Book Recommendation – Labyrinth of the Dolls

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Puzzle Box Horror’s book recommendation of the week is Labyrinth of the Dolls by Craig Wallwork.

Craig Wallwork is the author of the novels Labyrinth of the Dolls, Bad People, and The Sound of Loneliness, as well as the short story collections, Quintessence of Dust, and Gory Hole. His stories have been nominated three times for the Pushcart Prize, many of which feature in various anthologies and magazines both in the U.K. and U.S. He currently lives in England.

Craig Wallwork author photo

Synopsis

It’s been one year since the horrific murders of Stormer Hill, and the events of that time continue to resonate with Detective Constable Tom Nolan. In an attempt to find the second killer, known only as the Ragman, Nolan joins West Yorkshire’s Murder Investigation Team. Partnered with Jennifer Morrison, a straight-talking detective with her eye on promotion, the two officers are assigned to track down a new killer whose victims are all found dressed like human dolls. As the investigation progresses, Nolan becomes an intricate piece in the killer’s grand vision that puts his life in danger.

Reviews

“Wallwork is a talented crime-thriller storyteller. He delivers what genre buffs want: An investigator we care about, grisly murder scenes, unexpected plot developments, and hideously wicked ‘bad people’. LABYRINTH is everything. Wallwork develops our stalwart constable Tom Nolan even further for his readers; emotional investment is at a new level of intensity that I was not expecting.”

Sadie Hartmann, Mother Horror

“I’m happy to report that this sequel retains everything I loved about the first book, while adding new twists, more insight into Nolan’s character, and a creepy new killer. Without spoiling too much I’ll just say that I loved this sequel! The blend of crime thriller and psychological horror, the police procedural elements, the impeccable pacing, the strong writing voice and vivid detail, the gruesome moments and surprising turns – all of it is great!”

Ben Long, reviewer at @reading.vicariously

To read the full review, click here!

Labyrinth of the Dolls by Craig Wallwork is available now at Horror Hub Marketplace

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Book Review: The Burning Girls Explores the Horror and Hope of Religious Faith

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Best Horror Books Best Of Featured Horror Books Reviews
The Burning Girls horror book Cover
The Burning Girls by C.J. Tudor

Is there anything more complex than religious faith? Faith can be ineffably inspirational and intractably inflexible, a source of hope to motivate some of humanity’s greatest heroes and an excuse to defend some of our most despicable monsters. And when most people talk about the subject, they tend to focus on one quality to the exclusion of the other. 

So it’s to the credit of British author C.J. Tudor that her novel The Burning Girls incorporates faith into horror story in a humane and principled manner. The book’s title refers to two young girls martyred in the 16th century for their Protestant beliefs. Today, villagers in their hometown remember “the Sussex Martyrs” as champions, holding memorial ceremonies and constructing twig dolls in homage. And sometimes, the girls’ flaming ghosts appear as omens to those who are in trouble. 

The most important troubled person is Reverend Jack Brooks, a vicar who has been moved, along with her fourteen-year-old daughter Flo, to the tiny Sussex village Chapel Cross from her urban parish in Nottingham. Jack brings along her troubled past, including the murder of a young parishioner, her husband’s shadowy death, and a family history that she does not want to discuss with anyone, including us readers. 

Despite her increasingly weighty baggage, Jack makes for a kind and engaging lead. Serving as the narrator for the majority of the book’s chapters (Tudor employs third-person voice for chapters focusing on other characters), Jack is quick with a quip and a forgiving aside, without ever feeling like a saint. The mercy she extends to others stems from an awareness of her shortcomings. When she begins judging a colleague for engaging in a sin of omission, she checks herself and thinks, “Who am I to judge?” 

This isn’t to say that Jack doesn’t make mistakes. She gives into anger and (like all parents) constantly flubs in her decisions with Flo. But given how easily this smoking, swearing, horror-movie-watching woman of the cloth could become a “cool priest” cliché, there’s something refreshingly real to Jack’s grounded approach to the transcendent, especially to a lifelong practicing Christian like me. The Burning Girls insists that everyone has their demons and fights them their own way. 

Despite the certainly admirable quality of this theme, the novel does become laden with tragedy. Everyone from a small-time reporter to a fellow vicar’s wife has a tragic backstory, which can become overwhelming. Given the mundane atrocities that mark The Burning Girls, pyro specters and crooked exorcism blades seem excessive.  

