(M.J.E. / Writings / Book Reviews / Mini-Reviews)

Book Reviews: Mini-Reviews

      The origin of this page was in a posting I quite impulsively made on a horror literature message board on 6 August, 1999, in response to another posting asking people to list their 10 favourite horror books. I responded with a list of 22 (because I couldn't stop at 10), and I also appended to each a brief description of its plot or of salient points within the story - more by way of giving tempting morsels to lure one into reading the book rather than any attempt to summarize it as a whole.
      I have decided to start a page of mini-reviews, beginning with these 22 commentaries, so to begin with the page is heavily slanted towards horror fiction. (Because the bulletin board was specifically about horror fiction, there was no point in including non-horror titles.) However, I've decided to broaden the scope of this page and to write similar comments as they occur to me about any books at all. The comments may not provide much information about the books, but may serve as provocative remarks about books that may attract people to trying the book. I will use the page as the seed-bed for ideas about books, which may in some cases grow into full-length reviews of the sort found on this web site in the reviews section.
      I have tried to indicate which of the following books are in and out of print, but I cannot promise to be accurate or up to date on this. Books go out of print and are then reprinted all the time, and I cannot hope to keep up to date on this, and indeed I do not even make a serious attempt to do so. AddALL.com seem to have an amazing array of used books available, and for books I know or suspect to be out of print, I have included a link to that web site, searching for that title.
      Finally, I have given each book an approximate rating in the manner that Amazon book reviewers (including myself) do. The score is out of 5, and is expressed in the form 2/5, 5/5, and so on. 1/5 is absolutely atrocious or perhaps just unreadable, and 5/5 is first-class, completely to be recommended without reservations. There is a preponderance of 4s and 5s here, probably in far greater proportion than I would rate books generally, for the simple reason that I tend to review the books I enjoy best or consider the best examples that I know of their type.

Michael Edwards,
Victoria, Australia.

E-mail me about the reviews on this page.

      Click here if you need an explanation for the strange appearance of the e-mail address which will appear when you click on the e-mail link, or if you don't know what you need to do to make the e-mail address work properly.

Recently added:

    Joyce: Dreamside (30 August, 2000)

Links to books:

    Science Fiction
        Bernanos: The Other Side of the Mountain - Da Cruz: The Grotto of the Formigans - George Orwell: 1984
        Cook: Toxin - Ehrlich: The Cult - Hyde: Crestwood Heights - Johnson: Let's Go Play at the Adams' - Joyce: Dreamside -
        King: Gerald's Game - King (Bachman): The Long Walk - Knight: Slimer - Knight: The Fungus (Death Spore) - Koontz: Phantoms -
        Koontz: Sole Survivor - Laymon: Midnight's Lair - Lippincott: Savage Ransom - Masterton: Plague - Masterton: Death Trance -
        Masterton: Ritual - Matheson: What Dreams May Come - Andrew Neiderman: Brainchild - Schneebeli: Game's End -
        Stein: The Resort - White: Death Game
    Mystery, Crime
        Grafton: M Is for Malice
    Children's Fiction

Science Fiction

Michel BERNANOS: The Other Side of the Mountain (originally written in French) - Rating: 5/5 - Probably out of print:Search at AddALL.com
      Shipwreck on weird planet that may be alive, carnivorous plants, and the characters' awful fate once they get where they're trying to get.

Daniel DA CRUZ: The Grotto of the Formigans - Rating: 5/5 -
           Probably out of print: Search at AddALL.com:
Note: Because of the form of surname for this author (with a prefix), there are different ways of listing his name alphabetically. AddALL list this book under the following forms of name, as given in the following links, which will not all necessarily give the same entries for the book.

Da Cruz     DaCruz     Cruz     Cruz Da    

      In darkest Africa, an underground nest of humanoid beings organized like insects, where a fate much worse than death awaits you; you won't die there - you are far too useful to be wasted.
      Marketed as science-fiction, not horror, in case you try looking for it in the second-hand horror section of used book-stores. Go here for a full-length review of this book.

George ORWELL: 1984 - Rating: 5/5
      Totalitarianism out of control, individuality totally destroyed.


Note: many the books mentioned in this section are the ones I listed in my original list of 22 top horror novels, so they are the best examples I have so far found of the genre. It omits many famous works in the field - but I don't pretend that the books I have read and enjoyed are necessarily a representive selection from the field as a whole. Certainly some of them could easily convince readers that there are worse things that can happen to you than to die. Don't be put off by the obscurity of some of these books; I unreservedly give the highest recommendation for all of them.

Robin COOK: Toxin - Rating: 4/5
      Abattoirs: don't read if you enjoy eating hamburgers - you'll find out how they're made and what goes into them. The story centres around the crusade by a grief-stricken doctor to seek justice for the hamburger poisoning which has left his daughter in a coma and on death's door - day after day after day. A typical offering from Cook, whose work is perhaps the ultimate in medical horror.

