Kendall Reviews Top 10 feature continues with a wonderful piece by John F. Leonard.
John F Leonard has published four books including the novels Bad Pennies and Collapse. He was born in the Midlands, where he studied English, Art and History and has, at different times, been a sculptor, odd-job man and fraud investigator. He enjoys horror, comedy and football (not necessarily together) as well as being interested in politics and art. He believes self-importance should be ridiculed at every possible opportunity.
Catch up with John on Twitter
His short story Call Drops is currently Free
Vincent likes nothing more than rootling round second-hand shops in search of the interesting and unusual. Items that are lost and forgotten.
Why not? He needs the diversion. Time on his hands and money to burn. His life is affluent and empty. Little on the horizon and memories tinged bittersweet.
That’s all about to change. He’s about to find something that is perhaps better left unfound.
Back in October 2017, Kendall Reviews posted an exciting book extract from John’s novel, Bad Pennies. You can read that here
Like what you read then please go and pick a copy up from here
Take a trip down memory lane…
Lists of ‘top’ anything have a tendency to confound me. My opinion changes with my mood. On any given day, I’m apt to give you a different selection.
But how about those stories that conjure memory? The way that music evokes the sense of a particular time or place. Sometimes specific, sometimes vague. Always persistent. A wave of feeling that washes through you when you read the title or see the cover.
Here are some of the stories that echo in my head.
The Fog by James Herbert.
Originally published in 1975.
A trip to the doctor isn’t generally where you’d expect to discover the dark delights of reading horror. I remember sitting in a waiting room (some childhood ailment). There was a man reading a book with a green and yellow cover. The cover was important, a lot more important than what was wrong with me. It shouted. Just words, no other images.
The Fog. Repeated. Bold font. The author’s name.
That was it. Once I’d had my ears syringed or inverted nipple examined or whatever the hell it was, I was off to the local second-hand bookshop.
It was, by a long chalk, the best pocket-money I ever spent.
Dolores Claiborne by Stephen King
Originally published in 1992.
Just hearing the name, Dolores Claiborne, throws me back. I’m sitting on a sun drenched terrace in Tenerife. The plushest place I’ve ever laid my holiday head. Wife at my side and not a care in the world. No problems on the horizon apart from who’s going to make the next Black Russian and where to eat our evening meal.
I read that book (a signed copy no less) as if reading was going out of fashion. Whizzed through it while the sun was still in the sky. Loved every word. The story is tragic with a chill, but I always associate it with a blissful time in my life.
The Illearth War by Stephen Donaldson.
Originally published in 1977.
I’m cheating, this isn’t classified as horror. It’s a Tolkienesque fantasy with leprosy and rape. Oh, and there’s a version of the devil. Plus a plethora of His servants.
It’s here because just thinking about the title gets me off my arse and ready to deal with all the crap that’s coming my way. The story has a character that embodies dignity and honour. A willingness to fight when winning is impossible.
At the time of reading, I was pretty low. It felt like the world was against me, the odds impossible. That character lifted me, gave me belief. I’m still grateful to the author for creating something that could touch me in such a fundamental way.
As an aside, it was also the first time I bridled at the idea of ‘genre’. However necessary and accurate, it often rankles. Stories cross over and pigeonholing them can do a huge disservice to the story and the writer.
The Seven Days of Peter Crumb by Jonny Glynn.
Originally published in 2007.
Loath to admit it, but I never finished this story. It’s a rare event and not something of which I’m proud. Once started, books ought to be completed, even if you don’t instantly cotton to them. The writer has dripped a little of themselves into the pages. The very least their effort deserves is me taking the trouble to drag my eyes over the words.
So what the hell is it doing on the list?
Well, it generated an emotion. At the time I was ill. Seriously ill. Maybe brown bread, pushing up the daisies ill. I read the beginning and bottled it. Too dark and too disturbing for a mind that was already occupied by even darker, more personally disturbing thoughts.
One day, I’ll go back to it. Not right now. When I find the courage.
The Stand by Stephen King.
Originally published in 1978.
My love of horror had already set in, but this wonderful chunk of writing identified a specific interest. The appeal of the apocalyptic. The breakdown of the normal order, the end of things as we know them, the dystopian.
