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.
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.
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.
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 / 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.
Brutality, Motherhood, and Art: Nightbitch Review
“In the distance, she heard her husband in the backyard call for her , but she was not that woman anymore, that mother and wife. She was Nightbitch, and she was fucking amazing. It seemed she had been waiting for this for a very, very long time.” -pg 89, Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder
Nightbitch is the debut novel of Rachel Yoder about a stay-at-home mother coming to terms with the loneliness and brutality of motherhood. The main character, only referred to as The Mother, begins to undergo a frightening change as she sinks deeper into a depressive state. She transforms into Nightbitch, an animalistic creature full of anger, bloodlust, and freedom. The Mother must utilize the help of a strange book and a group of multi-level marketing mommies to harness her newfound strength before she loses herself or her family.
The novel is a stunning commentary on the everyday violence of motherhood centered within the context of werewolf and mystical woman mythos. The Mother spends much of the book contemplating her future and the abandonment of her dreams. Specifically, she grapples with the loss of her ability to create art, her longtime passion. On a larger scale, Nightbitch examines how many women are asked to stop being individuals after having children and only become mothers–existing only in the presence of their child. The message is clear, poignant, dark, and at times, hilarious. The prose and structure of the book are abnormal, however, it works with the overall messaging and plot.
As far as negatives go, Nightbitch was pretty ambiguous. This was by design, and created an aura of magical mysticism around many of the characters and events. The Mother is the definition of an unreliable narrator. However, towards the end of the book, I would have liked a little more clarity in what certain characters knew.
Nightbitch is a must read for any parent. As a non-parent, I highly recommend it for those interested in feminist horror or more avant-garde approaches to horror narratives. Those who don’t like books with heavy introspection or ambiguous storytelling may enjoy something else, however I still think it is an interesting read nonetheless.(4.4 / 5)
Gothic, Ghosts, and Tlachiqueros: The Hacienda Review
“Dread washed over me. Had she been sitting there, watching me sleep, the whole night? Her skin gleamed like candle wax in the light; then she grinned and whatever color her eyes had been before, now they turned red. In an instant, her skin transformed, dried and desiccated into leather, and her teeth grew long and needle sharp.” -pg 214, The Hacienda by Isabel Cañas
The Hacienda is a gothic horror novel by Isabel Cañas set in the wake of Mexico’s War for Independence. The debut novel by Cañas, it delivers a classic haunted house tale with a twist of Mexican high society. Recently made homeless by the execution of her father, Beatriz marries Don Solórzano to escape her cruel treatment by her relatives. However, once she joins him on his estate, she finds that the promise of a new life holds dark secrets and darker spirits. She enlists the help of a priest, Andrés, to uncover both. Together, they find the home has more dangers than they bargained for. And more threats both supernatural and far too material await every corner.
I adored The Hacienda from start to finish. Cañas’s prose was accessible but full of deep imagery. While told from the perspective of both Beatriz and Andrés, neither outweighed the other. The perspectives were interesting and the transition between the two was well executed throughout the novel. I usually don’t seek out romantic books, but I loved the romantic and sexual tension between the two main characters. Specifically since the romantic tension developed within both perspectives, the relationship’s “will-they-won’t-they” felt both plausible and full of stakes. And of course, The Hacienda was spooky! I loved the way the spirits manifested and the impact that had on the characters.
My only minor criticisms would be the resolution was fairly quick and mostly offscreen. Though maybe I’m just saying that because I wanted to keep reading, even after the book ended! I also found myself slightly annoyed at the characters for not picking up on some of the more obvious clues to what had happened in the house.
A thoroughly enjoyable gothic (and dare I say, romantic) novel that kept me on the edge of my seat, I highly recommend The Hacienda. If you enjoy haunted house tales, you will enjoy this book.(4.8 / 5)
Preorder Isabel Cañas’s new book Vampires of El Norte now!
“The Family Game” Glimpses Into The 1%
Are their traditions innocent or are they darker than they seem?
Harry, short for Harriet, is a British writer gaining popularity after the publishing of her first novel. She meets Edward, a member of the widely known Holbeck family, and the two strike up a relationship. The Holbecks are high powered executives, running family businesses that bring in massive amounts of wealth. When Harry learns she is pregnant, the couple decide that it is finally time for her to meet the family.
During her first meeting with the family, Edward’s father, Robert gives Harry a vintage tape that he says holds a story that he’d like her to listen to. As Harry listens to the tape, she begins to believe that the Holbecks have done some very bad things.
As she continues visiting the family, their strange traditions are revealed to her. The games that they play traditionally involve darkness and fear. Can Harriet find out the truth about the mysterious Holbecks?
Catherine Steadman outdoes herself in The Family Game. She creates such a mysterious family in the Holbecks and their dynamics are intriguing. Readers will follow Harry as she tries to determine the truth about Robert’s misdoings. The cast of family characters are a wonder to watch. We’ve all always wondered what the extremely rich live like. Harry shows us their virtues and misdeeds.
The novel really remarks on the power of wealth and the wealthy’s ability to commit audacious crimes and pay for them to go away. Robert, as the patriarch of the family, is a prime example of such. As Harry begins to discover that Robert may be confessing to a series of murders on the cassette tape, she must decide how to proceed. She knows that the power that Robert holds cannot be taken lightly.
As Harry navigates potentially deadly Christmas traditions, she races for the truth, unable to forget once she finds it. Harry is such a compelling character – a developing mother willing to risk life and limb to protect her unborn baby. Harry is brave and unapologetic and is a true testament on how to write a female main character.
It was very difficult for me to decide between 4 and 5 Cthulus, so we will call it 4.5. This is a novel I highly recommend thriller lovers check out. (4.5 / 5)
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