The Unsound by Cullen Bunn and Jack T. Cole. Boom Studios, 2018. 9781684151783. Contains #1 – #6 of the series.

I don’t recommend many horror graphic novels, but this one was great.

When nurse Ashli Granger arrives at Saint Cascia for her first day of work, she finds a razor blade on the counter of the empty reception desk. It’s not the only indication that something’s not right with the place, but it’s hard to tell what’s off in a mental health facility that’s overcrowded, understaffed, and located in a building that looks straight out of a Munsters episode. Plus there are those three people hanging out together, leading people off, watching — do they work there? Are they patients? Are they demons or is that a trick of the light?

The dummy that talked to Ashli? That didn’t freak me out. The guy looking through the paper plate mask did, though. So did the visions of cutting, and the talking drain, and the three patients who told her the prince is waiting. There’s more than a little blood, a riot, and then a psychedelic chase through parts of the hospital that can’t possibly exist. And a whole lot more razor blades.

The writing is crisp, the settings are somewhere between A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Hellraiser, and the colors hold the whole thing together, creating a vibe that varies between realistic, creepy, hallucinatory, and murderous.

The B’s dead, Jim.

Dead Letters: An Anthology of the Undelivered, the Missing, the Returned edited by Conrad Williams. Titan Books, 2016. 9781783294503.

For this seventeen story horror anthology, editor Conrad Williams added a twist. Not only were his contributors asked to work on the theme of “Dead Letters,” but Williams mailed each one a sample misdelivered missive. The result is a thick collection of genre-spannning spine-tinglers from Steven Hall, Michael Marshall Smith, Joanne Harris, Allison Moore, Christopher Fowler, Pat Cadigan, Ramsey Campbell, Claire Dean, Andrew Lane, Muriel Gray, Nina Allan, Adam LG Neville, Lisa Tuttle, Nicholas Royle, Angela Slatter, collaborators Maria Dahvana Headley and China Mieville, and Kirsten Kaschock.

Each story is admirable. The most memorable included Nicholas Royle’s steadily more and more unsettling “L0ND0N” and Pat Cadigan’s uncomfortably autobiographical “Cancer Dancer.” Muriel Gray’s “Gone Away” features an aristocratic and unconscionably wealthy English family’s failure to come to terms with the relatives that turn into zombies! A personal favorite was Andrew Lane’s “Buyer’s Remorse” in which an unwitting narrator runs across a Lovecraftian jumble sale, a Vicar in distress, and badly-addressed manuscript fragments.

The story settings are uniformly British, but don’t let references to things like “jumble sales” and “the Tube” dissuade you from reading this enjoyable collection of creepy tales.

Thanks to Robert for this guest review.

A Doll’s House

Thornhill by Pam Smy. Roaring Brook Press, 2017. 9781626726543. 536pp.

In 2017, Ella and her family move into a new house. From her bedroom window, she can see an overgrown lot full of crows and spiders and whatnot plus a large abandoned building, a spooky old orphanage. One night the light in an upper floor window goes on. (Ella’s story is told in page after page of wordless, black and white and gray pictures.)

Diary entries from 1982 chronicle the life of a mute girl who takes refuge in the attic apartment of the orphanage where she lives. She comforts herself by making dolls, and one of the caregivers is kind to her. She’s trying to keep herself safe from the bully who torments her, but that’s difficult, and it will likely be impossible after the orphanage is shut down and they move on to a new home together.

Back in the present, Ella sees a girl in the window of the building, then in the abandoned lot. Creepy dolls figure in the story, as does the diary and a skeleton key.

The size of the book makes it look very intimidating, but lots of pages are the pictures that tell Ella’s story. I’d give it to any kid who liked Doll Bones or The Graveyard Book, or is looking to move on from the gotcha endings of the Goosebumps books I read long ago.

Hideo with a Thousand Faces

I Am A Hero Omnibus 1 by Kengo Hanazawa. Dark Horse, 2016. 9781616559205.
I Am A Hero Omnibus 2 by Kengo Hanazawa. Dark Horse, 2016. 9781506700199.
I Am A Hero Omnibus 3 by Kengo Hanazawa. Dark Horse, 2017. 9781506701455.

Hideo, in his mid-30s, still wants to be a successful manga artist. Despite having published a few of his own stories, he mostly works as an assistant for others. His girlfriend is pretty nice, and he’s one of the few folks in Japan who legally owns a gun, but he’s kind of drifting through his life. As news reports about violent people biting each other begin, nothing really changes. In fact, most Japanese citizens hardly seem to notice what’s going on around them. (Or are they just too polite to say anything?) And by the time they do notice it’s too late. By then Hideo’s life has fallen apart, he’s gotten out of the city (on a train ride that reminded me of the Korean film Train to Busan), and he’s living the American zombie apocalypse dream: he’s the only man with a gun.

