Mark Lumby chats about his new charity book, DARK PLACES EVIL FACES.

Dark Places Evil Places was originally going to be a collection of my own stories. It was a project to make money for myself. But around the time the idea came into my head, my wives friend got the big ‘C’. My wife had taken 6 months out of our lives from myself and our children to care for her and help her through chemo. She was doing so much and I was doing nothing. So I decided to make DPEF into a charity book, and Macmillian was close to my heart as they had cared for others who had lived and died within my family. True, it could have been any cancer charity; they’re all worthy; they all do great things. But, to me, Macmillian was the obvious choice.

But it would be tough to do it all myself in the time scales I had wanted to achieve. So, I put an open call out for submissions on social media and through my own blog site. The response I received was overwhelming. I also knew specifically the authors that I wanted in the book, the big names. ‘If you don’t ask you don’t get’ is my philosophy. So, I asked and they contributed.

I also had author friends on social media whom I had heard great things about, so I approached them also. The result was, to me, a fantastic, yet strange combination of writers. At that time, the book was only going to be digital, although I did have my sights on something more. It was all about raising as much money as I possibly could and I felt that the profits from an ebook wouldn’t be enough. That was until I asked PS Publishing, and they helped me to put all this together, to create both a book and ebook. They have been extremely generous and I couldn’t have wished for anything better.

How I chose the authors? My choices were not based on collecting the same type of storytelling; I wanted to mix things up and show totally different styles. I didn’t want a theme—personally I don’t like theme based collections. I didn’t want to read one ghost story and then another. That’s why, when reading this anthology, you will find that not one story is relevant to another.

I had the authors; I had a publisher. I didn’t have great artwork. This is when I contacted Tomilav Tikulin. He had been involved in creating many amazing Stephen King covers. This was the type of imagery I wanted for Dark Places. I asked him if he could come up with something for me. He agreed to be involved and gave free range of a selection of artwork I could choose from. It didn’t take long to realise which one!

The title choice was an instant one. Because this was a collection of horror stories, Dark Places, Evil Faces seemed fitting, although some might argue that the title is a bit cliche.

Then, in January 2017, my determination to compile this anthology took on an extra lease of life. My mum was diagnosed with cancer. It was stage 4 and had reached her liver and bowel. Now, this book was all about her. It had become extremely personal and I wanted to strike cancer where it hurt.

As much as this anthology is about my mum, it’s about everyone else, too. It’s for their brothers and sisters, mum and dad’s, and friends. It’s about my sister who also got Cancer this year. And I’m sure that the authors involved in this anthology have been hit by the trauma it causes, whether it being themselves or watching someone else go through the pain and grief.

Now available for pre-order.

SHE SLEEPS by R.B. Russell

Sneak Peek Extract:

As I ran headlong into the wood there was another gunshot and a blow to my shoulder that spun me around. It was as though a bolt of lightning had hit me and the pain was unbelievable. Splinters of wood flew all about my head. I should have been thrown to the ground but the brunt of the discharge had been taken by a tree. The blast had forced the breath out of me, disorientated me, but somehow I stayed on my feet. My legs were insisting that I continue to run.

When the next shot came, twigs and leaves rushed past along with stray pellets, but this time my pursuer had missed his target. The gun­man would have to stop and reload, and I had the advantage of my momentum-even if I didn’t know in which direction I was now head­ing. As long as I was running away, nothing else mattered.

I tore madly between the trees, over fallen trunks and through brambles. I dashed down the bank of a stream that had cut a deep path through the sandy soil. When I reached the bottom I splashed along the course of the water for several yards before running up the opposite bank.

At that moment my heart was singing with my love for the trees. They had given me cover and had allowed me to escape. The sun was slanting through the branches like one of the blurred photographs on the sleeve of the album that had given me so much trouble.

And then I tripped and hit the ground hard, landing on my wounded shoulder.

Again the lightning…

I knew that I had been out cold for only a few seconds, during which time my unconscious mind had been going through my old archive, looking at the photographs and letters, leaflets and diaries. I could still smell the dust and the mustiness of old paper…. But then I realised that my face was in the dirt and decomposing leaves of the woodland floor. I knew exactly where I was, and the danger I was still in.

‘Please don’t let these be my last thoughts!’ I pleaded, and forced myself up on to my feet. My shoulder gave me more pain than I imagined I could ever stand. My right arm was heavy and would not move. Blood was running down the inside of my sleeve, over my useless hand, and was pouring from my fingers.

I didn’t know if I could hear my pursuer or not, but I started to run again….

Now available for pre-order.

BORN TO THE DARK by Ramsey Campbell

Sneak Peek Extract:

Stop Press, 11 April 1955

Eric Wharton, the popular newspaper columnist, was today drowned in a fall from New Brighton ferry.

