Category Archives: Book Reviews
Bob Van Laerhoven is a 66-year-old Belgian/Flemish author who has published (traditionally) more than 45 books in Holland and Belgium. His cross-over oeuvre between literary and noir/suspense is published in French, English, German, Spanish, Swedish, Slovenian, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, and Russian.
My review of:
Return To Hiroshima
Steeped in intricacy and too many horrors waiting to jump out of the shadows as each element of the story begins to find its place, it would be impossible to do justice to any sort of plot summary here. Suffice to say, the reader is taken on one hell of a dark and often upsetting journey: a seven-foot woman haunted by either real or imaginary memories of childhood horrors and abuse, an investigation into the murder of a newborn child, a secret and clandestine wartime medical experiments, and Japanese suicide cults are just some of the pieces of this internationally flavoured noir thriller.
Despite this being a translation from the original, the writing is fluid and well-crafted, with clearly a great deal of effort having gone into maintaining the tone and feel of the original text. The complexity of the story is cleverly broken up into short, easily digestible chapters, each with their own little prelude as it were. I liked too the way the author alternates the point of view between that of the central and mysterious female character, Mitsuko, and the third-person perspectives of the other characters amid the wider story and sub-plots going on.
This is a book that challenges the reader to step outside their comfort zone in terms of what they might be familiar with culturally, and perhaps their perceptions of Japanese culture and society. Quite apart from the story of Mitsuko, the author skilfully contrasts the western view of Japan (or Nippon as he refers to it in the narrative), managing to incorporate the Japanese fascination with Karaoke bars, manga comics, and the deeper philosophical and religious beliefs that underpin people’s lives in that part of the world, alongside an enduring sense of nationalism even among its younger generation. The reader gets to witness Japanese society from the perspective of its native population, visiting westerners, and, as in the case of police inspector Takeda, who despite being half-Japanese, doesn’t quite fit in with or enjoys the full ‘acceptance’ and respect of his peers. As can probably be guessed from the title, the historical significance of Hiroshima and the aftermath of the nuclear blast are a recurring influence in how the story unfolds, though more as a historical backdrop and vehicle in which it has shaped the current story being told. Set in the mid-1990s, many of the characters still possess first-hand experience of the nuclear attack on Hiroshima while the next generation are equally affected by the resultant and continuing birth defects and associated cancers. Alongside the inevitable darkness such elements bring to the story, there is plenty of equally dark and horrific content emanating from the characters themselves: rape, violence, torture, murder, and a number of grizzly death scenes are described quite graphically at times, ironically almost on a par with how they might be portrayed in a manga comic. Like any good writer, the author doesn’t show his hand too soon in the story, encouraging the reader to reasonably draw their own conclusions and assumptions before allowing the real truth and direction of the story to emerge.
The farther and deeper you progress into this often disturbing and yet captivating tale, the more you will be rewarded as the different and complex strands eventually draw together. Be warned though, this is no easy story to read and one that demands the reader’s full attention and concentration. Nor as I’ve intimated is this a book for the faint-hearted or those who prefer neatly packaged happy endings or a book filled with easily identified characters you’re supposed to either like or hate. Nonetheless, a powerful and multilayered story for those willing to stray from the more conventional thriller style and setting.
Reduced Kindle price for the duration of the Blackthorn Book Tour promotion, and FREE to read for Amazon KU subscribers
Bob Van Laerhoven’s social media links:
More about the author …
In Belgium, Laerhoven was a four-time finalist of the ‘Hercule Poirot Prize for Best Mystery Novel of the Year’ with the novels ‘Djinn’, ‘The Finger of God’, ‘Return to Hiroshima’, and ‘The Firehand Files’. In 2007, he became the winner of the coveted Hercule Poirot Prize with ‘Baudelaire’s Revenge’, which, in English translation, also won the USA Best Book Award 2014 in the category ‘mystery/suspense’. His first collection of short stories ‘Dangerous Obsessions’, published in the USA in 2015, was chosen as the ‘best short story collection of 2015’ by the San Diego Book Review. The collection has been translated into Italian, (Brazilian) Portuguese, Spanish, and Swedish. ‘Return to Hiroshima’, his second crime novel in English, was published in May 2018 by Crime Wave Press(Hong Kong). The British quality review blog Murder, Mayhem & More has chosen ‘Return to Hiroshima’ as one of the ten best international crime novels of 2018. MMM reviews around 200 novels annually by international authors. Also in 2018, the Anaphora Literary Press published ‘Heart Fever’, his second collection of short stories. ‘Heart Fever’ was one of the five finalists of the American Silver Falchion Award. Laerhoven was the only non-American finalist. The collection has been translated into Italian and Spanish. A German translation is currently in production.
