The Vagrants



So, I know that I sound like a broken record, but I’m really not much of a horror fiction gal. It’s just too much for my sensitive, little imagination to take sometimes. Or worse than that, it isn’t scary or creepy at all. Basically, unless your name is Joe Hill, I am going to be a pretty hard sell when it comes to reading horror.

Lucky me, though, Brian Moreland had a new book come out this month and he is on the same list as Mr. Hill. No joke. I have loved everything that Moreland has written and I was truly looking forward to starting his new book, The Vagrants.

The Vagrants brings us the story of Daniel Finley, a journalist who believes that he can save the homeless. Determined to completely submerge himself in their reality, Daniel lives among the homeless for six months. While living under a bridge, he learns the many spoken and unspoken rules of this world that our world chooses to ignore.

He also learns of something else; something deadly. One day, a mysterious man by the name of Mordecai shows up with his group of followers. Daniel keeps a safe distance from Mordecai and observes what seems to be a quickly growing cult. After observing some truly terrifying things, Daniel returns to his life, writes of his experience living under the bridge and becomes a published author.

Just when he begins to start enjoying his accomplishments, he is thrown into a dangerous position, trying to protect his father from mobsters. Concurrently, Daniel begins seeing some of the vagrants that he knew and he finds himself in a war between an Irish-American mafia and the deadly underground cult led by Mordecai.

While there is a certain Clive Barker story that I was reminded of while reading The Vagrants, this story stands on it’s own and is as equally creepy and unsettling. Moreland has a knack of dialing up the horror and gore without going over the top. Just when you start to feel your skin crawl, he draws back and leaves you with those mental images that have just burned into your brain. Never passing the point of good taste just for the sake of gore is an elusive ingredient in many horror novels, but Moreland nails it every time. He never spends too much time on a character’s background, only to kill them off in the next chapter, and he writes characters that are easy to invest in and identify with. The story moves at a great pace and has a satisfying ending. Look no further for your new horror author; I have already found him for you.


No Reflection

For starters, I don’t really read many horror short stories.  I find that most of them follow the same general formula: build up for a little bit, then drop the quasi-twist hammer.  It’s something that finds its roots in Tales From the CryptThe Twilight Zone, and O. Henry.  It doesn’t necessarily mean all horror fiction is bad, but it’s usually not my cup of tea.

Still, I dug into John Caliburn’s No Reflection, because I’m a sucker for short story collections.  As Fremont stated, it’s a decent first book.  It’s not without its problems, but there are some pretty good moments in here.

I liked “Delusional”, partially for a nod to Cthulhu, but mainly because it made me think of Vigo the Carpathian from Ghostbusters II.  I was waiting for the problem to be solved by curing a case of Carpathian Kitten Loss, but, alas, that was not how this story ended.  Still, it was a decent premise and a solid ending, even if Vigo never reared his ugly mug.

I also liked “Rustling Sheets”.  The idea of a carnivorous monster with razor-sharp claws taking up residence in the lower bunk is not something I would be okay with.  Unless he feels like sharing a little chipmunk meat in the middle of the night.  I could probably get down with that.  A man gets awfully hungry at night.

This was a pretty quick read, which helped.  But, as I mentioned earlier, it’s not without its problems.
Pretty much every story seemed to remind me of a similar story/movie.  Not that there’s really anything wrong with that (Koheleth famously stated “there is nothing new under the sun,” over 2000 years ago), but I didn’t feel like anything here separated itself from its influences.
It’s a bit strange to say about a book that barely cracked 100 pages, but these stories all could’ve been tightened up a little.  There’s nothing wrong with a two-page story if the story-telling is strong.  Some of these felt dragged out, which hurt the story as a whole (“Fear of the Shadows” definitely felt this way to me).
The writing could also be a bit stronger.  There were a lot of “or somethings” in here.  Too many of those tend to detract from the story.

All of that sounds like I hated this.  I did not hate this.  I didn’t love it, but it was enjoyable enough to keep me entertained.

This is a solid debut.  I’m curious to see what Caliburn does next.

No Reflection is currently available on Amazon.

No Reflection & Other Short Stories

“No Reflection”, written by John Caliburn is a solid first entry into the horror genre. His first published collection, No Reflection has seven short stories and wraps up with a short poem. At the end of each story, the author has added a short explanation of his motivation behind the story. At times, the explanation was a disservice:”A Child’s Imagination” being the best example of this. This story is very reminiscent of “Where The Wild Things Are”, which is nice in a nostalgic kind of way. The plot was going somewhere interesting and then it ended in a very maudlin, unsatisfying kind of way. This being a horror collection, I suppose I shouldn’t be expecting a happy ending, but I would have liked to see Caliburn really delve into his inspiration for this story. He said that he wanted to explore the awful reality that children are, sometimes, the ones that commit murder. I couldn’t help but think of the film “Who Can Kill A Child?” and I really believe Caliburn is more than capable of reaching that level of terror, so, I felt a bit underwhelmed with the ending of “A Child’s Imagination”.

In the story “Delusional”, Caliburn uses H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos as a background device. I found this to be particularly interesting, but my partner Dusty will be the one going into detail about this particular story.

As a woman, I simply cannot let “The Magician’s Assistant” escape my critical eye. It’s a great little story with a wonderfully gory coupe de grace, but the degree to which the female protaganist is reduced to negative, female cliches was too much to ignore. She see’s herself as a “Plain Jane Brunette”, her self esteem seems to be in direct proportion to how her fiancee sees her, she’s paranoid, jealous and, worst of all, a typical “woman scorned”. Instead of simply asking her fiancee if he’s stepping out on her, she just smiles, keeps her mouth shut and, ultimately, let’s her insecurities and neurosis unfold in a homicidal rage. Typical woman, right? Even though it’s a short story, I still expect to see a woman who is a whole human being and not just a negative stereotype. Perhaps I’m being a bit too touchy, but it really took away from what was a nice “Tale From The Crypt” kind of ending.

Overall, this collection of stories shows great promise of future endeavors. The themes that Caliburn was exploring are ones that all of us can relate to;the inability to foresee your poor choices and the consequences that they incur, the responsibility that children believe they carry in their parents’ happiness, the monster in our room that no one else can see, fear of the dark and the inability to escape our punishments for our bad deeds. I enjoyed these stories, however, I wish there had been a bit more depth and character development. That being said, I look forward to Caliburn’s future works.