The Undying by Ethan Reid


About The Undying

In this riveting apocalyptic thriller for fans of The Passage and The Walking Dead, a mysterious event plunges Paris into darkness and a young American must lead her friends to safety—and escape the ravenous “undying” who now roam the crumbling city.

Jeanie and Ben arrive in Paris just in time for a festive New Year’s Eve celebration with local friends. They eat and drink and carry on until suddenly, at midnight, all the lights go out. Everywhere they look, buildings and streets are dark, as though the legendary Parisian revelry has somehow short circuited the entire city.

By the next morning, all hell has broken loose. Fireballs rain down from the sky, the temperatures are rising, and people run screaming through the streets. Whatever has happened in Paris—rumors are of a comet striking the earth—Jeanie and Ben have no way of knowing how far it has spread, or how much worse it will get. As they attempt to flee the burning Latin Quarter—a harrowing journey that takes them across the city, descending deep into the catacombs, and eventually to a makeshift barracks at the Louvre Museum—Jeanie knows the worst is yet to come. So far, only she has witnessed pale, vampiric survivors who seem to exert a powerful hold on her whenever she catches them in her sights.

These cunning, ravenous beings will come to be known as les moribund—the undying—and their numbers increase by the hour. When fate places a newborn boy in her care, Jeanie will stop at nothing to keep the infant safe and get out of Paris—even if it means facing off against the moribund and leaving Ben—and any hope of rescue—behind.

About the Author

Ethan Reid received his BA in English with Writing Emphasis from the University of Washington and his MFA from the University of Southern California’s MPW Program, where he studied under author S.L. Stebel, Oscar-nominated screenwriter Sy Gomberg, and Oscar-winning screenwriter Frank Tarloff.

Born in Spokane, Washington, Ethan is a member of the Horror Writers Association, the International Thriller Writers and the Pacific Northwest Writers Association. Ethan currently lives in Seattle, with his wife and son.


My Thoughts

(I received a copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for a review.)

Trapped in Paris following a New Year’s catastrophe that brings with it the undead apocalypse, American art student Jeanie is forced into a frenetic struggle for survival. At her side is her best friend, Ben, and their French friends Zou Zou and Farid. While meteors fall, devastating the City of Lights, the small band of compatriots brave their way through riots, the French Underground, and monsters, both human and the undead, in an effort to evacuate.

The Undying is the first acquisition by Simon451, a new Simon & Schuster imprint focused on speculative fiction. With Ethan Reid’s debut, I’d say all is off to a pretty solid start.

My favorite element of this story, hands-down, was the setting. Having our American leads stumble their way through the foreign city of Paris was a brilliant gamble, and a refreshing change of pace from the typical, beleaguered US of A. I also appreciated that particular brand of Parisian strength and confidence that Reid imbued Zou Zou with, and she felt exactingly French to me. Also well-done were the moments of contempt that Europeans tend to harbor for Americans, and it didn’t take long for minor characters to take their cheap shots toward Ben, who himself possesses a wild streak of American superiority. This infusion of clashing cultures really helped to heighten the tension and stress of their predicament, and helped drive home the point of just how out of their element Jeanie and Ben were. Strangers in a strange land, indeed!

In addition to the setting, Reid also creates an intriguing creature with the moribund, a half-dead beastie that straddles both the vampire and zombie trappings, creating a sort of The Strain by way of The Walking Dead feel. If I had one central complaint to make about this book, it is that we don’t get to see enough of these monsters. For much of the first half of the book, we’re left to wonder if these are merely figments of Jean’s stressed-out mind, as she is not only embroiled in this epic disaster scenario, but also mourning the loss of her father. When it becomes apparent that their problems are only increasing, and that the monsters are a very real, and very mysterious, trouble, the book is almost finished. With a fast-paced and bloody finale, set against the iconic Louvre, Reid delivers a solid finish, having spent ample time tearing down his main cast, sending them to hell and back, and rebirthing them into a changed, firey landscape.

The Undying is a smart mish-mash of apocalyptic disaster fiction crossbred with a not-quite vampire horror. There’s some rich characterization, with a lot of natural growth and personal reveals occurring the course of the story’s run, and the human elements shine true. Word has it that Reid is working on the follow-up for a 2015 release, and you can guarantee I’ll be reading it to find out what comes next for the survivors and the omnipresent threat of the moribund.

buy the undying at amazon

Reblog: Consumption – Review, from Franklin Kendrick

Michael Patrick Hicks:

And another advanced review of Consumption, this time from author Franklin Kendrick, who’s been on a roll with his serialized stories of “The Entity,” along with a number of other horror titles.

