Tag Archives: Lee Thomas

Down On Your Knees – Lee Thomas (Lethe Press)

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I kept thinking of boxing while reading this book. Sometimes you want a lengthy match, featuring the strategic spectacle of one opponent slowly wearing down the other, but sometimes you prefer a fight without subtlety that delivers one or two knockout blows and then is over, leaving one man standing and the other flat on the canvas. It all depends on the amount of blood lust you have that day. Whereas Lee Thomas’s Butcher’s Road, for example, is one of the former, his latest, Down On Your Knees, is a rabbit punch to the kidneys and a less-than-two-hundred-page knockout.

Just out of prison, Denny “The Bull” Doyle faces the challenge of taking his organization back from low-level gangster Malcom Lynch, who has gained control in Doyle’s absence. The Bull’s former henchmen are being murdered one by one, and the only chance Doyle has of regaining his position lies with Brendan Newton, a gang wanna-be who’s logged far more time fantasizing about crime than practicing it. Lynch may have sorcerer’s magic on his side, but let’s just say Doyle has his own supernatural resources as well.

Thomas’s fiction always amazes me both in terms of his inventiveness and his prose. Here, his words are punchy and action-oriented when they aren’t vulgar (a quality I love, by the way). This is not a book of rumination. It’s a novel of quick thinking, reactions, punch-ups, and beat-downs. Lots of blood, gore, mayhem, and–especially in the last few chapters–magic. And that’s where his inventiveness takes over. The traps are many, the subterfuges are clever, and the predicaments have interesting complications.

A longer book? Well, a more detailed approach would include additional information on how Doyle acquired his powers, though the hints we get of the ritual in Milo’s jail cell are powerful and certainly turn the plot as well as needed. A slower book would also contain some background and more insight on Doyle’s relationship with his doctor/former lover Zack. Maybe even a kidnapping, putting Zack in some direct danger. However, the latter is what the reader expects. I know I expected it the second he introduced the character, and I kept looking for it to happen all through the action sequences. That it does not, however, is no disappointment, and I suspect that’s what Thomas intended. Well played, sir. Well played.

Down On Your Knees, then, really strips the horror/crime genre down to its bare essentials and gives its readers the down and dirty details. And, make no mistake, the final few chapters will leave you breathless in your ringside seats, still clutching your half-eaten popcorn as the house lights come up and you think, “What the hell?” Yes. It’s that good.

JW

© 2017, Jerry L. Wheeler

 

 

 

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Suffered from the Night: Queering Stoker’s Dracula – Steve Berman, ed. (Lethe Press)

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Hot on the heels of Berman’s Where Thy Dark Eye Glances, a queering of Edgar Allan Poe, and Joseph DeMarco’s A Study in Lavender, which gave the same treatment to Sherlock Holmes, comes Suffered from the Night, which takes on the Dracula mythos. With these three volumes, Lethe Press is quickly becoming the go-to publisher for the re-imagining of icons. And that’s a mighty sweet place to be. Even sweeter is the fact that the stories get better and better.

As with the other two books, the authors represented in Suffered from the Night draw their inspirations from major and minor characters in the text–some even unnamed–as well as those who present us their takes on the vampire myth in general. The kickoff story, Lee Thomas’s chilling “The Tattered Boy” is among those. This tale of a vampire boy and the college professor he terrorizes puts the reader in the appropriate time frame and mood. When beginning a vampire book, you can hardly go wrong with a Lee Thomas story. Just as literary, but more Stoker-based is Livia Llewellyn’s “Yours is the Right to Begin,” which plumbs the origins and attitudes of Dracula’s three “weird sisters,” as Jonathan Harker calls them, and does so with such sumptuous language as to take your breath away. Ed Madden‘s poem, “Self Portrait as Jonathan Harker,” continues the text-based entries.

Damon Shaw’s magnificently engaging “Seven Lovers and the Sea” explores from the sailor’s point of view what happened aboard the Demeter on that fateful voyage departing from Varna Quay, and Jason Andrew’s stately, moody “The Calm of Despair” tells the immediate aftermath of the Demeter’s landing through the eyes of one of Count Dracula’s solicitors. Elka Cloke’s epistolary and wholly successful “Bloofer Ladies” explores the relationship (which always had a lesbian subtext to me) between Mina Harker and Lucy Westerna complete with a darkly disturbing ending that sees Harker and Westerna reuniting in a ruined abbey several years hence.

Back to the epistolary form (an unsurprising choice, considering the source material) for William P. Coleman’s “The Powers of Evil,” which retells the last chapter of the story and includes Arthur Holmwood’s unrequited love for not only Jonathan Harker but an old lust for Jack Seward as well. Holmwood and Westerna also play key roles in Traci Castleberry’s “My Arms Are Hungry,” told from the point of view of one of the “bloofer lady” children. One of the most creative entries, Jeff Mann’s “Protect the King,” takes the unnamed gypsy driving the cart containing Dracula’s body, and invents a wonderful servant named Boldo for the vampire lord. As usual, Mann’s research into the Romany culture is thorough and totally entwined in the story.