The problem is exacerbated by Tudor’s sometimes too-lean prose, which prioritizes snappy dialogue over clearly defined spaces and characters. The book often reads like a script, as conversations between characters can go on for over a page, with little more than a signal phrase to break it up. As a result, the characters feel thin, as we’re forced to construct our mental image of them from the things they say, rather than the physical attributes the narrator allows us to see. This tendency crosses over from frustrating to irritating when the characters indulge in pop-culture references, talking about Evil Dead, Bill Hicks, and (with surprising frequency) The Usual Suspects. Unless you’re Nick Hornby, readers shouldn’t know more about your protagonists’ movie collections than we do about their physical features. 

Fortunately, Tudor balances these issues by moving the plot along swiftly. The author shows a deft hand at revealing clues and mysteries, allowing connections between the Sussex martyrs, the disappearance of two teen girls and a local priest, and Jack’s biography, to float into view with satisfying elegance. The reader feels like an active participant in the adventure, never ahead of the characters and rarely trailing behind.  

The Burning Girls treads some truly horrific ground, recounting some of the worst things humans can do to one another. And it does not shy away from the fact that religious faith often drives these acts of brutality. But it also shows us how faith can be a healing element, compelling us to care for each other, all the more in the face of such cruelty. 

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Interview with “Wendigogo” Author Kris Silva

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Featured Horror Books Indie Horror Creation Indie horror writers
Wendigogo book cover by author KA Silva

PBH -Tell me a bit about yourself and what got you into horror writing?

Author Kris Silva wearing antlers

KS – The earliest memories I have of loving spooky things were from trick-or-treating as a tiny child, and then an old Time-Life Library book about ghosts and the paranormal which I read at about 6 or 7, which really sparked my fascination. My dad bought me Stephen King books in the 80s when I was way too young, but I devoured them anyway and sought out more. I read Poe, Ambrose Bierce, and Lovecraft (the unholy trinity) as a teen, and then branched out into pop stuff like Anne Rice. Horror has always been my go-to for fun reading, and I enjoy most subgenres of horror films as well. I have been a fiction editor since 2013, working on romance, science fiction, and urban fantasy for Graythorn Publishing, and freelancing as well. Wendigogo is my first published novel, and the first in a planned series of at least four books with these characters. 

PBH – You’ve covered a wide range of characters in the book, what inspired you to bring them all together? 

KS – I knew I wanted to feature Ojibwe and other local Wisconsin folklore heavily. When I read about the lake monsters, the mishibizhu or mishipeshu, having one of them as a character seemed like a perfect devil’s advocate to pit against my bookseller protagonist Morty. Honestly Marie the mishibizhu wrote herself into the book! Also, with as much creature lore as there is in the Northwoods, having a cryptid hunter nosing around just made sense, and so Garwood Quell came to life. Morty’s best friend Kim and girlfriend Darcy are what anchor him to his humanity as things become progressively worse for him. Some of their interactions are comic; Morty and Marie in particular fell into such a wonderful bickering over the pros and cons of eating people. Kim and Morty have an easy, boisterous bromance going on. But then we have Quell desperately trying to hunt down the monster, because he feels it’s his duty to do so; and an ancient shaman who’s become bored and sees a wendigo as the perfect opportunity to inject a little chaos into the world for his own amusement. Morty has far more to deal with than he can handle sanely, just in interacting with the rest of the cast.

PBH – Wendigo! We love wendigos here at Puzzle Box Horror, what is it about the wendigo that made you bring that creature into the story? 

 KS -I ran across the concept of the wendigo while researching Wisconsin weird stuff in 2014, prior to moving here that same year, but my ideas fizzled out. It wasn’t until 2019 that the wendigo resurfaced in my head, right about the time I became utterly fed up with the current political climate. It hit me that what I needed was a wendigo to prey upon all the greedy people happily selling out their fellow humans for a fat paycheck. The wendigo has always been a symbol of greed and gluttony, eating their neighbors even when there was abundant game. I wanted to twist that a bit, to make my wendigo ravenously hungry like the monsters of lore, but to have him turn that hunger upon selfish people. The fact that descriptions of the wendigo vary widely and wildly even in original Native American sources gave me some leeway in fashioning him, as well. They’ve been described as anything from skeletal, lipless corpses to giants with hearts of ice. One legend says they can look like anything in the forest! They’re native to Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Canada, and there’s even a Windigo Fest at Manitowoc, WI every October; I attended last year and was further inspired by the range of wendigook wandering the streets!

PBH It’s hard to write a novel, what kept you going and what advice would you give authors trying to finish a project?  

