Review: Frank Martin's SKIN DEEP and ORDINARY MONSTERS (2016)
Author Frank Martin tackles two genres in one in his double-novella out now from Burning Willow Press: Skin Deep: A Vampire Story of Love and Ordinary Monsters: High School and the Final Solution. Presented in a slick pulp package that includes a 5-page horror comic in between the two stories, both novellas tell exciting tales filled with memorable characters, action-packed sequences, and buckets of gooey blood. While Martin makes a few stylistic choices that lend the novellas a less-than-sophisticated feel, both Skin Deep and Ordinary Monsters are satisfying quick reads that put unique spins on the genre icons of yesteryear.
Skin Deep focuses on two sisters struggling to meet the demands of their conservative and restrictive parents while discovering their place in the world. When Laura, a young and promising athlete, meets a smooth-talking Cajun vampire in a crowded bar, the story takes a dark turn and Laura must rely on her older sister, Jessica, to save her. But Jessica has conflicts of her own; a talented artist, she longs to travel overseas in order to participate in an art fellowship, but she knows her controlling parents would never allow such a venture. In depicting his two leads in such a fashion, Martin makes an important choice. Though much of what transpires between Laura and vampire Remy becomes somewhat predictable, both Laura and Jessica are fully-realized characters, each with her own distinct personality, goals, and ambitions. So when the blood starts to spill in the novella's final scenes, readers find themselves rooting for both women, hoping that they will find some sort of resolution to their dilemmas. Though Skin Deep is unquestionably a vampire story, it is also the story of two sisters who must confront each other in a battle that seemed to be brewing long before one of them became infected. In the blood-soaked finale, Martin pulls no punches, gleefully describing a vampire showdown in ghastly detail. Though the writing is appropriate for both young and mature audiences, Skin Deep remains a thrilling, gory ride.
With traces of Stephen King's novella Apt Pupil (as well as Bari Woods' lesser-known 1981 novel, The Tribe), Martin's Ordinary Monsters examines the friendship between two teenagers, Erik and Liam, and the troubling ways in which the horrors of the Holocaust factor into their lives. This is dark, brooding territory, and Martin handles it well, never shying away from or exploiting the atrocities of World War II (Ordinary Monsters most likely takes its werewolf motif from the Nazi's own failed werwolf movement, a plan to develop a superior resistance force during the war and take the Allies by surprise). The novella does touch upon some historical moments but wisely keeps its focus on the crumbling relationship between Erik and Liam. The lycanthrope action is intense, graphic, and tragic, with each chapter moving along at a fast clip. Stylistically, Ordinary Monsters uses at times a "horror"-style font in order to communicate the derangement of one of its characters--a choice that was more distracting than effective--but otherwise succeeds in telling a horror story that is fun, gruesome, and richly-layered.
Frank Martin's Skin Deep and Ordinary Monsters, dual novellas in one seamless package, is available in both Kindle and paperback formats here. I would definitely recommend the paperback version, as Martin has a little fun with the "double-sided" and comic-book vibe of the work. Definitely worth checking out!