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The Last Book on the Left is a book that I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. I’ll say this right away: I love this book. It’s a great book and right in that sweet spot of informative and hilarious. However, one aspect nagged at me as I read and ultimately proved to be a problem for me.

The Last Book on the Left was written by Marcus Parks, Ben Kissel, and Henry Zebrowski. The illustrations in the book are by independent comic artist Tom Neely (The Humans). When I mention three authors, I should clarify that the bulk of the writing is on the shoulders of Marcus Parks; Kissel and Zebrowski are contributors who add a great deal, but this is firmly a project guided by the Texas ghoul.

What Works about The Last Book on the Left

How do you translate the format of the podcast to the written page? By just doing what the podcast is already doing. Marcus Parks writes down a chapter that covers one of the infamous killers while Ben Kissel and Henry Zebrowski pepper in their asides and occasional insights. Repeat this over nine chapters are you have The Last Book on the Left. This sounds a bit laconic, but that’s basically it. Throw in some pictures illustrated by the wonderfully talented Tom Neely and a final jokey item written by the authors (such as a letter from a “concerned neighbor” of Jeffrey Dahmer) and you have the entirety of The Last Book on the Left.

To the credit of the team, this works incredibly well. Marcus Parks’ writing provides the through-line of the chapter, balancing grim irony and shocking depictions of violent, abhorrent crime. Ben Kissel drops the written equivalent of drunk dad jokes and references. Zebrowski alternates between very messed up jokes and some solid insights. All of this is absolutely on-brand for the podcast and it translates to the page with paragraphs of Parksian description with interjections of his co-writers. It makes the book feel a lot like a textbook, only probably one of the most fun textbooks you’ll ever read.

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The book covers nine fan-favorite “heavy hitters” from the podcast. This list includes such murderous luminaries as Ted Bundy, Richard Chase, Ed Gein, John Wayne Gacy, Richard Ramirez, David Berkowitz, BTK, Andrei Chikatilo, and Jeffrey Dahmer. Each profile ranges from around 20 to 30 pages and covers a little biography with an emphasis on the development of these figures as literal bogeymen. These are all figures who have been profiled extensively on the podcast and no information here is really brand new. The addition of Tom Neely’s illustrations, ranging from great splash pages, EC Comics style avatars for the podcasts (think Tales from the Crypt) to comic and cartoon parodies are some extra levity to the book.

However, the novelty of the book is to present something a little more refined and edited than the podcast (which is generally fairly thorough). The book works largely in the form of a “best of anthology” regarding content. Some stuff just ultimately feels missing, however. The insertions of jokes and comments by Kissel and Zebrowski are welcome and used an appropriate amount for the 20 to 30 pages per chapter (with the exceptions of BTK and Dahmer, who get the largest chapters). Ultimately, though this leads to a lack of one of the best parts of the podcast: the back and forth between the hosts. It’s not entirely possible here and something feels a little lost because of that. It’s not a complete one-to-one translation of the podcast, but it never could be.

Overall, the book largely succeeds in balancing the needs of appealing to fans and also being general enough for the casual book-buyer into murder. There is one major issue, however.

What Didn’t Work about The Last Book on the Left

As a whole, the book is excellent and mostly balances the tough challenge of being for the fans while also being general enough for anyone to enjoy. The voices of the contributors are quite clear even on the page, and for fans, it’s near impossible to read the book without hearing the voices of the podcasters describing every gold star moment and Bobby Bonilla reference.

The big problem for me with the book comes from me being a fan and having certain expectations. One great thing about the podcast is that the sources of the episodes are given relatively early into the first episode of a series. We are given information on the conducted research and it lends the podcast a certain level of credibility. Unfortunately, cited sources feel relatively few and far between in the different serial killer profiles. Parks does make references to certain texts but there is a lack of a resources section. This ultimately hurts the book for me because it seems like a huge oversight, particularly given the attention to detail on research presented in the podcast.