KS – This book was a perfect stew in my brain: fascinating research into Ojibwe lore, my love of winter storms, my own rage at unfettered capitalism, and finding the right physical model for Morty. Once I knew how he looked and sounded, and knew I wanted him to eat the guilty, everything flowed easily from there. I wrote a complete draft over the course of nine months. I thought, dreamt, ate and breathed these characters, particularly Morty, so that every time I sat down to write another chapter, the dialogue practically wrote itself. I’ve always been more focused on characters than mapping out intricate plots and I feel like that helped. If you’re trying to write a novel, know your characters. Know exactly how they’d react in any given situation, what they would say to each other, why they would support or oppose each other. Love your characters! They should feel like old friends you know intimately. Even the antagonists. Explore their voices and points of view, make extensive notes about them each. Then drop them in the middle of whatever craziness you’ve planned and write down what they do. Keep writing it. Write out of order if you’re inspired by a scene farther ahead but don’t know how you get there yet; it’ll flesh itself out if you understand your characters well. Also, be prepared to rewrite. A lot. Especially after your editor is through shredding it! I’m in the midst of writing book 2 now (tentatively titled Love Song of the Murder Deer) and diving deeper into the relationships between the main characters as Morty struggles to control the ancient manitou inside him.

Author Kris Silva in a Wendingo costume

PBH – You must be a horror fan, can you give us some movie and book recommendations? 

KS – Though Wendigogo’s plot is nothing like these films, Cabin in the Woods and Tucker and Dale vs Evil very much inspired the comic horror tone. Really anything that mixes comedy and horror is a must-see for me, even deliberately awful films like Velocipastor! I rewatch Cabin at least once a year; it’s my favorite movie, just brilliantly written, acted, and directed. And the last-act splatterfest manages to be both gory and hilarious! I love ghost stories and creature features, but well-done comic horror is my favorite subgenre. For books, I enjoy Rick Gualtieri’s “Tome of Bill” series, about a nerdy vampire struggling with truly evil vamps, Bigfeet, witches and more. The whole series is irreverent and geeky. For more serious fare, I devour Stephen Blackmore’s Eric Carter series about a modern-day necromancer in L.A., dealing with ancient Aztec gods and ghosts. His books are blood-soaked, moody candy. For scary films, The Ritual has a bit of a wendigo vibe to it despite being set in Europe. And I’m looking forward to seeing Antlers. Also, not strictly film, but the Netflix series “The Haunting of Hill House” is utterly masterful and genuinely frightening, well-paced, and with so much packed into each episode. Not to mention it has lots of in-jokes for Shirley Jackson fans.

PBH – Where can we find and follow you for updates on the book? 

KS – The Reluctant Wendigo series has its own Facebook page; updates, contests and such are all announced there. I am frequently on Twitter as @gravewriter71 (warning: lots of politics and random silliness as well as wendigo stuff and book news). The book is available through amazon (ebook and print) and ebook through Barnes & Noble (for both sites: https://books2read.com/u/mv5BzX ). My publisher Graythorn is also offering signed copies: https://graythorn-publishing.square.site/product/wendigogo-by-k-a-silva/14?cp=true&sa=true&sbp=false&q=false

PBH – Anything else you want to tell us?

KS – Thank you very much! I really like your site and will frequent it. Lots to explore, and the tone is both smart and friendly. Glad I happened across it. —- PBH – awe thanks we have fun here.

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Interview with Horror Author Laird Barron

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Best Horror Books Best Of Featured Horror Books Short Horror Stories

Recently, Puzzle Box Horror had the privilege of speaking with horror author Laird Barron about his life, his work, and his influences. Laird, an expat Alaskan, is the author of several books, including The Imago Sequence and Other Stories; Swift to Chase; and Blood Standard. Currently, Barron lives in the Rondout Valley of New York State and is at work on tales about the evil that men do.

Tell us a bit about yourself and what got you started in horror writing?

Picture of author Laird Barron
Photo Credit: Ardi Alspach

I started writing as a kid. I was into science fiction and fantasy–Star Trek, Star Wars, the Lord of the Rings. The typical pop culture stuff in the 1970s. When my family relocated from the suburbs to the wilderness, things took a darker turn. I enjoyed telling stories to my younger brothers. We spent many a winter night alone with snow and wind pressing against the cabin and our parents off to town. My siblings were particularly riveted by the spookier tales. Eventually, that translated to my writing horror. I experimented with high fantasy and various kinds of science fiction. Ultimately, it became clear that my affinity for the macabre outstripped everything else.

Has growing up in Alaska influenced your writing at all?

She left a mark. With rare exceptions, I didn’t write about Alaska until more recently. I’d gained distance but needed time. The geography and climate have always strongly influenced my work. Alaska was all about rough edges and extremes. The weather, the people, the swing between months of light and darkness…

I haven’t been back since ’96, but I dream of it often. It’s a lot of psychic pressure heaving against the bulwark of a dam. Past few years, I’ve vented more of it into my stories. Still haven’t decided how I feel about that turn of events except to acknowledge what’s done is done.

