Books:Nailed by the Heart by Simon Clark (1995): I’m pretty sure this is the prolific and gifted Clark’s first novel. As debuts go, it’s a dandy. Clark’s strength as an idea man in all his novels is, basically, what I think of as the ability to ‘turn left.’ What one thinks is going on isn’t what’s actually going on, and Clark isn’t afraid to go with wild and wooly explanations for the supernatural events in his novels. That he’s a deft hand at characterization on the fly doesn’t hurt either — like Stephen King, Clark gives the reader sympathetic, flawed characters trapped in extraordinary circumstances.
Here, a young family purchases an old sea fort on the east coast of England with the hopes of turning it into a hotel. The view is spectacular, as is the fort itself. The residents of the adjacent small town are friendly enough, though no one’s all that happy about the fort being occupied again. And then, of course, things start to happen. In ancient times, the site of the fort was a pagan holy place. Now, something seems about to visit. More than one something.
There are monsters here, though not all the supernatural forces are monstrous. Old and new human evil drives the plot, while terrible and pitiful things come out of the sea. Clark’s later novel Darkness Demands forms a companion piece to this one, as both are concerned with the sorts of sacrifices old gods demanded of their followers. There are a few rough patches of prose here, but overall Clark produced a really admirable first novel. Recommended.
The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 20 (2008) edited by Stephen Jones (2009): The sad, early death of American writer and anthologist Karl Edward Wagner in 1995 ended Wagner’s superlative series of DAW Books Year’s Best Horror anthologies. Jones’s series has picked up the slack in recent years. With a larger, longer format, the Mammoth series can include more story pages than DAW ever could, and supplement them with detailed ‘Year in…’ sections and an exhaustive necrology for the year in question.
This all leads to the old ‘If you buy one horror anthology this year…’ chestnut. This year is no exception. Entries from big names that include Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Brian Lumley and Ramsey Campbell sit alongside excellent stories by lesser known writers (to me, anyway). Horror today seems perpetually on the cusp of being drowned by lame series novels about vampires, werewolves and zombies; the Mammoth anthology is one antidote to this feeling. Cleverly imagined new horrors and cleverly retrofitted old horrors abound. Also one sinister Hobby Horse, a Cthulhu by way of Robert Service piece, and a disturbing reverse werewolf. Highly recommended.
The Losers, written and pencilled by Jack Kirby, inked by Mike Royer and D. Bruce Berry (1974-75; collected 2009): Among the many oddities of Jack Kirby’s early 1970’s tenure at DC Comics was his 12-issue run on Our Fighting Forces, a WWII book starring four C-List DC war comics heroes (Captain Storm, Johnny Cloud, Gunner and Sarge) collectively called The Losers (the name would later be used for the ex-CIA team comic adapted into the 2010 movie).
Kirby served in Europe in WWII, so there’s a certain amount of verisimilitude herein, but it’s Kirby’s wild imagination applied to the traditional war comic that yields most of the pleasure here, whether in big two-page action spreads or in a series of fascinating supporting characters and odd but vaguely plausible stories that touch on everything from the 1936 Berlin Olympics to Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” to a science-fiction fan PFC with a science-fiction plan to destroy a massive piece of Nazi artillery. The stories boom along, thrilling and over too soon. Highly recommended.