See HERE for the author’s US Amazon author page:
Another new ‘creature horror’ author I recently discovered, Richard “Rich” Rumple currently resides in Lexington, Kentucky, after having grown up in Indiana, with New York, Chicago, Mobile, Baton Rouge, and Europe all mixed in between. “Gabriela…” is his third release, following the highly successful “Horror Across The Alley” and “They Lurk In Summer.”
My review of:
Gabriela: Tales From A Demon Cat
I must confess to a certain bias here: as a huge fan of short stories and creature horror, be it cats, rats, bugs, or bats, this feline-themed anthology excels in both, just as I knew it would from the introductory story. The way the tales are introduced and their connecting thread, namely the perspective from which they were told, i.e.Gabriela’s past lives and experiences, owe a debt to the anthology format of films like the 70s Amicus Horror ‘Tales from the Crypt’ and its Grim Reaper like narrator – in this case though, the narrator is much more interesting, taking the form of a mouse-munching, demonic cat … what’s not to love about that!
Anyone who’s ever owned a cat (supposedly), or more likely been at the beck and call of a feline companion, will immediately recognise the traits and characteristics of many of the diabolical traits of our deliciously demonic narrator, Gabriela. The stories veer between more subtle and creepy horror as in the two opening stories ‘Why Didn’t I Get A Dog’, and ‘Kind of Handy’, to more traditional blood and gore orientated tales such as the humorously titled ‘Big Feet Minus Expensive Shoes’ and ‘Damned Whiskers.’ Oddly though, the central character in the stories isn’t usually feline as you might otherwise expect, or in some cases, any sort of creature at all, with the story simply being told by Gabriela, either having witnessed or heard it from another cat. Given the way the author links each tale through the continuing and darkly humorous dialogue between Gabriela and her latest ‘owner’, they almost read like the chapters of a novel amid Gabriela’s observations of her periodic trips to Hell.
This is creature horror at its best, combining lashings of claw, paw, and nail scratching savagery, a fair helping of all sorts of other creepiness, touches of light-hearted humour, and a page-turning sense of continuity with each individual tale. The stories are as dark, imaginative, and varied as I could have hoped for … so many good stories, but I think the author saved the best till last with ‘Cat’s Paws’, a tale of voodoo, spells, and a touch of savagery, quite my favourite I think … can’t wait to read more from this author, especially Book Two as the author promises, featuring more demonic tales from Gabriela.
RC Rumple’s Social media links:
Author website/blog: Richrumple.com
Facebook Author page: @RCRumple
Click HERE for Richard Rumple’s US Amazon author page …
James Watts is a US/Alabama based horror writer and author. In addition to his debut novel, THEM, he has had short stories appear in several horror anthologies while writing for the horror publisher, HellBound Books.
When not writing himself, he is also an Administrator for the highly active and successful horror promotion and discussion group, Realms of The Damned Horror Society, helping to discover and promote new writers, news, and events in the genre.
Following the success of THEM, James Watts is busy working on his next book, Beast of Sorrows …
To keep up with and follow the author, see below for his social media:
Author website: www.james2go33.wixsite.com
Facebook page: @Southernhorrorwriter
Goodreads: James Watts
With ancient malevolent forces occupying human bodies, innocent looking creatures morphing into hungry life-draining parasites, and a history of evil dating back millennia, these ingredients alone are a recipe for an intriguing horror tale. Added to the mix though are family secrets and rivalries, murder, and an emerging horror triggered by the main character’s return to his childhood home and town to attend his mother’s funeral.
