Originally posted on The Nerd Daily.
For Sam Geisler, the titular character in Cassondra Windwalker’s new murder-mystery series, Sam Geisler: Murder Whisperer, the path to redemption is one forged through darkness. Preacher Sam, the first instalment of Windwalker’s latest experiment in the beautiful, sometimes redeemable depravity of the human experience arrives from Black Spot Books in September 2019, and at one-part cosy murder mystery and one-part psychological thriller, well, the Preacher is ready to hear your confessions.
Sam Geisler used to be an upstanding member of his community—the town pastor, doting husband, supportive brother and uncle, and in possession of an ear you can’t help but whisper secrets into. But despite his good deeds, Sam was crippled by a seedy addiction that ultimately cost him the things he loved most, namely all the previous. Now, he’s starting over—jobless, on the verge of divorce from his estranged wife, and living an intentionally technology-free life as penance while he eeks out the days working in his sister Dan’s café/bookshop, being a stand-in for a father for his young nephew, and toiling away his--er—tensions in late-night gym sessions. But, out of all the punishments Sam is experiencing, perhaps the worst is that which he has imposed upon himself: a hefty dosing of guilt, both about what he cannot change and that which he failed to.
While Sam’s quest for redemption effectively and voluntarily ostracises from his community, it nonetheless also pivots him into a critical—and somewhat blissfully removed from his previous obligations with the church—role when one of his former parishioners is suddenly arrested for the murder of another. Amanda has seemingly murdered her best friend, and she’s not interested in speaking to anyone about her role in Amy’s death—not even her husband, her defense, her children, or even her new pastor. She is, however, willing to speak with Sam, though she even withholds the whole story from him, seeking not absolution but instead forgiveness for a crime it is obvious to everyone she didn’t commit. The only other person she’s talked to from behind prison bars is, ironically, Clay, Amy’s widowed husband, something that only fuels speculation about what really happened that night in the small fabric store that the two women had owned together. Amanda’s involvement in Amy’s murder is not the most scandalous part of the crime, though, it’s in the greater evil that she was trying to prevent—a ferreting out of darkness that, hopefully, will perhaps help Sam to find his own way to salvation, both in his eyes and everyone else’s.
If you’re ready for more Sam (and Dani, too) there’s a Geisler story called “Feeding the Dog” published in the Roanoke Review as well as another mention for Sam in Cassondra Windwalker’s contribution to the upcoming winter-themed Black Spot Books Anthology, A Midnight Clear (available November 5, 2019).
Originally published on The Nerd Daily.
When the end of the world is here, turn to a crow.
The Hollow Kingdom tells the story of a zombie apocalypse (think The Walking Dead, or, perhaps more aptly, 28 Days Later) from the perspective of those left behind—this time not of human survivors, but of animals—wild and domesticated alike—who once again have the chance to thrive…if they can survive the wake of what humanity has left behind. Narrated primary by S.T., a domesticated crow who’s simultaneously naïve about humans and in possession of a brutal sense of humor about them. In Kira Jane Buxton’s debut novel it is animals who are left to remind us about the beauty of a world without the (often disastrous) impact of mankind.
Set in Seattle, S.T. and his canine companion—a dosey bloodhound by the name of Dennis—must venture out into the wild unknown when their owner, Big Jim, succumbs to the technology-induced plague that has wiped out humans. Along the way, S.T. must accept and come to know the part of himself that he has long ignored—the fact that he is a wild-thing himself—and shake free the “clipped wings” of his life as a pet to find his place in a very different new world. Along the way, S.T., Dennis, and a series of pawed, clawed, and tentacled companions come to rediscover a much-changed Seattle, one where the natural order of things has broken free of humanity’s shackles: zoo animals bring the wild to pets who’ve escaped alive; the trees speak with renewed voices (“Life is not the same once you’ve learned just how deeply a tree can feel.”); and we witness firsthand both the glorious and the gory of what happens when Mother Nature is free to flourish without interference. “When the spirit of a species leaves us, it doesn’t go easily.” (The story is also speckled with Seattle landmarks, pop culture references, and some really interesting animal biases. Sorry, penguins.)
