Friday, 24 September 2021

My Review of L. H. Maynard's Beyond the Curtain: Uncanny Tales of the Theatre to be broadcast on Sunday on Trevor Kennedy's Big Hits Radio UK Show

Trevor Kennedy will read out my review of L. H. Maynard's Beyond the Curtain: Uncanny Tales of the Theatre on his weekly radio show on Big Hits Radio UK. It was also published in the last issue of Phantasmagoria. And is inclued here

The show is broadcast between 12 noon and 2 pm on Sunday.




Thursday, 23 September 2021

Some updated glimpses into The Ever More Fantastical Art of Jim Pitts

 

The Ever More Fantastical Art of Jim Pitts is an evolving project as new illustrations are added and Jim receives new commissions for his work, which we intend to include in this book.

Pre-order copies are available for £25 plus postage and packing. After publication the price will rise to £30.00 plus p&p.  

The Ever More Fantastical Art of Jim Pitts will be a fitting sequel to the first volume, published in hardcover and packed with black and white and full-colour illustrations.

All pre-ordered copies will be signed by Jim Pitts and will include 5 black & white or colour prints (please select from here) and will be posted as soon as the book is published.

Use the dropdown button on our Pre-Order page and select the region to which your order will be posted.  

If you have any queries please contact us at paralleluniversepublications@gmx.co.uk

Here are just a few of the pages so far:











Sunday, 19 September 2021

My review of Stephen King's Billy Summers

Today Trevor Kennedy read out my review of Stephen King's latest novel Billy Summers on his weekly radio show on Big Hits Radio UK. It will also be published in the next issue of Phantasmagoria.

For those who missed the radio show and would like to read my review now, here it is: 

BILLY SUMMERS by Stephen King

Hodder & Stoughton, 2021, 432 pages

Despite some references to the Overlook Hotel towards the end, Stephen King's Billy Summers is not horror but a complex and violent crime story. And, I would add, for all his reputation as a horror writer, it is one of the most satisfyingly well-rounded Stephen King novels I have read for a long while, with a poignantly bitter-sweet ending that works exceedingly well (one of his better endings by far). Additionally, as you would expect from King, it has some memorable characters. Though few have long sections of the book devoted to them, they nevertheless make an impact, which is a sign of just how good a writer King is.

A veteran of America’s long involvement in Afghanistan, Billy Summers has been trained by the army to become one of their best snipers, responsible for multiple hits against enemy insurgents. When he leaves the army, though, and returns to the States he finds himself rootless and struggles to find a decent job until his army training brings him to the attention of organised crime. After that it isn’t long before he is in high demand for long distance assassinations, though he scrupulously sticks to one stipulation: that whoever he shoots must be a “bad man”. It’s a bid to salve his troubled conscience for the murders he commits – and for years it works until his biggest job yet, the one that will pay him enough to retire. His last job.

Unfortunately for Billy, it is not as straightforward as he originally thought. Though his target is a “bad man”, (a first-degree murderer due to go on trial for his life, who has some undisclosed but highly sensitive information that might lessen his sentence) it isn’t long before Billy begins to suspect there is more to it than he has been told, especially when he suspects he is being set up to be murdered himself afterwards.

The details King puts into Billy’s past life are fascinating and are cleverly fed to us through Billy’s cover story for the assassination.  As he needs to rent an office overlooking the courthouse where the hit will take place, his reason for being there week after week, waiting for his target’s trial to take place, is that he is writing a novel. I know, yet another character who is a writer, a trope I am sure we are already all too familiar with from King, yet it works well here. Though Billy has never tried writing before he finds he has a talent for it. The novel is a thinly disguised account of his life, going back to when his baby sister was brutally beaten and kicked to death in front of his eyes. Only a boy at the time, he managed to shoot the man who murdered her at the end of a scene as horrific as anything King has ever written.

All of this is just for starters. It isn’t long before the complications of a double-cross and other factors come into play, leading Billy into a journey that grows darker and more bewildering, with newfound friends, unexpected responsibilities, and fresh dangers - and yet more violence.