From an editorial, 13 April 1955

So Eric Wharton has gone on his way; on the way we must all one day follow. He will leave a gap in many lives. Popular alike with his colleagues and his many readers, he was a true man of the people who told the truth as he saw it without fear or favour. Liverpool- born, he travelled the world but always stayed true to his roots. He was admired by most, and even those he criticised in his column respected him. He once famously wrote that if he were a stick of seaside rock, the word he would want to be printed all the way through him would be Honesty. He need not have feared, and surely now that quality has earned him his place in Heaven.


The Liverpool coroner today recorded a verdict of accidental death in the case of newspaper columnist Eric Wharton.

On the afternoon of the 11th of April, Mr. Wharton fell overboard from the Royal Iris ferry. Crewmen were alerted by members of the public, but were unable to rescue Mr. Wharton. His body was subsequently recovered by the Liverpool coastguard.

In court, colleagues of the journalist described how he had seemed “preoccupied” or “distracted” in the weeks preceding the accident, to the extent that he became unable to write his popular newspaper column. An unfinished draft was found in his typewriter, complaining of his inability to think and ending with the apparently random words “looking over my shoulder.”

Passengers on the ferry, on which Mr. Wharton regularly used to travel to his home in New Brighton, observed that he gave the impression of “looking or listening” for someone on board. Several passengers reported that he appeared to be trying to brush ash or some other substance from his clothes, though he had apparently not been smoking. His preoccupation may have left him unaware that he was dangerously close to the rail, where his actions caused him to lose his balance. While a number of witnesses agreed that he uttered a cry as he fell, there was dispute as to whether the word was “leave” or “believe.”

Mr. Wharton’s housekeeper, Mrs. Kitty Malone, was overcome by emotion several times while giving an account of her employer’s mental condition. She described how Mr. Wharton became critical of her tidiness, which he had previously praised in his column, and would straighten the bed she had made “as if he thought I’d left some nasty thing in it.” She further testified that Mr. Wharton seemed to grow determined to embrace his faith in his final days, frequently repeating the word “Christian” to himself.

The coroner concluded that while the balance of Mr. Wharton’s mind may have been to some extent disturbed, there was no evidence of intent for suicide, and insufficient reason for a verdict of death by misadventure.

Eric Wharton was born in Liverpool in 1904. He attended St. Edward’s College and subsequently went up to Oxford. In the Second World War he was awarded the DSO…

Available for pre-order


This week is a bumper crop with not one, or two, but SEVEN paperback volumes gathering together the complete Basil Copper’s Solar Pons stories. It’s also worth bearing in mind that not only will our FantasyCon launch party (29th September, 5pm) feature the debut appearance of all these titles but also editor Stephen Jones and artist Les Edwards will be on hand to sign copies. We’ll also be doing single copies at a discount and a very special deal for anyone who wants to buy all seven titles over the weekend. Click the images to pre-order copies.

So without further ado, here’s all seven paperbacks:

The Dossier of Solar Pons #1


  • The Editor’s Note
  • Explanation by Dr. Lyndon Parker
  • The Adventure of the Perplexed Photographer
  • The Sealed Spiral Mystery
  • The Adventure of the Six Gold Doubloons
  • The Adventure of the Ipi Idol
  • The Adventure of Buffington Old Grange
  • The Adventure of the Hammer of Hate

The Further Adventures of Solar Pons #2


  • The Editor’s Note
  • The Adventure of the Shaft of Death
  • The Adventure of the Baffled Baron
  • The Adventure of the Surrey Sadist
  • The Adventure of the Missing Student

The Secret Files of Solar Pons #3


  • The Editor’s Note
  • The Adventure of the Crawling Horror
  • The Adventure of the Anguished Actor
  • The Adventure of the Ignored Idols
  • The Adventure of the Horrified Heiress

Some Uncollected Cases of Solar Pons #4


  • The Editor’s Note
  • The Adventure of the Haunted Rectory
  • The Adventure of the Singular Sandwich
  • Murder at the Zoo
  • The Adventure of the Frightened Governess

The Exploits of Solar Pons #5


  • The Editor’s Note
  • The Adventure of the Verger’s Thumb
  • The Adventure of the Phantom Face
  • Death at the Metropole
  • The Adventure of the Callous Colonel

The Recollections of Solar Pons #6


  • The Editor’s Note
  • ​​​​​​​The Adventure of the Cursed Curator
  • The Adventure of the Hound of Hell
  • The Adventure of the Mad Millionaire
  • The Adventure of the Devil’s Claw

The Solar Pons Companion #7


  • The Editor’s Note
  • Once A Pons a Time . . . Stephen Jones
  • Foreword . . . Basil Copper
  • In the Footsteps of Sherlock Holmes . . . Basil Copper
  • Plots of the Stories . . . Basil Copper
  • Characters in the Stories . . . Basil Copper
  • The Sayings of Solar Pons . . . Basil Copper
  • Solar Pons Plot and Dialogue Notes . . . Stephen Jones
  • The Adventure of the Northleach Stocks . . . Stephen Jones
  • Painting Pons: Artist Ben Stahl . . . Stephen Jones
  • The Adventure of the Defeated Doctor . . . Basil Copper
  • The Adventure of the Agonised Actor . . . Basil Copper
  • The Adventure of the Persecuted Painter . . . Basil Copper

DARKER COMPANIONS edited by Scott David Aniolowski & Joseph S. Pulver, Sr

Here’s a few paragraphs lifted from Scott’s Introduction ‘Hymns From The Church In High Street.’ Take it away, Scott . . .

