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A GuranLeisure Books has launched a new line of horror that includes established writers like Douglas Clegg and Ed Gorman, but my first Leisure read is Mary Ann Mitchell's, Drawn to the Grave.
If you are looking for deep thoughts, sociological impact, and philosophy, Drawn to the Grave won't be your cup of hemlock. If you want a rapid romp through old-fashioned horror, updated with some wit, you won't be disappointed.
Skip over a completely unnecessary introduction and dive right into this terror tale. By the end of the first chapter you'll find the beauteous Beverly magicked into a poster girl for the living dead. Carl loves her, but he loves his own healthy life more. A helpful South American chieftain taught him the secret to surviving a fatal disease: Draw (yes, the title is a pun) an exact sketch of a healthy human, bury it and bingo, they start rotting and decaying instead of Carl. Oh, they are still sort of alive for awhile -- just rotting away with vermin spewing from every oriface. It's like Dorian Grey's portrait come to life or, rather,living death.
Carl leaves Bev to her extended animated putrescence and her ongoing angst over it. Maybe because Bev is one of the more determined vital corpses anyone could hope to find; maybe because Carl did love her; maybe because...well, who knows...Bev bothers Carl more than his usual victim. She inflicts (I guess you can't say she haunts, since she's not a ghost, yet) Carl with a constant reminder -- the overwhelming smell of her favorite flowers, hyacinths. (The first chapter is based on "The Hyacinth Girl," was published in The Year's Best Horror Stories XXI in 1992.)
Meanwhile, pretty, perky, and pert Megan walks right into Carl's neck of the woods. (And it is a woods. Bev was conveniently ensconced alone in an isolated house down the river from Carl's place.) Megan immediately tells Carl she's on an extended cross country hike alone, that nobody's going to be looking for her anytime soon, and provides a handy knee injury so he can literally sweep her off her feet and into her future as zombie princess. After all, soon he'll need a replacement for Bev. Seems Carl has been seducing willing women for quite some time. Sex provides a great opportunity to become familiar enough with his victim's bodies to sketch a perfect match in order to make the hoodoo happen.
This is the kind of horror that makes grown-ups giggle more than gasp, but Mitchell throws some curves and surprisingly, delivers a few shivers. Beverly's daily dealings with real problem skin -- the kind that smells and drops off in chunks and has rats wanting to chew it; the difficulties of maggots munching your brain; and all the other little things that make death so darned annoying are more hilarious than horrifying. Her determination to somehow deal with Carl is endearing. Ace cad Carl's pretty funny, too, as he copes with the task of making love to Megan and keeping her amused long enough to get the darned drawing right. He's also still attracted to Bev, rot not withstanding. His rigid manhood lasciviously seeks entrance to the female oriface in Bev's decomposing bodily temple and he winds up crying out, "Take my life, my seed!" as he spills said molten seed inside her.
Then there's Megan. She's one of those girls who would insist on opening a door, alone, in a haunted house, with a psycho killer on the loose, and everyone screaming, "Don't open it!" But when she meets up with Bev, the plot starts to really percolate. Turns out Megan is as plucky as she is pert -- and a little more.
Mitchell's prose is sometimes stilted, but you don't care while you are reading it. I zipped through its 313 pages in under two hours and had fun the whole time.
As for Leisure's foray into horror publishing there are signs that make me worry. Ed Gorman's cover blurb is dead serious. Worse, the nicely designed cover sports a Gothic-gabled two-story house framed with standard spooky bare tree in the foreground. In other words -- neither element has a thing to do with the book. Can skeletal cheerleaders and beheaded dolls be far behind?