Rajan Khanna’s “Hungers” is a nicely paced, action-packed romp with a nice twist or two that sees the offspring of the major human characters in the original text carrying on their forefathers’ (and foremothers’) work in doing battle with the undead race, this time with the evil Baron Winters. Steve Berman‘s own “The Letter that Doomed Nosferatu” strikes an uneasy balance between comedy and foreboding as it looks at the cinematic premiere of F.W. Murnau‘s Nosferatu as attended by a man and his companion, who might just be the film’s subject. This, however, is a perfect set-up for perhaps the oddest, yet most compelling story here–Laird Barron’s “Ardor,” which combines vampires, snuff films, and an Alaskan aircrash in a totally engaging and perverse read. Sven Davisson updates the undead for the texting Twitter generation in his New Orleans-set “A Closer Walk With Thee,” and Seth Cadin ends the collection with an oddly wistful “Unhallowed Ground.”

Nothing in this collection seems out of place or lacking in any respect. It’s of a piece with the other two anthologies referencing Holmes and Poe, which makes this the last entry in an anthologic trilogy. One can only hope Berman’s visionary stance never shifts and we get something equally as wonderful. Soon.

©  2013  Jerry L. Wheeler

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The Lavender Menace: Tales of Queer Villainy! – Tom Cardamone, ed. (Northwest Press)

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Everyone loves the hero, right? Especially those with superpowers, colorful costumes, sidekicks, and witty banter. Personally, however, I’ve always found those tortured villains more interesting: Lex Luthor or Mr. Myxzptlk over Superman, Doc Ock over Spiderman, the Joker or Penguin over Batman (except you were never sure about Batman–he’s my favorite). That’s why I was so excited when I heard about this book. Then I saw Tom Cardamone was editing, and my expectations tripled. Thankfully, nobody disappoints here, so no one dies at the hands of this arch-villain-critic.

Much has been made of the “outsider” kinship queer men and women share with superheroes, but where many would concentrate on the heroic aspects, most of the heroes in these stories are members of Leagues or Organizations, loosely knit governing bodies that put heroes with heat vision or super strength or flight or any number of super-attributes clearly on the inside. Thus, to get back to the outside, Cardamone has chosen to concentrate on villains.

A look at the cover and a cursory glance at the title would indicate these stories are overdrawn and over the top. While some of them are, a number retain a surprising subtlety.  The telepath in ‘Nathan Burgoine’s brilliant “Lesser Evil,” tips his way into a love affair with Aleph, implanting a suggestion that Aleph loves him. Burgoine’s portrayal of Psilence’s delicious guilt is both heartening and heartbreaking. And just when you think you have the ending figured out, he takes you another way which is simultaneously characteristic, yet uncharacteristic of his lovelorn villain.

Less subtle, but still effective, is the betrayal in Steven Berenzai’s “The Web,” which sees Daytripper falling in love with Arachnid, a fellow possible inductee into yet another Superhero League. At a pivotal moment, however, Arachnid tricks Daytripper and reveals himself as a villain, provoking a wonderful final battle that is satisfying on a number of levels. Jamie Freeman also turns in a wonderful performance with “The Meek Shall Inherit,” a cautionary tale that takes place in the futuristic Christian States of America as the Inheritor incinerates the religious bigots. Although this would seem to put him in the superhero side, revelations at the end put him squarely in the villain camp, no matter how much the reader would wish it otherwise. In doing so, Freeman asks some tough questions about the nature of good and evil as well as the grey area between the two.

But as I said earlier, everyone acquits themselves well in this collection. Marshall Moore goes all high fashion with “After Balenciaga,” which has the evil Couture bringing back designers from the grave, pitting Chanel against Dior to wickedly tongue-in-cheek effect.  Lee Thomas is his usual brilliant self in “The Third Estate,” incorporating some leftist sentiment into the villain Legion, who destroys corporations and executives, much to the dismay and ultimate betrayal of his partner, Curtis. The title character of Cardamone’s own “The Ice King,” first seen in Steve Berman’s criminally underrated queer spec-fic magazine Icarus, takes time out from freezing back-of-the-bar sex tableaux to reunite with an old college roommate he once loved. Also worth mentioning is Jeffrey Ricker’s “Scorned,” featuring Megawatt, a Hannibal Lechter-type desperate to regain his power and escape from his prison cell.

As if all this wasn’t enough, Rod M. Santos takes us clear over the top with “The Knights Nefarious.” This outrageous tale has a henchman named Muse trying to win the love of his master, Dr. Schadenfreude, by scheming to capture the good doctor’s arch-enemy, Captain Strategem, and presenting the hero to him on his birthday. He does so with the help of a rather motley crew of amateur villains: El Fantasma que Sangra (The Ghost Who Bleeds), a robotphobe named Armored Suit Man, a trenchcoat-wearing Flash Forward who opens his coat to expose a hypnotic psychedelic tattoo, Robigus, a Roman god who protects corn from blight, and Chocolate Bunny Boy, who can shoot chocolate rabbits from his palms. In an absolutely inspired moment that had me snorting ginger ale up my nose during the climactic battle, Stratagem puts an arm up to ward off Chocolate Bunny Boy’s attack, exclaiming incredulously, “You’re assaulting me with Easter candy?” Even my dogs were laughing.

You’ll find no better book of queer supervillainy anywhere. I can hardly wait for the next volume. Please, Tom, tell me there’s another in the works!

©  2013  Jerry L. Wheeler

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