Max EHRLICH: The Cult - Rating: 5/5 - Probably out of print: Search at AddALL.com
      A fundamentalist, evangelical cult, "Souls for Jesus", destroys recruits' minds beyond recovery. This extended saga follows the titanic struggle between the forces of sanity and of religious fanaticism, almost seeming to take on cosmic significance as a young man's mind and possibly even soul hangs in the balance. Utterly chilling - also deeply moving in places, too. The cult is portrayed extremely well, and their T.V. show is described so evocatively that you can feel the slimy slickness of their media-savvy presentation and image.

Christopher HYDE: Crestwood Heights - Rating: 4/5 - Probably out of print: Search at AddALL.com
      Futuristic town's dark secrets, and hideous experiments on human foetuses.

Mendal W. JOHNSON: Let's Go Play at the Adams' - Rating: 5/5 - Probably out of print: Search at AddALL.com
      Kids out of control, bondage, psychological terror; a journey into the bowels of hell, right in the middle of idyllic rural America. Probably the most chilling, frightening book I have ever read - and also probably the most realistic, which may be one of the factors contributing to its profoundly disturbing effect. Absolutely unforgettable, whether you love or hate it.

Go here for a full review. There is a sequel to this by Barry Schneebeli called Game's End; reviews can be found by following these links:
      mini-review (on this page)
      full-length review

Graham JOYCE: Dreamside - Rating: 4/5 - Probably out of print: Search at AddALL.com
      This book concerns a college professor's experiments with four students in lucid dreaming, where one is able to deliberately control the course of dreams. The four students meet in their dreams at an agreed location by a lakeside, and the dreams seem to get more and more real, and the students find that in that dream world anything they think literally becomes real.
      Years later, the dreams start coming back to each of the four, and they realize they are going to have to come together and sort things out if they are ever to be free of the dreams.
      The book's subject matter is very intriguing and a little bit scary, but unfortunately I find the book to be marred by a style that seems to get rather too obscure at times.
      Although I've never heard anyone point this out, nor read it anywhere, it strikes me rather obviously that the dream world depicted by Joyce is very similar in its behaviour to the astral world taught by Theosophy and some mystical or New-Age traditions. According to these traditions, it is the spiritual plane closest to the physical plane, and the one to which people pass after dying. I would be very interested to know whether Graham Joyce had this in mind in writing the book. If not, it would seem to me a remarkable coincidence, because the book gives me the unmistakable impression that its author is very knowledgeable about the astral world and about mysticism generally.

Stephen KING: Gerald's Game - Rating: 5/5
      Bondage games gone wrong. After reading this, you will really find out what it is like to be handcuffed by your spouse to a bed in a lakeside cabin miles away from everywhere, only to have said spouse die right in front of you.

Stephen KING (as Richard Bachman): The Long Walk - Rating: 5/5
      The ultimate walking marathon. The rules are simple: a hundred boys starting walking, and keep walking, and keep walking, and keep walking... Anyone who slows down for more than a set period is shot dead by armoured tanks which keep pace with the boys. The winner is simply the one who is still walking after 99 other boys have been killed.

Harry Adam KNIGHT: Slimer - Rating: 5/5 - Probably out of print: Search at AddALL.com
      Shape-changing blob; makes The Blob seem like a Sunday-school picnic. You don't die when you get eaten by this thing - you just wish you could.

Harry Adam KNIGHT: The Fungus (U.S. title, Death Spore) - Rating: 5/5 -
           Probably out of print: Search at AddALL.com:
The Fungus; Death Spore
      Fungi eat London (yes, that's right), and transform people into something inhuman.

Dean KOONTZ: Phantoms - Rating: 5/5
      Another shape-changing blob, again outdoes The Blob.

Dean KOONTZ: Sole Survivor - Rating: 5/5
      The secret behind an air crash - what's behind it is the really scary bit, but to mention it would be a plot spoiler.

Richard LAYMON: Midnight's Lair - Rating: 5/5
      The mysterious things in the caves - anything more specific would be a spoiler, but it's much worse than any ordinary monsters you can imagine, however many tentacles and teeth and claws you give them.

David LIPPINCOTT: Savage Ransom - Rating: 5/5 - Probably out of print: Search at AddALL.com
      The evil deeds a kidnapper commits when his demands aren't met to the letter.

Graham MASTERTON: Plague - Rating: 5/5 - Probably out of print: Search at AddALL.com
      The ultimate bubonic plague destroys civilization world-wide.

Graham MASTERTON: Death Trance - Rating: 5/5
      Extreme grief, dark realms in the spirit world.