It also engendered a love of long stories. Up until that point, I’d been slightly intimidated by books that were inches thick. Afterwards, I actively sought them out.
1000 pages – 1300 in the uncut version – was a wholesome slice of horror goodness!
Sadly, it probably wouldn’t happen now. Some algorithmic-obsessed accountant would pipe up with ‘hey, we can squeeze a trilogy out of this, maybe even a box-set.’
They Thirst by Robert McCammon.
Originally published in 1981.
One of the highlights of my childhood television was Hammer Horror. Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, vampires and old castles. Being allowed to watch the scary films as the clock ticked past my bedtime.
They Thirst was something near epiphany (a kissing cousin anyway). These stories could be modern! The vampires weren’t limited to an age before electricity. That might sound obvious, but my young mind was blown away by the prospect.
Yeah, I know. What about ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King? You really love that, don’t you?
Okay, but this can’t be a Stephen King list. And They Thirst opened a different door. ‘Salem’s Lot is awesome, one of my all-time favourite reads. However, it was still the old house on the hill. Limited and contained. Robert McCammon introduced me to the idea of apocalyptic vampirism!
By the way, I think The Strain and The Passage owe a lot to Mr McCammon.
Outpost by Adam Baker.
Originally published in 2011.
Writing is a weird thing. Personal and private then bang! You publish and open yourself up to worldwide criticism. A cocktail of equal parts scare and excitement.
I reached out to Adam Baker via Facebook when my first novel, Collapse, was under starter’s orders. Don’t know why really. Guess I was having a wobble and wanted contact with a recognised author. Plus I’d really enjoyed Outpost.
To my astonishment, he replied. Considered and polite. Other than being a jolly good read, what does Outpost signify for me? What does that tattered paperback mean? Hope. Remote can be real. Some people are nice.
Whatever. Tapping the keys has consequences – some good, some not so good. Social media is flawed and awful and still a wondrous thing.
The book? Zombies of alien origin. A sci-fi edge to a ‘sub-genre’ that holds a special place in my heart. An underrated gem, especially if you like Adam Baker’s razorblade prose.
The Shadow over Innsmouth by H. P. Lovecraft.
Originally published in 1936.
Alright, it’s not a novel, go with me. I chanced upon Lovecraft in my late teens. The concepts were mind-boggling, but the writing was somehow stilted and archaic to a relatively young mind. I drifted away, yearning after more modern styles.
Years later, recovering from an unlovely brush with death, I reread it.
I’d embraced the ereader from my sick-bed. It wasn’t the physical joy of a book, but that little electronic marvel had a distinct advantage. It delivered without the need to move. I recall listening to the Sisters of Mercy while reading. On headphones (didn’t want to disturb the ward).
Innsmouth will always be a definitive moment for me. Proof that both your judgements of the past and the possibilities for the future are fluid.
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski.
Originally published in 2007.
The bookshop where I acquired this hideous jewel was one of those shiny independent outfits. Gone now, like so many bookshops. Not sure that I liked it that much so maybe not all the casualties of the publishing revolution were bad.
The book caught my eye. It wasn’t cheap and I ummed and ahhed for quite a while. Money was tight. Income uncertain and a family to support. The guy behind the counter was watching me like he knew the type. Thumb the eff out of it and then do one without parting with a penny. Worse still, indulge in some under-the-jacket discount. I defied his expectation and made a purchase.
The book was a difficult revelation. It was beautiful and yet managed to irritate the hell out of me. As unforgettable as the discomfort I felt when buying it.
Jago by Kim Newman
Originally published in 1991.
There are times in life when you get all turned around and end up lost. Confused, disorientated, unsure. I was all of those things when I read Jago. I remember it as a darkly charming ride that took me out of myself.
A mix of the everyday and the monstrous that somehow resonated with my existence. There was a grim magic to Jago that made sense to me.
In many ways, I think that trace of dark magic in some stories is a drug. I guess I’m hooked. Nothing wrong with that, we’re all addicted to something.
This isn’t a definitive list by any means, just a snippet of the book memories that roll round my head. I love reading and have grown to treasure the associations that sometimes persist long after the reading is done.
Thank you very much John for such an enjoyable piece. That’s more titles added to the Kendall Reviews TBR list!
If you’ve read this and would like to contribute a Top 10 yourself then please do not hesitate to get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org