While horror fiction all too often gets the cold shoulder from the major publishing houses these days, it's at least enjoying a small renaissance in the independent book market, both in print and digital media. But that also means there's even more crap out there mixed in with the quality stuff. I'm going to try and help my fellow horror readers sort that out. I spend just as much time scouring the moldy aisles of used book stores searching for vintage gems as I do online, always seeking that elusive high that comes from discovering a new author or one I'd overlooked long ago. I love sharing my findings with fellow fans; it multiplies the value of a good story in ways you just can't do with most other art forms. That's why we're kicking off this new feature series, so I can haul out these discoveries, or just dust off old favorites from my bookshelves, and maybe you'll get that hunting urge yourself.
My first pick is a more recent find, from a well-established and award-winning author whose acquaintance I made online a few years ago. Ray Garton is not only the creator of the classic postmodern vampire tale Live Girls, but he's also the author of my all-time favorite werewolf series, the “Big Rock” novels (look 'em up in our gift guide). His style is swift, brutal and often gruesome (but never wallows in gore for its own sake), his characters tend to possess layers of mystery and shadowy motivations that drive the story in unpredictable directions, and he delivers scares that will make the book jump in your hands. Such is the juice of Meds, a cautionary and socially-conscious (but not preachy) tale about the dangers of over-reliance on pharmaceuticals... and in this case, those dangers go way beyond all the annoying precautions you hear in the drug commercials.
Based on Garton's own experiences with prescription medications and their frightening side effects (he goes into graphic detail on his website), Meds is the story of a troubled man named Eli Dunbar who finds himself caught up in a series of violent crimes, all of which seem linked to a specific prescription medication that works wonders – that is, until you stop taking them. Of course Dunbar has been on this prescription himself to overcome a long-time addiction, and when the manufacturer suddenly stops making them... well, you get the idea. The terror of not knowing if or when Eli's going to lose control is the tension that drives the main plot, along with an undercurrent of body horror reminiscent of an early David Cronenberg film. Having myself experienced the hazards of careless pill-pushing doctors who jumped too quickly to certain diagnoses and prescriptions for my own health issues (now long gone, thankfully), this story shook me up in a very personal way... but you know, really good horror fiction has a way of finding wounds in your psyche and prying those suckers open. It can be a very liberating experience, provided you're brave enough to dive in. I'd recommend taking that plunge with this one.