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This leads to a larger issue: The Last Podcast on the Left is not necessarily an academic sort of production in a traditional sense, it’s ultimately a comedy-horror podcast. The same applies to The Last Book on the Left which is a comedy-horror book upfront. Regardless, the team at the Last Podcast Network has put out a lot of content that is generally well-regarded when it comes to research. It’s unfortunate that the podcast’s history of research isn’t so readily apparent in the book.

Final Verdict

The Last Book on the Left is a worthy companion to the massively popular comedy-horror podcast and well worth picking up for a casual read on some of the most notorious killers in history. The book, despite the lack of documentation, is well-sourced and provides some very accurate recounting of the origins of these killers in the podcast’s signature comedy style. 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

If you would like to buy a copy of The Last Book on the Left be sure to try ordering it through your local independent book store.

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Book Reviews

Maeve Fly: A Horror Novel Review

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The evils lurking Los Angeles are unveiled in CJ Leede’s 2023 debut novel, Maeve Fly. The novel is a gruesome love letter and ode to Los Angeles and horror icons, centering on the titular character, Maeve Fly. She is, in short, a Disney Princess and serial killer.

Below the Depths of Anaheim

By day, Maeve Fly works as a princess in “the park.” It is is never named, but obviously Disneyland as depicted by Maeve’s vibrant descriptions of the princesses, furry costumed animals, and movie-themed rides. She plays a Scandinavian princess (Elsa) and genuinely loves the job and her coworker, Kate. In her personal life, Maeve tends to her sick, comatose grandmother, former starlet Tallulah, and her grandmother’s cat.

A stock photo of Los Angeles

Maeve has an ordinary personal life, including going out with Kate and takes biweekly, afternoon trips to a Tiki bar in which she, a man who may or may not be Johnny Depp, and the bartender are the only patrons. Her interests include the macabre and all things horror and Los Angeles history, her love for the city a central theme throughout the novel. When Maeve meets Kate’s brother, Gideon, Maeve’s sense of self unravels.

Mirroring Fiction

The problem with Maeve’s sense of self, however, is that she has no idea who she really is. She adopts the personalities of literary characters, from Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground narrator to those in James, Kant and Milton novels.

Maeve is selfish, antagonistic, and very selective of the people she lets in her life. She is an unreliable narrator with an unpredictable temper and ultraviolent tendencies.

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Leede’s prose and writing of Maeve invites a new narrative to the genre. Maeve is persistent in her disgust with how often villains need a tragic backstory as excuse for their monstrous behavior, especially when the villains are women. Leede dismantles that trope and provides Maeve with no reason for her treacherous behavior. It is simply who Maeve is.

An Ode to Horror

Maeve Fly is everything I love in a horror story. It is an unpredictable slasher with comedy and heart. Leede has displayed her talent for writing horror. She has created a story that pays its dues to the genre’s long iconic history — one example is the references to Pyscho or American Psycho — but is wholly unique in it’s own form. From captivating dialogue to visceral depictions of horror history and Los Angeles’ sites, like the La Brea Tar Pits, the novel sucks you in until the very last, bone chilling sentence.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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Book Reviews

Mister Magic

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Released in August of last year, Mister Magic is written by author Kiersten White. And I’m going to give you the warning that I wish I’d have had when I started reading it.

This book deals largely with the systemic issues prevalent in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. While there are no overt discussions or descriptions of child abuse, I would argue that it’s alluded to.

In the interest of full disclosure, White lets us know in the acknowledgments that she was raised Mormon and is not anymore. I was also raised Mormon and am not anymore. And this book wrecked me.

The story

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Our story begins with a young woman named Val. She’s been living with her father on an off-the-grid farm for most of her life.

When he dies, a mysterious stranger shows up at his funeral. This man, named Marcus, seems to know her right away. She knows him as well, though she doesn’t seem to remember why.

