My easiest five star review of the year.
Another amazing author from the Indie Author Support & Discussion Fb group, Nico Laeser is one of our most talented and prolific contributors. As well as being an excellent writer, Nico Laeser is also an extremely talented artist and graphic designer, who along with Eric Lahti, was responsible for the redesign of the IASD Fb & Website Banner.
Click on Banner for website link
Skin Cage is one of two books by the author, and he is near to completing a third at the time of this review. In addition to his two novels, he has also had short stories featured in two of the IASD anthologies, Ian D. Moore’s You’re Not Alone: An Indie Author Anthology – an international collection of authors supporting the cancer charity Macmillan nurses, and Eric Lahti’s Holes: An Indie Author Anthology – promoting the work of Indie authors…
Further links to Nico Laeser and his writing can be found at:
Note: As you will see from the following review I’ve prefaced it with the author’s own Amazon blurb; it’s often a dilemma as to how much plot detail to include in a review without giving too much away or simply repeating what the author has already said. In the case of an Amazon review, not to include such detail doesn’t present a problem generally as anyone reading the reviews are already likely to have read the the said blurb, but with a blog review it’s likely this will be the first time the reader has even heard of the featured book hence my inclusion of the blurb here…
Amazon blurb for Skin Cage:
Daniel Stockholm was fifteen years old when a parasite hijacked his brain, rendering him paralyzed and reliant on machines that run day and night to keep him alive.
For nine years, Danny has been confined within a biological prison with only two small windows, through which to view the world around him; a silent witness to the selfless compassion of some and the selfish contrivance of others.
When the malicious actions of care worker, Marcus Salt, threaten to push Danny farther from the ones he loves, and deeper into the dark recesses of his skin cage, he is left with only one option. He must find a way out.
By Nico Lasaer
(Available from Amazon in both eBook and print formats)
A clever, skilfully told, and highly original story, bringing together subtle elements of science fiction, horror, and the paranormal, but in no way overly veering into any single genre. Initially the story explores what it’s like to be trapped in your own body, aware but unable to move or communicate in any way, a veritable living nightmare as it were. The story is narrated from a first person perspective, some of which is told via flashback, which considering the story is told very much from the mind and thoughts of Daniel the principal character, is to be expected and works exceptionally well for a full length novel. Daniel’s life is at times well worth living while at others it is made almost unbearable by those whose job it is to care for him … which of these particular states depends just on who is doing the caring at the time.
I won’t go into too much detail about the story itself as it would be all too easy to give too much away but what I can say is that it is both heart-warming and heart-breaking in equal measure, and full of surprises and unexprected turns. Some of the issues raised in Skin Cage are both emotive and thought provoking, which along with its page turning quality, compel the reader to take in every line and word as they imagine themselves in Daniel’s shoes; it’s impossible not to empathise with his lack of privacy, dependancy on others, the inevitably limited outlet for his emotions, and then hope for some miracle that might change Daniel’s life. In a way that miracle happens but not in any way the reader might have forseen. In retrospect it does take a leap of the imagination to accept the changes in Daniel’s world and surroundings as the story progresses but at the time of reading, the story flows quite seemlessly from one scene to the next. The story that follows is one that will stay in the mind for a very long time of those fortunate enough to discover this book.
Not only did the story itself hugely impress me but also the articulation and eloquence of the writing. Quite often a very good story or idea is let down by the latter but in this case the sheer quality of the writing propels the story into something quite phenomenal; the reader isn’t just a party to Daniel’s thoughts and emotions courtesy of the first person perspective, but is immersed entirely in his world – his senstations, what he’s hearing, feeling, seeing and even tasting. Science fiction, the paranormal, and horror are not usually themes I would equate with what might be called literary fiction but in this instance the comparison would be well deserved.
I’ve read across many different genres over the past year so it’s hard to make comparions but this is probably my favourite book of the year, and probably the best written too. This is the first of Nico Laeser’s novels I’ve read but it certainly won’t be the last…
Stephen J. Carter is not one of my Fb IndieAuthor group members this time (yet) but one I discovered via Twitter. He is a Canadian writer living in Mai, Thailand, who spends much of his time travelling in Thailand and Malaysia, and the rest of it travelling in the world of his imagination. Bangkok Z is book one of a two book series (so far, a third is in the offing for later this year). I must admit this story left a few too many questions unanswered for me but intrigued me enough to prompt me into reading part two in the series to see if they would be answered, and so my review is partly written with hindsight of what follows in the second part of the series. A review of the the sequel will feature here in the very near future…
As you will see from the following review I’ve prefaced it with the author’s own Amazon blurb; it’s often a dilemma as to how much plot detail to include in a review without giving too much away or simply repeating what the author has already said. In the case of an Amazon review, not to include such detail doesn’t present a problem generally as anyone reading the reviews are already likely to have read the the said blurb, but with a blog review it’s likely this will be the first time the reader has even heard of the featured book hence my inclusion of the blurb here…
Further links to Stephen J. Carter’s writing can be found at:
In a bleary-eyed state of shock Toey Cholwasa and three friends arrive back in Bangkok, a city engulfed by a zombie plague, a choking miasma of flesh rotting in the tropical heat. As their Airbus lands Toey witnesses another in a rolling series of mass turnings. A freshly-risen horde throws itself at the still-moving plane, and gets plowed under … leaving a blood-trail of body parts in the plane’s wake.
It would have been a mercy if the plague had merely killed its victims. Zombie death would be the least of its effects. As a researcher in consciousness and trance states Toey is one of the few equipped to piece together what the zombie rules of engagement will have to be. Failing this, the fallout from such a fight won’t bear thinking of.