Welcome to DARKER COMPANIONS, a celebration of Ramsey Campbell.

“The year 2014 marked the 50th anniversary of the publication of Ramsey Campbell’s first fiction collection, .

The Arkham House book, published in 1964 when he was just 18, was actually his second appearance at Arkham House, the first being in 1962’s August Derleth-edited anthologyDARK MIND, DARK HEART his first professional sale as an author. To commemorate the impressive event, I thought it only fitting to assemble an anthology of stories in tribute to Ramsey, written by some of his many fans and friends currently working in the field of the weird.

With that thought in mind, I contacted Peter Crowther at PS Publising.

“PS Publishing seemed the obvious choice of publisher as they have such a longstanding relationship with Ramsey Campbell and are the premier specialty publisher of all things Campbellian. Peter liked the idea and immediately committed to take on the project.

“Realizing the scope and breadth of the project, I decided a co-editor would be invaluable in helping to keep all the moving parts organized and going in the right direction. During my stint as the fiction line editor for a small press, Joe Pulver had approached me with a pair of anthologies he wanted to do. I really liked Joe and his work and had great respect for him. We had very similar tastes in literature and thought alike on numerous topics, and those first two anthologies he produced went on to receive accolades from fans and the industry, alike, so tagging him as my co-editor for the endeavor was a no-brainer.

The original germ of the idea was to pay homage to THE INHABITANT OF THE LAKE.

“However on consideration that seemed far too restrictive for such a momentous occasion, and there are already plenty of volumes of Cthulhu stories. Incidentally, my own initial venture into editing was a Ramsey Campbell Cthulhu tribute anthology back in 1995 that coincided with his guest of honor appearance at the second NecronomiCon in Danvers, Massachusetts. So been there, done that. The second incarnation of the idea was to do an anthology inspired by the early Campbell short stories as collected in , and . That seemed more wide-ranging and would include material from the pivotal point in Ramsey’s career when he shook off the bewitchment of Lovecraft and found his own true voice. Ultimately, we decided that this needed to be a proper, career-spanning retrospective. I discussed the idea with Ramsey who gave his blessings and the go-ahead to make use of any of his creations, no holds barred!

“Joe and I each compiled a wish-list of authors whom we wanted to invite to contribute. We compared notes, merged lists, and found that we had far too many names, even only taking into account those we’d had on both our lists. We debated all the names and finally had a list we both agreed would be our starting point. A great deal of thought and discussion went into the line-up for this book. There were a few key points we insisted on, and from the start, it was our goal to have a diverse, international mix of contributors. We sought out authors who were fans of Ramsey’s and had been influenced by his body of work — folks whom we knew would put their hearts into it because they wanted to be a part of this tribute and not just to make a sale. Our only edict was that this was not going to be another Cthulhu book, although as it was an important part of Ramsey’s career we couldn’t completely ignore it and did include something for the Cthulhu fans.

“With two or three notable exceptions, everyone accepted our invitation. As the stories came in we were thrilled by what we saw, and it wasn’t long before all the slots were filled and we had to stop sending out invitations. Joe and I assembled our table of contents, which we did with significant care and consideration. Like composing a piece of music, works were put in a particular sequence to achieve a certain melody, sometimes unsettling and other times full of wonder. is our opus in reverence to Ramsey Campbell and his long and esteemed career, our Hymns from the Church in High Street.”

Available for pre-order.

Darker Companions by edited by Scott David Aniolowski & Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.

Welcome to DARKER COMPANIONS, a celebration of Ramsey Campbell.

The year 2014 marked the 50th anniversary of the publication of Ramsey Campbell’s first fiction collection, THE INHABITANT OF THE LAKE AND LESS WELCOME TENANTS. The Arkham House book, published in 1964 when he was just 18, was actually his second appearance at Arkham House, the first being in 1962’s August Derleth-edited anthology DARK MIND, DARK HEART, his first professional sale as an author. To commemorate the impressive event, I thought it only fitting to assemble an anthology of stories in tribute to Ramsey, written by some of his many fans and friends currently working in the field of the weird.

