Monday, December 27, 2010

The Fall


The Fall (hardcover)
Authors: Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan
Publisher: William Morrow/Harper Collins/$13.49
Date of Publication: 2010
Reviewed by James J. Gormley (member, National Book Critics Circle)

In this second installment in The Strain Trilogy, The Fall, Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan deliver a suckfest that is powerfully written, marked by amazingly well crafted dialogue, enhanced by extensive plot and character development, and paced as only the very best horrific thrillers can be.

In addition to our previous cast of main characters --- Abraham Setrakian, a modern-day Van Helsing; Drs. Ephrain Goodweather and Nora Martinez, now renegade CDC plague specialists who are on a mission to try to kill the renegade vampire Ancient, Sardu, and to recover an ancient text that could save humanity or spell its final doom; Vaily Fet, the toughest pest control specialist ever employed by NYC; Eph's wife (Kelly) and their son (Zack); and the Master --- there are also other characters that have emerged with larger roles and new characters completely.

One of the most colorful of the new characters is Angel, an ex Lucha Libre professional wrestler from Mexico who fights alongside a collection of "good" vampires who want the Master dead, too. One of the most despicable new characters is Eichhorst, an abysmally evil Nazi vampire who almost (only almost) makes Sardu look less horrific by comparison.

As to what drew Sardu to the Nazi concentration camps during World War II, to begin with, Setrakian reflects: "Man's own inhumanity to man had whet the monster's appetite for havoc."

Academy Award-winning director, del Toro, and award-winning author, Hogan, once again prove that they have crafted a living, pulse-pounding work of dark beauty drawing from the ashes of inhumanity's past and today's greatest fears.

We are left to wonder as to which demon is truly the worst, after all.

Readers of The Strain will want to pick The Fall up right away, and will await the last installment with fearful anticipation.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Knuckle Supper

Knuckle Supper (hardcover)
Author: Drew Stepek
Publisher: Alphar/$25.72
Date of Publication: 2010
Reviewed by James J. Gormley (member, National Book Critics Circle)

The other day I was telling Drew Stepek, fellow HWA member and the author of a new vampire book, Knuckle Supper, that despite the fact that his vampire-canon-busting novel is one of the most disgusting, unrelentingly violent and horrifying horror works I have ever read, the over-the-top violence and gore are not gratuititous.

Without giving away the story (which I won't), the leader of a group of heroin-addicted vampires, RJ, has the normal abnormalcy of his own chaotic, blood-and-drug-hazed existence challenged when he reluctantly takes in a 12-year-old runaway girl, Bait Jenkins.

When a drug deal goes south and RJ's gang, The Knucklers, winds up with an unexpected windfall, it isn't long before rival gangs (from Rastas to transvestite prostitutes to argyle-wearing preppies) start taking revenge and jockeying for the pole position in the vampire-run L.A. drug trade.

And to make matters worse, seemingly pulling the strings behind the L.A. vamps is a group of breakaway religious fanatics called The Cloth and a wannabe nun and psychopath nicknamed The Habit, who not only seem to know everything about where R.J. and his junkie gangster allies and rivals actually come from but who want to pull the plug on their twisted experiment.

In the book, R.J. says: "I don't know why we're alive or what purpose we have besides delivering misery and death, I can tell you one thing though; there is something human in us all."

And true enough to R.J.'s revelation, while various types of exploitation form the lives or the backgrounds of almost all of the players in this bloodfest, Stepek is masterful in enabling us to actually feel sorrow and empathy for a few of the characters (not only R.J. and Bait) and to see the human in the monsters and the monster in the humans.

With gangs reminiscent of the crews in Walter Hill's 1979 film, The Warriors, there are intentional and unintentional homages to a range of movies and horrific classics from A Clockwork Orange to Trainspotting.

Knuckle Supper is a game changer, to be sure, and this has got to be one of the most original vampire works ever created; with it, Stepek turns the entire vampire mythos on its head and fully slays the almost-dead,angst-ridden, sparkly vampire once and for all.

Bravo, Drew, bravissimo!

