Friday, 18 January 2013

The Casebook of Carnacki: Ghost Hunter

William Hope Hodgson

Six tales of Carnacki the Ghost Finder, tales of the outre, the unexpected, and the unexplained from a reknowned master of the macabre, William Hope Hodgeson. 

A year or so ago I heard the ‘Weird Tales for Winter’ version of ‘Gateway of the Monster’ and shortly after that I read ‘The Whistling Room’ as a back-up story in one of the Doctor Who novellas – ‘Foreign Devils’ by Andrew Cartmel – these sent me looking for the full anthology.

The two I already knew are amongst the best of the 9 Carnacki stories here. ‘The Hog’ was also pretty fab as was ‘the Horse of the Invisible’ even if part of the ending was maybe a little poor.

‘The House Among the Laurels’ was a silly but fun Sherlockian short. ‘The Find’ was too brief by far and felt undeveloped. ‘The Haunted Jarvee’ had its moments but didn’t really go anywhere.

‘The Thing Invisible’ was another basic Sherlock investigation and ‘The Searcher of the End House’ had nothing to offer in the end to live up to the build-up.

At best Hodgson was a journeyman writer. There are some nice ideas in there and the fact that Carnacki doesn’t always come across supernatural causes to the crimes he investigates is very satisfying. The stories though, often feel underdeveloped and the character himself is too dry and stunted and just doesn’t have the personality to truly carry the story, he really needs a Watson. Perhaps if Hodgson had survived WWI he would have developed his style and the character. It would have been interesting to see how his experiences would have influenced his words. Alas it was not to be.

Doctor Who: All-Consuming Fire

Andy Lane
Virgin Books

Landing in Victorian London, the TARDIS crew is surprised to meet up with Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.

And so we arrive at the single geekiest thing in the known universe. A meeting between the Seventh Doctor (along with Ace and Bernice Summerfield) teams up with Sherlock Holmes and John Watson to combat the agents of H.P. Lovecraft’s elder gods.

The two groups come together over a set of missing books from the Vatican’s secret library of banned books, The Library of St. John the Beheaded.

Thanks to Mycroft and the Diogenes Club (via a cameo from the Third Doctor, a mention of Kim Newman’s Charles Beauregard character and an even elder Holmes brother and an alien of his acquaintance) they find themselves travelling to India in order to stop an invasion of the alien’s world by nasty brutish humans.

If this all seems a little pat then you’d be correct and things soon take a turn for the malign as plans within plans are exposed.

Lane has a nice touch. The plot is speedy and he handles the variety and volume of principles well. The dialogue is spritely, especially between Bernice and Watson as they flirt with each other. There were things I didn’t like, primarily the addition of the elder brother, but they certainly didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the book.

Anno Dracula vol. 2: The Bloody Red Baron

Kim Newman
Titan Books

It is 1918 and Graf von Dracula is commander-in-chief of the armies ofGermany and Austria-Hungary. The War of the Great Powers in Europeis also a war between the living and the undead. Caught up in the conflict, Charles Beauregard, an old enemy of Dracula, his protegé Edwin Winthrop,and intrepid vampire reporter Kate Reed go head-to-head with the lethal vampire flying machine that is the Bloody Red Baron... In the brand-new novella Vampire Romance, Geneviève Dieudonné,newly returned to England, infiltrates a singular vampire gathering in the service of the Diogenes Club.When I started reading this I wasn’t really in the mood for a novel (too tired) and so the first 50 or so pages were a bit of a slog as I kept stopping to read comics. Once I had time to wake and liven up a bit I started the book in earnest and boy what a ride.

This second volume of the Anno Dracula tales moves the action onto the 1914-18 war. Dracula is now one of the leaders of Germany and the motivating force behind the German War Effort.

At Schloss Adler various ‘scientific’ experiments are being undertaken on the various members of the JG1 squadron of air aces under Baron Manfred Von Richtofen.  Rallied against these are the British aces and the Diogenes Club.

As before there’s a plethora of both action and intrigue but with the focus being much more confined this volume lacks the scope of the first. It’s still a wonderful react though filled with fun and adventure and fangs.

There’s a back-up story too. A pastiche of Twilight and P, G. Wodehouse involving a meeting of elders at a drafty old English country house up North. There’re dirty deeds afoot and the Diogenes Club sends Winthrop and Genevieve to investigate. They’re soon embroiled in a murder whilst the plucky (and slightly dim) young, vampire besotted, love struck lady of the house along with the ancient (but teenaged Kill Bill style) Japanese bodyguard investigate what soon transpires to be a rather grand plot waiting to be uncovered.

It’s a great little read. Long enough to be very satisfying but short enough to ensure it doesn’t outstay it’s welcome.