Questions answered by the end of Omnibus 3:
Do headshots kill these zombies? Not always. Do bites cause zombification? Yes. Are zombie babies scary? Oh yeah.

Unanswered questions:
Can half-zombie schoolgirls be trusted? Why are some of the zombies all twisted up and spidery, like their bones have been rearranged? How do some zombies open their mouths wide enough to swallow the top of another person’s head?

Sole Survivors

Final Girls by Riley Sager. Random House, 2017. 9781101985380. 339 pages.

Guest review by Murphy’s Mom

Quincy Carpenter trusts almost no one, and why should she? Ten years ago, she was the lone survivor of a brutal massacre during a weekend camping trip with five college friends. (A patient from the nearby insane asylum had escaped and all hell broke loose.) Quinn was saved by Sheriff Detective Franklin Cooper (Coop) and she has since felt extremely indebted to him. Quinn’s faith in Coop does put stress on her relationship with her almost-fiancé, Jeff, because he is the only other person Quincy can totally trust.

There are two other so-called “final girls” who also survived nightmarish massacres, Samantha and Lisa. Because a tabloid television show wanted the three to talk about their experiences, they shared email addresses. Through the years, Lisa and Quincy have grown closer through email. So when Lisa sends a frantic email to Quincy hours before her alleged suicide, Quincy is freaked out

Shortly after Lisa’s death, Samantha shows up on Quinn’s doorstep, and that’s when things get really weird. Quinn and Jeff both have their suspicions about Sam and her motives because she has kept off the grid. Is Sam really there to be friends with Quinn because of their horrific pasts? Or does she have other motives?

This is a terrifying story that moves between the present and the bloody weekend massacre ten years ago. This is one of those stories where you won’t know who to trust, where you will question everyone’s motives until the very last page.

Sterile Space

Clean Room Volume 1: Immaculate Conception by Gail Simone (writer), Jon Davis-Hunt (artist), Quinton Winter & Jon Davis-Hunt (colorists). DC Comics, 2016. 9781401262754. Contains Clean Room #1 – #6. Publisher’s Rating: Suggested for Mature Readers.

At the beginning of the book, a small red-headed girl (Astrid) gets run over (twice) by a truck which might also be some kind of monster. After that she starts seeing things. Evil things.

Years later, a topless young woman, Chloe, tries to drown herself in a Florida swamp. The three brothers who live next door save her (this isn’t the only time they’ll do that). She’s seeing things, too, including her dead fiance who recently killed himself (he looks gruesome, most of his head is shot away).

Astrid grew up and founded what may be a self help cult. She wrote the book that may have led Chloe’s fiance to kill himself. Chloe wants answers, so she sets out to interview Astrid. There’s a high-tech white room in Astrid’s HQ she and Chloe go to, it’s kind of like the holodeck on ST:TNG. And there seem to be demons.

There’s lots of nudity and violence and it’s all kinda horrific and mysterious, though there’s an answer of sorts at the end. It’s a well-executed setup to a promising series that I plan to keep reading.

Since I haven’t said it yet, the colors are amazing. And man, Chloe’s neighbors are the best. I hope we get to see more of them. I hope they don’t die horribly.

“I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity”

Poe: Stories and Poems: A Graphic Novel Adaptation by Gareth Hinds. Candlewick, 2017. 9780763681128.

I’m a huge fan of Hinds’ graphic novel adaptations of classics (his version of The Odyssey is my favorite), but not of Poe’s fiction, yet  Hinds’ amazing skill pulled me through. First there’s a legend at the beginning of the book, a list of recurring motifs in Poe’s work. Hinds then puts the appropriate symbols at the beginning of each story and poem to let readers know know which will contain thing like, for example, murder and rats, so that readers they can decide for themselves to keep reading a particular story or skip it.

My favorite adaptation, “The Mask of the Red Death” (contains Death, Disease, Scary Sounds), about a bunch of upper class folks who try to seal themselves away from a plague, features the creepiest masquerade costume I’ve ever seen — a disease personified. Don’t skip to the end of the story, it’s freaky. There’s a lot to love here: “The Cask of Amontillado,” “Annabel Lee,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Bells,” and of course “The Raven.” There’s also a lot to freak you out. The rats in “The Pit…” would send my wife screaming. And don’t miss the creepy details drawn into the feathers of Hinds’ raven, which include skulls and skeletal hands.