The new airport they pass through is a morning-after war zone, an arena of death playing host to lifers (survivors), infected, the dead, and the newly-undead. Later, the silent city they pass through echoes with the screams of the infected who died there only hours earlier. Most of those have not yet turned. But as new convulsions wrack the city they realize they’re in the opening skirmishes of an undead global war.
The struggle begins.
(Bangkok Z – Zombie War Book 1)
By Stephen J. Carter
(Available from Amazon in eBook format)
Set against the intriguing backdrop of the far east, this zombie themed novella quite literally lands you in the action and mayhem of a post pandemic zombie apocalypse right from the start. The action is fast paced and constantly driven forward by good use of dialogue interspaced with just the right balance of narrative to allow the wider story to emerge. As with most short stories and novellas the number of characters is kept to a minimum thus allowing the first person perspective to work well here. Rather than trying to convey a conventional self-contained story within the constraints of a novella, what we have here is more an isolated snapshot of events as four friends do the best they can to cope and survive amid the surreal circumstances they suddenly find themselves. There are few clues as to what might have brought about the pandemic and the emergence of the zombies but there are hints that they may be able to gather more information in the future, allowing the reader’s imagination to go into overdrive.
This is quite an original take on the zombie theme, and one that doesn’t rely on gory detail for its impact. There’s enough going on both action and plot wise to keep the reader hooked. The story also features strong female characters as opposed to the usual lead macho man. Were this a stand-alone novella I would say it leaves too many unanswered questions, hinting at the characters’ pasts without giving the reader enough to even speculate on them. Thankfully that isn’t the case, being part one of a two part series. As a stand-alone story I would give this a four star rating for the reasons I’ve mentioned, but having read the second part I was pleased to see a lot of the wider story emerge, so for that reason and for the enjoyment value it gets a well-deserved five stars.
Books by Stephen J. Carter: click on thumbnails for Amazon links…
Ian D Moore, as well being a fellow author, blogger, and book reviewer, is also someone I consider a real friend too, not that that last fact has any bearing on the following book review I might add. Ian D Moore first came to my attention when he joined my Fb Indie Author Support & Discussion group. Since then he has proved to be one of the most active and helpful members there, offering help and advice whenever he can, and numerous honest and constructive reviews of member’s books.
As well as this debut novel, Ian was also the instrumental force in bringing together a multitude of Indie Authors from around the world when he called on the group for submissions for his highly acclaimed anthology ‘You’re Not Alone’ in aid of the Macmillan cancer charity, of which I feel honoured to have had one of my own short stories included in; although deserving of it, I won’t go into too much detail regarding the Macmillan anthology since a blog post and review of this last venture will be forthcoming here on my blog in the very near future.
Prior to embarking on what I’m sure will be a highly successful and rewarding writing career, Ian D Moore previously served as a soldier and engineer in the British army, and currently works as a self-employed truck driver. Ian D Moore is a UK based author and family man, and someone I greatly admire and respect both as a writer and as a person.
Further links to Ian’s writing can be found at:
By Ian D Moore
(Available from Amazon in both eBook & Paperback format)
Although a fan of the film and televised Zombie efforts this is the first time I’ve actually read anything in the genre, having previously being sceptical as to whether it would transfer well to the written word.
Whilst I’ve always had to totally suspend disbelief in order to enjoy the Zombie genre in the past, with Salby Damned I was presented with a chillingly realistic and believable scenario that had me hooked right from the start. This isn’t the story of a world-wide fantastical epidemic but a more likely and localised disaster borne out of the merging of two highly topical issues, namely biological warfare and the more recent and controversial gas shale fracking.
The book cover put me in mind of the TV series The Walking Dead, but whereas that concentrated on the individual survival of a specific and isolated group of people, Salby Damned, although it largely concentrates on a few individuals, it also deals with how the authorities tackle the problem of a zombie like plague, and how inevitably the military would play a large part in that. The author pays great attention to military detail, creating a very real and authentic feel to how a military base would house and protect survivors; I don’t just mean in terms of military accuracy, I would expect that from the author given his background, but by the way in which he conveys his expertise to the written word. As anyone who has even a rudimentary knowledge of the British military will know, it is filled with innumerable acronyms that can be very confusing to civilians, but the author explains and accounts for them very simply in the narrative without resorting to all sorts of contrived dialogue. My only concern here is that there might have been a tad too much emphasis on the military detail for those with no knowledge or real interest in that side of things, but for me personally it worked very well. Speaking of the military, it was refreshing that the central hero as it were was a just a regular ex-soldier rather than ex-special forces as it made him more believable as a character – far too often, unless being ex special forces is central to the story, such characters are made to appear almost super-human in their abilities, whereas here, Nathan’s vulnerability and frailties are just as evident as his strengths.
If I had to categorise this book, I’d say it was more a thriller than Science fiction or horror, though there are indeed elements of the latter. The story itself unsurprisingly concerns an apparent accident that results in a zombie like plague, and then, Nathan an ex-soldier and a beautiful doctor, and the part they play in the search for a cure. Amid the subplots, we have courage and heroism, political and industrial intrigue, a touch of romance, and action wise, plenty of deadly encounters with the undead victims of the plague. In fact some of the subplots were a real bonus to this story, and definitely added to the overall enjoyment rather than simply being there to flesh out the page numbers. What was also refreshing about this book though is that unlike the film and TV ventures, it didn’t rely at all on sensational blood and gore for its impact.
If I had but one small criticism to make, apart from the ‘possible’ over-emphasis of the military and weaponry detail, it would be the lack of any anger and resentment towards those responsible for creating the circumstances in which the plague occurred, but apart from that the story was clever and well written, with a good balance of superficial though very credible science to add authenticity to the wider story. I was also extremely impressed with the way the author concluded the story, i.e. in not leaving lots of annoying loose ends that demand a sequel just for its own sake, but nonetheless surprising the reader with a few unexpected twists that leave the door open to one. If I had to give an exact rating for this debut novel I would say 4.7 to 4.8, but since I don’t I can quite happily give it a five. Would I read a sequel? Absolutely yes!
