I often think that the horror small press as being very much like the pulp era. Lots of stuff is coming out. Some genuine masterpieces are published. A lot of good stuff comes down the pike. Plenty of fun horror and suspense is available. But there is also a lot of average fiction appearing here, there, and everywhere. Much of the time it is hyped to heights well beyond its merits. And, let's face it, some real stinkeroos slip through the cracks, leaving a foul odor of flatulence and disgruntled readers in their wake.
It has gotten better. At least for digital readers. Downloads tend to be cheap, and on any given day a lot of free ones are available. I'd still advise caution. Time is money, too, and wasted time on inferior fiction can never be regained.
I am not, and would never, suggest that readers forgo reading current writers and fiction. be discerning, yes, but I for one will never stop trying new writers.
However, there are so many great works of fiction from the past that beg to be discovered. I'm not just talking about Lovecraft, Matheson, Bloch, Bradbury, Lieber, and the other usual suspected genre writers from days gone by. You should read those guys, but there so many other great books and writers who have tragically gone out of print. From centuries past, right up to the seventies and eighties.
From time to time I am going to use this space to recommend worthy books from the past. Books and writers who may be unknown to today's readers.
I have a feeling that a lot of people in the community are unaware of the writer, C. Terry Cline. And, to tell you the truth, I am not as familiar with him as I ought to be.
Cline was a notorious presence in publishing immediately. His debut novel, Damon, was published in hardcover in 1975. Right away it got lumped in with The Exorcist, as it contained shocking scenes of sex and violence. As with William Peter Blatty's famous novel, Damon utilized a child in his story. The story deals, I have gathered, with schizophrenia and a bizarre medical condition which brings out grotesque behavior from a boy named Damon.
I've never read Damon, though I heard a lot about it when I was growing up. I was a science fiction snob at the time, with little interest in trashy bestsellers. At least what I ignorantly perceived as trashy bestsellers.
It didn't help that Stephen King had some uncomplimentary things to say about Damon, in his nonfiction book, Danse Macabre. King did note that Cline improved as a writer in later years.
A few years ago I read a book by C. Terry Cline called Reaper. It was a serial killer novel of sorts, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I found Reaper to be a brisk, suspenseful novel, and I intended to read more of the author's work. It took me a while to get back to it.
I just read another one by Cline. Sadly, Prey suffers from a generic title that could adorn the cover of a plethora of suspense books. Happily, Prey is much better than the average book of its type. In fact, it is the best suspense novel I've read in quite some time.
Prey begins with the death of an aged small town lawman. It's a sad occasion, but not tragic. The Sheriff led a long, honorable life. His son is a big-city cop, and he agrees to move to the small town and take over his father's position. He and his wife and two children make the move and all seems well.
However, the late Sheriff's widow begins to receive disturbing phone calls. It is gradually revealed that her husband had dark secrets from his past. A son from a bad former marriage has surfaced, and he wants retribution. But how can he get revenge upon a man who is dead and buried? The son has his own ideas of how to achieve it. Trained in Korea and Vietnam, he is a specialist in terror and stealth. He isn't going away until he gets what he wants. And he does not care who suffers in the process.
Prey deals with some sensitive subject matter. It isn't much of a spoiler to say that sexual child abuse is part of it. This kind of thing is always dicey, but Cline pulls it off. Not only that, he nearly does the unthinkable and puts the abuser in a light that is not sympathetic. No, never that, but perhaps one of pity. I can't think of anything harder to do with fiction.
This novel is diabolically disturbing, but it also brims with humanity. Very few other writers I know of could do it as well.
I know that Ed Gorman has read a tremendous amount of mystery and suspense. I'd be very surprised to hear that he did not read Prey. My favorite Gorman book is Black River Falls, and I especially loved the end of that novel. My guess is, Ed borrowed the finale of Prey for it. And why not? All writers crib from one another, and if you're going to borrow, I suppose you should do it from the best. Prey is one of the best you're likely to read this year.
Used copies of Prey are easy and inexpensive to locate. I'm very happy to report that it is also available on Kindle . Unfortunately it does not seem to be out on Nook at this time.