I liked the dramatic start to this book i.e. the events and horror that prelude the opening scenes of Ray Sanders’ return and his mother’s funeral as already mentioned. Having said that, once past the dramatic opening, the book adopts a slower pace while it lays the groundwork for the wider story that follows; James Watts does an excellent job of setting the scene, creating the characters and relationships of a small town, and of relating old rivalries, friendships, and family secrets. Even before events start to take a more sinister turn, the author’s impressive descriptive skills have already conjured up the perfect setting and surroundings in which they unfold … one can almost hear the sound of banjos playing on a southern porch while picturing the image of cabins in the woods, and a character out of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre lurking behind every corner, though there are horrors here far worse than any human monster
Apart from a well-constructed story and a rich array of characters, the nitty gritty of the writing was also first class, not shying away from explicit and graphic language at times, but not over-doing it either. Although set in the present, in some ways, ‘THEM’ reads much like old-style horror – not in a dated or old-fashioned way, but in the tradition of, say, Dennis Wheatley or H.P. Lovecraft, though with a healthy resemblance to the blood and gore of some classic 70s/80s’ horror too – in terms of more modern writers, ‘THEM’ would sit quite comfortably nestled among the works of Stephen King and James Herbert … a great debut novel and addition to the horror genre, and hints too of more to come …
Video trailer for THEM
Click HERE for James M. Watts’ Amazon author page:
Tom Johnson spent twenty years in the military, and after retirement, he and his wife, Ginger, went into small press publishing for the next 22 years. Tom continues to write and Ginger edits and proofs his work. They also review books from numerous publishers.
Following the author’s social media links immediately below, it is my great pleasure to provide my reviews of just two of Tom Johnson’s extensive library of books …
Click on links below for Tom Johnson’s social media:
Author website: Tom Johnson: author
Blog: The Pulp Hermit
Blog/Books: Fading Shadows Books
The Spider’s Web
This is a super novella-length story from the pulp-fiction author, Tom Johnson. A straightforward ‘good vs bad, hero vs villain,’ type story, one where the reader just sits back, suspends disbelief and enjoys the fun.
For first-time readers of Tom Johnson, this a fine introduction to his stories and style of writing, and indeed to the genre as a whole. What we have in The Spider’s Web is a tale of masked avengers and vigilante-style crime-fighting heroes and villains; yes there’s lots violence, killings etc, but the author doesn’t dwell on explicit descriptive detail in that respect, preferring instead to concentrate on writing more of a gasp out loud roller-coaster of entertainment.
Although of novella length, content-wise there’s as much going on here as in many a longer book; Tom Johnson constructs the background of the ninja-like ‘Spider’ character extremely well and succinctly, wasting no time in incorporating it into the wider story. The other main character here, the mysterious crime-fighting ‘Black Ghost,’ is one that features elsewhere in many of the author’s earlier books so there is less explanation of his origins and character, at least not initially though still enough detail to make for a satisfying stand-alone story; having said that, if you already enjoy this style of writing/genre it might be worth scrolling back through the author’s previous books for a more chronology-based decision as to which one to read first. Related to what I’ve just said, there is a bonus story/material, The Black Widows, at the end that expands on the Black Ghost’s character and youthful origins and background. I must say too say, the bonus story has a somewhat darker feel and tone to it, but every bit as enjoyable and complementary to the first story.
I’ve not read much in this genre and style of writing before, or rather not since I was a boy, so it’s hard to make comparisons with current authors. If I were to make a film or tv analogy, think along the lines of a modern-day Fu-Manchu or Bruse Lee’s Kato character in the Green Hornet for atmosphere and overall feel, though there are several others I could quote too … older readers will know exactly what I mean.
For anyone looking for gritty realism, lashings of sex and/or gratuitous violence, or the sort of plot complexity to rival the De Vinci Code, this certainly won’t fit the bill. For those readers though looking for a romping good read, good fun-filled and escapist storytelling, and where you don’t have to scratch your head every five minutes wondering what’s going on, The Spider’s Web provides exactly that.
Carnival of Death
What a cracker of a wee tale this is – a body count not seen the time of the Black Death, masked crime fighters, ninja assassins, British secret agents, rogue ex-military, and an equally dynamic supporting cast to complete the package. It’s a novella length story, but one that packs in way more content than its 82 pages would suggest. This could easily have filled the pages of a full novel, but Tom Johnson has stripped away every superfluous word or bit of character background building. There is a prequel to Carnival of Death, The Spider’s Web, featuring the same characters and set-up, which is probably why the author allows the story to hit the ground running so to speak; having said that, although this is a sequel to a previous story, it reads surprisingly well as a stand-alone story too, though it will inevitably leave the reader curious to know more about the characters. The ending does leave open the likelihood of further stories in the series I’m pleased to say.
