Joseph Sheridan le Fanu – Carmilla (1872)

Review by Justin Tate

Lesbian vampire novel that pre-dates Dracula by 25 years? Sign me up! Carmilla (1872) was in fact a huge influence on Bram Stoker, as shown by many subtle references in Dracula (1897) and more obvious ones in “Dracula’s Guest”. Largely a forgotten classic, today Carmilla is receiving something of a revival thanks to an increased academic interest in queer artifacts and this new edition that’s edited by Carmen Maria Machado.

Read more “Joseph Sheridan le Fanu – Carmilla (1872)”

J.X. Williams – Goodbye, My Lover (1966)

Review by Justin Tate

Historically significant gay murder mystery! Today Goodbye, My Lover merely reads like the campy whodunit that it is, but when it was originally published in 1966 it must’ve been a life-changing experience for gay readers seeking evidence that they deserve a place in the world.

The characters are happily gay and living their best life—even as they navigate an intricate murder plot. Rather than resent their sexuality or commit suicide by the end, they are more reaffirmed than ever to have long-term gay relationships in their future. Homophobia is largely absent and certainly not dwelled upon. Possibly because the novel takes place in Los Angeles, which was fantastically more liberated than the rest of the country, but generally queer pulp fiction was eager to explore a post-homophobic fantasy world where gay men were free from oppression.

Read more “J.X. Williams – Goodbye, My Lover (1966)”

Mary Elizabeth Braddon – Lady Audley’s Secret (1862)

Review by Justin Tate

Lady Audley’s Secret is a gorgeous example of the Victorian ‘Sensation Novel’ which dominated Great Britain during the 1860’s and ’70s. It includes a unique female mastermind of evil, while also presenting enough evidence for a lively counter argument over who the real villain is. The prose is top-notch and very modern. At times it reads more like the latest literary prize-winner and not something that was published over a hundred and fifty years ago. There’s plenty of mystery and suspense to keep the pages turning, but intriguing characters are what really keep you glued. It’s a shame this classic no longer enjoys the massive popularity it once carried well into the early 20th century. It holds up extremely well.

Read more “Mary Elizabeth Braddon – Lady Audley’s Secret (1862)”

Wilkie Collins – The Woman in White (1859)

Review by Justin Tate

Over 150 years later, The Woman in White still deserves its status as one of the most beloved and influential novels written in English. The combination of Gothic aesthetics, penny dreadful scandal, domestic drama and Victorian true crime makes it a mainstream delight for all readers, then and now. There’s even classic detective work that would, no doubt, go on to inspire the Sherlock Holmes mysteries.

Read more “Wilkie Collins – The Woman in White (1859)”

Richard Brautigan – The Hawkline Monster (1974)

Review by Justin Tate

First published in 1974, this “Gothic Western” endures as an offbeat classic. Tim Burton almost directed a movie adaptation starring Clint Eastwood and Jack Nicholson, but Eastwood backed out and Burton went with Mars Attacks! instead. Smart decision.

The Hawkline Monster is a problematic story that fluctuates between pure spoof and legitimate horror. Most of the comedy comes from witty word choices and bizarre happenings, such as characters with little respect for the dead, human transformation into inanimate objects, and impromptu sex spurred on by supernatural forces.

Read more “Richard Brautigan – The Hawkline Monster (1974)”

Matthew Lewis – The Monk (1796)

Review by Justin Tate

Among the controversial literary works published throughout world history, few have sparked the level of outrage and obsession associated with Matthew Lewis’ 1796 novel The Monk. Even before his book bugged out eyes all across London, the patriarch was feeling hesitant toward Gothic plots. On one hand, Ann Radcliffe’s narrative puzzleboxes were charmingly written. But on the other, her female characters were too pushy against their fathers, too resistant of assigned husbands, and too eager to run off on exotic adventures. A girl could get ideas reading such folly. What a mess that would be!