Here’s the line-up in all of of its perverse pleasure:

  • Introduction: Hymns from the Church in High Street by Scott David Aniolowski 
  • Holoow by Michael Wehunt 
  • The Long Fade into Evening by Steve Rasnic Tem 
  • Asking Price by S.P. Miskowski 
  • Author! Author?  by John Llewellyn Probert 
  • Meriwether by Michael Griffin 
  • The Entertainment Arrives by Alison Littlewood 
  • Premeditation by Marc Laidlaw 
  • A Perfect Replica by Damien Angelica Walters 
  • There, There by Gary McMahon 
  • We Pass from View by Matthew M. Bartlett 
  • Meeting the Master by Gary Fry 
  • Saints in Gold by Kristi DeMeester 
  • This Last Night in Sodom by Cody Goodfellow 
  • The Whither by Kaaron Warren 
  • Uncanny Valley by Jeffrey Thomas 
  • The Dublin Horror by Lynda E. Rucker 
  • The Sixth Floor by Thana Niveau 
  • The Carcass of the Lion by Christopher Slatsky 
  • The Granfalloon by Orrin Grey 
  • Little Black Lamb by Adam L G Nevill

Available for pre-order.

Treasure Trove of Tales: EXTRASOLAR Line-Up

And then there are the Earth-type planets circling red dwarfs like Proxima Centauri, much discussed recently.

With such extraordinary new astronomical knowledge in mind, I asked contributors toExtrasolar to write stories exploring super-Earths and superjovians and hot Neptunes. I also suggested that they could look at how SF itself is being altered by the tantalising filling in of so many gaps in the cosmic map. This is the treasure trove of tales that resulted:

  • Holdfast – Alastair Reynolds
  • Shadows of Eternity – Gregory Benford
  • A Game of Three Generals – Aliette de Bodard
  • The Bartered Planet – Paul Di Filippo
  • Come Home – Terry Dowling
  • The Residue of Fire – Robert Reed
  • Thunderstone – Matthew Hughes
  • Journey to the Anomaly – Ian Watson
  • Canoe — Nancy Kress
  • The Planet Woman By M.V. Crawford – Lavie Tidhar
  • Arcturean Nocturne – Jack McDevitt
  • Life Signs – Paul McAuley
  • The Fall of the House of Kepler – Ian R. MacLeod
  • The Tale of the Alcubierre Horse – Kathleen Ann Goonan

Available for pre-order.

EXTRASOLAR Edited by Nick Gevers

Sneak peek extract:

Introduction by Nick Gevers 

Imagine you’re the captain of Earth’s first interstellar spaceship. The twist is, though, that the spaceship is the sort of vessel dreamt up by SF writers of the mid- to late twentieth century. This could be an advantage: the further back in SF’s history you go, the freer writers seem to have felt in ignoring the obstacle posed by the speed of light. So your spaceship is an FTL one, Faster Than Light, propelled by some sort of hyperdrive. You can reach the stars in a few weeks of subjective time.

Now imagine, further, that your conception of exotic solar systems—even close ones, like Alpha Centauri’s—is based entirely on guesswork. Your ship is twentieth century, your knowledge is twentieth century. You know nothing of what orbital telescopes and other technologies have in fact revealed over the last couple of decades. Like any SF writer of the 1960s, 1970s, or 1980s, you have had to rely on intelligent extrapolation from the nature of our own, familiar, solar system. Rocky terrestrial planets near the sun, gas giants further out, plenty of rocky moons orbiting the gas giants, lots of comets and other ice objects in the outermost reaches. Surely this pattern must often repeat itself, especially in the case of yellow dwarf stars like our sun? And thus there must be many Earth-like worlds, home to complex forms of life, worlds with breathable atmospheres, potential New Earths?

You and your crew sally forth as outright discoverers, using direct close-up observation to confirm or disprove your suppositions. You are aware of the possibility of shocking outcomes. Perhaps other stars simply have no planets at all. Perhaps you will find peculiar configurations; after all, writers like Hal Clement, Larry Niven, Poul Anderson, Jack Vance, and others conceived of very odd, even crazy, planetary arrangements in their time. Might godlike aliens have engineered entire solar systems closer to their hearts’ desire, fashioning ringworlds, Dyson spheres, shapes more fantastic still?

So you are ready for surprises; your imagination has been primed by the cognitive shocks implicit in a thousand SF stories. Your imagination is a capacious one (after all, you’ve come up with a starship and yourself in charge of it, so you’ve a bold enough fancy.) But the universe has a tendency to overwhelm us with its cosmic ingenuity…

Thus your tour of the stars in our galactic neighbourhood astonishes you. Colossal superjovians, gas giants eight, ten, fifteen times the size of Jupiter, barrel along in grotesquely irregular orbits around their suns, creating gravitational chaos, spinning planets and moons of more ordinary size all over the place, even into interstellar space. Such displaced rogue worlds can wander for billions of years between the stars, unless captured by another stellar primary. There are plenty of smaller gas giants, some like Jupiter, some like Neptune; also no shortage of rocky Earth-like bodies; but in many cases a star’s entire family of planets orbits it extremely close in–inside the equivalent of Mercury’s orbit–enduring temperatures of many hundreds of degrees centigrade and thus qualifying as so-called hot Neptunes and hot Jupiters. They must have formed much further out, so how did they migrate inwards with such freakish consistency? Their years are equal to a few of our days. And those terrestrial-type worlds: so often these are super-Earths, a lot bigger than Earth itself, with several times our gravity and very thick atmospheres. Indeed, even a less imposing super-Earth can boast a bizarrely thick atmosphere, earning the designation ‘super-puff’. Or a rocky planet drowns beneath an ocean thousands of miles deep!