Without spoiling or giving too much away, it’s basically a story of vigilante crime-fighting justice, but more in the style of The Shadow, Doc Savage, and Zorro rather than Michael Winner’s ‘Deathwish’ character. As the author himself says, the main character here, The Black Ghost, is his homage to such characters and the pulp fiction magazines of the 30s and 40s. Another comparison I would add to the author’s own references is to Warren Murphy’s Remo series in which the main crime-fighting character, though not super-human, seemingly borders on it. Unlike those of his literary heroes though, Tom Johnson has set his story in a modern-day setting, combining that pulp-fiction feel with just the right blend of high-tech and reference to the present.
Whilst I would say one has to suspend disbelief to some degree, it’s a fast-paced and action-packed story, one that takes me back to the sort of comic book style stories I enjoyed reading as a boy, but which I once again find myself enjoying as an adult. Overall, a fun, entertaining, and escapist tale of good guys versus bad. Will I be reading more from this author? Absolutely yes!
See HERE for Tom Johnson’s Amazon author page and his fascinating and extensive back-catalogue of books.
More about the author …
Born July 26, 1940, in Seymour, Texas, located in West Texas, US veteran Tom Johnson has been a voracious reader since childhood, beginning with the Golden Age comic books to classic literature. Exciting adventure stories entertained him until he discovered science fiction and hardboiled detective mysteries. By his early twenties, he discovered The Shadow and Doc Savage pulp reprints in paperbacks and was hooked on the fast-paced action novel. This led to collecting and research, which eventually interested him in writing. Today, he still loves an exciting action novel over movies and television. Tom and his wife, Ginger, have received numerous awards in the field for their work in keeping the old stories in the spotlight for new readers seeking escape in a thrilling adventure novel.
Please click HERE for the author’s full biography and writing history/links …
Look out too for Tom’s latest work … NEW PULP HEROES
Click HERE for Amazon US purchase link
Prior to writing, Robert Lalonde studied Real Estate Appraisal and Real Property Assessment through UBC. Following this, he worked as a Commercial Property Tax Consultant in Toronto, Canada, representing owners of hotels, office buildings, and shopping malls before various tax appeal tribunals.
Robert Lalonde began his writing career with two non-fiction books based about health and well-being based on research he carried out to lose weight and regain his health after a battle with cancer. Since then he has moved onto writing hard-hitting thrillers, having written the first two books of the Nick Borman thriller series.
See below for the author’s website and social media links …
Author Website: www.robertlalonde.com
Facebook author page: @Robert Lalonde
The Borman Factor:
A Nick Borman Thriller
A cracking debut thriller. I particularly liked the way the author preceded the main story with a dramatic event. The main protagonist, Nick Borman, is a private investigator in the murky world of high-tech big business and industrial espionage. Highly skilled at what he does, and able to handle himself too, Nick makes for a formidable character.
Nick Borman is asked to investigate the death of an investigative reporter, Terry Reyolds. It’s a little out of his usual line of work and comfort zone, but out of family and professional loyalty, he reluctantly agrees. He soon discovers there’s a lot more to Terry’s death than the official police report would suggest.
This is quite a complex story involving political and police corruption aligned with shady property deals which put Nick up against some serious and nasty characters, including a particularly ruthless professional killer. Despite its complexity though, the author makes the unfolding story surprisingly easy to follow and keep up with.
Overall, a good solid page-turning thriller. The action is fast-paced with excellent use of realistic dialogue, has just the right level of violence without over-doing it, and the author keeps things relatively simple without trying to impress or step into the realms of high-brow literature. It’s not an easy trick to pull off and not always a popular one, but I liked too the way the author switched the points of view between the main character and the overall one. I’ll definitely be reading Book Two in this Nick Borman series.
Jinxed: A Nick Borman Novel
Robert Lalonde effortless blends political intrigue, high-tech industrial espionage, and an ever-lengthening line of victims along the way. Nick Borman, the main protagonist, once again excels as a private investigator in the shady worlds of high-tech industrial espionage and big business. Called in by Sheldon Montgomery to investigate the unexplained deaths of several of his employees, Nick Borman has to call on all his experience and resources to get to the truth. This time though his investigations take him into the even darker realms of ‘Black ops’ and the highest echelons of political office and ambition.