It’s been ages since I last posted a short story here, what with launching my debut anthology, book reviews, and updating the book listing site for my Indie author review group, but I’ve finally managed to take some time out for another retribution themed tale, my favourite genre alongside humour – it’s a bit on the dark side, and crosses over into some rather controversial subject matter. As a writer I think it’s important not to shy away from such material, but at the same time, I think much of the detail can often be left to the imagination (as it is here) rather than writing purely for some sort of shock effect.
“Damn! The bastard’s got that prick Sullivan testifying for him.” The prosecution team were not happy, knowing that their job had just been made ten times harder on hearing the news. Detective Sergeant Nelson looked at the prosecution barrister quizzically. As far as Nelson was concerned it was an open and shut case; Cross was a monster, and he’d be going away for a very long time.
“So? What difference does it make, the guy’s as guilty as hell, and with his record what difference does it make who he’s got testifying for him?” The Sergeant asked.
“When it comes to Sullivan, believe me it does matter.”
“Just who is this Sullivan bod? What can he say? I mean, we’ve already got a guilty plea. Nothing can change that?”
“Ahh, this is your first abuse case isn’t it?” Mr Jackson, the barrister replied, realising now the Sergeant’s confusion.
“It means you haven’t yet come across the renowned professor – eminent psychologist specialising in pseudo aversion therapy for those with sexual disorders – guarantees to cure all his charges – for a price!”
“Oh come on, Cross has gotta be looking at a five stretch at the very least!”
Ever since the introduction of sentence hearing legislation for violent and sex offenders, prosecution lawyers now face the double hurdle of not only securing conviction, but also ensuring that such convictions actually mean anything. I don’t suppose I do anything to alleviate their task, at least not from their point of view. But it’s not easy what I do, being hated by relatives, victims, the police, and even my own contemporaries. But someone has to do it, and I suppose the money is a bonus too. But why do I do it, you might ask? I sometimes wonder that myself… I suppose it’s because I’m the best; because the law allows my clients the best testimony money can buy – and I do guarantee my cure. Personally I can’t see what all the fuss is about; my clients, or rather those of the defence lawyers who employ me, avoid useless spells in prison; I get paid lots of money, and above all, I really do help people. Still, it’s a pity that others have to be deceived into seeing things differently…
“Really, Your Honour. In light of the seriousness of the offence and the defendant’s past history, the prosecution cannot agree to the defence’s absurd request for supervised, but non-custodial treatment.” Mr Jackson can see where this is going. I don’t envy his position, or his frustration at the system that allows such absurd argument, but that’s his problem, not mine.
The judge looks up from the sheaf of papers he’s been reading before pulling his half-rimmed spectacles a further half inch down the bridge of is nose: “I shall decide what is and isn’t absurd Mr. Jackson.” The judge begins, before turning his attention to the defence barrister: “But in deciding so, I must confess to some degree of sympathy with the prosecution. Do you have anything to say in support of such a request Mr. Harris?”
“Not directly, but I would like to call upon the expert testimony of Professor Sullivan of the …
“Yes, yes, Mr. Harris. I’m well aware of the eminent Professor and his qualifications. Proceed.”
I enter the dock, calm and relaxed, mentally preparing myself for all too familiar onslaught.
“Come now Professor, are you really suggesting it would be safe to let loose on the community a convicted child molester?”
“I have not suggested anything as yet,” I reply, waiting for him to say, or rather, state something more concrete, something I can use to my advantage. I don’t have to wait long…
“But that is what you will be asking for, is it not?”
“No, Mr. Jackson. That is what you are asking the court not to allow.”
“Is there a difference?” Perfect, I think, so predictable. My advantage…
“Mr. Cross..,” I say deliberately (subtly separating him from the ‘defendant’ label), “…is an admitted paedophile, someone who is prey (making my client a victim too) to intermittent erotic attraction and fantasies, the subjects of which happen to be prepubescent children.”
“And the difference?”
“Perhaps none. Certainly not a quantative one from many of the attractions and fantasies of you, myself, or any other member of the public.” I’m careful not to include the judge in that list, whatever the truth of the matter.
“That is not the difference I was referring to.” As if I didn’t know, again so predictable. I say nothing, pausing for him to push home his perceived advantage: “Is it or is it not your assertion that it would be safe to allow a convicted child molester, a homosexual menace who preys on little boys to essentially walk free from the court, albeit under your supposed supervision at one of your clinics?”
I mentally sigh at the pathetic predictability of his logic; a wonderful but irrelevant piece of rhetoric better saved for a jury. When will these would be actors realise they’re not playing to an audience, I ask myself…
“I appreciate your expertise is one of law, and not of either psychology or psychiatry, and as such your ignorance in these matters can be forgiven. However, a man’s future is at stake here, as well as the well-being of potential victims…”
I must be careful here – mustn’t let it appear that my concern for the defendant’s potential victim’s well-being is secondary to that of my client….but to continue…
“…Firstly, a homosexual as I’m sure you’re aware is simply one who is sexually attracted to one’s own sex. Provided he or she is content with such feelings it is not classified as a disorder. A sexual offence is an offence whatever the sexual preference of the perpetrator, a fact recognised when dealing with heterosexual offenders – one does not hear of a man offending against young girls being referred to as a heterosexual offender. Sexual preferences determined at birth are not considered to be disorders, only some of their many variations which are shaped or developed through experience, social, or environmental influences. Paedophilia is such a variation in that it is volitional, and therefore curable.”
“In that case, surely their conduct is even more reprehensible? At least in the case of the former one can offer the excuse they can’t help themselves, that they’re born like it?”
