Jack of Horror Trades
This week we return to the world of self-publishing. I have to admit, the ePub is growing on me, reading on a screen. It’s not perfect, and I’m still too afraid to travel out of the house with my tablet, but I’m getting there. William Massa seems to have found himself a niche in the ePub world with a spate of horror volumes over the past few years that range from straight horror to dark fantasy to men’s adventure novels steeped in the supernatural. I shot through a couple of them recently.
OCCULT ASSASSIN: ICE SHADOWS is a novella-length piece, an appetizer if you will, for Massa’s forthcoming novel OCCULT ASSASSIN: DAMNATION CODE, due the end of January 2015. As a sequel to the as yet unpublished novel, this short work sets up the bare bones of Mark Talon, the titular assassin, before dropping him into a case. Clearly modeled after Don Pendleton’s Executioner Mack Bolan, especially the later period novels where Bolan works with a bureaucratic benefactor to work his vengeance, Talon had the resources at hand, and the vengeance in mind, to wreak havoc and let loose the dogs of war on magical evil. In this instance, the black metal bank Ice God and their vengeful lead singer Rezak, who wish to unleash the end of the world through unearthly means.
I wanted to like this one. A lot. I freely admit to a love of Mayhem and other back metal bands. Michael Moynihan’s LORDS OF CHAOS: THE BLOODY RISE OF THE SATANIC METAL UNDERGROUND is an excellent treatise on real madness, ripe with material. But Massa’s black metal milieu – the clubs, the fans, the band, even the bouncers – are too generic. Change the names and it could easily be a 70s biker band, a 90s grunge band. You are culling a specific sub culture, so make it breather. I may not be an expert, but I know enough black metal to know this rings hollow. Some of this may be due to the novella length; much of ICE SHADOWS reads like a synopsis rather than an actual book. The villain, Rezak, exudes a Johnny Sunlight from Doc Savage vibe with his vicious monomaniacal obsessions, but he is never allowed to breathe, not as much as I would like He meets a rather quick and ignoble end. Talon is given more insight, but even then, not as much as I’d desired. He is hunted, briefly, and then destroyed.
As with the DRIFTER DETECTIVE novellas I reviewed earlier, the ending, well, the ending just happens. For all the set up, it simple fizzles out. I am curious enough from the novella to see where a full-fledged OCCULT ASSASSIN novel goes. We shall see soon enough.
FEAR THE LIGHT: WHO MURDERED DRACULA? In contrast is a full length novel from Massa. I’m not particularly a vampire person, and definitely not a Dracula person. Stoker I can take or leave. The filmic versions are only worse. The vermin-infested vampire as exemplified by NOSFERATU is much more my style. Massa treads a narrow margin between these two poles with his vampires, as they alternately exhibit an urbane charm and a more vermin-like capacity for death and destruction. The novel itself is a vampiric take on Agatha Christie’s TEN LITTLE INDIANS, as a gathering of vampires is called together to solve the titular killing in a castle in France. Trapped by the sun, and hunted down one by one by an unseen foe, Massa does a good job of keeping the adrenalin flowing.
Our nominal hero, the reluctant vampire Vincent, is forced back into the company of his fellow vampires, an odd historical mix from the 15th Century on, shibboleths still trapped in their original human mindsets, thinking they have evolved and yet stuck, so stuck, where they were when they were turned into vampires, be they priests or movie stars or motorcycle gang leaders. Trapped in amber, both literally and figuratively. With the larger canvas, Massa is able to show off his skill in character building. That truly is the best tool in his box; there is real care taken in delving into the disparate personalities. Some of them are very engaging indeed. He does, to my mind, kill a few of the more interesting ones off too early, leaving us with some more unappetizing vampires for too long.
While the outcome is not a complete surprise, much like Christie, the story itself moves quickly, effectively. Crisp. The mystery is well plotted, with some neat red herrings thrown in amongst the appropriate clues. Despite the paranormal trappings and the rough language dialogue, this is essentially a locked room cozy set in an old castle in the scenic French countryside. This plotting, and the character development, are Massa’s strongest points. As with ICE SHADOWS and the black metal scenes, the opening sequence with Vincent in Los Angeles falls flat to someone who lives here. It’s a town with a beach and some bars and the sun. It could be anywhere. I want more texture to them. He can get away with that with Dracula’s castle, as it is his total creation, but the real world not so much. The dialogue is a bit clunky. Too much comes off as dialogue for exposition rather than real dialogue. Especially the secondary villains sound canned.
FEAR THE LIGHT is not a great book. It’s not a bad book either. It’s an interesting middle of the road mystery with paranormal trappings. If vampires are your cup of tea, you should enjoy it. Other’s mileage may vary. Similarly ICE SHADOWS is an intriguing opening to a men’s adventure series steeped in the supernatural. If you like Mack Bolan or Remo Williams, chances are you’ll like Mark Talon as well.
OCCULT ASSASSIN: ICE SHADOWS; OCCULT ASSASSIN: DAMNATION CODE; and FEAR THE LIGHT: WHO MURDERED DRACULA? are self-published. All of Massa’s books are available through his website: http://www.williammassa.com/ .Check out his site.