Knox, from SerialBox

KnoxKnox is available on Serial Box. The last chapter there comes out next week, so this review is still spoiler-free.

Disclaimer: I received this product for free in exchange for an honest review.

In fact, I was offered this product, and when I read the message part of me thought something like “oh gosh, I have so much I’ve been meaning to read and I’m really not getting to most of it. Maybe I shouldn’t?” In the meantime, the rest of me had parsed “Mythos”, “noir”, and “partly by Bolander” and was typing back something along the lines of “Yes, please, thank you.”

(To be clear: the chapters from Rivera and Iglesias and Moraine are absolutely stellar, I just didn’t know as much of their work going in.)

Knox is a serialized novel set in 1930s Manhattan. Morgan Knox was a nurse in WWI and is now a PI with a knack for dealing with the weird. When the man who committed a series of murders gets shot and falls to his death in the East River, she’s hired to look into who might have set him on the spree, and from there the story unfolds beautifully.

It’s a beautiful blend of noir and horror. We meet Morgan Knox in an extremely dynamic introduction that makes it clear that she is one tough-as-nails bad-ass PI. I’m holding off on getting into spoilers, but I cannot overstate how much Morgan’s reactions to everything she dealt with anchored the world. Both her present-day visions and the past experiences that underpin her life are horrific without being gratuitous[1], and while she keeps going in them, her doing so never feels easy or cheap. Her world-weary familiarity with horror spared me needing to sit through a protagonist who just can’t believe what’s going on as the case takes on more ominous tones; her battered stubbornness and principles made me want to see her succeed so badly. And while the general thrust of an ominous villain was made clear in the beginning, I genuinely was not expecting the details of the reveal, or how the arc of the antagonist progressed. It was creepy and chilling and ultimately damn delightful, for values of delightful that cover horrific entities from beyond our world.

Then there’s the other characters – the people already in Knox’s life and the people she runs into during the investigation (there is some overlap here). I liked reading about all of them, and even those in more antagonistic roles or who only showed up briefly were clearly drawn and distinguishable from each other. Having Knox surrounded by so many well-realized characters keeps the story from being a grim and lonely one, and really brings home how much she holds back. I deliberately took breaks between reading each chapter, and I never had any trouble slipping back into the story or remembering who people were to Knox, and judging by my own reactions at a couple of points I was really invested in them being okay.

(This is my first serial, and I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of the story being broken up that way. I will say that each episode felt well-balanced; the focus differed as the story moved along, and the ending always made me look forward to more, but I was never irritated at the stopping points, if that makes sense.)

As a final note, the story is mercifully not whitewashed or Hollywoodized. I find that when reading or watching noir, especially written-to-be-period noir, there’s occasionally a tendency for the story to have a lot of white straight folks. Knox emphatically did not do that, and I was glad to see that 1930s New York had actually been portrayed as a melting pot.

Recommended for fans of the Mythos (you won’t find name-checks here, but you’ll find some great descriptions and lovely horrific scenes), fans of noir with a rich setting, and anyone who wants a combination of the two with a solid and satisfying character arc.
[1] Please note that I may have a slightly high tolerance for descriptions of the effects of violence done to others, but this is a blend of Mythos and noir, and I think the descriptions work perfectly in that context.

Of fine bookery

Orrin Grey’s excellent collection, Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings, is coming back into print! There’s a Kickstarter currently running for the new edition, so I am going to have two copies of it, and one of them will come with an extra story and some e-phemera. The stories in this book are lovely; I may have mentioned “The Seventh Picture” before, and I continue to live in the hope that someone will someday make a movie out of that one.

My review of the initial edition is here, but I figured I’d yank a partial paragraph:

There’s horror here, yes, but that’s not all that’s important here; Never Bet the Devil would be an impressive but rather cold book if it was. The infinite strangeness of the supernatural, that was what I was having trouble defining, and a love for the strange and supernatural elements of the genre. The stories, taken together, are stories of horror, and loneliness, and madness, and mystery. And they still manage to convey a sense of wonder. Not overwhelmingly so; I don’t think it’s possible to come away from them thinking cheerful thoughts. But dammit, reading stories like this, stories that have these things in them… this book makes me happy, and the reading has improved my days.