Monday, May 31, 2010

The Strain

The Strain (hardcover)
Authors: Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan
Publisher: William Morrow/Harper Collins/$10.08
Date of Publication: 2009
Reviewed by James J. Gormley (member, National Book Critics Circle)

In this first installment in Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan's The Strain Trilogy, The Strain introduces us to a modern-day New York in which a number of convincing characters emerge to drive the action of this nail-biting bloodfest, including:
  • Dr. Ephraim Goodweather (head of a rapid-response CDC team that investigates biological threats, such as plague and viruses);
  • Abraham Setrakian (a Holocaust survivor who has been awaiting the coming vampiric plague for decades, and is ready for it);
  • Vasily Fet, a no-nonsense pest-control specialist; and
  • Dr. Nora Martinez, Eph's comrade-at-arms on the CDC team.
The story really begins when a plane lands at JFK on September 24th, 2010, and then goes completely silent, as in dead, which is when Eph and Nora are mobilized.

With only a handful of survivors and only precious little time in which to neutralize a plague of undead dimensions, Eph, Setrakian, Fet and Nora join forces, come what may, to combat a threat that endangers not only New York City ...  but the entire world.

The Strain is a nail-biter, to be sure, one which is enriched by deft touches that show a real familiarity with and love of New York City, such as the mention of Liebman's Deli, greatly appreciated by this blog's author, who lives in Riverdale and who loves Liebman's.

More importantly, Academy Award-winning director, del Toro, and award-winning author, Hogan, mange to breathe fresh life into the vampire mythos, an admirable feat indeed, and in the process create a new legend and begin a new story, the next installments of which this writer awaits with bated breath.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Horror Writers Association Celebrates 2009 Stoker Winners!

At long last, the anticipation is over.

The Horror Writers Association has announced the winners of the 2009 Bram Stoker Awards at its annual Stoker Banquet held tonight as part of the World Horror Convention in Brighton, UK.

Eight new bronze haunted-house statuettes were handed over to the writers responsible for creating superior works of horror last year.

This year’s winners are:
    Superior Achievement in a NOVEL:

AUDREY’S DOOR by Sarah Langan (Harper)
    Superior Achievement in a FIRST NOVEL

DAMNABLE by Hank Schwaeble (Jove)
    Superior Achievement in LONG FICTION

THE LUCID DREAMING by Lisa Morton (Bad Moon Books)
    Superior Achievement in SHORT FICTION
“In the Porches of My Ears” by Norman Prentiss (POSTSCRIPTS #18)
    Superior Achievement in an ANTHOLOGY

HE IS LEGEND edited by Christopher Conlon (Gauntlet Press)
    Superior Achievement in a COLLECTION

A TASTE OF TENDERLOIN by Gene O’Neill (Apex Book Company)
    Superior Achievement in NONFICTION

WRITERS WORKSHOP OF HORROR by Michael Knost (Woodland Press)
    Superior Achievement in POETRY

CHIMERIC MACHINES by Lucy A. Snyder (Creative Guy Publishing)

Works can be recommended by any member of the HWA. Members with Active status then vote works in a preliminary ballot. From there the field is narrowed to the final ballot and Active members choose the winners from that. The award is named for Bram Stoker, best known as the author of Dracula. The trophy, which resembles a miniature haunted house, was designed by author Harlan Ellison and sculptor Steven Kirk.

HWA also presented its annual Lifetime Achievement Awards and its Specialty Press Award. Brian Lumley was on hand to accept his Lifetime Achievement Award, while fellow winner William F. Nolan offered a video acceptance. The Specialty Press Award went to Ray Russell and Rosalie Parker of Tartarus Press.

The Silver Hammer Award, for outstanding service to HWA, was voted by the organization’s board of trustees to Kathryn Ptacek. The President’s Richard Laymon Service Award was given to Vince A. Liaguno.

Lisa Morton, who organized this year’s presentation in conjunction with the World Horror Convention, commented on the historic nature of the 2010 event:

“This was the first time we’ve presented the Stoker Awards outside of the North American continent, and I hope it serves to continue to expand HWA’s presence and membership outside of the U.S. and Canada. We’re committed to serving the entire world of horror.”

For more information, visit

More information on the Horror Writers Association is at More information on this year’s Stoker Award nominees (including photos) is available at

Monday, March 15, 2010

The 2009 Bram Stoker Award Finalists

By James J. Gormley

The Horror Writers Association (HWA) celebrates the 2009 Bram Stoker Award finalists by honoring superior achievement in the following categories: Novel; First Novel; Long Fiction; Short Fiction; Anthology; Collection; Nonfiction; Poetry Collection; Lifetime Achievement; Specialty Press and others. Please visit: