Review – “Boot Boys of the Wolf Reich” by David Agranoff

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I really hoped that this release from Deadite Press would be good. Punk/skinhead subculture and werewolves are both right up my street, so I was pleased to discover that David Agranoff has written an appropriate homage to both. With characters worth rooting for and plenty of gore, this is as much a coming of age tale as it is a ghastly slab of Nazi horror.Boot Boys final coverA chilling prologue introduces Klaus Schroeder, SS gruppenfuhrer at Auschwitz. He’s as cold, efficient and dangerously hateful as you would expect, and whilst on the trail of escaped prisoners, he discovers an ancient cult who use the hide of an Egyptian wolf-god to achieve lycanthropy.

We are then transported to Chicago, 1989, to meet Paul: a young mixed-race skinhead new to town. He’s quite a likeable lad, and we’re along for the ride as he settles into his new life, sees his first street fight, and finds both love and brotherhood with the local scene of punks and skins.

Similarly we meet tough guy Sonny, who used to be one of this crowd but has since fallen in with neo-Nazis. He now works at an auto store run by an ex-KKK wizard and although more intelligent than the other thugs in the gang, he finds asserting himself more difficult in such an ultra-aggressive environment. Not to mention them getting a beating, twice, at the hands of new kid Paul and his anti-racist crew.

But our old friend Klaus is also new to the area, fresh from evading Mossad overseas. He’s looking to resurrect Hitler’s Reich by starting an Aryan werewolf army, tuned for hunting and unstoppable savagery. What better place to start recruiting than a store full of white power boot boys out for revenge?

I enjoyed this book. The first half has plenty of street menace, with one tense scene using a dead-end alleyway to good effect. I suspect that some of this is semi-autobiographical, which lends credibility to the action. And once the lycanthropy has kicked off, there are scenes of stalking and violence that get the pulse racing. Some of these characters are dangerous enough as people, but as werewolves?

Regarding the protagonists, Paul’s coming-of-age rings true and Sonny brings ambivalence. Despite him being on the wrong side, he has potential, and toys with our loyalties. It also leaves us guessing as to whether the bestial nature of the wolf will be his redemption or downfall.

While the racist slurs used in dialogue are startling, they stamp a chilling authenticity on the neo-Nazis. Overall, the politics and the whys-and-wherefores are tackled intelligently without eroding any of the fun of the story. It is also through this that comes some of the more uplifting moments. When Paul is locked up in a cell with a rival gang member, there’s an American History X type moment of camaraderie that brings hope.

There are plenty of nasty moments, but this is tempered by humour in the comradeship, and also through the narration. For example, the neat throwaway line “They had to eat the Hammer Skins because they wouldn’t calm down” made me laugh out loud.

As I was hoping, “Boot Boys of the Wolf Reich” is rounded off by a showdown of violence and gore. As the first half lets us get to know the crew, this is monstrous carnage we can invest in, and certainly makes the most of the concept with some well-written cinematic flourishes.

A nice touch for the music fans, as well as the in-story references, is that each chapter starts with an appropriate lyric. Some of these are from my favourite Oi! bands, such as The Business and Cock Sparrer, and its great to see a nod to these often-unsung heroes of punk. And it’s also pleasing that there’s a firm differentiation between traditional skinheads and the sieg-heiling supremacists.

David Agranoff is a succinct storyteller. He paints a clear picture, whether in a concentration camp, ska gig or back street, and transports us there through the characterisation and drama. And if you’re not familiar with – or dislike – the music, then don’t worry. The subcultural garnish brings only colour and life, and you’ve still got a well-paced story and homicidal Nazi werewolves bent on world domination to entertain you.

Oi! Oi!

Review – “Clusterfuck” by Carlton Mellick III

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You know you’re in for plenty of warped humour and weird horror with Carlton Mellick III, and Clusterfuck is no exception. Loosely following on from the excellent Apeshit – that followed a bunch of jocks and cheerleaders being stalked by a crazed mutant in the woods – Clusterfuck has a similar hook. But this time it’s fratboys and college chicks on a caving weekend, and while not quite as outrageously gruesome, it piles on the claustrophobia and the laughs.ClusterfuckAs the author explains in the foreword, frat boys are both “the worst human beings on the face of the planet, and the funniest human beings on the face of the planet”. And that’s certainly true of this crowd. The “alpha-bro” of the group is Trent, who along with his gloriously stereotypical buddies – beer-guzzling, insensitive, sexist pricks – decides to stock up on booze and go caving with a trio of girls in tow, undeterred by his lack of experience and the fact that two of the girls can’t even stand him.

So after some pre-trip shenanigans and a journey into the wilds, with shades of Deliverance and The Texas Chainsaw¬†Massacre, they head off underground. Naturally, things start to go bad pretty quick. The cave network starts to flood, and if this wasn’t enough, they soon realise they’re not alone down there. Yes, there are cannibal mutants to contend with and as we have a bizzarro master at the helm, some brilliant and sick imagination is on the way.

It’s the characters that drive this story. A couple of them seem fairly normal at the outset, such as squeaky-voiced Lauren, who simpers around Trent, and Selena, who’s intelligent and completely unimpressed by bro-culture. And of course the quiet and sensible Lance, dragged on the trip without really wanting to be any part of it. But as we find out more, they’ve all got serious issues: some just weird, others monstrous. These are deftly teased into the plot, and I found myself delighted every time some back story made an appearance, wondering what perversion or beastly childhood trauma was going to surface next.

Lance Рwho suffers from human proximity anxiety and entrapment nightmares from his past Рalso forms the foundation of some intense claustrophobia. When he gets firmly wedged upside-down in a descending, pipe-thin tunnel, his panic beneath the pressing rock made me short of breath. This is expert writing, and also tempers the comedy and impending gore.

I ended up being quite fond of main player “Extreme Dean”, despite him being the most irritating, high-fiving, whooping, hooting bellend you could imagine. As the book progressed, his view of everything as awesome and extreme – no matter how unpleasant and tricky the situation might be – became rather infectious. But while his eternal optimism and complete lack of self-awareness is endearing, he’s still a dick, and capable of some pretty callous violence. I suppose it’s because “THAT’S WHAT YOU GET FROM MESSING WITH EXTREME DEAN, THE ULTIMATE ASS-KICKING MACHINE!”

The first half of the book is atmopsheric adventure-horror of a familiar tone, but the author’s gloves really come off for the second. The promised family of subterranean cannibals don’t disappoint, there’s gross-out moments involving male lactation, mutant sex and consumption of vomitus, and plenty of bone-crunching physical trauma. And although some of this causes a wince, it’s played for gory slapstick too. One scene involves Extreme Dean using poor Lance as a human shield to defend himself from a deranged butcher with a knife. The argument that ensues between the two fraternity bros during the attack made me laugh out loud.

It builds to a blackly comic finale, but harbours a nasty sting regarding the fate of one particular character. Although only hinted at in a couple of lines, it left a sour taste in my mouth as well as a smile on my face. Which is no bad thing.

Overall, this is a wild read, and the witty narration just rolls off the page. It’s not essential to have read Apeshit first (click for my review), despite the threads and references, as this is very much a standalone novel. But should you start here with Clusterfuck, it just means that you’ll have an extra “What the fuck?” moment that readers of the first book have already enjoyed. If “enjoyed” is the right word.

I think this is one of Carlton Mellick III’s finest works so far, and have to recommend this bad trip of horror, entrapment, douchebaggery and twisted humour. Because “This is gonna be the most EXTREME FUCKING WEEKEND EVER!”