Can’t-Wait Wednesday: Spooky Country Noir Reads

I did not move this far north to deal with near 90 degree temps in September.  I love the fall, and that means crisp temps, college football, and . . . Halloween.  And, for me, Halloween means reading.  Really, all of those things mean reading, because I really like reading.  Not reading horror, necessarily, but the Halloween season is an exception.  In the past I have focused on older horror at Every Day Should Be Tuesday, running a series of posts on Frankenstein and a series of posts on the horror of Robert E. Howard.  This year I am bringing it home to Hillbilly Highways.  Ghost stories are a rich part of my cultural heritage, and country noir offers plenty of spooky options.

Can’t-Wait Wednesday is hosted by Wishful Endings.

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The Harp of Kings is a character-driven, Celtic fantasy

There is a rich vein of Celtic history and mythology that runs from The Harp of Kings and pre-Christian Ireland all the way to Alex Bledsoe’s Tufa novels and Appalachia. The Harp of Kings benefits from that rich history, creating something with greater resonance than the pale imitation of an imitation fantasy that has clogged the genre over the past few decades. But it is really the characters, not the worldbuilding, that carries The Harp of Kings.

Every Day Should Be Tuesday

“A person can never hear too many tales.  Tales are like honey cakes.  Once you have tasted one, you want another, and another, and always more.”

There is a rich vein of Celtic history and mythology that runs from The Harp of Kings and pre-Christian Ireland all the way to Alex Bledsoe’s Tufa novels and Appalachia.  The Harp of Kings benefits from that rich history, creating something with greater resonance than the pale imitation of an imitation fantasy that has clogged the genre over the past few decades.  But it is really the characters, not the worldbuilding, that carries The Harp of Kings.

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Thick as Thieves is Fun, Pulpy SF Crime Fiction

Writing about a fantasy book that tries to be an Elmore Leonard-style crime fiction story as well raised some interesting thoughts about the nature of crime fiction.

Every Day Should Be Tuesday

Thick as Thieves is a pulpy adventure SF tale about a burly soldier-turned-tavern bouncer, Brick, who makes the mistake of agreeing to a simple plan and gets involved over his head in a heist.  Although Lizzi is really telling more of a Elmore Leonard-style crime story than a straight heist.  Lizzi gives us a quick, pulpy read (234 pages) that comes with surprisingly depth, economically doled out in small bits.  It is a fun story, if not one that blew me away.

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SF: Devil’s Call by J. Danielle Dorn

Devil’s Call is one hell of a story, a bloody weird western propelled by protagonist Li Lian’s remarkable voice.

Li Lian is the mixed race daughter from a family where witchery runs on the female line.  She follows her husband, a former army doctor, to the Nebraska frontier.  It is there that something goes terribly wrong.

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SF: Who Fears the Devil? by Manly Wade Wellman

I went to a panel at the WorldCon in San Antonio a few years back on Texas Pulp SF.  Apart from the 800-lb. gorilla in the room, Texans were grossly underrepresented in the pulps.  The consensus was that they were writing speculative fiction, and good speculative fiction, but that it was getting published as folklore.  That struck close to home.  I sometimes say I didn’t discover speculative fiction until my mom forced The Hobbit on me, but that isn’t quite true.  Growing up in the mountains of North Carolina, I grew up with ghost stories.  Much like that Texas “folklore.”  The difference, of course, merely being one of perceptive.

You can imagine my interest then, when I discovered that an Appendix N and Weird Tales stalwart, Manly Wade Wellman, wrote an entire series of short stories very much rooted in the lore of my people.  About John.  At least that’s the only way his name is given in the stories.  He is more usually known as John the Balladeer or Silver John.  He may also be a parallel universe Johnny Cash.  Or maybe John the Baptist.  Or maybe both.

I picked up a copy of Paizo’s Hidden Worlds and Ancient Mysteries Planet Stories, The Complete Tales of Silver John, Who Fears the Devil?, presented by (and with an introduction from) Mike Resnick (2010).  Unfortunately, it is now out of print and offered at an obscene price every time lately I’ve checked on Amazon.  This is billed as a complete collection of the Silver John short stories, but Wellman also wrote five novels about John.  Haffner Press’ upcoming The Complete John the Balladeer.  The two-volume edition will contain all five novels and is available for pre-order now.

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SF: Krampus: The Yule Lord by Brom

Richard Kadrey meets Daniel Woodrell.

For 1,000 years Santa has kept his dark counterpoint Krampus magically imprisoned, and for 1,000 years Krampus has plotted his revenge.  This Christmas Yule he will get it.

Krampus is all the rage these days, most recently being featured in a horror flick.  Brom’s Krampus is a different sort of story.  It’s not horror at all.  It’s dark fantasy and southern gothic set in meth-ravaged West Virginia and owes more to writers like Ron Rash and Daniel Woodrell than Stephen King.  All set against a pagan, Norse mythology.  If that sounds like it’s up your alley, you’ll love it.  If it doesn’t?  You’ll probably still love it.

Krampus cover

 

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SF: Some Dark Holler by Luke Bauserman

For Halloween I’m returning to the motif of selling your soul.

Bauserman pitched an advanced copy of Some Dark Holler to me because I reviewed a collection of Manly Wade Wellman’s Silver John stories.  I get a lot of these, usually with the author comparing their work to some colossus in the field.  But I couldn’t resist, being a huge fan of both country noir and speculative fiction.  I didn’t remotely expect Bauserman’s work to live up to that of Wellman, a master unequaled today in my eyes.  Does Bauserman’s work live up to Wellman’s?  I can hardly believe I’m writing this, but it very well may exceed it.

Some Dark Holler opens at the close of the Civil War.  Death arrives at a meeting with Scratch (the Devil) and two of Scratch’s lackeys.  A deal with the Devil will protect you from death for seven years.  In return all you have to do is deliver another soul.  William is his number one recruiter.  The first chapter (you can listen to the audiobook version on YouTube) ends with Scratch sending William after a boy named Ephraim.

(There is actually a really cool explanation for Death’s involvement and how he works.  Every human has a mortal imprint (“a kind of long shadow that trailed from his being and connected him to death”).  That allows Death to collect without personally attending to it.  If you sign a deal with the Devil, Death removes his imprint.)

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