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American Carnevil (Issue One: Carnival of Gore) by Johnny Martin Walters (2006 Johnny Martin Walters.  Read more about the author and the photic novel  here.

     What a delight that I should receive this compact piece of work in the mail, what a treat compared to the average bulky novel that sometimes takes a few weeks to read and review (not that that's a bad thing, but for me, good things are welcomed in small packages now and again, too).  In much the way a graphic novel is considered by contemporary definition a novel, this is a photic novel, which in this case is basically a good way of 

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(All reviews copyright © 2004, 2005, 2006 by Nicholas Grabowsky and Diverse Media, all rights reserved.   All book cover images are owned by their respective owners and used by permission.)

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marketing a short story as a novel piece by surrounding the text with manipulated photographic images to fill enough pages to make it a stand-alone commodity.   Anyone with a little vision, ambition, talent, and Photoshop skills can do it.  But to do it and do it well..........that takes a lot of work.

     What Johnny Martin Walters did here is just that.  Done entirely in good ol' black and white and presented in filmatic terms (credits are "starring" rather than "featuring"), the size and feel of a comic book and published through Comixpress, what's done is ultimately impressive as it is entertaining.  The photo visuals are well-staged and conceived, a theatrical eye feast, like what you'd get after placing a nickel in one of those nineteenth century moving picture boxes with oversized Viewmaster-type lenses you'd look through to see the frames of a twenty second picture reel of something way cool.  Edison's Kinetoscope.......they're similar to visuals you'd experience from inside a 21st century version of that, kind of like.......

     Flipping through the pages of Walters' American Carnevil (and issue one, nonetheless, titled Carnival of Gore), I admire it as an achievement worthy of wide acclaim and readership in its own right, but top it off with such a beloved and recognized horror icon as Herschell Gordon Lewis (the crowned Godfather of Gore, Blood Feast, Color Me Blood Red) in a memorably featured "guest-starring" role, visually.......well, Johnny, you done well.

     The story itself concerns Sam Cross, a U.S. Marshal whose release from a Mexican jail ultimately runs him into Mr. Curtains, who recruits Cross into a secret government organization known as Operation American Carnevil who, like, for instance, the Men In Black, pursue hush-hush investigations and his first assignment is to basically check around traveling carnivals in the southwestern United States for violators of immigration laws.  He runs into Mr. Limbs (H. G. Lewis), who has no limbs, a man who runs a traveling sideshow, and his companion, who kills people in an endless endeavor to surgically replace Limbs' assortment of limb-replacement contraptions for something flesh, er, fresh and more useful, but failing for actually being less of a doctor and more of a heroin junky.

     It costs less than five minutes of working time at minimum wage to purchase this asset to horror storytelling, and, with Johnny Walters' vision, the series promises to set an example of just how a little ambition can lead artistically to great things.

 

The Last Trumpet by Stephen Mark Rainey (2000 Wildside Press)  Read more about the author & book here.

Eyes Everywhere by Matthew Warner (2006 Raw Dog Screaming Press)  Read more about the author & book here.

Reading any random sampling of his work, you can tell Stephen Mark Rainey has been writing creatively for many moons past and hence has always enjoyed doing so, and it’s to our benefits as fans of horror fiction that he’s penned an impressive body of work over that stretch of time devoted to dark writings.  His execution is scholarly, expertly edited and professionally exhibited, and his prose flows with a kicked-

 

     Charlie (who, by coincidence, is also my son's name) is a low-key secretary for a high-key law firm in a D.C. building full of endless cubicles and, as far as he's concerned, an indeterminate future.  When he goes home it's to the studio apartment he shares with his wife and two children and a future with them determined only by how valiantly they succeed in merely struggling to make ends meet.  If they play their cards right,

back down-home kind of voice which makes you forget how proper and polished it is, and locks you into a dream.