I must confess to having become engaged with Billy, who is a likeable anti-hero, full of flaws, doubts and troubled dreams, and for the girl Alice, who he helps after she has been brutally assaulted by three young men. Young and vulnerable yet surprisingly resilient, Alice plays a pivotal role in the events that follow, though about these the less I reveal the better. I wouldn’t want to spoil what is a great story, with plenty of twists and turns and unexpected revelations and an ending I am sure will leave no one unaffected.  

Reviewed by David A. Riley



 

Saturday, 11 September 2021

Swords & Sorceries: Tales of Heroic Fantasy Volume 3 - Update

 

For the past month I have been steadily working my way through the submissions for Swords & Sorceries: Tales of Heroic Fantasy Volume 3

So far I have three definite acceptances and a handful of possibilities. The fate of the latter depends upon what comes in between now and the deadline of the 31st October. 

One thing I should emphasise: Please take into account the kind of fantasy anthology this is. Specifically, that it is about swords and sorcery. Unfortunately, some writers have not taken this into consideration and have sent me contemporary fantasy tales which, though they may be good stories in themselves, do not fit into this particular sub genre and will be rejected.

Anyway, things are looking good for the next volume in our series which we intend to publish before the end of November. 

All acceptances and rejections will be sent out by email within the first couple of days after the deadline.

Wednesday, 8 September 2021

My review of Beyond the Curtain: Uncanny Tales of the Theatre by L. H. Maynard

 

BEYOND THE CURTAIN: UNCANNY TALES OF THE THEATRE by L. H. Maynard

£6.99 paperback; £1.99 Kindle

Published by LMP, 234 pages

This is the first collection of stories by L. H. Maynard I have ever read. I am unfamiliar with his name, though his stories are so well-written I am surprised I haven’t come across him before. In his introduction he says that he has been writing for over fifty years.

Beyond the Curtain contains five stories: “The Business of Barbarians”, “At the End of the Pier”, “Another Bite of the Cherry”, “An Office in the Grays Inn Road”, and “Double Act”, the last of which is possibly my favourite, bringing the collection to a satisfying if sad conclusion.

Set in an extremely well realised 1950s or early 1960s, these tales of the supernatural are centred around theatres and theatrical life, from struggling young actors, down-at-heel theatre managers, unscrupulous “big names”, theatrical agents to comedy duos, many of which used to tread the boards in those far off days, grittily depicting poor digs run by eccentric landladies and rundown piers in even more rundown seaside resorts. Maynard gives me the impression he has had a more than passing acquaintance with that world – and has researched it well, filling his tales with numerous references to stars of that bygone time: Arthur Askey, Max Wall, Max Bygraves, Bob Monkhouse, Galton and Simpson, and Eric Sykes. And no shortage of other details that set the timeframe to perfection without being pedantic.

Maynard has a leisurely style which I found easy to read and which helped to develop not only the characters of his protagonists but also the world in which they lived, giving the stories a bleak kitchen sink air of reality. Several times I was reminded of that Olivier movie The Entertainer with his opportunistic womanising comedian Archie Rice. Rice would have fitted so well into many of these tales!

I became so engrossed in these stories, especially their build up, that I almost regretted it when the supernatural element began to emerge. Not that these are not splendidly conceived – nor for the faint-hearted!

These are, in the main, dark tales, vividly detailed and flowingly written. And I enjoyed every one of them.

Beyond the Curtain: Uncanny Tales of the Theatre is available from amazon. And at only £6.99 is a definite bargain.

 

This review was first published in Phantasmagoria magazine.

My review of Grotesque Illuminations: The Art of David Whitlam




GROTESQUE ILLUMINATIONS: The Art of David Whitlam

$42/£35

This is an amazing volume, US letter size (8.5 x 11 inches), 143-page hardcover, filled with some absolutely fabulous surrealistic art by David Whitlam, beautifully printed in full-colour.