Eventually, he explains that she was on a children’s TV show called Mister Magic. A show that she has no memory of at all.

And this makes sense because there is little to no evidence online that the show exists. There are no clips, no scripts, no cast lists. It’s as if the show vanished entirely when the last episode aired.

Oh, and during that last episode, a kid probably died.

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Desperate to remember her childhood and maybe even reconnect with her mother, Val leaves with her former cast mates for a reunion and podcast taping.

As the Circle of Friends reforms, fans of the show online rejoice. If the cast is getting back together, it must mean Mister Magic is coming back.

And that’s exactly what the mysterious creators have in mind.

What worked

This book shows a world that is all but impossible to describe from the outside. Long before I realized this book was an allegory for Mormonism, I was catching signs. It felt familiar.

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Everyone was a little too nice. Everyone seemed to be holding back a little. Everyone seemed eager to do things for other people, almost like they felt like they had to justify their presence.

I also appreciated that we talked about child abuse without talking about child abuse. Through the book, we learn that one member of the cast, Kitty, is missing. Her disappearance heralded the end of the show, but no one wanted to talk about what happened to her.

This, I thought, was a subtle and brilliant way to talk about abuse without having to go into upsetting details. And in not adding these details, White leaves us to invent them ourselves. Which is always worse.

Sometimes it’s the notes you don’t play that make the biggest impression.

To that same end, there is no real gore in this book. No charred bodies, no blood. No gruesome scenes at all. But I feel like that was intentional. I’ll also point out that in reading other reviews for the book, I noticed that others criticized the character for being rather bland and one-dimensional. Both of those things are likely on purpose, and part of proving a point.

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In the book, each character remembers Mister Magic pulling them back. He taught them the habit of dulling themselves down. Don’t paint in such a wild manner. Don’t shout so loud. Don’t stray too far.

Don’t draw attention to yourself. Don’t be different.

In the end, Mister Magic managed to do exactly what the very best horror does. It took a real horror that most people do not experience and turned it into a metaphor that everyone can understand. And it doesn’t have to be just former Latter Day Saints members. All survivors of religious abuse will see themselves in this. But we’ll also see all the other lost children, trapped with Mister Magic, and realize we are not alone.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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If you’re a fan of my work, please check out my latest story, Nova, on Paper Beats World. New chapters launch every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

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Book Reviews

Monastery Series 7: a Book Review

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Hello again dear readers. Today we are looking at yet another instalment of Monastery. Once again, I’ll be eating my words. Every time I think the story can’t get any crazier, it does and you’ll understand why soon enough. Without further ado, let’s go!

Plot

We start with quite a tension point in the story (then again, it is always tense nowadays). Rocky’s been abducted and the gang is at a loss for words or motivation, all except Thomas, that is. At this point, all they want is to get Rocky back, even if it means abandoning the search for truth. I can appreciate how Thomas is now a foil not only to those hiding secrets but also to his cousins. Without him, there is no story as far as I’m concerned. However, there were some moments where even I thought he could’ve been a bit more tactful around others’ emotions.

We also see that at least for the time being, Rocky is safe. His POV is so well done I wanted to pull him out of the page and give him a big cuddle. Unfortunately, it looks like he’s yet another collateral damage of the family’s mess. 

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Speaking of mess, Cassandra and Francis reach a fascinating opposing point. She’s concerned Francis is showing no remorse over killing George Turner, or over killing an innocent dog. Could Albert please ask around if there is a special circle of hell for people like him? It’s interesting how Cassandra, no matter how messed up she is, still has some sense of right or wrong. As for Francis, someone needs to take that gun off him ASAP as he’s all too happy using it.

As we all predicted, the Nicole-David-Fred love triangle finally blew up, and boy, how did it. Erica goes full-on scorned woman and drugs Nicole. She then parades her in the middle of Monastery for everyone to see in a wedding dress. Threatening to pour acid on her face is just an added touch to the terror.

