Soul Draining, but in a good way: Feast by R. Scott McCoy

R. Scott McCoy’s Feast has been compared to a superhero story akin to Darkman or Spawn. Rightfully so, but these comparisons only do McCoy’s novel a disservice. Nick Ambrose, Feast‘s superhero in-training, ditches the over-the-top splat-shtick of Sam Raimi’s titular hero but at the same time never delves into the mid-90s uber-melancholy of Todd McFarland’s red-caped meal ticket. If you have no idea what the comparisons were I just made, you obviously didn’t watch movies or read comic books in the 90s.

Feast concerns Nick, a police officer who acquires superpowers while tracking down a deranged (and supernatural) killer with his brother,Pete. His main power is that he can look into souls and see how clean their karmic aura is, he also gains super strength, healing, and no longer needs to sleep. The catch being that he has to periodically feed on the lifeforce of others to stay alive. It is this moral quandary (plus the fact that Nick has some new residents in his noggin) that form the crux of Feast.

Why Feast works so well is that Nick’s world has a certain “heightened reality” about it (there are blood thirsty serial killers and mob bosses around every corner), but Nick remains a very realistic character. He’s very human, he makes mistakes, enjoys Chinese food, is a dope around women and sometimes lets his new-found urges get the better of him. His moral compass is always pointed in generally the right direction, though, which makes watching him grapple with some frightening obstacles all the more compelling.

Feast suffers the same problem that is endemic to all origin stories: you get all the characters put in place, lay the ground rules of their powers, have them embark on their first “mission” in the third act and then you have to leave the reader thirsty for further adventures.

Feast is great, McCoy’s style is direct, fast paced, and sometimes just a hint humorous. Nick is a character I actually care about. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for him. Hopefully the wait won’t be too long. Highly recommended.

*For those of you who think I’m just kissing ass because McCoy runs Necrotic Tissue: Ha! He isn’t even the head editor for this upcoming issue.

Serves you right. Jerks.

"Plag Meen": Mama Fish by Rio Youers

My to-be-read pile, isn’t really a pile, it’s more like an entire bookshelf. Unwieldy to say the least. That’s why I’ve been taking this break to read. A lot. I can’t write up every book, doesn’t mean I didn’t like them, it just means they aren’t topical (for example, I just finished Bloodstone by Nate Kenyon, a very good book well worth your time, but also one that’s been out for a while and received some great write ups by people better qualified than me).

I’ve been trying (and failing) to keep up with Shroud’s novella series. I loved Tom Piccrilli’s All You Despise, already reviewed the first Hiram Grange and I am more than halfway through R. Scott Mccoy’s Feast as I write this. Which brings us to the topic of discussion: Rio Youers’ Mama Fish.

The page count is slight but the plot and emotion outweighs that of any book in recent memory. In Mama Fish, Youers bounces from 1986 to present day to tell a genre bending story that is humorous, heart breaking, and funny while being both in awe and critical of the “wired” world we now inhabit. He does all this in crisp prose and a narrative voice that is sly, but never over indulgent.

The story is narrated by Patrick, a thirty six year old paraplegic who reminisces about his high school days and the strange boy, Kelvin Fish, that he tried to befriend with disastrous results. To summarize any more would ruin it. Just get the book.

The juxtaposition of Patrick’s adventure as a kid, all of his internal flights of fancy kept intact, with his world-weary observations about technology and the way we grow dependent on them are both frightening and frighteningly accurate.

I haven’t read his other books (something I will be sure to alleviate soon), but I can say that Mama Fish is the work of someone not afraid to mix it up. A confident voice untethered by the preconceived “demands” of a certain genre (be it horror or otherwise). A smart book that doesn’t talk down to readers, and rewards them for their intelligence. This was easily one of the best books I read this year and further proof that some of the best stuff comes from the small press.

Hiram Has Arrived: Hiram Grange & The Village of the Damned

I approached Shroud Publishing’s new book series with both excitement and trepidation. I usually don’t count myself a fan of single character episodic fiction, and add to that that Hiram appeared at first glance to fit into the paranormal mystery subgenre and I was a bit leery.

I’m very glad that I gave this series a chance and picked up the just-released first book Hiram Grange & The Village of the Damned by Jake Burrows because boy were my fears unfounded.

Hiram is a fun pulp hero who is both modern-day scumbag and throw-back scoundrel. Grange has the body of Ichabod Crane, the mind and wit of Marlowe (not to mention Hiram’s mind has sustained even more alcohol damage), carries an antique six shooter (which only holds five rounds, for sentimental reasons) and favors the substance abuse of a Victorian era Dandy.

With Village Burrows is charged with a difficult task: creating a first adventure that is not bogged down by too much exposition. In this respect the book is a resounding success as Burrows does not opt to go with the boring “origin story” structure. He instead introduces Hiram as already fully formed and established and proceeds to introduce some critical character development in the form of flashbacks. Glimpses at Hiram’s parents and past tragedies tell the reader just enough to intrigue but not enough to bore.

All Burrow’s hard work in establishing our hero would be for naught if the supporting cast wasn’t up to the task, but luckily Hiram’s rouges gallery is. The “big bad” for this novel is a reanimated, sledgehammer-wielding Church lady carrying out (with the aid of her husband’s collection of possessed lawn gnomes) a supernatural vendetta against her neighbors. The delightfully over-the-top kills are based on the biblical plagues and are both disgusting and funny (which, like the divide between serious and comedic, is a line the book toes well throughout) .

The only real problem with the book is how quickly it’s all over. The reader will flip to the last page and be tantalized with a list of further adventures but none of them are out yet. The end of the book hints at a larger mythology and (possibly?) an arch-nemesis for Hiram. One can’t help but wait with baited breath, but still harbor the fear/hope that subsequent authors (each of the five planned books has a different author) will be up to the task of preserving Hiram’s unique voice while not completely parroting Burrow’s style.

Also worthy of mention are the fantastic illustrations provided by Malcolm McClinton and Shroud’s own Danny Evarts. They add subtle extra flavor to the text and are used sparingly enough that they don’t turn it into a picture book.

Both the time and financial commitment are minimal so what do you have to lose? Hiram’s first case is a bizarre, grief-stricken, slime-oozing, Jodie-Foster-obsessed, gnome-smashing, absinthe-soaked, funny and thrilling ride. I highly encourage you to pick up a copy.