(Editor’s note: DOUBLE FEATURE is a column where I read at least two horror books per month in 2020 and review them for my website.)
Billed as Book 3 in a Splatter Western series by Death’s Head Press, Dust by Chris Miller reminded me of a more plainspoken version of The Gunslinger, the first book in Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series. Released in June, Dust is about a man named James Dee who’s dispatched by the Others on a cosmic quest through time to kill monster gods, so they won’t destroy the world. Torn by the darkness of his deeds, Dee tells a former slave named Denarius why he does it: “Somebody’s gotta do it, I reckon. May as well be me.” Spoken in true Josey Wales fashion. With the single-mindedness of a Clint Eastwood cowpoke, Dee intends to find the elusive town of Dust and destroy a powerfully evil relic. However, a villain named Dreary is in hot pursuit with the idea of harnessing the evil for his own designs. Dee is accompanied by the affable Denarius on his journey after saving the former slave’s life. The action and the stakes ramp up once the characters enter the town of Dust and face the horror of an ancient god-like monster. Dust finishes with a surprisingly emotional climax along with a sly nod to one of horror’s great writers in the Epilogue. As I write this review, Death’s Head Press has released four books in its Splatter Western series. All four were released in 2020 and all four have 4.5 stars (out of 5) or better review scores on Amazon. I’m thinking the Splatterpunk Awards might have a decidedly Western flavor in 2021.
Released by Atlatl Press in May, Murder House is a gritty psychological horror novel about a 40-year-old woman named Laura who’s depressed and barely holding on to her sanity. Author C.V. Hunt expertly uses Laura as the unreliable narrator, creating a claustrophobic atmosphere of dread and disorientation. We meet Laura at the low point of her life. She’s broke and trapped in a toxic relationship with Brent, her boyfriend of ten years. Brent is a struggling author and writing a true crime book about the Hallows’ Eve Massacre, a chilling 1975 multiple murder in Detroit detailed in the opening chapter’s newspaper article. Brent’s publisher arranged for him and Laura to stay at the house where the killing spree happened. So, we’re set up for the Amityville horror, but what we get is a more challenging tale. Since Laura is off her anti-depressants due to finances, her viewpoint is suspect. Is she losing her mind? Is her loveless boyfriend gaslighting her? Is the tap water toxic, causing hallucinations? Or is the house truly haunted? The strength of Murder House is Hunt’s remarkable ability to convey Laura’s emotional turmoil. It’s bleak and disheartening but undeniably raw and real. The ambiguous climax snaps like a psychotic break and is likely to divide readers. Either way, I think Hunt seems more interested in showing how depression can affect the perception and reality of the untreated mind. In the real world, depression can be perplexing to people who like their stories with tidy endings.
August’s DOUBLE FEATURE: Wither and Other Stories by Sonora Taylor and To Be Devoured by Sara Tantlinger.