Belle Bruck – Women Work, Men Weep (1942)

Review by Justin Tate

Circa 1942, mid-WWII and the same year “Rosie the Riveter” was launched, this newsprint novel seemed certain to explore male anxieties around women arriving in the workplace. Based on the delicious title, I had hopes of fierce female characters trampling upon the pathetic squabbles of men who simply cannot handle co-ed colleagues and bosses. Might this be a lost masterpiece of early feminism?

My expectations were too high, but the story does illustrate the dizzying lengths a 1940s man might go to avoid having a female superior. Sadly she falls for the scheme and, in the end, gives up her entrepreneurial dreams to become a wife. The plot is a nauseating cringe-fest for modern audiences, but that’s not to say the writing is bad or it’s not intriguing from an historical perspective.

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Clara Coleman – Nightmare in July (1965)

Review by Justin Tate

Circa 1965 and written by the mysterious (and possibly pseudonymous) Clara Coleman. Archival resources and Gothic bibliographies delivered no information on the author except that they are responsible for at least two additional novels, The Scent of Sandalwood (1966) and Timbalier (1969).

Timbalier was published under the name “Clayton Coleman” and while it is not 100% clear that Clara and Clayton are the same person, it seems likely. There are no copyright listings for the Clara Coleman novels in the Library of Congress, but Timbalier is credited to Clayton W. Coleman. Perhaps the “W” will be helpful if future researchers become interested in this author.

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Chuck Tingle – Straight (2021)

Review by Justin Tate

Move over Jonathan Swift and Mark Twain, there’s a new king of satire! Chuck Tingle has been tackling all manner of societal issues over the last several years. Usually this involves mimicking erotica tropes to reveal the absurdity of news headlines and other pop culture conundrums. With brief stories and endless creativity, Tingle often adapts our world into the Tingleverse in real time.

Straight is his first venture into horror tropes for social commentary, and it’s also his longest work yet. The result is an absolute delight.

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Billy Farout – Man, It Must Be Heaven (1972)

Review by Justin Tate

Gay afterlife meets John Lennon utopia in this fantastical pulp novel. Murder, vengeful ghosts and tongue-in-cheek religious commentary are thrown in for good measure. As a literary artifact it offers a delightfully campy lens into the fantasies and fears of queer existence during the early 1970s.

The novel opens with Reggie Poppov waking up in the “Gay Wing of Purgatory.” He’s disoriented and wearing a big poofy wedding dress. Leaning over him is a “half nude angel” whose rippling physique makes him “more handsome” than Michelangelo’s David. The angel asks what happened to him. Reggie gradually recalls that he had dressed in wedding drag so he could legally marry his boyfriend, Bob. While posing for pictures on the Golden Gate Bridge, however, Bob pushed him over the edge so he could inherit Reggie’s family fortune.

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Johann Kreig – Pyro-Sex: The Erotic Response to Fire and Flame (1969)

Review by Justin Tate

“It was a pleasure to burn” famously wrote Ray Bradbury—but I doubt he was thinking about the kinds of fiery lust found in Pyro-Sex. Seemingly unhinged in its presentation of clearly fictionalized case studies, the book validates itself by arguing that the “sexual root of pyromania has been entirely overlooked by almost all criminologists” (8). With the aid of allegedly real criminal confessions, the book claims it will leave readers with a new understanding of sexuality’s role in the “impulse to pyromania” (166).

In these pages we meet such disturbed characters as Steven, the “runt” whose reduced stature makes him appear significantly younger than he is. Worse yet, his dick is also diminutive. After ridicule in gym class and traumatic dates where girls laugh at his little pecker, he begins to have pyromaniac fantasies.

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Jeff Strand – Attack of the Killer Tomatoes: The Novelization (2023)

Review by Justin Tate

A new novelization of an old film? Genius! There’s never been anything like this. The book is a genre all unto itself—part novelization, part expansion of the original premise, part close reading and part spoof of a spoof.

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes premiered in 1978 and wears its status as one of the worst films ever made like a badge of honor. The jokes are lame, the budget is next to nothing, and the premise is absurd beyond comprehension. Yet somehow it continues to satisfy as a parody of B-movies and societal failures.

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Louisa Bronte – Lord Satan (1972)

Review by Justin Tate

“Oh—it is so huge—so very big,” she whispered, aghast.

Thus spoken is Adrienne’s deliciously Freudian description of Castle Caudill, home to her cousin Lord Vincent Stanton. Vincent is known as “Lord Satan” among the locals because of his ferocious temper and cruelty. Also he performs black masses in the cellar and is on friendly terms with Lucifer. But Adrienne finds all that out later, after marrying her cousin unwittingly in a demonic ceremony. “Unwittingly” is a bit of an understatement, she was drugged and unconscious at the time.

Adrienne does love Vincent, though, so she’s in a terrible pickle. It’s that classic situation of trying to domesticate your husband’s embarrassingly diabolical behavior—only in this case, he literally is a demon. Can the tender heart of a woman soothe the blackened soul of a fiend, or will Adrienne succumb to temptation and willingly join the satanic rituals?

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Elaine Turner – Garlic, Grapes and a Pinch of Heroin (1977)

Review by Justin Tate

Let’s take a moment to admire that title. Wow. I mean, if that doesn’t catch the eye, what will? Of course the cover is less appealing. It has all the ingredients of Gothic standard, but on an eighth-grade art class budget. Nevermind that the novel itself is 0% Gothic.

What we have here is a zany mystery with a little travel writing and a lot of absurdity. Most of the specifics are vague, confusing, too ridiculous to explain or all of the above. What I can say is that there is a brother and sister eager to escape their traumatic past via a guided tour through Spain. Previously, the brother got mixed up in dealing drugs. One day a deal goes wrong and the siblings’ father is killed. The brother blames the sister because she was screwing Lance—he’s either a secret agent or another drug dealer, I honestly never figured it out—when it all went down. Lance could have, somehow, prevented the murder if he hadn’t been so preoccupied.

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Dennis Fowler – The Ladies of Holderness (1976)

Review by Justin Tate

Carol wanted to cry, but couldn’t. She was going to be slaughtered like a helpless animal, butchered and drained for their demonic rites, and then cremated and scattered over the potatoes.

Indeed, Carol gets herself into quite the pickle (or potato) when she takes up a housekeeping job at the mysterious Holderness Farm. Orphaned and penniless after escaping a manipulative relationship, she doesn’t question the peculiarity of being hired by a household of thirteen elderly women. They don’t ask for references or prior experience. It’s as if they’re only interested in her youthful vitality…

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Marjorie Bowen – The Bishop of Hell and Other Stories (1949)

Review by Justin Tate

A “major influence” to Graham Greene and described as a “superb writer” by the New Yorker, Marjorie Bowen (1885-1952) might be one of the most popular authors you’ve never heard of. Her extensive bibliography is an endless list of novels and short stories, mostly within the romance and horror genres, but also includes history and biography.

In 1949, near the end of her life, she gathered a humble collection of her favorite eerie tales and had them published as The Bishop of Hell and Other Stories. Now newly reprinted under the “Monster She Wrote” banner, celebrating women writers of the macabre, Bowen’s words find a new generation of enthralled readers. Here’s my review of each story:

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