Published by Comet Press on Nov 3rd, 2015
Genres: comedy, Creature Feature, Crime, Crime/Serial Killer, Dark Fiction, Horror, Noir, Thriller
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From Adam Howe, winner of Stephen King’s On Writing contest, come three original novellas of hardboiled crime, graphic horror and pitch-black gallows humor.
DAMN DIRTY APES
Washed-up prizefighter Reggie Levine is eking a living as a strip club bouncer when he’s offered an unlikely shot at redemption. The Bigelow Skunk Ape – a mythical creature said to haunt the local woods – has kidnapped the high school football mascot, Boogaloo Baboon. Now it’s up to Reggie to lead a misfit posse including a plucky stripper, the town drunk, and legend-in-his-own-mind skunk ape hunter Jameson T. Salisbury. Their mission: Slay the beast and rescue their friend. But not everything is as it seems, and as our heroes venture deeper into the heart of darkness, they will discover worse things waiting in the woods than just the Bigelow Skunk Ape. The story the Society for the Preservation of the North American Skunk Ape tried to ban; Damn Dirty Apes mixes Roadhouse with Jaws with Sons of Anarchy, to create a rollicking romp of 80s-style action/adventure, creature horror and pitch-black comedy.
DIE DOG OR EAT THE HATCHET
Escaped mental patient Terrence Hingle, the butcher of five sorority sisters at the Kappa Pi Massacre, kidnaps timid diner waitress Tilly Mulvehill and bolts for the border. Forcing his hostage to drive him out of town, it’s just a question of time before Tilly becomes the next victim in Hingle’s latest killing spree. But when they stop for gas at a rural filling station operated by deranged twin brothers, Dwayne and Dwight Ritter, the tables are turned on Hingle, and for Tilly the night becomes a hellish cat-and-mouse ordeal of terror and depravity. The meat in a maniac sandwich, Tilly is forced against her nature to make a stand and fight for survival. Because sometimes the only choice you have is to do or die…to Die Dog Or Eat The Hatchet. Reading like a retro slasher flick, this pulpy Southern Gothic kidnap-thriller takes no prisoners as it roars towards a shattering conclusion.
Prohibition-era 1930s… After an affair with the wrong man’s wife, seedy piano player Smitty Three Fingers flees the city and finds himself tinkling the ivories at a Louisiana honky-tonk owned by vicious bootlegger Horace Croker and his trophy wife, Grace. Folks come to The Grinnin’ Gator for the liquor and burlesque girls, but they keep coming back for Big George, the giant alligator Croker keeps in the pond out back. Croker is rumored to have fed ex-wives and enemies to his pet, so when Smitty and Grace embark on a torrid affair…what could possibly go wrong? Inspired by true events, Gator Bait mixes hardboiled crime (James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice) with creature horror (Tobe Hooper’s Eaten Alive) to create a riveting tale of suspense.
I’ve gone on record elsewhere noting that picking up a new author to formally review is a particularly sharp double-edged sword. On the one hand, the reviewer gets exposed to a new voice which she or he may well connect to and eventually come to want to hear more from. But for every successes of this nature, there are at least three other new works that I have to try and find a polite way of criticising without coming across as an abrasive or unfair critic.
Thankfully, Adam Howe’s Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet is a sterling example of the former type of work. These three hard-boiled, crime-thrillers with at least one story tormenting its way into the horror genre are very good to straight out excellent. Howe has a distinctive voice which is utterly readable. His prose lopes gracefully off the page, before every so often whipping you across the face with a sentence or paragraph of such “punchiness” that I found myself taken aback by the raw talent on display.
Though this collection actually ends with GATOR BAIT, this was the first of the tales in this collection that I read. This one contains a quick-witted if somewhat gullible protagonist, a bad guy oozing menace, and a super hot femme fatale who is the cut of ham between their slices of less than wholegrain bread. And then of course, there’s the huge alligator lurking just beneath proceedings …
GATOR BAIT has some gory moments, but is more neo-noir than anything else. I’ve seen many reviews praising this story (and the others) as being very Lansdale-esque, but having not read enough of that author to be able to compare (an oversight I soon plan to correct), I prefer to think of it as hard-boiled noir done very, very well.
DAMN DIRTY APES, the tale which kicks off this collection, is the longest of the three, and at times, did feel it. The middle sections of this story about a disparate group of characters trying to hunt down the legendary Skunk-Ape – cousin to Bigfoot and the Yeti – do get a little repetitive. But the first-person narration from protagonist Reggie Levine kept me engaged, until the action most definitely picked up in the last third. This is the most colourful of the tales and probably the hardest to categorise as it straddles several genres including creature-feature, thriller, and even action-adventure. DAMN DIRTY APES was my least favourite of the three, but still a very good read that in no way connects to the balls-to-the-wall craziness of tale two …
DIE DOG OR EAT THE HATCHET is a blood-thirsty and gore-drenched tale of a young woman who falls afoul of a notorious spree killer AND other serial killers when the two groups collide in the middle of nowhere. This is horror through and through, and many are likely to be offended or unable to get through some of the scenes of torture and dismemberment, but I loved every page of it. Howe himself in the excellent story notes following the three novellas indicates that this one scared even him to write, but I hope he can tap back into this (highly worrying) part of his mind to create more tales akin to this one, because he here trends the same blood-soaked ground as splatterpunk authors like David J Schow and holds his own while doing so.
But enough effusive praise from me. Stop reading this and go out and buy this book. I don’t often make strong statements like that in my reviews, but on this occasion, I’m making an exception.
Go. Buy. This. Book.
You can thank me later.
And here’s to more Howe in the very near future.
4.5 Inconveniently Placed Canines for Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet.
The preceding is based on a e-copy of the book provided by the author in exchange for an honest review – which you have now read.