Graham MASTERTON: Ritual - Rating: 5/5
      Horror fiction probably strikes many people as quite disreputable and morally suspect - and horror on specifically Christian themes is probably even more controversial still. For this, try Graham Masterton's "Ritual": but I warn you: it will be extremely disturbing, perhaps even distressing, and almost certainly blasphemous, to devout Christians, because of the Christian imagery linked with cannibalism.
      It is about a Christian sect that engages in ritual cannibalism, whose property masquerades as an exclusive restaurant. Rather disturbing parallels are drawn between cannibalism and the Eucharist (the Body and Blood of Christ), and the author mixes the cult's history with facts about Christianity so seamlessly that it would be impossible (without extensive research) to sort out fact from fiction. The cult indeed claims to be Christian, and cites Biblical support for the practice of ritual cannibalism. You could almost believe in it if it weren't totally repulsive.
      A graphic illustration of the fact that you can use the Bible to prove almost anything at all that you want to - even things that most Christians would regard as antithetical to the Christian message, even totally depraved and evil.

Richard MATHESON: What Dreams May Come - Rating: 5/5
      The description of hell in the last half of the novel is truly horrific, and not all that similar to the recent film - inclusion in this list of horror fiction may not be fair, because it is only one element of the overall story, which is not a horror story, but a speculation about life after death based on actual research.

Andrew NEIDERMAN: Brainchild - Rating: 5/5 - Probably out of print: Search at AddALL.com
      A chilling conjunction of the themes of intelligence without humanity, Pavlovian mind-conditioning, and extreme disability.

Barry SCHNEEBELI: Game's End - Rating: 4/5 - Not published - available from the author through his web site.
      This is a sequel to Let's Go Play at the Adams' (see mini-review or full review) by Mendal Johnson. In it, we see the kids who did the dreadful deeds related in Johnson's novel forced to face the consequences of their acts, and Barry Schneebeli's sequel does a good job of really looking deep into the personalities and state of mind of the young perpetrators.
      I wanted to rate this book a full five out of five, since it is "must" reading for anyone who enjoyed Let's Go Play at the Adams'. What held me back is that the book does seem rather marred by an obscurity of style in places, especially when describing people's thoughts or states of mind. Perhaps the problem is with me, that I am not good at understanding such writing. I do sense that these passages go into the essence of the various characters in some depth, and perhaps I personally lack the sensitivity or understanding of human nature to fully understand this. I have only read the early chapters of the novel so far, so any comments are initial impressions only. I may be able to upgrade the rating to a full five out of five if the novel lives up to the promise it seems to have, and if I find it so absorbing as to cancel out this problem of occasional obscurity of style.
      Other than this, the book is a worthy sequel to Johnson's novel and captures something of the feel of that book, although of course Barry writes in his own style, and the story itself is quite different, owing to the characters' situation itself having changed radically.
      I hope the book gets published one day; the author is currently negotiating permission to use Johnson's characters with relatives of Johnson who presumably own the copyright on Johnson's novel. But my feeling is that any editor will require the passages I referred to as obscure to be revised rather before they will accept it for publication. If Barry does this and manages to publish it, I am sure it will be a riveting read for anyone who was similarly riveted by Johnson's unforgettable novel. Perhaps it may even spark republication of Johnson's own now long out of print novel.
      A longer review of Game's End on this web site can be found here.

Sol STEIN: The Resort - Rating: 5/5 - Probably out of print: Search at AddALL.com
      Anti-Semitism, modern concentration camp. You may not believe that being locked in a locker for several days can break someone's mind when nothing else worked - but you will after reading this.

Stuart WHITE: Death Game - Rating: 5/5 - Probably out of print: Search at AddALL.com
      The ultimate T.V. game, and how it destroyed America's morals and international relations.


Mystery, Crime

Sue GRAFTON: M Is for Malice - Rating: 3/5
      This seems to be a classic murder mystery story, about a wealthy man who is murdered: four sons stand to inherit great wealth upon his death, and each of them is a possible suspect, especially the black-sheep one who ran away in disgrace years ago. And there does seem to be a lot of tension and discord within the family.
      To be honest, I haven't yet finished this book - and it was perhaps 6 months ago that I began it, and I would without doubt have to start it all over again if I wanted to read it through. Not a good sign in a mystery story, although it was difficult to pinpoint anything grossly wrong with the story. I think I found the story rather too choked with details about the characters' lives - not too uninteresting in itself, but some of the details seemed irrelevant, and so confusing that I found it very difficult to keep track of the plot as it unfolded, interesting though it seemed. Maybe I just wasn't in the right mood at the time for a book of this type.
      I supsect this level of detail would be mainly of interest to people who have followed this long-running series featuring the detective Kinsey Millhone. I have not read any other books in this series, but reportedly the author has been developing Millhone's character in some depth over the many years she has been writing the series; taken in this context the detail I tended to find irrelevant to the mystery might be of much greater significance.
      Perhaps one day I'll pick it up again and have another try....


Children's Fiction


Original text copyright (C) 2000, by Michael Edwards.

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This page created on Monday, 12 June, 2000;
last modified on Thursday, 31 August, 2000.