The Imago Sequence by Laird Barron book cover
The Light is the Darkness by Laird Barron book cover
Occultation by Laird Barron book cover

You’ve written a wealth of short stories. Do you have any favorites?

Over time, a writer’s career reveals a sort of fossil record of their obsessions. Twenty years on, I’ve published enough stories to see them as delineating several different modes. The crime/noir mode; the contemporary weird mode; the science fiction/fantasy mode. First person posthumous… Most of it horror-inflected. Which is a roundabout way of saying, it’s tough to objectively determine a favorite or most “successful” piece of work because there’s a real apples and oranges element. But…

Personal favorite: “Andy Kaufman Creeping through the Trees.”

Best: “Parallax.”

Creepiest: (and for me, creepy is paramount) A forthcoming story I sold to Ellen Datlow called “Tiptoe” for her Shirley Jackson tribute anthology—When Things Get Dark.

Are there any anthologies or magazines that you are particularly excited to have been published in?

I’m grateful to every last editor who has made a place for me in their magazines and anthologies.

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction set the tone for my career. It was, and might still be, the Holy Grail for writers tilling the science fiction/fantasy/horror fields. The heavyweights were featured there since 1949. King’s Dark Tower was serialized in those pages. Zelazny and Bradbury wrote stories for the mag. I’ve only become more aware of the importance of selling my first handful of pro stories to Gordon Van Gelder—two of which were cover novellas. There are world-renowned bestselling novelists who moan and groan to this day because they were never able to crack the ToC. So, yeah, a big, big deal.

The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction June cover
The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction May cover

Penning introductions and afterwords for collectors’ editions of Ray Russell’s The Case Against Satan; Jim Thompson’s Pop 1280; Peter Straub’s KOKO; and Michael Shea’s The Autopsy & Other Tales.

I’m also proud to have work reprinted in Ellen Datlow’s anthologies. You’re doing all right when Ellen takes an interest in your writing.

What scares you the most?

The declining state of the world should be enough to scare anyone.

What/who are some of your major influences?

Now, there’s a topic. My blood type is labeled “the ecstasy of influence.” I break down this incomplete list into three stages of life.

Adolescent: DM’s Guide, especially Appendix N; Edgar Rice Burroughs; Robert E. Howard; Roger Zelazny; Stephen King; Clive Barker; Edgar Allan Poe; Robert Service; Louis L’Amour; etc, etc.

Adult: Shirley Jackson; Jack Vance; Karl Edward Wagner; Robert Parker; John D MacDonald; Anne Sexton; Peter Straub; Michael Shea; Charles Simic; Mark Strand; etc, etc.

Old Man Winter: Livia Llewellyn; Stephen Graham Jones; John Langan; Paul Tremblay; S.P. Miskowski; Kelly Link; Aimee Bender; etc, etc.

Blood Standard by Laird Barron book cover
Black Mountain by Laird Barron book cover
Worse Angels by Laird Barron book cover

We talk to a fair amount of new writers. What tips would you give yourself if you could go back to when you started based on what you know now?

Like plenty of other people, I’ve my share of regrets. Career missteps aren’t among them, happily. By the time I started publishing, I’d spent twenty-odd years preparing for the day. I’d done my research and had a clear vision of the writer I wanted to be. That and some career advice from Gordon Van Gelder put me in a decent position.

A sentiment I carry from childhood? If you want to make art, make art. If your family and friends are supportive, wonderful. If not, fuck ‘em. The world pays lip service to pursuing your dreams, but the cold reality is that lots of people will act as living roadblocks to your dreams. The worst of the worst will profess to hold your best interests at heart. Don’t let them steal your fire.

Can you tell us anything about what you’re currently working on?

I’m working on a dark fantasy/horror novel and a handful of stories for upcoming anthologies. If all goes well, I’ll also hand my agent the next horror collection late this year, or early 2022.

If you’re interested in learning more about Laird Barron, check out his website at www.lairdbarron.wordpress.com. You can also follow the author on Twitter (@LairdBarron) and Goodreads (@Laird_Barron). Finally, to purchase books check out the author on Amazon.

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Novels, Television, and Film Adaptations of Robert Bloch

Categories
Featured Horror Books Horror Mystery and Lore Scary Movies and Series

From the past articles in which we have discussed Robert Bloch and his creative works within the horror genre, we decided to talk a little bit about his most famous novels, especially Psycho, the film that almost overnight made Bloch a writing sensation.

