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text 2017-02-09 04:12
You can check out any time you like...
The Devil's Guests - Sam West,Mark Tufo,Jasper Bark,Wade H. Garrett,Shane McKenzie,Matt Shaw,Armand Rosamilia,Gary McMahon,Kealan Patrick Burke,Wrath James White,Jeff Strand,Ryan Harding,David Moody

Being one of Matt's Dirty Little Love Monkeys in the Sick B*stards Society gave me access to an early preview of The Devil's Guests. These were my notes from my advanced copy...

I'm less than halfway into my sneak peek (pts 1 & 2) of THE DEVIL'S GUESTS, and  there are already some new, and very original forms of torture being inflicted upon our main characters! I'm being led to new levels of depravity, and I'm skipping as I descend into the depths!

I can't help but wonder what would happen if these authors were all in the same room together during this project, instead of being scattered among the globe. I have no doubt that alcohol and bail money would both be involved.

Full review to come! 

 

Peace, Love & Necrophilia ♥  

 ~ sg

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review 2014-01-21 19:15
American Gothic by Robert Bloch
American Gothic - Robert Bloch

I had no idea. I recently finished the non-fiction book The Devil in the White City, which is about the Columbian Exposition of 1893 set against the doings of serial killer H. H. Holmes, and, at the time, I thought that was the end of it. But I was looking for a book to read yesterday and my hand went to American Gothic. I didn't bother to read the blurb, just started reading. Within four pages: "The castle," "Chicago," "G. Gordon Gregg" -- well, I was hooked.

Bloch, of course, takes a number of liberties with Holmes' story, all of which, unfortunately, are disappointingly conventional. The most egregious is his addition of a reporter to the mix. A female reporter, naturally. A real Hildy Johnson. Who, you ask, is Hildy Johnson? Hildy Johnson is a man who became a woman. You see, back in the late twenties, the great Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, two former Chicago reporters, wrote a Broadway show called The Front Page, a story about reporters, of whom Hildy Johnson, a man, was one. In 1940, the great Howard Hawks directed His Girl Friday, a movie based on the play, but this time, Hildy became Hildegarde, incomparably played by Rosalind Russell (opposite Cary Grant).  This isn't quite as tangential as it may appear to be, for if you've seen the movie, you'll be way ahead of one of Bloch's plot points late in the book. Holmes wasn't his only inspiration.

But this is the story of Holmes, or rather G. G. Gregg. (Bloch identifies Holmes in his "Postmortem" at the end of the novel.) It's about how Gregg's estate -- his block-long, maze-like "castle," his slaughterhouse -- turns out to be, in the end, no match for the Fourth Estate. "And he would have made it, too," (to paraphrase from Scooby Doo) "if it weren't for those meddling reporters."

This isn't a good book, but it's a fast read. I suspect it was a fast write, too -- because Bloch doesn't let much stand in the way of his headlong rush to the finish line. Not character development, not unlikely coincidences, not originality. He just hops on that horse and rides it.

On the plus side (for me), it was pleasant to revisit the Fair, and some of the names and events surrounding it. Oddly, though, Bloch seems not to have grasped the significance of the Ferris Wheel. This was the first Ferris Wheel, designed by George Ferris himself. Two hundred sixty-four feet high, with 36 passenger cars (fitted with revolving chairs). The whole thing could accommodate over two thousand people! It was, in fact, designed to out-Eiffel Eiffel, whose tower had been built just a few years before. But Bloch treats it like the carnival ride it later became.

I think I was fortunate to have let this one sit on my shelves for so many years. I wouldn't recommend it indiscriminately. But for readers of Devil and for those interested in Holmes, it might be worth a look.

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review 2013-12-30 20:25
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America - Erik Larson

A book about both H. H. Holmes and the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 ought to stand or fall based on how well the author merges the two stories. It ought to, but Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City defies probability: it succeeds in spite of a conjunction that offers virtually nothing of its own. It's triumph is Larson's detailed evocation of one of this country's most remarkable architectural achievements. And Holmes? He's just there for the movie deal.

The fact is, Larson could have thrown out Holmes entirely and produced an even better book. It doesn't take much reading on the side to realize how much Larson has left out of this story, on the Exposition side. And I can't tell you how many times, as I was reading, that I wished in vain for more information about the Fair and it's exhibits. But I'm fair: I will admit that if it hadn't been for the Holmes angle, I might never have read the book, and I certainly wouldn't have read it now. Still, writing American History for the True Crime crowd -- that's odd, to say the least.