I inwardly chuckle. The prosecutor thinks he’s got me on the ropes, that I’m digging myself into a hole of which can’t get out. I know it’s wrong – we’re both on the same side at the end of the day, want the same outcome – but I do so enjoy these little one-sided exchanges; slowly I begin to construct the arguments which will tighten and squeeze the emotional strength of his equally emotional rhetoric: “There is some truth in what you say. Even if innate homosexuality was considered a disorder it would indeed be appropriate to proffer the excuse that they can’t help it. But such an excuse is equally applicable to the paedophile. Environmental influences are every bit as powerful as those of our genes…”
A vague and broad statement, but one which I doubt he’ll see the contradiction in what else I have to say… But I digress…
“Such influences compel the victim to act as he does, and yes, I do use the term victim, for paedophiles are as much a victim as those they offend against…”
A risky but necessary line of argument if I’m to keep the pervert out of jail…
“Paedophiles are mostly the product of society, usually having suffered similar assaults to the ones they perpetrate.”
“By your definition then Professor, any child that is molested will become a molester themselves, your words Professor, not mine.”
“No Mr. Jackson, your interpretation of my words. Of course not all children who are molested go on to become molesters themselves, but other factors can combine to make it more likely. But ultimately it is a matter of choice however compelling those factors – just like you or I are physically free to act in all manner of savage ways, but feel compelled not to act as a result of social conditioning – our choice. But change our environment, the rewards of our choices, and indeed so will our choices change.”
“But the fact remains Professor that recidivism among this type of offender is amongst the highest of any criminal group, sexual or otherwise?”
“In the main, yes,” I willingly agree, knowing what he is leading up to. I read him like a book…
“So you agree also the defendant’s likelihood of reoffending then?”
“Of course, that is if he is dealt with in the way you are suggesting. You see Mr. Jackson, there is ample evidence supporting the correlation between stress and instances of reoffending, and considering the nature of prison culture and the scorn and derision with such people as my client are subjected to in prison, stress levels are understandably higher than even the most well-balanced of us could be expected to cope with. The recidivist levels you refer to are largely compiled from previously incarcerated offenders. My own success rate is one hundred percent – not one of the offenders referred to my care has ever been reconvicted of a similar offence, which is considerably better than any record prison can offer amongst any category of offender.”
“But what you fail to take into account is that the prison service cannot choose its charges in the way you do. It has to try and protect society from all such offenders. At least by imposing a custodial sentence, society – its children – is protected from the likes of the defendant.” The prosecutor looks pleased with himself. He thinks he’s dealt a major blow to my reasoning, but all he’s succeeded in doing is set himself up…
“Yes, but for how long? My aim is to protect society – and its children (two can play at that game) – for the duration of the offender’s life, and not just until the rapid extinction of the limited coercive conditioning of a prison sentence. Unless society is willing to imprison such people for the rest of their natural lives then prison is not the answer. Whatever the understandable strength of desire for retribution, and as a father myself…” I pause for breath, and if I’m honest, for dramatic effect… the bit about being a father myself is always a good line…
“…as a father myself,” I repeat, “I do understand such feelings, but my concern must be for the long-term protection of the innocent.”
How easy it is to pull the rug from under him, I think. My job here is almost done, but not yet…
“But returning to your first point, that my exemplary success rate is based on the fact that I can pick and choose who I care to treat; such an assertion is only half true. The real truth of the matter is that I can only choose who not to treat. But anyone referred to me whom I consider curable, I feel compelled to treat. Mr. Cross is such a person; I feel compelled to treat him. If he were not such a person, I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending a lengthy prison sentence.”
“And what exactly is it that makes such a person suitable?” Poor old Jackson, he’s clutching at straws now.
“A number of factors, but primarily the offender’s desire to be cured. Mr. Cross asked for psychotherapy and psychiatric treatment even before he was convicted.” That last bit is a lie of course, but the doctor patient confidentiality laws prevent its exposure as such…
“Hmm… you say that your evaluation of suitability for treatment is based upon the offender’s desire to be cured?”
“Yes,” I agree, waiting for the punchline…
“And is that the only criteria, and not the offender’s ability to pay for such treatment? You do after all run a very profitable clinic.” A cheap shot, but just as I expected, I muse smugly. I wait for Mr. Harris’s equally predictable objection…
“Objection!” Right on cue, the defence barrister roars, springing to his feet: “Any question of monetary gain on the part of Professor Sullivan is irrelevant.”
“Overruled, but I would appreciate it Mr. Jackson if you would make clear the precise point you are trying to make.” It was obvious the judge would overrule. Perhaps Mr. Harris is feeling a little side-lined in our verbal sparring, though I can’t think why, I’m doing a far better job of keeping our little monster from the warm embrace of his fellow inmates than Mr. Harris ever could. But wait, Mr. Jackson isn’t done yet…
“Do you stand to benefit financially from Mr. Cross’s attendance at your clinic, not to mention your attendance here in court today?” Mr. Jackson continues, thinking he’s scored a point.
“Of course I do, just as you, the defence barrister, and all the other court officials, along with numerous other auxiliary staff stand to benefit by way of salary for doing their job. But to be more specific, I benefit no more than I would from any other patient, and, as a State referred patient, even less than I would from most of my private patients undergoing much less intensive and demanding treatments. And as for my court attendance, I stand only to receive reimbursement of my travelling costs, some twenty seven pounds taxi fare from my Harley Street London residence.” A warm glow overtakes me as I note the look of abject defeat in the prosecutor’s face. I know what’s in his mind, that another monster is about to walk free. I can’t help but sympathise… If only he could understand; he did his best, and I commend him for that, but it wasn’t, isn’t good enough. I watch and listen as he resigns himself to defeat, making one last appeal to the judge’s sympathy, for the right of Cross’s innocent victims for some form of redress, but knowing the battle is lost… Cross will walk free… again, if only he understood…
“I wouldn’t have believed it possible. I was sure I’d get another sentence, a long one this time. You really are the best,” Cross says to me, leaving the dock after being sentenced to two years’ probation under my supervision and minimal attendance at my country clinic.
