Jacqueline Marten – Let the Crags Comb Out Her Dainty Hair (1975)

Review by Justin Tate

A dramatic title and foreboding cover set the tone for this multi-faceted, multi-regional Gothic romance. Set in the early 1800s, it begins as a coming-of-age story with Kynthia, our heroine, reaching womanhood in romantic Greece, land of gods and scholars. Her upbringing consists of sailing and sunshine, exquisite food and perhaps “too much” freedom for a young girl. All is pleasant until her mother grows ill and Kynthia discovers she can foresee the future. Her dreams—and nightmares—consistently come true.

Her most fearsome recurring nightmare involves being thrown off Mount Parnassus as an assailant utters the cruel words “Send her bounding down the cliff ledges, let the crags comb out her dainty hair!” These may or may not be the manic words of a villain, however, since they are also passages from the ancient Greek play Ion by Euripides. What does it all mean? Is her murder imminent?

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Max Hallan Danne – Premature Burial (1962)

Review by Justin Tate

Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Premature Burial” was adapted for film in 1962. Usually this would result in a reprint of the original book with new cover art to promote the movie. In this case, however, another writer—the mysterious “Max Hallan Danne”—was hired to pen a novelization of the screenplay, written by Twilight Zone alumni, Charles Berumont. So this book is actually an adaptation of an adaptation. And it’s way better than it should be. Dare I say, it may be even superior to the original source material.

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William J. Lambert, III – Adonis Trilogy (1969-1970)

Review by Justin Tate

It doesn’t get any more 1969 than Adonis. This novel is as trippy as an extended foot and more surreal than Salvador Dali’s wet dreams. Though billed as “adult only” gay entertainment, much of the sex oozes with a slime of horror and supernatural mystery. You don’t know whether to be repulsed, turned on or terrified. Perhaps it’s the combination of all three which make it so unique.

Back in the day Adonis was popular enough to warrant two sequels. Today it’s an extremely rare find that might cost three figures for a tattered used copy.

California Scene, one of the more literary-minded gay presses, reviewed the novel in their May 1971 issue. They described it as “quite an exciting detective story” and praised Lambert’s “great skill in handling” a “number of good ideas.” In the same breath, however, there was concern that the “extremely involved” plot was peopled with “too many characters” and consequently difficult to follow.

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Julian Francis – Bunny Bitch (1969)

Review by Justin Tate

This 1969 gay pulp novel got labeled as “Adult Only” entertainment when it was published, but it’s much more about true love than naughty exploits.

Steve Saville is the “head of computer division” for a big corporation. He’s 34, lonely, socially awkward, self-conscious, and carries baggage from painful past relationships. Thinking that he’s not meant for happiness, he is just confident enough to dance with attractive Ben “Bunny” Farrow at a party only because he’s rumored to be a hustler.

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Frederick Raborg – Gay Vigilante (1972)

Review by Justin Tate

Circa 1972, this western-themed pulp delivers all the gay cowboy imagery a boy could want, but also explores intriguing literary topics such as the disconnect between external and internal masculinity, the basic human need for love, and what amounts to a critique of polyamory.

Set in Sacramento Valley during the 1849 gold rush, we learn that Holt Dykes is on the run. He’s a blue-eyed desperado who’s more sensitive than his rough exterior reveals. He’s thirsty, dirty, and trying to outpace the man who wants him dead.

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Kym Allyson – Gay Circus (1970)

Review by Justin Tate

If you’ve ever checked out Pennywise and thought “I’d hit that,” you might be like Terry Adams, the nineteen year-old farm boy from St. Paul and newest recruit at the Gay Circus.

Terry’s life ambition is to become a clown himself. With his big ears “like sugar bowl handles” and theatrical eyes that spontaneously “alternate between happiness and sadness,” it’s like he was made for it. Everyone says he has the face of a clown, “even without makeup.” Being double-jointed is just the cream pie on top.

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Shelley Katz – Alligator (1977)

Review by Justin Tate

Published in 1977, sometimes attributed to Shelley and Paul Katz, but more often just Shelley, now thoroughly out of print, Alligator is one of the bazillion killer creature novels to emerge after the success of Jaws (1974). Unlike other rip-offs, however, this one is actually good. Unexpectedly, almost shockingly good.

The first chapter is ablaze with rich characterization, ominous Everglades atmosphere, and the chomps we paid for. Then there’s about 75 pages of rubbish. But then, holy shit, the excess characters thin out and we’re left with two guys battling the elements, an evil alligator, and their own hyper masculinity.

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Russell O’Neil – Venom (1979)

Review by Justin Tate

Snakes are my favorite beast to go berserk and here we have a satisfying nest of Indian cobras terrorizing New York City apartment buildings. It’s a good set-up that’s just as zany as one would expect and hope for. Only slightly marred by a long list of characters who are probably given more attention than necessary.

That said, characters are also what makes this a good time. Our lead is a creepy vagabond type fellow who’s gone to the dark side because of his overbearing mother. He breaks a girl’s heart after using her to smuggle snakes into the States. His intended purpose with the snakes remains a mystery, but we do know that he has wet dreams whenever he hears them slithering about.

The girl definitely dodged a bullet.

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Brenda Brown Canary – The Voice of the Clown (1982)

Review by Justin Tate

A rare title sought highly by horror lovers. Most copies are listed for $100+. Its notoriety, it seems, can be sourced to an active cult fandom and Grady Hendrix’s sweeping praise.

In Paperbacks From Hell, which chronicles the publishing history of horror literature during the 1970s and 80s, Hendrix lists this book as a standout among the “creepy kids” subgenre. He goes on to say that it’s one of the few books to ever make his “jaw drop.”

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Rohan O’Grady – Bleak November (1970)

Review by Justin Tate

If there’s ever a time to read a spooky novel entitled Bleak November, this November, in the year 2020 A.D., seems fitting. For historical reference, the world’s been hunkered down over eight months thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve skipped birthdays, weddings, funerals, seated dining and blockbuster movies to social distance. For many, Thanksgiving is going to be a Zoom affair because airports are germy and we don’t want to kill Grandma. In the United States, confirmed virus cases have reached a record-shattering 125k+ per day. At the time of this writing, our death toll is 243,768.

Part of me did worry that reading a bleak novel during a bleak time would be overwhelming. My decision to pick up Stephen King’s The Stand right at the beginning of the outbreak led to some chilling nightmares and panic attacks. Still, I thought, you can only live through 2020 once. Why not make the most of it?

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