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The Blackest Heart  by Vince Churchill

(2004 Publish America)  Read more about the author and buy the book here.

     Cutting to the chase, I'd have to say that I'm very impressed.  For one thing, we all know that Publish America is one of the popular self-publishing establishments on the internet, although it doesn't at first appear that way, and out of the many novels I've read that have been published this way, by God, this is the best-edited, most flawless work in the genre of horror/fantasy/sci-fi so far to my knowledge.  That does make a difference, although I've read many a good book that succeeds despite the flaws.

     My God, though, that's just the beginning.  This novel is one of the best examples I've often lectured about concerning great undiscovered works that are out there that traditional publishing houses just don't know what they're missing over.  If they did, and they made a deal with Vince Churchill, this would prove to be a fantastic seller for any Book-Of-The-Month club for sure, not to mention commercial book stands if properly marketed.

     Let's draw:  what we've got here is a space-action-western with chunks of horrific carnage and imagination the likes of which only belongs to a first rate wizard of the genre.  This work was absolutely well thought out and was written by a pro who knows how to make these visions works of art on paper.  Let me tell you that just by the raw synopsis of a futuristic revenge novel in the lines of High Plains Drifter meets Spawn and The Crow, I wasn't sure what to think.  Then again, I approach all the novels I read by virtually unknowns with a clean slate of mind.  But Churchill isn't exactly virtually unknown, since his first novel The Dead Shall Inherit the Earth is hard to ignore when internet surfing for horror/fantasy authors. 

     Elite Star Marshall Thane Bishop is a legend in the galaxy, so much so that children on planets throughout play with action figures of the celebrity of the law and want to be Star Marshals when they grow up.  But in a desolate saloon, Thane meets his fate as a group of human/animal mutant space pirates known as The Plague headed by a ruthless cyborg named Yardon Wrath imposes the worst fathomable harm upon a number of helpless victims including Thane himself, his wife and daughter, and other Star Marshals and saloon patrons.  Thane's wife is raped, his daughter taken.  Thane is killed and tossed into a dumpster.  It is in that dumpster where the Nii, an intangible alien species from an alternate dimension who feeds off of the dark essences of evil souls, revives him.  The Nii make a deal with Thane:   The Star Marshal gets his revenge, stands a chance of being with his wife and daughter again, but the Nii must enter his mind and body in a symbiotic fusion that makes him stronger, more powerful, young, and able to enter into any shadow and reappear from any other shadow.  The darkness is his strength.  He is to seek out and take the lives of those who have done him wrong, and the Nii get to feed off of the evil essences of his prey.

     The universe Churchill creates packs as much of a punch as his protagonist hero, is lively and vivid as it is horrific and dark, full of in-your-face violence and at the same time straight from the heart.  As I've said, The Blackest Heart stands as one of the foremost shining examples of the best in the genre the publishing industry hasn't been able to offer;  it is their loss, and Vince Churchill certainly has very much to gain.  Watch out for this writer and the works he presents, for he may well become a legend in the written word as much as his Thane Bishop is at gunslinging.       

The Wide Game  by Michael West

(2003 Publish America)  Read more about the author and buy the book here.

     Harmony, Indiana is a small town overrun by endless fields of corn, young people languishing in the stereotypical boredom inescapable with small town living, and yes, legends of nightmare coupled with an underlying history of mystery, bloodshed, and horror.

     Paul Rice grew up in this town, spent his high school years fraternizing with his circle of friends, aspiring to

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direct B-grade horror films, and falling in love with classmate Deidra.  At a time when graduation is only days away, Paul and Deidra's relationship had blossomed into a bond the likes of which could almost be found in romantic fairy tales.

     And then came time for the class of 1988 to ditch class and undertake the coming-of-age ritual played out by the graduating classes of numerous years before them.....the time to play the Wide Game.

     The Wide Game is virtually a race where the object of all participants is to journey from the edge of a vast cornfield to a large clearing where a small man-made lake and good partying await --- a race that could take hours, considering the ground they have to cover and how one could easily get lost, considering also a certain strategy involving keeping quiet and stealing a belonging of anyone else playing the game that they encounter in the corn.  Oh......and then there's also the matter of an ancient tribal Indian presence which inevitably screws with the graduates' minds, invoking psychedelic visions, unspeakable mayhem and the grisly murders of Wide Game players, one by one.

     Michael West proves himself to be a masterful storyteller, flawless in building momentum, and his skills in characterization match or even often surpass some of the most successful writers in the business.  This is a first-rate novel, well edited and no holds barred.  My jaw dropped, quite literally, at more than a handful of turning points in the story that I just didn't see coming, and I oftentimes couldn't put the book down.  I know that's a pretty clichι phrase, but coming from me......well, that sort of intense preoccupation just doesn't occur too often.

     This is a work of first-rate terror and suspense, and for the seasoned reader sports a refreshingly original story methodology as a means to scare the wits out of you.  This is his first novel, and I'll be watching the career of Michael West with sincere interest in his works to come.

     And I'll never look at corn fields the same way again.

Strange Days  by Fred Wiehe

(Upcoming October 2005 release, Helm Publishing)  Read more about the author and the new book here.

     Out of body experience makes for an intriguing plot device in Fred Wiehe's latest contribution to the world of horror/suspense, the latest in a succession of novel-length works from  The Burning to the more recent Starkville.

     Louis Gear is a monster;  more precisely, is inhabited by a monster.  An ancient and diabolical evil dwells in

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(All reviews copyright © 2004, 2005 by Nicholas Grabowsky and Diverse Media, all rights reserved.   All book cover images are owned by their respective owners and used by permission.)

Gear that has flitted from human body to body and life to life throughout centuries past, each existence devoted to destructive mayhem fueled by a relentless addiction to violent abandon, rape and murder.

     Frank Talbort's wife is yet another victim in Gear's killing spree, but when Frank comes home from a busy day at the advertising agency he finds himself  face to face with Gear and his wife's mangled body.  In a frenzied confrontation,  Frank kills Gear, but the ancient creature within Gear yanks Frank's spirit from his body and then takes that body over, resuming his killing spree as Frank.  In the meantime, Frank's spirit, eager to stop the creature for good, enters the body of a coma-stricken police officer --- another of the creature's victims.  After this shift in identities, it's cat and mouse from then on out.

     Frankly (pardon the pun), Wiehe, at the start,  does need the kind of poetic fluidity that it takes to draw the average reader into the story at the get-go, that gut-busting rawness that makes the reader know that you have a guttural roar while a picture is painted before the bulk of the story is told, but the thing is.......when you don't expect it, you get caught up in the whole thing, right about the time when Gear has Frank's wife.  When Frank's spirit is catapulted from his body, one cannot help but truly take an interest, and then the tale pulls you in, deeper and deeper, and it gets better and better.

     All in all, after you read it, it leaves you thinking and going back in your mind to the events you've just read about, just as a good read should.  Strange Days is a novel, ultimately, that does its job, a novel of ageless evil told with wicked abandon and stylish prose.  Fred Wiehe has established himself as an important voice in a new age of horror fiction.  As he grows in his craft, I'm certain we'll all be watching.  And reading.