The dialogue and narrative are skillfully handled with no pretence of trying to be anything more than a fast-paced and action-packed thriller, both of which Jinxed succeeds at. There are a variety of bad guys and other characters – some clever and manipulative, others plain and violently ruthless, and a few that are simply out of their depth in the bigger picture.
There are several red herrings that initially hamper Nick’s investigations: is there a personal motive such as revenge or jealousy behind the killings, maybe an attempt to stall Sheldon’s political ambitions, or something to do with the revolutionary new products his tech company is developing, or lastly, another level of intrigue that Nick’s missing altogether?
Although book two in the Nick Borman thriller series, Jinxed reads perfectly well as a stand-alone story. The ending is unexpected and abrupt, revealing that if necessary, Nick Borman can be every bit as ruthless as any of his adversaries. Having said that, it does leave a few loose ends and the reader pondering if they’re going to be explored in further sequels? For entertainment and quality of writing, this is an easy five stars for me, but for the reasons just mentioned, in a more precise rating method I would rate this around a 4.8. Will I be reading book three? Hell yes!
Click HERE for Robert Lalonde’s Amazon author page …
John T.M. Herres is a fiction writer and in his own words …
‘ … A creator of larger-than-life heroes of ages gone by;
Great wizards tainted, and those who resist them;
War between interstellar travellers, both on this planet and far away;
Alien races intent on the annihilation of any being not their own,
and weaker ones in need of a saviour- as well as the One who becomes their saviour.
Clashes with bad people and dangerous places, where only one can survive …’
When you get to my writing, sit back, hold on, and enjoy the ride!
In addition to this, his first full-length thriller, John T.M. Herres has had many of his short stories featured in numerous multi-author anthologies, details of which can be found via his Amazon author page featured at the end of this blog post.
Hard and extreme don’t even begin to describe this novel. Let me say from the start, this isn’t a book for the squeamish; the violence is brutal, explicit, and sadistic. For those that prefer their blood and gore left to the imagination, this probably isn’t the book for them, but otherwise, it’s as blood and gore filled as any horror fan could ever want or hope for.
A chance encounter and unthinking comment in a bar lead to a woman’s death, followed by several others, innocent people who just happen to get caught up in the madman’s psychopathic killing spree. As a big and powerful man, the killer’s victims rarely give him any trouble, though obviously, some do try to fight back. It’s this ‘fighting back’ that initially suggests someone might indeed have succeeded in putting an end to the killer, only for the author to spring an unexpected and diabolical twist into the story that ensures the slaughter continues.
The main protagonist is as thoroughly vile and nasty as you could ever want or expect in a serial killer, sadistic to the extreme, and his contempt for women equally so. As a character, he’s absolutely loathsome, and yet, perfectly suited to the story.
Although horribly graphic at times, the writing and dialogue are convincing, and the story moves forward at breakneck speed. I liked too the author’s clever use of perspective, alternating between a third person view of the unfolding story, and then retelling it from the killer’s perspective.
The degree of torture and mutilation here isn’t the level I would normally seek out in a book, but I found it to be in context and appropriate to the killer’s character rather than merely gratuitous. Nonetheless, this is a graphically violent story that won’t appeal to everyone, but those who enjoy some graphic torture and mutilation in their reading will find it in abundance here, and more importantly, aligned to a well-crafted story. Well worth a look for fans of the more extreme end of the horror spectrum.
For John T. M. Herres’s social media links, click below …
Click HERE for the author’s Amazon author page …
Peter lives with his wife and four children in a small town in Sussex, England. As well as being a keen cook and wine enthusiast, Peter has been writing poetry and short stories for almost twenty years. It had always been an ambition to complete a novel and, after the success of his debut, The Broken Doll, it has been fantastic to have the opportunity to turn a hobby into a new career. Since the release of The Broken Doll in February 2017, Peter has released the follow-up novel, Shattered Pieces, as well as three collections of short horror stories, and a children’s book. Peter has had work published in a number of anthologies, is the Editor-in-Chief of Indie Writers Review, and is the co-founder of Red Cape Publishing.