You and your starship crew are in due course both drunk on novelty and in the grip of alarm. You had hoped to locate a reasonable number of worlds physically resembling Earth and safely within the Goldilocks zone, that orbital space around a star where it is neither too hot nor too cold for life to evolve on a stably orbiting rocky planet with an atmosphere thick enough to shelter fragile organisms, yet thin enough not to stifle them. But there are discouragingly few such havens; and even if they carry liquid water, misadventures like solar flares, nearby supernovas, errant superjovians, asteroid and comet strikes, gamma ray bursts, and huge volcanic eruptions can render them no refuges at all. Where are the New Earths to be found?

A member of your crew makes a suggestion: why not direct the search to red dwarf stars? If planets so frequently orbit very close in, wouldn’t the comparatively dim output of light and heat by a red dwarf leave its terrestrial planets potentially habitable, despite their proximity? So you set course for a selection of these stars, and you begin to approach your El Dorado. Many worlds huddle around these ember-red fires; there are Earths and super-Earths in great numbers, and could that gleam over there be home to a mighty alien civilization, dreaming under a blood-red sun?




The answer to that last question is Probably Not, but this is an imaginative exercise, after all. All the facts about exotic stars and their planetary companions, revealed to us over the last twenty-two years by astronomers using the Kepler and other space telescopes and employing various methods for filtering information out of complex observations, can be summarized, though very inadequately, as I’ve done above. The implications of these findings are dismaying, in confirming that complex organic life is unlikely to occur often; but also encouraging, demonstrating the extraordinary talent Reality has for defying our expectations, and opening up grand new vistas for the scientific intellect to explore and the science-fictional imagination to populate with scenarios of far-ranging wonder.

For Extrasolar, I asked fourteen leading SF writers to take on the new possibilities, whether in hope or in fear or a mixture of the two. The results are gratifyingly and fascinatingly diverse; so here we go, beyond our comfortable solar system, out to others, enticing, menacing, always bracingly strange…

–Nick Gevers, Cape Town 2017

Now available for pre-order.


Sneak Peek Extract:

MONSTER TOWN by Bruce Golden



It was a hard wet rain that beat an ominously staccato rhythm on the roof of my Packard as I drove to the outskirts of the city.  Thunder rumbled overhead like a bowling ball sliding down a corrugated tin roof, and the ferocious whipcracks of lightning sounded as if they were tearing great rents in time and space.

The rain didn’t bother me. Neither did the thunder.  I was sober . . . more or less.  What nagged me was the unknown. Not the unknown that I knew about.  I could deal with that.  It was the obscure unknown, the one that always popped its ugly mug out of a dark shadow with a cackling laugh, that worried me.  Call it a personality quirk, but I could never be completely relaxed if there was a mystery to be solved–even if I knew the answer would presently reveal itself.

What puzzled me this particular evening was what the wealthiest man in town wanted with me. Usually I just took pictures of cheating spouses, or an occasional insurance scammer pretending to be laid-up, but actually water skiing off Catalina. But three hours ago I’d gotten a call from some secretary saying her boss, one Vladimir Prince, would like to speak with me about contracting my services. What the job was she wouldn’t say, asking only that I arrive precisely at seven. I almost said no thanks, as I’d planned on being deep inside a bottle by seven.  Normally I never let my work interfere with my drinking, but the rent was due.

You may or may not know that Vladimir Prince was the owner of several wineries and a couple breweries, along with enough other businesses and real estate holdings to choke a platoon of accountants. However, unless you keep up with the trades, you probably don’t know that Prince feathered his initial nest egg working in the movie business. He was known back then as “Dracula” or “Count Dracula” or “the Dark Prince,” depending on the script. Unlike most horror movie stars, he’d invested wisely.  Which is why he lived out on the very edge of Monster Town, away from the urban blight and general riff raff that infested the main streets.

Of course Monster Town isn’t the way most people picture it. Yes, it had its roots in a time when movie monsters were ostracized by their Hollywood brethren. Instead of fighting to fit in, they let themselves be ghettoized just south of Beverly Hills, into a post-war industrialized area whose industries had gone belly-up.  And it wasn’t just famous freaks of the silver screen that lived there. It was also home to hundreds, hell, thousands of wannabes.  It wasn’t unlike Hollywood in that sense–where every waitress is a star-in-waiting, and every valet has a screenplay he wants you to read.

Yes, Monster Town, for the most part, is populated with the hopeful, the star-struck, the dregs of the Earth who weren’t quite monstrous enough.  Its avenues are peppered with the gimps, the geeks, the freaks who never got their shot at fame and fortune.  Of course some of the more well-known monsters reside there too, though few of them were as smart or successful as Prince.  What they have are their memories, their posters, their faded fame . . . but little fortune.