Gail Carriger

Alexia Tarabotti, Lady Maccon, has settled into domestic bliss. Of course, being Alexia, such bliss involves integrating werewolves into London High society, living in a vampire's second best closet, and coping with a precocious toddler who is prone to turning supernatural willy-nilly. Even Ivy Tunstell's acting troupe's latest play, disastrous to say the least, cannot put a damper on Alexia's enjoyment of her new London lifestyle.
Until, that is, she receives a summons from Alexandria that cannot be ignored. With husband, child, and Tunstells in tow, Alexia boards a steamer to cross the Mediterranean. But Egypt may hold more mysteries than even the indomitable Lady Maccon can handle. What does the vampire Queen of the Alexandria Hive really want from her? Why is the God-Breaker Plague suddenly expanding? And how has Ivy Tunstell suddenly become the most popular actress in all the British Empire?

The fifth of the Parasol Protectorate novels sees Alexia, Maccon and the offspring heading off to Egypt at the summons of the oldest vampire queen. Whilst there they find themselves also investigating the godbreaker plague. Meanwhile back home Lyall and Biffy investigate the murder of the Kinair Beta and find out both that they have rather specific feelings for each other and that Biffy may be more than he realises.

The story romps along as usual and is full of pithy little observations and one-liners. There’s also plenty of daring-do and intrigue.

As ever it’s cracking good fun and ends with the creation of the most unlikely of vampire queens.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013


Cherie Priest
Tor Books

The air pirate Andan Cly is going straight. Well, straighter. Although he’s happy to run alcohol guns wherever the money’s good, he doesn’t think the world needs more sap, or its increasingly ugly side-effects. But becoming legit is easier said than done, and Cly’s first legal gig—a supply run for the Seattle Underground—will be paid for by sap money.
New Orleans is not Cly’s first pick for a shopping run. He loved the Big Easy once, back when he also loved a beautiful mixed-race prostitute named Josephine Early—but that was a decade ago, and he hasn’t looked back since. Jo’s still thinking about him, though, or so he learns when he gets a telegram about a peculiar piloting job. It’s a chance to complete two lucrative jobs at once, one he can’t refuse. He sends his old paramour a note and heads for New Orleans, with no idea of what he’s in for—or what she wants him to fly.
But he won’t be flying. Not exactly. Hidden at the bottom of Lake Pontchartrain lurks an astonishing war machine, an immense submersible called the Ganymede. This prototype could end the war, if only anyone had the faintest idea of how to operate it…. If only they could sneak it past the Southern forces at the mouth of the Mississippi River… If only it hadn’t killed most of the men who’d ever set foot inside it.
But it’s those “if onlys” that will decide whether Cly and his crew will end up in the history books, or at the bottom of the ocean.

This is the third of Priest’s Clockwork Century books and it’s another corker.

I’ve enjoyed all these books so far (especially the second) and I love that they truly feel like events unfolding rather than some sort of contrived arc of a trilogy.It’s also beautifully human. You almost know these characters. They use believable logic to justify their behaviour and they react in understandable ways, albeit very noble ones.

The story this time out concerns a newly invented submarine that the (black) insurgents in New Orleans are trying to hide from and slip past the occupying forces of the Confederacy and the Republic of Texas. Airship pirate Andan Cly is asked by his ex to come to New Orleans to pilot the sub. Along the way he is caught up in an Texan attack on the insurgent base, participates in the fight to recapture it and meets his first transvestite prostitute.

Truthfully it wasn’t as satisfyingly wonderful as the second book, Dreadnought, but as that was one of the best things I read all last year that’s probably not surprising. This one is still a fabulous read filled with pin sharp dialogue and great characters.

All these books (and the assorted shorts) feel like snapshots of a series of interconnected lives. It’s getting to be increasingly interesting how these lives are intertwining whilst behind everything the menace of the zombies is growing slowly.

As ever I almost cannot wait for the next volume.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013


Gail Carriger

Lady Alexia Maccon, soulless, is at it again, only this time the trouble is not her fault. When a mad ghost threatens the queen, Alexia is on the case, following a trail that leads her deep into her husband's past. Top that off with a sister who has joined the suffragette movement (shocking!), Madame Lefoux's latest mechanical invention, and a plague of zombie porcupines and Alexia barely has time to remember she happens to be eight months pregnant.
Will Alexia manage to determine who is trying to kill Queen Victoria before it is too late? Is it the vampires again or is there a traitor lurking about in wolf's clothing? And what, exactly, has taken up residence in Lord Akeldama's second best closet?

The fourth in the Parasol Protectorate novels brings the pregnancy to an end with a riotous conclusion. Alexia receives a visit from a ghost on the verge of going poltergeist telling her of a plot against the Queen. Her investigations lead her into her husband’s past with his Scottish pack and also reveals dark secrets about the current pack and her own past.

Meanwhile the plot continues and she may need to look elsewhere for answers.

The first recruit to the protectorate is recruited here as Ivy proves herself a lot less vapid than previously implied.

This one is very much the action sequel to the series - although the last had its moments – with a concluding battle between vampires, werewolves and scientists featuring a giant mechanical octopus. It is there to set everything up for the next book which is blatantly going to deal with the results of the birth at the very end that reveals that Prudence has a number of unusual traits.

Another fun episode in Alexia’s travails that opens up all manner of fun avenues for the following novel to explore.