Embrace The Darkness
Dark, full of suspense, and highly original … a great collection of little horrors!
I’d seen a few reviews of this author’s work, and a couple of mentions on the social media horror circuit so thought I’d give him a try. From the very first story, I knew I was in for a dark treat with the other five stories. Most follow the traditional ‘twist in the tale’ format, but really, they’re more like deadly stings from a scorpion tail … don’t be expecting any nice ‘happy ever after’ endings here!
I loved the dark originality and diversity of all these stories; they do draw on some traditional horror themes such as witchcraft, medical horror, and dreamlike states for their subject matter but were nonetheless, unlike most others I’ve ever read. Although quite brutal and horrific at times, the author manages to create such horror without the need to resort to excessive blood and gore, relying more on suspense and atmosphere. Will definitely be reading/reviewing more of this author’s work in the future … a well-deserved 5-stars!
P.J. Blakey-Novis’s social media …
Email: – email@example.com
Click HERE for the author’s full catalogue of work & Amazon author page …
This is an author I first came across by way of reading his own excellent review of a book I had previously reviewed, ‘Johnny Nothing’ by Ian Probert.
Andrew Updegrove is a prolific blogger, primarily writing about the self-publishing industry, marketing, and related topics, providing an excellent resource for any aspiring writer. As well as being a prolific blogger and writer, Andrew Updegrove has a successful background in law, business, and cybersecurity, making him eminently qualified to write this excellent book.’
Further links and contact details for Andrew Updegrove are:
Author site: www.andrew-updegrove.com
The Lafayette Campaign
A TALE OF DECEPTION AND ELECTIONS
Having already read an enjoyed the first in Andrew Updegrove’s cybersecurity/thriller series, I thought I’d give this one a try. This time the story revolves around an upcoming US Presidential election, but one where all the poll predictions are completely at odds with what everyone expects, raising questions about who may be trying to manipulate and influence the outcome? Once again, the US authorities call on the geeky middle-aged, I.T. cybersecurity expert, Frank Adversego, to look into things. Amid his investigations, Frank is also working on the book he’s been contracted to write warning of the dangers around hacking, cybersecurity, and so.
As in Book One, this is a superbly written cybersecurity themed thriller, but again, riddled with lots of clever and subtle humour, like where the author refers to a security thug as being ‘evolutionally challenged,’ and when he laments about being glad he’s not writing a political satire instead of a serious non-fiction book, the humour of which becomes even more apparent later on. In many ways, readers from any country will be able to identify with the part money and big business plays in politics all around the world, and not just the US.
Although this reads perfectly well as a stand-alone book, I was pleased to see some indirect references to Book One, The Alexandria Project, ironically the basis of the book the main character, Frank, is working on during the unfolding story here, and the inclusion of some of the characters from the first book, ie, his daughter, Marla, and boss, George Marchand. Again though, there are plenty of new characters to further engage the reader’s interest.
Not only is this well-written book, but also a well-researched one too. It does, however, convey a lot of US political workings and cyber-tech explanation though that some readers might get a tad lost in if they don’t already have some interest in them. As a UK reader, I must admit had I read this book when it first came out back in 2015, I might well have got a bit lost in some of the American election procedures and terminology, and quite frankly, found it a little too fantastical and far-fetched. Since then of course, there’s been the improbable election of Donald Trump and all that’s followed to take care of the ‘far-fetched,’ aspect. Also, with all the media coverage that event attracted worldwide combined with innumerable hours of Youtube American news footage of the 2016 US Presidential election, most people now have a better understanding of US electoral workings, so again, this really has become a book that is not only more ‘understandable’ to non-US readers, but a highly topical one too.
Another super cybersecurity offering; a satire for sure, but given what’s happened in US politics since its publication, really not so far off the mark … loved it!
Click HERE to read my review of Book One in the series, The Alexandria Project
Available from Amazon in eBook format, and from several other outlets in both eBook and print formats … See the author’s blog for details.
For links to all five books to date in the author’s cybersecurity/thriller series, please see HERE for Andrew Updegrove’s US Amazon author page
What are the odds on that?