Casting directors still, on occasion, trolled the streets for a small part here or there, but Tinseltown just wasn’t making monster flicks like they used to.  So, when the celluloid gravy train dried up, monsters had to make a living like anyone.  Now they were fry cooks and teachers and dog catchers and shopkeepers.  Some were hoodlums, others thieves, and a few were even killers.  In other words, Monster Town was really like any other city.

Before I could get to the suburb I was headed for, I had to pass through the ghost town that had been the old factory district.  Most of the companies there had gone out of business years ago, but I saw a few that still showed signs of life.  Whether they were actually making things, or just tearing them down, I had no idea.  I passed the old pump station, and was surprised to see it still pumping away, despite its rusty exterior, diverting water from the L.A. County Waterworks’ main line to Monster Town.  I guess something had to keep the toilets flushing.

Even though I lived in Monster Town, I wasn’t in show business–never had been.  I ended up there by happenstance.  Not really an interesting story.  Now I was just looking for a job to pay my bills and keep me in hooch.  Though I never imagined a job would take me this far from the grime and crime.

Even when I was flush with cash I didn’t get out of town much.  I certainly was never invited to any parties in the ritzy suburban neighborhood I was driving through now.  I belonged here like broccoli belongs on a chocolate sundae.  But the trees and green grass were a nice change from the littered asphalt and cracked and peeling paint I could see from my own digs.

The truth is, it was almost a dreamscape.  Each house I drove past seemed bigger and more ostentatious than the last.  When I finally reached Prince’s place, it was, without a doubt, the biggest one yet.  You couldn’t even call it a house.  It was a full-blown mansion . . . a pearly white summer palace standing iridescent in the rain.

I gave my name at the gate and was granted entry.  The rain slowed to a damp drizzle and the sky cleared just enough to reveal the setting sun.  I didn’t know if it was the still-lingering clouds or the fact I needed another drink, but it felt like an uncertain gloom had settled over the lush countryside.  The only thing I was certain of at that moment, was that I needed new windshield wiper blades.

I pulled into the estate, saw its grounds manicured as carefully as a duchess in waiting.  Guards patrolled the extended property with sentry dogs.  I shuddered just a little.  I didn’t like dogs–not guard dogs, not poodles, not friendly little mutts. I wasn’t afraid of them. I just didn’t like them.  Fortunately there were none close to the house where I was told to park.

I pulled up and got out of the Packard.  I put on my hat and adjusted my trench coat.  Maybe it was just the extravagance of the setting, or the idea I’d be sitting down with the richest man in town, but I noticed the old fedora was getting a bit threadbare.  That made me think about my coat, and the stain on it from that night I couldn’t remember.  Well, he wasn’t hiring me for fashion advice . . . if he really was hiring me.

Prince’s stately manor reeked of intrigue and danger, with its stately columns and interlacing arches rising up like some old southern slave plantation.  I stared up at it and could almost hear a mysterious, forlorn trumpet wailing in the background, backed by a handful of inscrutable violins.

Out front here was actually an open tent designed just for car.  It wasn’t just any vehicle, but a Rolls Royce.  A manservant was busy polishing it, and I noticed the usual female “Spirit of Ecstasy” hood ornament had been replaced with a sterling bat, it’s wings outstretched in an imitation of flight.  It was weird, but definitely appropriate.

Four guys in expensive suits came walking out of the huge double doors before I reached the stairs leading up to the manor’s entrance.  They weren’t monsters and I’d never seen them before. They got into a limo that was waiting for them and drove off.  I trudged up the stairs, breathing harder with each step and thinking a little exercise now and then wouldn’t kill me.  It didn’t help that the rain always made my old wound ache.

Catching my breath I rang the bell.  Faintly I heard something from inside sounding like the summoning of the monks.  It was only seconds before the doors opened.  Standing there was this guy dressed like a cross between an opera singer and a 17th Century general. I recognized him right away from his movie days, when he played Renfield, Dracula’s servant in all those old films.  Apparently some actors couldn’t shake their erstwhile roles.

He stood there for a moment, staring at me with disdain, before saying, “Mr. Slade, I presume.”

“That’s right.  I’m here to see Mr. Prince.”

His bug eyes reminded me of Peter Lorre.  Using them to full advantage, he gave me another look like he might have to disinfect place if he let me in.  Resigned to it, he stepped aside so I could enter.  I caught of whiff of gun oil as I passed him.  He had it hidden well under that costume of his, but I figured he was packing.

“May I take your hat and coat?” he asked in a manner that told me he didn’t really want to touch them.

“No, thanks,” I said. “I’ll keep them.”

It was a grand entryway, wide open and almost high enough for King Kong to stand without slouching. A huge staircase dominated the space, its lacquered railings leading up and around to where they finally vanished from view. The decor was all ivory and chrome–not at all what I expected from the Prince of Darkness.