“I won’t let you down,” he adds, smiling as we leave the court…
I begin Cross’s ‘cure’ the day following his sentence hearing. His is an easy case to deal with; no immediate family, or at least none that want anything to do with him. I look forward to transforming such a deviant individual into one who can contribute to the good of society. I stare across at him, holding his look as he tries to fathom what I have in mind.
“There’s no need to be nervous,” I reassure him, “I’m here to help, to understand. I know that’s what you want. Now, tell me about… about what you did, what you still want to do.” He stares at me, puzzled: “Please Mark, I can call you Mark can I?” ‘Good’ I say as he hesitantly nods his agreement…
“It’s all about honesty… honesty and trust. Now tell me why it is you do what you do, feel the way you do… I’m not here to judge.”
Cross looks at me, hard – this isn’t what he was expecting. I stare back, just as hard. He averts his eyes and starts to speak: “It’s not like it seems, not like they said in court. I loved those boys, really I did. And they loved me. They wanted me to love them, to give them something special, offering themselves in return. But isn’t that the way of any relationship?” The monster wants me to agree, to absolve him from blame, confirmation that what he did somehow wasn’t wrong…
Even he wouldn’t try to say that what he did was right, at least not to me…
I sit in silence, neither agreeing nor disagreeing. He takes this as a positive indication to continue his rationalisations: “It was they who seduced me… You must know how seductive some kids are, how they use their innocence and cuteness to get what they want… what’s a man to do?” I feel the contents of my stomach turning. As I said before, my job isn’t an easy one; you all have the luxury of openly displaying your disgust at such monsters. I have to actually listen to their diatribes of excuses. But I have a job to do…
“But it was more than that with you wasn’t it? I mean, you say you loved them, really loved them… especially David Franks, the little boy you were caught with?”
“Yes… Yes I did, and they loved me… David most of all. It was special. Maybe that’s why I hurt him – they say you hurt the one you love and someday society will see that, that it’s just as pure and special a love as any other… One day it’ll be looked on as the most special love of all and not the one that dare not speak its name…”
“Perhaps…” I say, wondering if he knows from whom he’s quoting. Of course he does, this is not a stupid man whatever his other faults: “But there’s a world of difference between Oscar Wilde’s definition of the love of an older for a younger man, and that of an adult for a child, a very young child…” I deliberately use the words ‘very young child’ to emphasise the simplicity and innocence he refers to, that such simplicity and innocence is theirs, however deceptive he may perceive it to be. He must understand this before…
“But whatever the rights and wrongs of the matter…” I continue, “…Until things change as you hope they will, you have a problem, Mark…” I let the words trail off, to make him think about it, to place his trust in me to provide the magical cure that subconsciously he believes will allow him to ‘have his cake and eat it,’ for make no mistake, none of these monsters truly wants their desires cured – imagine if you can, being threatened with having your own heterosexual preference replaced by one of the many supposed paraphilia, or simply losing it altogether? Think if in years to come society should change so very much that heterosexual or any form of physical sex was frowned upon, would you be the first volunteer for removal of desire, your desire? Of course you wouldn’t…
“It’s society that has the problem, society must change…” He still won’t admit…
“But Mark,” I say reassuringly, “you must see the need to compromise, that I wouldn’t be able to save you from prison a second time.”
“So… But then…W-what, where to from here?”
“That’s good, Mark. You’re thinking of the future, and what can be done to control it… I take it your biggest fear is of going back to prison?” Predictably, he readily agrees to this, surprised and relieved that I’m not probing about the effects of what he did to all those boys… very young, innocent boys, I remind myself.
“What we’ve got to do is make sure you never get caught committing a similar offence again, would you not agree, Mark?” Of course he agrees, he says, nodding at the same time. But I can see he doesn’t like it, being in the company of someone who can have him sent back to prison at any time they like if he doesn’t cooperate or do as he’s told… too much like the position of the boys… We’ll see…
“But… How, Professor?” I can see he’s puzzled. No other therapist has ever stated or even implied the simplicity of his ‘problems.’
“Oh, a variety of approaches, all geared to your successful integration back into society.” The word ‘variety’ clearly worries him, it worries them all…
“What approaches? One doctor they made me see suggested drugs… Wanted to chemically castrate me… You wouldn’t do that?”
“No, no, no,” again I reassure him: “They’ll be nothing like that, and nor will there be any of those other out-dated modes of treatment; no group therapy, no EST, no one-to-ones with any of your victims, and no aversion therapy.” He shudders at them all, but the last in particular – I’m not surprised; having electric rings placed round your penis and receiving often quite painful shocks for becoming aroused at the very things that make you you.
“You see, Mark, what we do here at the clinic is prepare you for life, not some artificial psychological interpretation of it, but real life, free of the temptation you’ve had to endure in the past. We deal in the practicalities here; once you leave my care you’ll be provided with the means to make a new start, a new identity, away from anyone who knows your past. You’ll be above suspicion; not only will you be ‘cured,’ you’ll never have had a problem in the first place.”
He smiles, relieved at how agreeable, how sympathetic I am towards him and his kind, that I understand. And he’s right, I do understand, all too well, which is why I do what I do, why I’m compelled to treat him just as much as he feels compelled to do what he does. There! I’ve answered your original; question, ‘Why do I do it?’ – Because I really do understand… Perhaps there’s more to self-analysis and all this psychological mumbo jumbo than I give credit for.
