(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.
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.
Joyce: Dreamside (30 August, 2000)
Links to books:
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
Grafton: M Is for Malice
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.
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)
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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....
Original text copyright (C) 2000, by Michael Edwards.
Introduction - Front page, which leads to Contents
Web Site of Michael Edwards - Contents
Writings by Michael Edwards
Mini-Reviews (this page)
This page created on Monday, 12 June, 2000;
last modified on Thursday, 31 August, 2000.