Although this turns out to be just a mind game on Erica’s part, we get some insightful character revelations. Nicole’s reasoning for toying with the two guys becomes more understandable, although I still cannot excuse it (and I’m speaking as someone who actually likes Elena Gilbert). I think she could use some therapy to sort out the trauma inflicted by her dad’s affair. At this stage of her life, she shouldn’t end up with either guy. David is also at fault and I think he should work on making it up to Fred. If he and Nicole sail off into the sunset now, it would leave a bad taste in a lot of reader’s mouths. Then again, if Fred does decide to take her back, it would be his choice. Something tells me this ordeal is far from over. 

We end series seven of Monastery with Thomas receiving yet another blow when his dad betrays him and destroys all the progress of their investigation. So much for trusting family, or authorities for that matter. What is going to happen now?

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Overall thoughts

I said a lot of my thoughts while discussing the plot of the episode. As usual, Monastery is full of of drama, mystery, and outright terrifying things to keep us on our toes. The one plot thread I am holding in my hand just waiting to see where it leads me is Madam Witch. Her very fairytale-like deal with Cassandra implies she owes her one of the grandkids. Not to mention the implication that Henry has some kind of special powers. I can’t wait to see how that ties into what happened to Albert. The next part can’t come out soon enough!  5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

More thoughts from the author:

1. Something I talked about before in another article about Monastery a little but something that I picked up on in this episode. Cassandra, although definitely not perfect, still seems to uphold some kind of morality within her. Such as how horrified she is when Francis doesn’t feel bad that he killed George. Was this something you considered when writing these characters, someone who’s not afraid to get their hands dirty but still has some kind of empathy vs someone who doesn’t?

Absolutely – that is my favourite type of character! Who doesn’t love an anti-hero with a grey moral compass, but a moral compass nevertheless? Cassandra is capable of the most atrocious acts, but she always has her family’s best interest at heart – or what her idea of their “best interest” should be.

Interestingly enough, we’re slowly learning how Francis is the result of Cassandra being the way she is, and he himself certainly blames her for much. Francis only has his own interest at heart… yet he killed George because of what the old creep had said about Cassandra! Again, grey area.

2. The whole Erica scene is genius on many levels. I actually got a couple of questions in regards to it. One – were you always going to pull the whole ‘none of the torture devices were real’ trick on the readers to toy with their emotions or were you thinking of doing it for real but backed out? Two – I thought the way the town’s residents acted was very fitting of the story and of modern society. What was your intention with having seemingly everyone witness the ordeal?

Funny, I cannot remember whether that mini-twist was always part of the equation, but I concluded that I didn’t want Erica to be hated or irredeemable – I wanted to make it more about the lesson being learned than the payback.

As for the townspeople witnessing the whole thing, there were three reasons I did it: a) the satire, because, has mentioned in previous Q&As, Monastery is a satire of small-town life, and we all know small-town folks love a good scandal; b) the humour, as I went all out in making an over-the-top situation even more over-the-top; and c) plot convenience because, as that all goes down, Francis is shooting up the Keane house and I didn’t actually want any neighbours to know and call the cops as it wouldn’t serve his arc… at this point.

3. The one storyline that I’m still wondering as to how it will tie into everything is Madam Witch and the whole first-born son hints that are very fairytale-like. Are we meant to take it as an allusion to the paranormal in this story (such as the seances they had in the previous episode) and that more is coming? As it is not outright stated since the murder mystery is the forefront with the town not really caring there’s a werewolf roaming around.

There will be a paranormal twist to the murder mystery and how it’s covered up, I promise – after all, one mustn’t forget that Cassandra owes Madam Witch – but we don’t know what she owes her for.

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As for the werewolf, hmm… Been a while since he’s made an appearance, has it not? Wouldn’t it be a darn shame if one of our protagonists came face-to-face with him in the next episode?

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