“Congratulations, Mark. It’s been a long, hard two years, especially this past six months living away from the clinic (but still well away from temptation, I made sure of that), but I’m sure you’d agree it’s been worth it?”
“Definitely,” he says, thinking that’s what I want to hear. He knows I’ve been keeping his libido artificially low – not so low as to disappear – he’d never stand for that – but low enough for him to control, to still enjoy the memory of times gone by. Yes, he thinks he’s fooled me into believing he’s cured. Not to worry though, they’re all like that at this stage, but the time will come, I silently promise him… Soon, very soon, I promise myself too…
“As you know, I have to produce evidence that you’ve completed certain prescribed modes of treatment, otherwise the courts wouldn’t recognise my competence to recommend your release from psychiatric probation; group therapy, mild aversion therapy, one-to-one counselling – all those I can fudge the paperwork on, all except one last aspect of your treatment, the victim confrontation one, but that can be gotten round by a simple letter of apology from yourself to the court, asking it to pass on your deepest regrets and apologies to the boys, saying that it was entirely your fault what happened, but that you’re going away somewhere so they never need worry about you again.”
I’m sure you all know what I mean, the courts like that sort of thing…
“Yes, yes I can do that, Professor, Just so long as I don’t have to see any of them… I won’t… will I?”
“No, you won’t have to face them, not ever again. In fact, you just write me a draft of what you feel you should be saying, and I’ll make sure it’s appropriate for what I think will most impress the court. Just leave it all to me…”
I call on Mark to collect the letter. It’s quite early, but he’s already up and dressed. I suspect he hopes I’ll be gone quite soon, leaving him the rest of the day to visit some school he’s no doubt scoped out in my absence… I think not…
Perfect, I say to myself; he’s written it just as I asked. I’m impressed. It could almost be sincere, but even he’s not that convincing a liar, at least not to me. But it will do very nicely, especially should it become necessary to answer any awkward questions into Cross’s whereabouts at some later date. I think, placing it in my inside jacket pocket.
He offers me a drink. I accept. I wait for him to pour himself one before asking if he could fetch some ice to go with mine, knowing that the kitchen is at the far end of the secluded cottage I had set him up in. He fetches me the ice. Long enough, the deed is done. All that remains is for me to wait for the cocktail of drugs I added to his drink to take effect. Five minutes or so and he should be in a semi-state of delirium. He doesn’t know what’s happening, which is more than can be said for those boys – they suffered every minute of their ordeals.
It doesn’t take a great deal of effort to get him to swallow a more than liberal amount of alcohol, and the thirty or so Valium I’ve brought with me. Meanwhile I return my own now empty glass to the drinks cabinet. It isn’t long before he lapses into unconsciousness. I haul him towards the open fireplace. The actual fire has not long gone out by the looks of it, but there are still sufficient hot burning embers for what I have in mind. I lift his body to a semi-upright position before letting it fall towards the edge of the coal grate. His head misses the brass spike I was hoping it would strike. It doesn’t matter. I simply raise it about nine inches or so and direct it myself, making sure of its impact this time. The almost pointed spike lodges in the side of his left temple a full three inches, stopped only by the ornamental criss-cross brass rail that runs round the edge of the grate. I position his hands in the dying embers of the fire in a way that suggests he tried to thrust them forward in an attempt to break his fall. By the time police arrive any trace of his palm or fingerprints will have been scorched out of existence, just like the rest of his previous identity. I’ve already checked that no dental records of him exist from when he was last in prison). It will be my creation they identify, the new life and identity I had promised him.
I’m careful to place a voice altering device over the receiver before calling 999 for an ambulance. I explain that I’ve taken an overdose, slurring my words at the same time. I let the receiver fall to the floor. A line trace will be automatic once the receiver has been left off the hook for more than three minutes; it saves me the time of having to give my name and address. There is only one more thing I have to do before I go. I place the organ donation card in his back trouser pocket, clearly stating Albert Peterson’s permission to use any of his organs in the event of his death, and of course, the absence of any next of kin.
You see? I do help people; I have integrated (bits of) him back into society. Who knows, he might well contribute to the successful and productive lives of several members of the community, perhaps even one of the young lives he tried so hard to destroy.
My thoughts return to the immediate task at hand: I leave the cottage. I must remember to add its cash rental costs to my fee from little David Franks’ parents. Another successful cure!
Of course, this particular cure isn’t applicable to all those I help, no indeed. For the more usual and less complicated cases, such as your average violent bully, wife beater or drug pusher I sometimes sub-contract their treatment to others more suited to such cases, men such as Ronald Hatch, or Hatchet Ron as he’s better known. Old Ron, as I affectionately call him, to all intents and purposes comes across as a hard and brutal money orientated hitman, but I know different – beneath that vicious exterior beat a heart of gold, and a real understanding of what’s right and wrong – I think that’s why I employ him from time to time. And for those less violent individuals but for which the world would be a better place without I sometimes introduce them to a former patient of mine, a legitimate patient and budding writer I might add, a funny little chap simply known as Mr. Brown. I do have to be careful with him though – the last person I sent his way ended up getting his head hacked off; Mr. Brown does tend to over react sometimes. He’s currently being treated in a prison hospital for that little outburst, but I’m hopeful of using my influence to get him released quite soon, but I digress, those stories are for another time perhaps…
“I suppose you heard about Deakins? Sullivan helped get him off with a year’s probation… Just so long as he undergoes therapy sessions twice a week,” snarled the detective constable who had helped convict Deakins for messing about with a three year old girl, one of Deakins’ own daughters in fact: “The man should have been put away for life for what he did.”