David Whitlam first came to my attention with some distinctively painted book covers, a couple of which have graced two published under my own Parallel Universe Publications imprint (A Little Light Screaming and A Distasteful Horror Story by Johnny Mains), though neither of these are in this current volume.

Whitlam has an obvious predilection for certain colours, mainly of the dark browns and sepia hues, which handsomely compliment his images, which are fabulously bizarre.

If I had a grumble it would be that the pictures are so fascinating in their range and concept I would have liked to read something about the artist’s inspirations and about the pictures themselves, their source and perhaps a little about what techniques he used to create them. As it is the only text in the book are the titles of the paintings. But this minor gripe apart, this is a great showcase for Whitlam’s work and one which can be pored over for hour on end. Whitlam is a true original, with an impressive command of whatever he is depicting.

Thoroughly recommended to anyone with a love of bizarre surrealistic art.

The book is available from:

https://www.lulu.com/en/gb/shop/david-whitlam/grotesque-illuminations/hardcover/product-12428jez.html?page=1&pageSize=4

https://www.davidwhitlam.com/books



This review originally appeared in Phantasmagoria #18

Tuesday, 7 September 2021

My review of The Revenant of Thraxton Hall by Vaughan Entwistle

THE REVENANT OF THRAXTON HALL: The Paranormal Casebooks of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle by Vaughn Entwistle

£11.25 paperback; £0.99 Kindle

Published by Masque Publishing, 308 pages

Revenant: In folklore, a revenant is an animated corpse that is believed to have revived from death to haunt the living. The word revenant is derived from the Old French word, revenant, the "returning".

A more disparate pair of collaborators it would be hard to imagine than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde, yet Vaughn Entwistle accomplishes this in The Revenant of Thraxton Hall with remarkable skill, name-dropping on the way other notables from that era in a complex novel of supernatural intrigue. And, yes, despite there being some all too human malefactors involved in this tale, the supernatural has a malignant and all-important presence.

It is 1893 and The Strand has just published The Adventure of the Final Problem, in which Sherlock Holmes brings about the death of Professor Moriarty at the cost of his own life. Thus putting an end, so far as Doyle is concerned, to the Holmes stories, which, despite the wealth and success they have brought him, he has grown completely weary. But by doing this he has suddenly made himself the most hated man in London, as crowds of outraged Holmes devotees demonstrate outside the magazine’s offices, shouting their anger at the death of their hero. Doyle has other problems to deal with though: his wife Louisa is slowly dying of tuberculosis, and for all his medical knowledge he can do nothing to save her. It is now, like something out of one of his Holmes stories, that a mysterious letter arrives asking for his help.

Through a series of convincingly elaborate circumstances, it is not long before Doyle and his close friend Oscar Wilde embark on a train to Lancashire to stay at Thraxton Hall, where the newly created Society for Psychical Research will be holding a series of investigations. Thraxton Hall is owned by Lady Hope Thraxton, who though young has an affliction which makes sunlight deadly for her and must remain sheltered from it. Her family has a morbid history of murder and witchcraft and a curse which looks to culminate soon in her violent death.

This complex novel is splendidly fast moving with some sparkling dialogue, some of which, especially between Doyle and Wilde actually made me chuckle out loud! Not that this humour doesn’t share space with some well-written horror, especially in the decaying edifice of Thraxton Hall, a memorable haunted house, replete with secret rooms and hidden passageways and a huge, mouldering, partially flooded crypt. And a blind butler!

It never lets you down and remains engrossing right to the final page, with characters that leap full-fleshed from the page.  

Vaughn Entwistle has written another “paranormal casebook” of Conan Doyle, again accompanied by Oscar Wilde, The Dead Assassin. Having enjoyed reading The Revenant of Thraxton Hall I will most definitely be ordering this, as well as another historical novel, Hideous Progeny, which is about Mary Shelley and “her monster”! I can see me spending quite some time over the next few months acquainting myself with these and other books by Vaughn Entwistle, a writer I am glad to have discovered at last. 

 

This review was published in Phantasmagoria #19