Buxton’s story about the collapse of mankind—a consequence of our ongoing and generally unhealthy love affair with technology—though based around the extinction of man is not your average zombie story. It’s less a story about the end of the world as we know it, as it is a call to liberate ourselves from our own domestication, much like that which S.T. and his companions face. It’s a critical look at the impact the human ego has had on the environment and the cost we’ll leave to future inhabitants, human or otherwise, to pay. And, it’s told from the perspective of a life force we’ve caged as wholly as we’ve caged ourselves, making it a poignant portrayal of the beauty we fail to see around us on an everyday basis as well as a stark glimpse of the future we are already carving out for ourselves.
For all its sharp edges and gritty no-punches-pulled humor, Hollow Kingdom is a remarkably tender story that manages to make you feel just a tiny jealous of the resilient cast of characters that have survived humanities apocalypse. It’s a magnum opus on environmental degradation, an expose on the impact of technological dependency, and—above all else—a testament to the bizarre and indelicate beauty of rewilding. (And, I would be remiss without adding, it is the single most beautiful ode to the infallible and unconditional companionship of dog I might have ever read.)
Originally published on The Nerd Daily.
Simultaneously refreshing and deeply unsettling, The Night Weaver weaves together small-town horror with an intricate otherworldly fairytale to deliver a blend of horror and fantasy that captures the essence of young adult terror seasoned with the stuff of grown-up nightmares.
Children in Shadow Grove are going missing—spirited away into the forest by an unknown presence as if lured into the darkness by the Pied Piper himself. But that’s not the worst part. Nobody is looking for them—in fact, nobody seems to even acknowledge they’re missing at all. There’s no missing posters, no search parties, no frantic parents. This isn’t the first time something tragic has happened in Shadow Grove, either. The town’s history is peppered with the strange and the horrific, from poisoned school lunches to devastating factory fires—all events that have been glossed over in the town’s history with startlingly bland recall. The only people who seem concerned about the newest calamity are the kids that have not yet been taken.
Rachel Cleary’s family, along with her neighbors the Crenchaws, harbor a clandestine, multigenerational obligation: to guard the perimeter of the forest at the edge of Shadow Grove, maintaining an uneasy peace with the magical beings who live in the forest. It’s not so much a matter about keeping things out of the forest but keeping other naughty nighttime beasties in. And for years, it’s worked—a delicate, if tenuous, balance has been more-or-less kept, even if the occasional shadow does slip through the bounds. But now it seems like something nastier than usual has made its--her-- way through the cracks: “There’s something wrong with the forest. It’s waking up.”
In addition to the recent slew of missing children, the adults of Shadow Grove are acting….very Stepford…but Rachel suspects there’s a deeper link to the strange events in Shadow Grove—and this new darkness is not only far from over, but it may be deep enough to swallow the town whole. With the help of her eccentric, elderly neighbor, a Scottish hottie, a childhood friend turned handsome socialite, and a super hot fae prince, Rachel discovers that the dark presence lurking around the edges of the forest of Shadow Grove belongs to the Night Weaver. Modeled off the Black Annis, a blue-faced, iron-clawed, child-gobbling bogeyman in English folklore, the Night Weaver doesn’t only prey upon the flesh of children, but on grief, fear, and pain—making her both the monster under the bed in a scared child’s bedroom and a fitting personification of the dark shadow that lives in the back of the mind of anyone who has experienced tragedy. If Rachel wants to save the missing children and the adults of her Shadow Grove, she’ll have accept that the small town she’s grown up in is anything other than normal, and that sometimes nothing is as it seems—and that the only way to find your way out of the darkness is to move toward the light.
Though at times the story moves perhaps a little too quickly and is not entirely free of YA tropes, The Night Weaver is nonetheless a well-laid dark fantasy and a clear entrance into a new series that will invite in a new generation of horror readers.
Lindy Miller Ryan is an author, editor, and spooky things enthusiast who occasionally makes crafty things and bakes.