“I know, I know,” said the DC’s superior, Detective Sergeant Nelson, “it was only a few years ago I first came across the sodding professor myself. A guy I thought was going down for five years at the very least, walked out free as a fucking bird thanks to the good professor… he’s had more than twenty cases like that… if only he understood the harm he’s doing trying to protect these monsters…”
‘Saving Grace’ is a short story, or what is often referred to now as a Kindle Short. W.K. Tucker is someone I met during the AtoZ April blogging challenge by way of posts we both responded to, and have since kept in touch via blogging. Although relatively new to self-publishing and the world of amazon publishing, W. K. Tucker has a long and successful history of short story writing, having been published in various magazines over the years. In addition to ‘Saving Grace,’ she is also the author of another short story, ‘Pearls Before Swine,’ also available as a Kindle Short from Amazon.
Further information and links to the author’s work, along with several free short stories and poetry can be found at her wordpress blog:
By W. K. Tucker
(Availabe as an eBook Kindle short from Amazon)
This is a lovely and delightful little story. Aggie, the narrator, is an elderly woman living alone in a remote house in some woods with just her ageing dog Penny for company most of the time. One night something extraordinary happens – something lands in the woods, something ‘otherworldly’ from the sky, and together they discover a small almost transparent jellyfish-like creature. Being a good and kind woman, and seeing that it’s cold and in need of help, Aggie takes the creature in, naming it Grace; what follows is a gripping story of how the creature develops, and how it more than repays the kindness and trust shown by both Aggie and her dog, a kindness that the whole of mankind will ultimately benefit from.
Written in the first person, Aggie conjures up a perfect image of the deep south of America, of the southern cornfields, rocking chairs on the porch, and the old ageing dog in the background. Not only does she achieve this through some quaint imagery and terminology, but she takes the brave decision to write entirely in the local southern dialect and accent; whether this would be a good idea in a longer story I don’t know, but here it works perfectly, giving the narrative and dialogue a real flavour of the south to them. There are some subtle references that add to the atmosphere too such as her mistrust of the ‘government’ men who may take an interest in ‘Grace.’ Although ultimately this has a real feel-good factor to it, there is a nice mix of danger and suspense too – an effective blend of sci-fi and horror all mixed up in a very real down to earth setting. My only disappointment with this story was that it eventually had to end. Highly recommended.
Also by W. K. Tucker:
This is a book that came to my attention via my IndieAuthorReviewExchange Fb group. The author, Katerina Sestakova Novotna, was born and raised in the Czech Republic. She lived in New York where she went to college. Currently she is living in Hawaii. She holds a Masters in Philosophy; her specialties are ethics and comparative philosophy. She has written numerous essays on those subjects. Her first collection of short stories “Hawaiian Lei of Shrunken Heads” is the subject of the following book review.
Hawaiian Lei of Shrunken Heads, by Katerina Sestakova Novotna
(Available from Amazon in eBook format)
This debut collection of short stories is the absolute epitome of originality and dark imagination; although there are only five stories here, it’s important to note that they are somewhat longer than the average short story, placing them almost in the mini novella category. Set on the island of Hawaii each story gives the reader an insight into the mythology and traditions of the indigenous population there, mixing it up with all the darker elements of psychology, comparative religion, and vengeful gods, along with the all too human traits and motivations of its modern day characters.
Among these stories there are tales of human and animal sacrifice, the bigotry and bitterness of an old war veteran, the untimely end of foreign prostitute, and the equally strange and horrific conclusion to another foreigner’s stay in Hawaii. Some of the stories are written as a narrative, cleverly imparting information about Hawaiian folklore whilst still driving each story forward. Although each of these stories might well be described as dark with a touch of psychological and mythical horror about them, each one is unique in its presentation and theme, but with the common thread of Hawaiian culture and folklore as the vehicle for each tale. There is some mention in one of the early stories of there being no written text of Hawaiian beliefs as there is for Christianity or Judaism, but rather an oral tradition of such beliefs being passed down from generation to generation; the narrative style is in each case perfectly in keeping with this oral tradition, reading very much as you might imagine a tribal elder telling of the ancient stories and myths to an eager young audience, and in this respect the narrative style works extremely well. In others though, the author switches to very convincing and well written and sometimes explicit dialogue to advance the story, and amid the esoteric names and language associated with Hawaiian culture, the author maintains an authentic credibility with her use of some modern terminology and reference to some of the darker sides of modern culture..
These five stories were highly original and imaginative in the way they used island folklore as the framework for them, yet cleverly interwoven into present day themes and settings, they achieved a real believability that is sometimes missing in similarly themed stories. I would have liked a more definitive ending to some though as I did think in a couple of the stories, the endings were a little too open ended, leaving a tad too many unanswered questions, but overall these were five extremely entertaining and well written stories, well researched, and due to their longer lengths than the average short story, were able to really engage me in a way that that I find quite rare with short story collections. Highly recommended!
This was another recommendation from friend and fellow blogger and author, Lesley Hayes. Darkly Wood, by Max Power is definitely one of those books I can see going on to do extremely well in the future, just as I’m sure his latest new book, Larry Flynn, will also be a success. Without a doubt this is one of my top picks for 2014.
As well being an author, Max Power is a prolific contributor to the Indie Author Review Exchange Fb group. Further information on Max Power and links to his writing can be found at his blog:
By Max Power (available in eBook format from Amazon)
This is a book that embodies horror, romance, and the paranormal in a way I’ve rarely seen. With a good opening narrative, right from the start the author conjures up an atmospheric sense of creepiness and the macabre reminiscent of a latter day Edgar Allan Poe or Dennis Wheatley, so much so that one can almost imagine Christopher Lee or Vincent Price playing the part of one of the characters, particularly that of Lord Terrance Darkly.
Initially we learn of the mystery and horror of Darkly Wood by way of the central character, Daisy May Coppertop, reading through a copy of a book of tales about Darkly Wood – a book within a book so to speak but at that point that’s all they are, just stories, but certainly nothing to be alarmed about, at least not yet.