Overall it comes out to less than $2 a story to get a digital copy, and these are some really, really lovely stories, even without the illustrations. Worth checking out.

“The Shadow Out Of Innsmouth”, H.P. Lovecraft

I shall plan my cousin’s escape from that Canton mad-house, and together we shall go to marvel-shadowed Innsmouth. We shall swim out to that brooding reef in the sea and dive down through black abysses to Cyclopean and many-columned Y’ha-nthlei, and in that lair of the Deep Ones we shall dwell amidst wonder and glory for ever.

Oh, I have so much to say about Lovecraft.

The first work of his I read was either “The Dunwich Horror” or “Pickman’s Model”. I didn’t start noticing how stridently he kept bringing up race and miscegenation for a long time, to which the only defense that I can offer is that I started way young (and I actually have something else to say about my tendency to not question authorial voice, which is a different issue for another time).

But this quote; this one chimes with me. Because while I believe Lovecraft thought he was writing a terrible horror story about the triumph of degeneration, the more I read it the more it’s about a triumphant escape, and coming home, and realizing who you are to dwell in a place of loveliness and acceptance.

(Also, you know, Deep Ones. Who are neat, although I prefer ghouls.)


The yellow sign.
Probably familiar. Probably.

I have (probably not very surprising) a kind of abiding fascination with the King in Yellow. An imaginary play created by Robert W. Chambers in 1895, it’s one of the go-to examples of the motif of harmful sensation; the sound or sight or text so horrible that it damages the one who experiences it.

(Incidentally, yellow appears as a colour associated with horror rather more often than I’d expect. Red and black are easy and obvious associations, and you can get a lot of mileage out of an eerie green light[1], but yellow… there’s the King in Yellow, Gilman’s famous yellow wallpaper, the sickening yellow haze in King’s room 1408, and another one just at the tip of my memory. It is a very unwell colour, I suppose.)

I am not the only one. (I own two anthologies devoted specifically to King in Yellow stories, and another one is coming out late this year.) There are stories which frame the King in Yellow as a play (Brian Keene’s “The King, in Yellow” is the only one I can think of off the top of my head, and several which frame it as a text, but several (including two of my favourites[3]) frame it as a movie. I can’t think of any other mediums of expression; I’ve never read a story about a King in Yellow video game, or dance performance. I can’t call to mind treatments of it as a story, either (that is, a work of prose fiction, rather than a script or a performance produced from a script).

That said, I do know that John Horner Jacobs’ Southern Gods features a detective looking for the recording artist Ramblin’ John Hastur. I have my suspicions about that, but I haven’t actually been able to lay hands on a physical copy of the book. (It’s on my to-do list.) It’d be interesting if there are King in Yellow references in there, particularly as Ramblin’ John is a blues musician; it’s an art form much more strongly associated with improvisation than scripted plays, and I’d be curious to see how the interpretation differs as a result.

[1] Or a regular light and a green skirt.[2]
[2] Kind of curious to see if I have tied this post into obscure knots, or if that reference actually makes sense.
[3] Those would by Orrin Grey’s “The Seventh Picture” and Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s “Flash Frame”. “The Seventh Picture” is in Candle in the Attic Window and Never Bet the Devil and Other Warnings, and “Flash Frame” is in Cthulhurotica, The Book of Cthulhu, and This Strange Way of Dying, and is in audio at Tales To Terrify No 9 David Thomas Lord. For the record.

In which I am pleasantly surprised

Back in December, I mentioned that I’d picked up a collection of eight horror movies for five bucks. The recognizable one[1] is the original Night of the Living Dead, so I’m not going to be putting that on. However! There is also Colour from the Dark, a movie which instantly raises the burning question “Did the writers read “Colour out of Space”, or is this a direct rip-off tribute derivative of the very-understandably-forgotten The Curse[2]?”

A family accidentally frees something from the Earth’s womb while drawing water from their well and now a sinister glow is seeping into their lives.

Really, it could be either.

Continue reading “In which I am pleasantly surprised”

Twilight Turns From Amethyst, by Nicola Belte

I’ve never used the “Press This” function before today; I expect I should probably think rather carefully about how and when I do use it, before making any kind of a habit out of it.  But for the moment, I am just going to recommend the following horror story:

Twilight Turns From Amethyst, by Nicola Belte.