Originally posted on Franklin Kendrick:

I had the privilege of reading a copy of Michael Patrick Hicks’s new short story, Consumption, before publication. I was initially drawn in by the cover and description on his blog, so I’ll post those here and then give you my review.


You Are

Reclusive chef Heinrich Schauer has invited six guests to a blind twelve-course tasting menu.

What You Eat

While snow blankets the isolated Swiss valley surrounding his estate, the guests feast eagerly, challenging one another to guess at the secret tastes plated before them.

Meat Is Murder

As they eat, each guest is overtaken by carnal appetites, unaware of their host’s savage plans…or of the creature lurking below.

One thing is clear: There is more on the menu than any of them have bargained for.

My Review:

This short story felt like a novelette to me, so I won’t give away any spoilers for those…

View original 562 more words

Reblog: Consumption Review from Teri Polen

Michael Patrick Hicks:

Many thanks to Teri Polen, from Books & Suck, for her advanced review of CONSUMPTION!

The short story lands next week, Oct. 14. Check out this page for pre-order info.

Originally posted on Books & Such:

You Are

Reclusive chef Heinrich Schauer has invited six guests to a blind twelve-course tasting menu.23273331

What You Eat

While snow blankets the isolated Swiss valley surrounding his estate, the guests feast eagerly, challenging one another to guess at the secret tastes plated before them.

Meat Is Murder

As they eat, each guest is overtaken by carnal appetites, unaware of their host’s savage plans…or of the creature lurking below.

One thing is clear: There is more on the menu than any of them have bargained for. –

When I began reading Consumption, I knew the author had to be somewhat of a ‘foodie’ but, I guarantee you, some of these ingredients you’ll never see on the TV show, Chopped.  This dark short story isn’t for those with weak stomachs.

What begins as an exclusive invitation to experience a decadent twelve course gourmet tasting menu prepared by a famous…

View original 122 more words

Review: Once Upon A Time At The End Of The World by S. Elliot Brandis


About Once Upon A Time At The End Of The World

Meet the android with no name. Seventy years ago, he was freed: his permission chip was removed and a gun placed in his hand. He was sent to fight for his country.

It was the war that ended the world.

Now, America is a wasteland. Wild towns have emerged across the frontier, lawless places filled with drunks and opportunists. The android rides from town to town, collecting warrants and seeking justice. Life is violent and meaningless—full of blood, whiskey, and dust.

When he meets Sierra—a fiery southerner with a chip on her shoulder—they embark on an unlikely journey, a dangerous search for vengeance.

About the Author

S. Elliot Brandis is an engineer and author from Brisbane, Australia. He writes post-apocalyptic fiction, often infused with a variety of outside elements. He is a lover of beer, baseball, and science fiction.

His stories are about outlaws, outsiders, and the others.

To find out more:

Mailing List:

My Thoughts

Full disclosure – I know Elliot a bit from KBoards and Goodreads. I’d first heard about his idea to write a post-apocalyptic western with a gruff android at the forefront sometime ago, and had been salivating to read it ever since. I received a free copy of his latest through his newsletter. He’s currently giving away Part I (this novella), and will be giving away Part II, as well, in the coming months. It would behoove you to sign up for his newsletter at ASAP.

All that said, I’d like to think that my familiarity with Elliot did not cause me to inflate my perceptions of how much I enjoyed Once Upon A Time At The End Of The World or prompt me to approach it with any undue bias.

The simple fact of the matter is, I freaking loved it. I loved the idea as soon as he told me about it, and after reading it, I love it even more.

The execution is terrific and his handling of the android in a western setting is adroit and even-handed. I was really thrilled with how well the high-tech science fiction aspect of his central character worked in the forsaken, dying Earth environment. This is a classical western story with some nifty, much-welcomed twists.

Once Upon A Time… is also a richly dark world. The author clues us in on the world’s future-history, teasing out the information without sacrificing the story’s quick pacing or bogging us down with overly long, dry lessons of background details. There was a war, and nukes and antimatter bombs decimated the world. Androids were enlisted into the military to fight the war on behalf of the humans, taking US drone policy to the next level. It’s a smart way of bridging the two seemingly disparate genres of science fiction and western, but Brandis makes it work. Think of it as an old Eastwood spaghetti western flick by way of Firefly, but without the quirky humor or space travel.

In fact, there’s not much to laugh at in Elliot’s latest dystopian, with so much of the world bombed back into the hardscrabble living of two hundred-plus years past. Humanity has been stripped raw, and it seems like there’s only two class of people left to fend for themselves: victims and potential victims. It’s a stark, grim read, with a cast as dangerous as the desolate desert they inhabit.

