I love the fiction of Grady Hendrix, and I was excited to read his nonfiction book about horror, Paperbacks From Hell. Unfortunately I was mostly disappointed in it. Instead of the serious study of the horror paperback realm I was craving, Paperbacks From Hell is largely a sarcastic look at the worst the genre had to offer. I never had any interest in delving into the dregs of horror fiction. I prefer to focus on the best of it.

I saw Hendrix's Paperbacks From Hell live presentation at the first Authorcon, in Williamsburg, VA, and I really liked it. I also enjoyed talking to the author. Especially when we discussed Wings Hauser. He gives a dynamic presentation that worked better than on the page.

Grady Hendrix and Will Errickson have been curating a line of old horror titles with Valancourt Books, appropriately called Paperbacks From Hell. I was pleased to see them reprint excellent titles by Elizabeth Engstrom.

Hendrix and Errickson have admittedly read piles and piles of terrible horror books. I admire the dedication, but I never had a penchant for masochism. I'm sure they have read far worse than David Fisher's The Pack. I'm equally sure they read far, far better.

I remember seeing The Pack around. I dismissed it as another Jaws ripoff. I wasn't wrong. Even at the tender age of fourteen I saw Jaws as a potboiler. Good research about sharks and the sea, but a lot of the book stank of trashy bestsellers of the era.

I've bought most of the Paperbacks From Hell releases, because I think it's a cool thing, and maybe I'll be surprised by what I find in the pages.

I was not surprised by The Pack at all. It's exactly what I figured it would be. A competently written piece of derivative junk. It's not even, by my estimation, a real Paperback From Hell. The Pack was a major hardcover when it was originally published.

The story is strictly paint-by-numbers. A strikingly unlikable man, his shrewish wife, and generic children visit their parents on a desolate island. The tourists are gone for the season, and they are mostly alone. Plus a brutal storm is brewing. Why the son does not postpone the visit is a legitimate question. Don't waste time searching for logic here.

It seems that summer visitors obtain pets for their long vacations, and then abandon them. Fisher was inspired by the real-life situation and used it to for this, his debut novel.

Hungry and cold, the dogs band together and become lethal. Before you know it, it's Night of the Living Curs, as the family barricades the house, while the starving dogs display preternatural powers of reason.

It isn't all bad. There are a few decent scenes, such as the opener, in which a man leads a dog into the woods with a partially cut rope. He ties up the poor thing in hope that it can break free after he and his family are gone. It's a strong, heartbreaking moment. Sadly, the book goes downhill from there.

The most interesting character is the man's loose cannon brother, who comes to the rescue, but the subplot goes nowhere and does nothing to enhance the story.

I get frustrated when I think of all the great writers who would be perfect for this book series. So many I could list without even blinking: Alan Ryan, Steve Rasnic Tem, T.M. Wright, Charles L. Grant, A. R. Morlan, Matthew J. Costello, Rick Hautala, Chet Williamson. I'm sure copyright issues are complicated, and not all would be possible, but there are hundreds of candidates better than The Pack.

I think Hendrix and Errickson are probably going for a camp factor with their selections. The Nest, by Gregory A. Douglas, was a decent choice for the series. I can't say the same for The Pack. Go with James Herbert's The Rats instead. Or Cujo, for that matter.

Written by Mark Sieber

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