When I was between eleven and thirteen years old, while all my classmates idolized one sports figure/rock idol or another, I was drawn to three things: Dylan Thomas, Bob Dylan, and Houdini. So it's safe to say I've read a few books on the subject of Harry Houdini. When Mannetti was doing her research for THE BOX JUMPER she read more than fifty books on subjects relating to Houdini. That's more than twice the amount I've read. It's this penchant she has for knowing before writing that makes this story believable, intelligent and engaging.
THE BOX JUMPER is the story of Leona Derwatt, Houdini's (fictional) magician's assistant--or box jumper--and mistress. The story is told in surreal and somewhat unconventional sequences in both the 1920s shortly before Houdini's death and in the 1950s. In the 20s Leona and Houdini team up to debunk and expose fake spiritualists and mediums and it is in this period that the terror to be sows it's seeds. Those seeds come to fruition in the 50s when Leona finds herself battling personal demons. I won't say more than that about the plot. It's a short book and it would be easy to spoil.
The thing about Mannetti's work that always stands out and makes it sing with magic greater than that of Houdini is her obvious love affair with the English language. She's an extremely well read person--as are all great authors--her prose is spare and beautiful, not a word wasted, as in the beginning of THE BOX JUMPER:
" IT WAS the children who brought Houdini back. The ones who were dead or missing. He never had any of his own, but he loved children—made sure there were always free performances at hospitals and orphanages. "
and her dialogue is natural sounding and real, as is the character of her unreliable and tragic narrator, Leona.
I discovered Jonathan Janz about one and a half, maybe two years ago when I read his novel, THE SORROWS. Brian Keene called that book the best horror novel of the year for 2012, and for good reason. It was the best horror novel I had read in years. Since then I’ve had the pleasure of reading pretty much every book Janz has written and have been pleasantly surprised to watch him grow and get better with every book he writes. His newest novel, WOLF LAND, continues that trend.
WOLF LAND is a bloody, harrowing, sensual, and brutal creature feature of a book, infused throughout with Jonathan’s trademark, often heart-breaking emotion and unapologetic violence. It’s easily the darkest, most disturbing gore-fest of a novel Janz has written, and that’s saying a lot. His vampire novel, DUST DEVILS, was a brutal son of a bitch, but WOLF LAND makes that book look like a feel good romance novel.
Janz pulls out all the stops with this book, populating his story with convincing characters dealing with real conflicts, both internal and external. And he puts those characters through absolute hell. You can tell by his meticulous attention to detail and masterful character development that Janz loves the characters he creates. But he’s a ruthless god and no one is safe from his blood-stained pen. At times I found myself enraptured by the beautifully choreographed, brutally bloody action scenes. He constructs each scenario sentence by harrowing sentence, developing tension and conflict with excellent pacing and razor sharp, captivating prose.
Before I wrap this up, I want to talk about Jonathan’s werewolves. He does monsters as well as he does anything, taking the classic werewolf legend and transforming it into something entirely his own. When I think of werewolves from now on, I’ll be thinking of Jonathan Janz’ werewolves. His larger than life monsters have a humanity about them that is heart-rending. The grief and pain the characters experience during the change is vivid and agonizing to behold, and the lust for sex and blood and human fear is edge of your seat, fight or flight terrifying. Believe me when I say that these creatures are the real deal. This is horror with carrion reeking, sharp-as-knives teeth and claws.
Jonathan Janz is one of my favorite authors and WOLF LAND is the best werewolf novel I’ve ever read, bar none. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of this beautiful, ground-breaking horror story.
DIE DOG OR EAT THE HATCHET, published by Comet Press, is a collection of three dark and dirty novellas that are virtually impossible to classify using any currently existing genre definition. While falling under the broader umbrella of neo-noir, it’s a splatterpunk, creature horror, redneck noir mashup unlike anything I’ve read before. Think Tobe Hooper on LSD with a liquored up Lansdale in the driver’s seat and you’ll begin to vaguely understand what I mean.
Howe is one of those rare authors whose work is so freaky good, he’s difficult to write about. Hard to imagine what I could say that would really do him justice. DIE DOG OR EAT THE HATCHET is genre(?) fiction bordering on perfection, permeated with gallows humor, brutal–often disturbing–violence, and a triple helping of giddy horror. His characters are wonderfully flawed individuals who don’t always beat the odds, and his villains are some of the most terrifying I’ve seen in a long time. The stories are at times hilarious, often horrific, and always good fun that, like a wild roller coaster ride, ends too soon. Howe is a master storyteller with a natural, engaging voice and a vivid, unique imagination that is rivaled by few.
Adam Cesare said DIE DOG OR EAT THE HATCHET is one of the best books of the year. I emphatically agree. I loved this book and I suspect I will read it again soon. Adam Howe is a new name on my favorite author list and he’s pretty damn high up on it. If you haven’t read his work yet, you should fix that ASAP.