While I can’t help but think there’s a good deal owed to Eastwood and Sergio Leone in terms of inspiration, there’s also some pure Peckinpah at play here. This is The Wild Bunch by way of The Android With No Name. It’s a bloody affair, right from the opening pages, where the android teaches an explicit lesson to an unlucky drunk on the difference between robots and androids. The scene is chillingly effective, and Elliot gets off to a fine start with his crazy genre hybrid.

Once Upon A Time At The End Of The World is the first in a four-part series of novellas, with the second due in December. Like I said earlier, do yourself a favor and sign-up for his newsletter. Not only will you get the first two parts of his post-apocalyptic western for free, but you’ll also get to stay up to date on somebody that I believe is going to be a huge up-and-comer in the indie sci-fi/speculative fiction corner. Conversely, you can also buy the individual parts of this serial as they release, which is also a terrific way of supporting this author. Either way, S. Elliot Brandis is one to watch out for.

buy once upon a time at the end of the world at amazon

Review: The Black by Paul E. Cooley


About The Black

Under 30,000 feet of water, the exploration rig Leaguer has discovered an oil field larger than Saudi Arabia, with oil so sweet and pure, nations would go to war for the rights to it. But as the team starts drilling exploration well after exploration well in their race to claim the sweet crude, a deep rumbling beneath the ocean floor shakes them all to their core. Something has been living in the oil and it’s about to give birth to the greatest threat humanity has ever seen.

The Black is a techno/horror-thriller that puts the horror and action of movies such as Leviathan and The Thing right into readers’ hands. Ocean exploration will never be the same.

About the Author

A writer, podcaster, and software architect from Houston, Texas,  Paul E Cooley has been writing since the age of 12. In 2009, he began producing free psychological thriller and horror podcasts, essays, and reviews available from and iTunes.

His stories have been listened to by thousands and he has been a guest on such notable podcasts as Podioracket, John Mierau‘s “Podcast Teardown,” Geek Out with Mainframe, Shadowcast Audio, and Vertigo Radio Live. In 2010, his short story Canvas and novella Tattoo were nominated for Parsec Awards. Tattoo became a Parsec Award finalist. He has collaborated with New York Times Bestselling author Scott Sigler on the series “The Crypt” and co-wrote the novella “The Rider” (projected to release in 2014). In addition to his writing, Paul has contributed his voice talents to a number of podiofiction productions.

He is also a co-host on the renown Dead Robots’ Society writing podcast.
Twitter: paul_e_cooley
Facebook: paul.e.cooley

My Thoughts

As a fan of sea-based horror, Paul E. Cooley’s The Black sounded like it would be right up my alley. And, boy, did it not disappoint!

The first third of the book, which is virtually all of Part I of the title, was a slow, deliberate set-up. Cooley spends plenty of time familiarizing readers with life on an experimental rig, the Leaguer, the technology used in the hunt for oil, and establishing the central human conflicts amongst his cast as his team of scientists deal with the rig chief, Vraebel.

The more scientific explanations rang true enough for me, and never felt like a massive, unnecessary bit of infodump. In fact, the exposition is necessary and helps to build up a nice bit of tension as chief engineer Thomas Calhoun and his team discover the oddities lurking beneath the sea. Their first sample of oil is clean and perfect, too much so, and strangely free of water. The tube worms encircling the ocean floor are arranged in unusual patterns, and their size seems to indicate an evolutionary throwback. The mysteries grow until Leaguer is hit by a massive air bubble that rocks it on its ballasts and one of the submersible surveillance drones employed by the rig is found inexplicably damaged at sea.

Part I of the title requires a bit of patience, which may depend on a reader’s interest in oil drilling and rig life. Personally, I found myself wishing for a quicker pace through this segment, even though it serves as a required introduction to establish the central threat. The piling on of problems is certainly interesting, and Part I closes out with a wonderful “oh shit” moment that makes you realize the real predicament is only just now hitting, and that Cooley ain’t playing around here. From there, The Black gains a lot of momentum, until it achieves a break-neck pace to carry it all home with an exciting finale.

The action is well done, and Cooley does excellent work describing the nasty encounters between the creature and the men of the Leaguer. As for the creature featured here, it’s certainly a plausibly dangerous beast. While The Black is billed as a techno-horror, Cooley doesn’t dwell on inventing scientific rationales to justify the creature’s existence, sticking to a bare-bones “it’s here, now deal with it” approach that I enjoyed.

Ultimately, The Black is a stylish, well-executed horror thriller that presents a grounded nature of evil set against a detailed and well-developed locale with a solid cast of characters to root for. There are a few plot threads left dangling, which may be the focus of a “sidequel,” per Cooley’s blog, and which could land sometime in 2015. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but if it goes in the direction I think it will, I’ll definitely be checking it out.

buy the black at amazon