Monday, August 22, 2016

Book Review: Madhouse by Various Authors, edited by Brad C. Hodson and Benjamin Kane Ethridge

Okay, so before I get started with anything else about this book, can we please talk about this cover art? You won’t get the full effect just viewing it on this blog, since it’s a mega-cool wraparound, but holy mutha this is one of the nicest covers I’ve seen for a horror book in such a long time. It’s so weird to think how many awful covers there are out there, uh…“gracing” the covers of various horror novels and anthologies, when the genre is more perfect than any other for the grotesquely gorgeous. Yet, somehow, so few get the visuals right. Makes no sense to me. But Brad C. Hodson and Benjamin Kane Ethridge got it right when they chose Aeron Alfrey as their artist. Luckily, that’s not the only thing the editors got right.

With Madhouse, Hodson and Ethridge have chosen to take an approach that is becoming more popular these days (an approach I’m all for and one I’m shocked was not more common in the past): the shared world anthology. However, Madhouse is more than just a collection of stories that happen to take place in the same universe. The shorts written by the various authors also share space with chapters written by the editors. The result: a fairly cohesive novel masquerading as an anthology. I know it sounds like I’m tickling the editors’ pink parts, but they really did a bang up job of creating this world and guiding the authors they chose to adhere to it and keep a certain amount of continuity. A few characters even appear throughout different stories (Drake is an especially memorable and detestable character). I imagine this was a serious pain in the tuckus to orchestrate, but the hard work paid off.

The premise? A major sandstorm hits a behavioral center in Arizona and things go batshit crazy from there. A lot of mysterious plot threads, most of which remain unexplained (which I’m fine with). Though there is no filler throughout Madhouse and it was difficult to choose standouts, there were a few stories I’d pick if a gun were pressed to my head: “Birdman” by R.B Payne, “The Writing on the Wall” by Robin Spriggs (less a story, more a brilliantly mad recital), “The Fraud” by Jeff Strand, and “Foodfight” by John Skipp. Skipp’s is the most peculiar to me. I recently read this same story in his collection The Art of Horrible People and couldn’t make any sense of it, I suppose because it was removed from its true context. It probably shouldn’t have been included in that collection, but reading it here, as it was meant to be, well let’s just say I really loved it. It’s just plain bonkers (not that the rest of Madhouse isn’t pretty bonkers, but you kind of have to expect a bit of next-level craziness from Skipp). In addition to the awesome stories, there is also a ton of additional killer art throughout by Alfrey.

I can’t recommend this book enough. In many ways, this level of creativity and quality is what I expect of modern horror, so I offer a hearty thank you to everyone involved in the project for delivering on the promise quite a few other writers/editors/publishers do not.

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