And where would most of us genre writers be without the influence of Lovecraft?  Well…..Rainey is one of the few contemporary horror writers who, particularly with this years-long collection of tales he handed to me at Horrorfind ’06, takes Lovecraftian influence and runs with it like a banshee quarterback gliding straightways towards his goal and too creative to be tackled down by nonsense and immature themes.  Rainey’s stuff, regarding this work,  drips with themes of a man recalling nightmares of youth and past circumstance of unfathomable woe, turns the mountains of southwestern Virginia into something similar to King’s Castle Rock by taking a region of the world and placing his own stamp upon it, creating a mythology all his own.

There’s everything in the collective work of The Last Trumpet a Lovecraft disciple would appreciate, a horror fan would readily consume and lick their chops afterwards rather than use a napkin like in those recent A1 Steak Sauce ads, and long before the “last trumpet” sounds and releases all sorts of bloody hell in the book’s final stories was I hooked on this man’s work.  

For instance….

The Fugue Devil is Rainey’s answer to urban myth, and in other tales music doesn’t tame the savage beast but conjures up older, more terrifying ones.   The Horrible Legacy of Dr. Jacob Asberry was atmospheric and cataclysmic, but it wasn’t until The Herald at Midnight when Rainey involves the rest of the world into his own Virginian lore, when the stars fall and the sky splits open to the utter mayhem courtesy of the “stalkers” that I thought wow.  What a splendid ride for a reader.

The Last Trumpet should be required reading for any college class introducing Lovecraft to students, a sublime example of literary expertise with a direct injection of proper influence, but the storytelling style in itself is uniquely that of a talent whose grasp upon the craft is exemplary…..and Mark has enough of this kind of stuff under his sleeve to make a lifelong fan of any reader longing for vivid terror and consistently damn good screams.

with both their jobs, a five thousand dollar savings, and a little perseverance, they just might be able to get that house they want where Charlie's son could watch Attack of the Clones to his heart's content and he and his wife could make love in their own bedroom without putting up a bedsheet curtain between themselves and the kids at night.

 But then something happens to Charlie's state of mind, something far more horrifying than any author can dream up and call it fiction.  In Charlie's case, the chaotic downward spiral all begins with innocent suspicion,  a little paranoia, but the more he dwells upon his suspicions, his paranoia builds and escalates until it ruins his life and you the reader find yourself as a sideline witness clenching your teeth or biting your nails telling him my GOD, man.....you're digging a devastating hole for yourself!  Stop digging!!

But Charlie.....he just doesn't stop.

He starts believing a wealthy family friend is keeping a close eye on him by hiring all sorts of people, particularly ones of Black or Hispanic heritage, to stake him out.  Then he believes his wife is in cahoots, he's fired from his job for freaking out at work during what he's convinced was a terrorist attack where he saved thousands of lives (though nothing really happened at all), and a million camera lenses from a thousand angles are fixed upon him everywhere.  Taco Bell wrappers are a clear indication a spy from Duke, the wealthy family friend, was close at hand keeping watch.  I myself was eating Taco Bell while I read.  Fancy that......

Charlie's life spirals downward into a nightmare abyss where he ultimately is convinced his children have been used in top secret medical experiments and his increasingly Orwellian vision of the world around him is like unto, say, a Jew in Nazi Germany where it is Charlie's own personal genocide "Duke" seeks in his bid to rule humanity. 

I'm familiar with many of the reviews Matt Warner has received of this book and quite frankly I'm finding it difficult to further compliment him on this extremely learned, believable and expertly-told achievement.  In regards to his grasp upon the degenerative phases of paranoid schizophrenia, it's one of the finest contemporary fictitious depictions of the mind-consuming process of this real and serious  mental disorder, some aspects  I've had the displeasure of knowing through people close to me.

On the level of Matt's ability to entertain and thrill the reader, I can tell you that you may wind up being a bit paranoid yourself when it's all read and done.  This is Warner's second novel as of this review, the first of which was The Organ Donor, and I can't wait for his third.......mainly because his book launching parties are so balls-to-the-wall utterly rockin' wonderful.........