What starts off as Daisy and Benjamin, intrigued by the apparent sight of strange looking boy in the distance, taking a seemingly innocent and pleasant walk along the edge of a nearby woodland soon turns into a a dark and fear filled battle not just to escape its clutches but simply to survive. Faced with ever increasing danger and a sense of time running out for them, the bond between Daisy, and Benjamin, her new found friend from the local village, grows into something much more than simple friendship or first love.
The writing technique is both clever and imaginative, using descriptive narrative to set the tone and atmosphere early on, using the opportunity to inform the reader of many nuggets of information that come into play later in the book, gradually introducing just the right balance of dialogue and action. The numerous but short chapters make for a very readable style of writing, and by way of the different tales of the book within the book, the author keeps the story alive and fresh throughout. In books such as this the author often requires the reader’s implicit consent to suspend their disbelief, but here the reader is left in no doubt whatsoever as to the mystery and horror of the wood; in one of the chapters the author cleverly demonstrates the ‘other worldliness’ of the wood when in one particular tale, someone trying to find their way out of the wood tries using their field craft skills to escape only to find all the laws of nature and physics don’t seem to apply in the heart of Darkly Wood. As the story progresses the seemingly unrelated tales of the wood draw closer to form an intricate pattern; surprises and shocks keep the reader entranced, drawing you in just as Daisy and Benjamin are drawn further and further into Darkly Wood. Filled with twists and turns and and new revelations at every juncture, an amazing and diverse array of characters, and a conclusion as eerie and unexpected as any pone could imagine, this is definitely one of my favourite reads of 2014.
Link to Max Power’s latest book:
This isn’t one of my normal book reviews as such, being a review of a single short story instead. One good thing about about Amazon is that it allows authors to upload and publish individual short stories that for practical reasons would not be viable via the more traditional or mainstream publishers. The Room by John Brunton is an excellent little short horror story I discovered when he joined my Fb book review group. John Brunton doesn’t have a blog site (yet), but I’m sure he’s a writer we’ll be hearing more of in the future…
The Room, By John Brunton
(Available for download via Amazon)
This is a short story that might well appeal to fans of both the more traditional horror genre as well as those who like their horror dosed with a fair degree of psychology and mind games – think ‘Stephen King meets the Twilight Zone’ and you’ll be pretty close to what kind of story this is.
As the author rightly points out, there is some strong content here in terms of what is happening and the language, but it’s all within and essential to the context of the story. In a short story such as this, it’s difficult to say a lot without giving too much away and possibly spoiling it so I’ll keep it brief: What we have is a man, Paul, who finds himself in some strange room, plagued by whispering voices and the sight of a bloodied dead woman, and those same voices urging him to harm himself too. Right from the start the story poses questions to the reader, drawing them in as to why and how he came to be there, whether any of it is actually real. The author creates a good sense of urgency, fear, and grief in the early part of the story, and as the story moves on, skilfully portrays the changes in the Paul’s perception of what‘s happening most effectively.
There are some good transitions in the story, and overall the writing is very professional. Just a couple of minor points on that though – there are a couple of times, particularly early on, where there’s some repetition of words and phrases, and I would have preferred a more consistent and traditional approach to how the dialogue was presented, but apart from that, the storyline and its conclusion was first rate. For entertainment value it would definitely warrant a 5* rating but as I said, a couple of stylistic preferences didn’t quite work for me hence the 4* rating instead. But would I buy/read anything else by this author? Absolutely!
My first attempt at what I would call a ‘proper’ flash-fiction piece. I hope you enjoy it…
The room was pitch black but for the small light source at the end of the room. Tom was scared, very scared. He crouched down out of sight of the man brandishing the dagger, who appeared to be looking for something or someone…
Tom’s eyes were tightly shut. He knew he should keep them shut and stay out of sight till the man left but curiosity kept prizing them open, just a squint, while he ever so slowly edged his head to the side to catch a glimpse of what was happening…
The dagger was glistening in the man’s hand. Tom watched the man as he continued to silently search through the room, opening drawers, moving furniture, determined to find what he was looking for, or maybe some clue to finding who he was looking for.
Whatever it was, Tom was sure this man was dangerous. Tom tried holding his breath so the man wouldn’t hear his breathing. He needn’t have worried, for that moment the room erupted into life as another figure burst through the door, laughing and hissing like a snake. The man with the dagger jumped back, pulling a religious cross from his jacket, which seemed to stop the other man in his tracks. The other man hissed again, but he had stopped laughing as he raised his arm, holding his black cloak up to shield his eyes.
Tom didn’t understand what was happening but he knew it wasn’t good, that his own life would be in danger if he should be discovered. He knew he should never have come downstairs. Tom’s eyes closed tightly shut again as he instinctively curled into a foetal position, praying that it would all soon be over. Tom could hear the two men shouting and arguing, and then a crashing sound and a cry of pain. Tom curled his body up even tighter, his hands clasped over his ears to try and block out the sound…
“I knew you wouldn’t be able to resist one last look round the castle,” the man in the cloak hissed, “It’s time we put an end to this…”
The room immediately lit up as if it were ablaze. Tom feared the worst as he heard that familiar scream…
“Tommy!” Screamed his mother, “How many times have I told you not to creep down at night to watch horror films, you know they give you nightmares.”
Four year old Tommy crept from behind the sofa, his tearful wide-eyed innocence more than a match for his mother’s initial anger, and skedaddled back to the safety of his own warm bed…
This was a sort of twist on those early episodes of ‘Doctor Who’ that so many of my generation would tentatively watch from behind the sofa, worried that the monsters on screen might just be real. I made the TV program a horror film, as a Doctor Who episode probably wouldn’t be shown late at night…