Read more “Matthew Lewis – The Monk (1796)”

Catherine Smith – Barozzi (1815)

Review by Justin Tate

A Gothic rollercoaster! Action is launched with the first line and doesn’t hold back until the twist-filled resolution. Smith was an actress by trade and her dramatic experiences fit well within the genre, where characters are encouraged to speak in the operatic tones of Shakespearean tragedy.

First published in 1815 and largely out-of-print until 2006, Barozzi would have likely been a mainstream publication in its day, but not splash-worthy. The tyrannical ruler willing to embrace any evil to maintain power is highly reminiscent of Manfred in Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764) and, by extension, Macbeth (1606). The sections which deal with demon conjuring reflect Matthew Lewis’ The Monk (1796). And the magician’s reveal of a conclusion is very much in line with the tradition of Ann Radcliffe. In other words, Smith played all the hits but nothing edgy enough to cause a stir.

Read more “Catherine Smith – Barozzi (1815)”

Paul Féval, père – Vampire City (1867)

Review by Justin Tate

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies wasn’t the first book to remix classic literature with horror. Way back in 1867 came this totally bonkers French novel which imagines Ann Radcliffe as a vampire hunter. The young novelist, along with several ragtag companions, scout across Europe to root out blood suckers and save Ann’s sister before the upcoming double wedding. Along the way, Radcliffe’s macabre adventures inspire her to write her masterpiece, The Mysteries of Udolpho.

If the plot sounds ridiculous, it’s supposed to be. Féval, who was quite popular in his day, tells his tale with all the self-aware hilarity one might expect from a skilled satirist. The tone is meant to be zany, and zany it is. I wouldn’t call it a fine novel by any stretch of the imagination. That said, according to Goodreads, I highlighted over 200 sentences. It’s rare for a book to have me so glued that I’m highlighting on every page.

Read more “Paul Féval, père – Vampire City (1867)”

Edwina Noone – The Craghold Legacy (Complete Series) (1972-73)

Review by Justin Tate

The Craghold quartet is highlighted primarily by its first volume, The Craghold Legacy, which delivers an unwavering deluge of bizarre. Undeterred by the novella format, Edwina Noone (aka Michael Avallone) manages to incorporate every Gothic item imaginable in a single narrative. Somehow, miraculously, he succeeds. The follow-up entries are less mesmerizing because the world is already so richly established. Lacking initiative to expand its potential is disappointing, and yet there is also a familiar pleasure with having the same events reoccur over changed seasons, and with fresh victims at the mercy of the same haunted hotel.

Connections between the four books are minimal at best. They can be read in any order without missing critical information. The series should begin with the first, however, only to best lose one’s virginity to all the uncanny characters and otherworldly happenings. Here are my reviews of each individual novel:

Read more “Edwina Noone – The Craghold Legacy (Complete Series) (1972-73)”

Sebastian Lamb – The Slasher (1977)

Review by Justin Tate

This rare 1977 horror novel occasionally pops up in academic discussions around gay representation in literature. Drewey Wayne Gunn, a leading academic on such topics, describes The Slasher as a “credible attempt to explain a killer’s mentality” and praises its “touching portrait of a relationship between two police officers and their friendship with the medical examiner.” He goes on to lament that the author’s actual identity remains a mystery, since Sebastian Lamb, like most headliners of pulp fiction, is a pseudonym.

Gunn’s praise is generous, but he’s not wrong. If you glaze over the overindulgent sex and generally poor writing, it’s possible to enjoy a story of semi-closeted detectives attempting to bring a killer to justice. Both victims and murderer are also gay, making this a story 100% by, for, and about gay men. A few lines of social commentary imply these grisly murders might go unchecked if the detectives were straight. The media, at least, aren’t interested in reporting on “faggot deaths” until one of the victims turns out to be a young, emerging actor.

Read more “Sebastian Lamb – The Slasher (1977)”