Renfield directed me to the library, which, with its hundreds of books, looked like any other millionaire’s library–I presumed, having never really been in one. I wondered how many of the books Prince had actually read. My first thought was, probably not many–though if the rumors about his age were true, he just might have had the time to read them all.

“Wait here,” instructed Renfield. “The master will be with you shortly.”

I looked the place over. It was cluttered with wood carvings, little stone statues, and other eccentric doodads. There was a large fireplace with an ebony gargoyle perched on either end of the mantel, a finely crafted antique work desk, and some overstuffed chairs. But what dominated the room was above the mantel. It was a life-sized portrait of Prince himself. From what I remembered, it was a perfect likeness. It featured his aristocratic nose, his close-set black eyes, and that famous stare of his that would have frozen a hot cup of joe.

Nosey sleuth that I was, I wandered over to the desk and looked at the papers scattered there. I was surprised to see a brochure from that new amusement park they’d recently built down in Anaheim–the one I figured was mostly for kids. It didn’t seem like a place Dracula would visit for fun. Yet there was a map of the place and some design schematics I couldn’t quite make out.

I didn’t want to touch anything, so I twisted my head around to get a better look. I was only half-twisted when a voice surprised me.

“I thought I’d come down and get a look at you myself.”

Standing in the doorway was a sleek dame decked out in a simple white satin dress that likely cost more than my Packard did new. She was a looker and, by the way she stood posed there, she knew it. She had dark hair, sophisticated eyes, and pouty lips, but her face was pale . . . almost sickly looking.

Out of reflex, I took off my hat. I don’t think she cared.

“So you’re the private detective.” It wasn’t a question so I didn’t answer. “I thought gumshoes only existed in movies.”

“I’m real enough . . . but it usually takes me a couple of belts to get warmed up.”
She flashed a quick smile and sauntered towards me with sufficient sex appeal to stir a eunuch. When she was close enough for me to smell her perfume, she stopped. She reached out to touch my chest with her finger, as if to be certain I wasn’t an illusion.

I wasn’t sure what she’d try to touch next, but I thought it best to remain professional and not find out. I took hold of the hand she’d stroked me with and gave it a little shake.

“Dirk Slade. Pleased to meet you. Are you Mr. Prince’s daughter?”

She giggled at some private amusement as I released her hand.

“Mr. Prince doesn’t have any daughters . . . that I know of,” she said, staring up at me with a wantonness that was hard to miss.

“I see you’ve greeted our guest, Mina.”

I looked up from her beckoning eyes and saw him. I’d expected him, I knew I’d be meeting with him, but to actually see him in the flesh was a shade unsettling. I mean, how often do you find yourself in the presence of Count Dracula? Even if he was just an old actor, he was still the grand monarch of monsters.

“Now, please,” he said to her with only a slight accent, “I need to speak with Mr. Slade alone.”

She pouted but it was a little girl act that faded quickly to an alluring smile. She waved her fingers at me and walked out.

He waited until she was gone and said, “My son doesn’t approve of my paramour. He thinks she’s too young.”

It’s true she didn’t look half his age–and that’s if he was only as old as he looked.

“However, like many people, I’m a creature of my desires. And I’ve always had an indescribable thing for girls named Mina. She’s not particularly bright, but she pleases me in the ways that matter most.”

I briefly speculated on what those ways were, but realized I probably didn’t have the imagination to do it justice.

He moved towards me then. I say “moved” because he seemed to glide more than walk. He was as smooth as milk on marble and right next me with his hand out before he should have been.

“Vladimir Prince,” he said, taking hold of my hand but not shaking it. “Pleased to make your acquaintance.” He’d let go of my hand and was making his way around his desk before I knew it. “You come highly recommended, Mr. Slade.” His voice was gently commanding, yet reassuring.

“Please, have a seat.” He gestured at the chairs in front of his desk.

“Who recommended me?” I was curious who would vouch for me with a high-roller like Prince.

“Oh, I know many people, Mr. Slade. I have many sources.”

“I’m a fan of yours, as well,” I said. “I’ve seen all your–”

“Please,” he said a bit too loudly, “let’s let the past stay in the past. I’d rather speak about the matter at hand.”

Apparently he didn’t want to talk about his old movies. Maybe the association was bad for business. That was jake with me, so I took a seat.

“What is the matter at hand? I was told you were in need of my services.”

He hesitated and I took the moment to study him more carefully.

He was slender, with short, slicked-back dark hair, and a pasty complexion, not unlike his young squeeze. He wasn’t wearing the cape I half expected, but looked refined in a very expensive, stylishly embroidered smoking jacket. The only thing out-of-place about him were his long fingernails. Whether he sharpened them to a point or they just grew that way, I had no idea.

He still hadn’t answered me, so I reached into my coat pocket. Before I even touched my pack he said, “Please don’t smoke.”

Renfield appeared then, carrying a tray filled with an elaborate bone china tea set and some little biscuits.