Holmes is without doubt one of America's most bizarre serial killers and certainly the most grandiose, having built a huge, block-long building in which to ply his trade. Unfortunately, not a great deal is known about his crimes. This is obvious, almost embarrassingly so, when juxtaposed against the massive amount of data available about the Exposition. Larson has the makings of a long article about Holmes here, but that's about it.

It doesn't matter. The period is the star here, and the Fair, and the men who designed it, most notably Daniel Burnham, around whom Larson builds his story. Burnham later designed the Flatiron building in New York, among many others. Frederick Law Olmsted, another principal designer, a landscape architect, was already famous for having designed Central Park. One of the fascinating aspects of the story is just how driven these men (and so many others) were. (And, of course, how little they cared for the men who actually built their creations.)

Larson, in a note at the beginning of the book, tells us, "this is not a work of fiction." The emphasis is his, and it's a significant observation. He writes less like a historian and more like a novelist. Though it explains why I was so often stymied for lack of information (it would have interfered with the pace and the drama), it also explains what appealed to me most about the book: its nostalgia. This, I believe, is the keystone of the work, and if that doesn't interest you, you might not like it much. Larson doesn't sugarcoat the past, but then he doesn't have to. He knows the Fair will overshadow everything else. That, and the seemingly long-gone desire to create something so magnificent that the whole world must stop and take notice.

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review 2013-06-03 00:00
Sherlock Holmes and the Red Demon - John H. Watson *5 Stars* (I didn’t think it would make it based on the likely score I thought it would get)

Scorecard: (Out of 10)
* Quality of Writing - 8
* Pace - 9
* Plot development - 9
* Characters - 10
* Enjoyability - 8
* Insightfulness - 9
* Ease of Reading - 9
* Photos/Illustrations - N/A
Final Score: 62/70 = 89%

If I don’t start a series at the beginning, sometimes the previous stories don’t stand out in my memory, no matter how much I read them. This book suffers partially from this personal phenomenon though I also seem to repress parts of the book because of what happens at the end (see below). Before that can happen again, I’m getting this review done.

*The Gush*

Many authors have written with varying success pastiches of supposed ‘lost’ cases of Holmes and Watson. One of the better authors I’ve found is Larry Millett, even though his stories take Holmes far from fog-shrouded London and into the wilds of Minnesota. This is his first attempt and though I find some of the later ones more developed and with tighter writing, this is a great first book. Well written with few problems, the plot is riveting and the mystery almost impossible to solve. The clues are there but even reading for the third time, I still couldn’t pick them out until the reveal. The characters, both historical and fiction, are well done with depth and a distinctive voice all their own.

One of the best features of his book (and the consecutive ones) is his frequent use of superscript number that correspond to end notes. This is one of those books I geek out over and I use two bookmarks, one solely to keep my place in the end notes. They add a great deal to the story and are always interesting to read.

The author has that ability, sadly rare, to perfectly weave history to fiction until you are not sure where one begins and the other ends. Others might be patch jobs; this is a tapestry.

*The Rant*

All the above is not to say the book is without its problems. The author, like so many others facing the same temptation, tends to over indulge in the creation of ‘lost cases’ that Watson alludes to. While most readers of Sherlock Holmes pastiches get used to it, it still annoys me at times.

His Holmes and Watson at times seem to have multiple personalities. One chapter, they react one way, the next time they react completely differently to a similar situation. The plot explains this to a degree as the action continues to ramp up, it affects the characters as they deal with deadly situations in a world vastly different from the London they know so intimately. But it still causes reading whiplash at times.

This is my main issue with the book but since it is so entwined with the ending, I have to hide it or hide the entire review, and I didn’t want to do that. At the end, in the midst of the climatic denouement, I remembered why I couldn’t recall how this book ended. I had blocked it. The reason for this is twofold. One, the actual historical events during the fire at Hinckley were horrific. Over 400 people died in one of the most horrible ways possible and the author captures that. The air seems drier and hotter as you read; you can almost feel the flames coming for you. And a few times he showed what happened when a person lost to the fire. It was a bit…distressing (understatement) to read because this had really happened to real people. The second reason is the major one for me. I still have problems reading it. When Holmes confronts the Red Demon, the villain becomes covered in flammable liquid and Holmes stops him by using the lighter (plot point) and setting…him…ablaze. This isn’t the Downey Jr. action hero Holmes, this is Holmes from the books who rarely fires a gun and he’s setting people on fire. While not graphic, it is in a word, shocking.

*Conclusion*
If you like or want to read beyond the Doyle canon, this is a well written and interesting continuing story. The history Millett adds with his end notes lends a richness to the story which helps this stand out over other similar books. It is, however, a bit rough at times and the readers should be prepared.
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