The Scarf (1947)

The Scarf (1947) by Robert Bloch
The Scarf (1947) by Robert Bloch

This novel was originally published twelve years before Bloch’s most famous work, Psycho (1960) and while it was originally published without much publicity and was largely ignored for years, it along with Bloch’s other older works started to receive more notice after Hitchcock adapted Psycho to the big screen. Once Bloch’s work received such critical acclaim, his other less popular works began to gain some popularity as well. These other works tend to still be less popular and while they were all well-written, most were unfortunately as forgettable as they come. The Scarf, despite being one of Bloch’s best novels is somehow still one of his forgotten novels.

When we look at The Scarf we see a story about Daniel Morley, a man who admits to having a fetish for a certain scar he wears all the time. According to our strange narrator, Morley received this scarf as a gift from his high school English teacher; in a strange turn of events, this teacher attempted to rape Morley and whom Morley killed in alleged self-defense.

We eventually see Morley as somewhat of a wandering vagrant, one who commits small crimes to get by—and then also there’s the women he murders with.. the scarf.

Psycho (1959) by Robert Bloch
Psycho (1959) by Robert Bloch

Psycho (1959)

For those who have been, somehow, untouched by Bloch’s infamous novel Psycho (1959) this synopsis might be somewhat of a spoiler—but that doesn’t mean you can get away with not reading the book, watching the movie, or checking out the television series inspired by the original novel!

Within the story proposed by Bloch in this psychological thriller, we meet Norman Bates, a middle-aged bachelor who is mentally dominated by his mother—a puritanical, mean-spirited woman who prevents Norman from having any kind of normal life outside of taking care of her and the motel they run together in the small town of Fairville. Unfortunately, since the state relocated the highway, Norman and his mother have been struggling to maintain their business which at one point had been a fairly busy highway adjacent place for people to stop for the night.

Enter Mary Crane, an impulsive woman who, after stealing $40,000 from one of her real estate clients, is on the run from the law. Mary arrives just when Norman and his mother are in a heated argument and as the situation progresses, Mary is under the impression that Norman’s mother would benefit from a mental hospital. Norman denies that there is anything wrong with her, suggesting that, “we all go a little mad sometimes.” After finishing her dinner with Norman, Mary returns to her room having decided to return the money she stole and face the consequences so she doesn’t end up like Norman and his mother, but in an unforeseen change in circumstance, while Mary is taking a shower, a figure that looks like an old woman ambushes Mary and beheads her for her offenses.

Norman, who had passed out drunk after dinner finds Mary’s bloody corpse and is instantly convinced his mother murdered their customer—briefly considering letting his mother go to prison, he instead decides to get rid of the body and dispose of Mary’s belongings in a swamp before returning to life as usual. Mary’s fiance catches wind of her disappearance through Mary’s sister, who with the help of a private investigator hired by Mary’s employer, begin the search for her together. Arbogast, the private investigator, is eventually led to the Bates Motel where he questions Norman about Mary—Norman of course lies, telling Arbogast that Mary had only stayed for one night and left. Wanting to cover his bases, Arbogast asks to speak with Norman’s mother, but Norman refuses and by doing so, rouses Arbogast’s suspicion. The mystery continues and what awaits those searching for Mary Crane turns into a psychological thriller that goes beyond the standard criminal mind—who could have known that Norman Bates was such a pscyho?

Psycho (1960) Adaptation into Film

Immediately after publishing, Bloch was made an offer for the film rights to the book that put him on the map, it wasn’t until well after the rights were purchased that Bloch found out the person who purchased them was actually Alfred Hitchcock. We discuss more of the surrounding details in our article Robert Bloch: The Man Who Brought Us Psycho.

Psycho (1998) Remake

Bates Motel (2013-2017)

A disturbing and driving force of psychological horror, Carlton Cuse and A&E provided a reimagined version of Bloch’s original creation, having a more in-depth backstory and an interesting narrative and twist on dissociative personality disorder and how the extremes of such could result in such a violent psychological break even from someone who was at first depicted as being so docile and sweet.

Works Cited

Bloch, Robert. Psycho. Blackstone Audio, Inc., 1959.

Bloch, Robert. The Scarf. Dial Press, 1947.

Cuse, Carlton. Bates Motel, A&E, 2013.

Sergio. “THE SCARF (1947 / 1966) by Robert Bloch.” Tipping My Fedora, 13 May 2012, bloodymurder.wordpress.com/2012/04/20/the-scarf-1947-by-robert-bloch/.

Van Sant, Gus, director. Psycho, Universal Pictures, 1998.

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