Howard Jackson was a careful man. He had to be to have gotten away with his twenty-seven murders to date. Today he was hoping to add number twenty-eight to the tally. The young man sitting alone at the table in the service station diner looked a promising candidate. Howard estimated him to be in his late teens, or at most, his early twenties. He doubted if the young man had enough money for another coffee, having watched him nurse the one he had for over an hour. It wouldn’t be long before one of the staff insisted he buys another or be on his way. With the rain now pelting down outside, Howard was optimistic, knowing the weary hitch-hiker wouldn’t relish the prospect of walking however far to the next rest-stop. He had a knack for spotting the most vulnerable and trusting ones.
“Another coffee or something? Howard asked, having strolled over to the young man.
“They’ll be asking you to leave otherwise,” he added by way of reassurance.
“Uh? Oh right. Yeah, thanks, mister.” This was going to be so easy, Howard thought to himself.
“So, how far you going? I’m driving south if that’s any help?”
“Yeah, sure would be … and thanks for the coffee too. I was dreading having to start walking in this weather to wherever the next truck-stop is.”
Howard and the young man drank up and made their way to Howard’s car in the customer parking lot.
“Grab yourself a candy bar or a soda from the glove compartment if you want?”
“A soda would be good. And you? You having one too?”
“Nah, I’m good thanks, I had enough in the diner.”
With the rain at full pelt, Howard was driving slower than he usually would. The young man continued to sip at his soda. An hour into the journey, the young man looked like he was nodding off. Howard pulled into a layby, confident the sedative had done its job.
Howard had long since discovered strangers were more ready to accept food and drink from a stranger in their car if it was in a sealed container or wrapper like a soda can or candy bar. The screw cap soda cans were of his own design, practically indistinguishable from the real thing, and the candy bars had each been injected with a liberal dose of etorphine, a powerful animal tranquiliser. Administering it via a soda or candy bar reduced the speed with which it took effect, but it was a safer alternative to risking the recipient putting up a fight if Howard failed to inject the drug at the first attempt. Howard hadn’t forgotten the one that got away, his only failure some six years previous when the sixteen-year-old intended victim hadn’t accepted either the soda or a candy bar and escaped after managing to block the etorphine-filled syringe with his rucksack. From that day on, Howard made it a rule not to proceed if the victim didn’t accept one of the drug-filled sodas or candy bars.
With his intended victim seemingly fast asleep, Howard got out of his car to retrieve certain items from the trunk: a length of rope chord, some industrial strength duct-tape, and a surgical scalpel. As expected, the young man still appeared completely out of it – Etorphine was a thousand times more potent than even morphine. With that in mind, Howard felt quite confident it was safe to proceed. He intended to strip his victim naked, and then use the rope and duct-tape to fully restrain and gag him. And then there would be Howard’s favourite part, a brutal assault and mutilation of the vilest kind of the victim’s lifeless body. First though, he reached down to begin unbuckling the young man’s jeans. What followed was most definitely not part of the plan that had succeeded on 27 previous occasions …
“Not this time, mother fucker!” the young man said, ramming a solid uppercut under Howard’s chin before dragging him out through the adjacent car door. Though not as effective as Howard’s etorphine-filled soda can, not that the young man had actually drunk any of it, the upper-cut had stunned his would-be killer sufficiently for the young man to quickly bind and gag the weaker and older Howard with the minimum of fuss or resistance. Oddly, the tone of his voice wasn’t loud, angry, or the outraged sort you might expect from someone unexpectedly finding themselves in that situation. If anything, it was eerily calm and controlled, much like the way he went about slitting Howard’s throat before dumping his body in the trunk of the would-be killer’s own car, sending both to a watery grave several hours’ drive later.
Oh, he’d been careful alright, but just a little too careful this time … it never occurred to Howard that someone else might have similar thoughts on their mind, and the same obsession with not getting caught. After all, what were the odds of a highway-driving serial killer picking up his opposite number among the waifs and strays of the hitch-hikers?
The twenty-two-year-old young man had been killing the likes of Howard along the highway from the age of seventeen, barely a year after hitching his first ride at the tender age of sixteen. It was Howard’s attempt at adding the young man to his tally of victims six years before that had set the young hitch-hiker on his path of seeking out and slaughtering men like Howard … Howard’s fate had been sealed the moment he’d been recognised in the diner … by the one that got away.
For more stories like this and a whole host of other genres besides, stay tuned for … Flashbulb Moments, scheduled for late 2019 …