“Would you join me in tea?”

The tea really threw me. I found his choice of beverage surprising for a guy whose empire was built on booze. If anything, I expected him to offer me a mug of Impale Ale, or maybe a glass of Vlad’s Sangria.

To be polite, and because I really needed this job–whatever it was–I picked up one of the dainty cups of tea Renfield had poured and took a sip. I was almost afraid my big mitt would crush the little thing.

“Before I tell you why I’ve asked you here today, Mr. Slade, I must be certain I can count on your discretion.”

“I’m as discreet as they come, Mr. Prince. I wouldn’t last long in this business if I wasn’t.”

He sipped his own tea and I watched the shadowed corners of his mouth, hoping for a glimpse of those famous canines of his. I didn’t see them. I did notice his face held this cool, controlled expression that never seemed to change. Not even when he began to tell me why I was there.

“My son has gone missing, Mr. Slade. I want you to find him.”

“How old is he?”

“John is 17.”

“How long’s he been missing?”

“Three weeks now.”

“If you don’t mind my saying, it seems like a long time to wait before trying to find him.”

He got this faraway look in his eyes. “My son has been known to make himself unavailable for days at a time. You might say I was unconcerned I hadn’t heard from him, at least until recently.”

“Why not call the police?”

“I don’t want the police involved. I’m sure you understand.”

I nodded. There could be a dozen reasons why he didn’t want the police in on this. Half of them legitimate.

“Alright, I’ll take the job. I get $100 a day,” I said, doubling my normal fee, “plus expenses.”

He waved his hand as if it were an insignificant detail.

“Any idea where I should start looking for your son?”

“I know he has a school friend at James Whale High named Harold Talbot. I believe young Talbot is on the football team. He might know what happened to John.”

“Is that where your son goes to school?”

“Yes. But he hasn’t attended for at least a month, according to their records.”

“Then he dropped out even before he disappeared.”

“It would seem so.”

“Alright, I’ll start there.”

It had all been very formal. Almost like he’d hired me to pick up his dry cleaning. For a guy whose son was missing, he seemed rather cold . . . stiff. Not that I would have expected a gush of emotion from an old bird like him, but he’d handled the entire transaction like he had a wooden stake up his ass.

“You’ll keep me apprised of your progress?”


“That’s a recent photo of him,” said Prince, pointing one of his overly long fingernails at a framed photo on his desk.

He was a good-looking kid, slender like his father, with the same dark hair and eyes.

“You can take it with you if you like.”

“Not necessary,” I said. “I’m good with faces. I’ll remember him.”

More likely than not, the kid was playing back seat bingo with some dolly deep in Monster Town, with or without a needle in his arm. I’d roust some bums, ask a few questions, kick in the odd door or two, and probably find the little Prince in a few days . . . though, at a C-note a day, I might not be in any hurry.

Like I said, it wasn’t show business, it was just a job . . . and that was jake with me.



Interview: MONSTER TOWN by Bruce Golden



Now available for pre-order.

PS: How did you come up with the idea for Monster Town?

GOLDEN: Years ago I wrote a short story titled “I Was a Teenage Hideous Sun Demon.” It was a bit of dark satire based on the title character from a little known 1958 B-movie called The Hideous Sun Demon. For that story I created what you might call an alternate universe where movie monsters actually existed and played themselves in the movies. More famous monsters like Dracula and the Wolfman did well for themselves. The Hideous Sun Demon not so much.

PS: How did that lead to the book?

GOLDEN: I always felt the idea of such a world was fairly unique, and would provide a great setting for a book-length tale. The more I thought about it, the more I pictured it in my mind as a kind of film noir–a murder mystery set in a place called Monster Town.

PS: But movie monsters weren’t the only thing you satirized.

GOLDEN: No. The idea of a film noir murder mystery led me to think of the old hard-boiled detective stories. I decided to combine the movie monster genre with that of the forties and fifties detectives. Being a lifelong film buff and former movie reviewer, I knew movie monsters and film noir fairly well, but I wasn’t as familiar with the hard-boiled detective stories. So I read as many books as I could get my hands on by authors like Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and Mickey Spillane. I also watched plenty of old horror movies and films like Out of the Past, The Big Sleep, Murder My Sweet, and The Maltese Falcon.

PS: That sounds like a lot of research.

GOLDEN: You can’t do a good job of satirizing something unless you know it inside and out. But satire is a tricky thing. I prefer a subtle brand of parody that sneaks up on you as opposed to slapping you in the face. There are certainly plenty of quirky characters in Monster Town, but the plot is told straight-forward. The satire is in the “hard-boiled” language of P.I. Dirk Slade’s narration. But, like all humor, it’s subjective. Some people get what you’re trying to do and others . . . well, you just hope they enjoy it on another level.

PS: Is there a chance we’ll be seeing more of private investigator Dirk Slade?

GOLDEN: You never know. It would certainly be jake with me.

Now available for pre-order.