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Have you ever heard a terrible liar, and I mean Pinocchio terrible, try to worm their way out of a bad situation? The way they stumble over their lies until they can’t keep them straight anymore, struggling to weave together a story that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It’s painful to listen to and even more painful to read. I read this and asked myself, what the heck is this? Was infamous serial killer H.H. Holmes, master manipulator, on something when he wrote this laughable attempt at both a memoir and a self-defense statement or was there just no editor in the prison? Either way, he would’ve had better luck trying his hand at fiction because that’s basically what this is.

This isn’t the only book written by a criminal, a serial killer, and I doubt it’ll be the last. There is something about such a description, “a killer in their own words” that is impossible to resist. It allows people to get even closer, whilst keeping a safe distance, to men and women the world has perceived as evil and gives them the opportunity to potentially dissect just a fraction of their minds. H.H. Holmes, John Wayne Gacy, David Berkowitz, Jack Unterweger, etc. These are all convicted killers that have used literature to try and change public perception of them with various degrees of success. Jack Unterweger, convicted of murdering a prostitute in 1976 was actually triumphant when he wrote his autobiography titled Fegefeuer Oder Die Reise Ins Zuchthaus (Purgatory or the Trip to Jail – Report of a Guilty Man). In the book, Unterweger explains his actions with a sob story about an abusive mother. The story was so compelling that it actually managed to change the state’s mind and he was released on parole in 1990. Unfortunately for young women in that area, it didn’t take long for him to start dropping bodies and he was arrested again in 1994.

A counter to Unterweger is John Wayne Gacy who had much less luck with his memoir A Question of Doubt in 1993. Although both books feature the killer in question trying to prove their innocence they are very different in execution and style. Gacy’s method of defense was to try and create a conspiracy theory about his conviction and blamed his crimes on other killers that the police were not prosecuting. A Question of Doubt didn’t do anything other than become a morbid collector’s item for true crime devotees.

H.H. Holmes falls somewhere in the middle. Not in public perception but in the method at which he writes his own memoir/defense story and it is probably the most ridiculous, bewildering, nonsensical narrative that a man on trial for murder could ever create. It’s so bad that just confessing would have made him look better. Holmes: A Serial Killer in His Own Words makes absolutely no sense. It should be taught in schools on how NOT to write or to lie. It’s not that the explanations he gives don’t make sense, although most are far-fetched, but that they’re written as if he loses track of them within moments of writing them down. There is a part in the book where he admits to having a body stashed in his hotel room but it’s for the purpose of a life insurance scam that’s ruined when a cop busts in. He tricks the cop into leaving then convinces the other hotel residents that the cop was actually a robber. He then puts the body in a trunk and lugs it around for a few days. This is an actual scene in the book that quickly moves on to something else completely unrelated.


While I was reading this I was torn between laughing and reaching through the pages all the way through to Holmes’ prison cell and ripping that pen away from him. Maybe slap him around a bit.

Herman Webster Mudgett, better known as Dr. Henry Howard Holmes “H. H. Holmes,” was an American serial killer best-known for the so-called “Murder Castle” that he built in 1887 and had up and running during the World’s Columbian Exposition set in Chicago in 1893. Built to kill people, the Castle had soundproofed rooms and mazes of hallways, some of which seemed to go nowhere, and sections that were designed to be nothing but death traps. It is widely believed that he had killed hundreds of people in this building, but not only was Holmes a murderer, he was also big a fan of insurance fraud. This guy probably scammed more women and business owners than one person in history, often in the laziest of ways, and he actually uses his time as an insurance hustler as a crutch while making up his defense in A Serial Killer in His Own Words.

Erik Laron’s The Devil in the White City explores much of this in great detail if anyone is interested (great book).

When Holmes was arrested on November 17, 1894, he immediately started on the numerous contradictory claims that would dictate his post-arrest life. His time in prison was relatively short as he was put to death just two years later, but for a large portion of that time, he worked at trying to prove his innocence. He picked up a pen and started writing the “truth” only no two accounts matched. His confessions changed constantly and often made little sense. As time went on, his claims started to morph into something resembling self-damnation as he’d later change his stance on innocence, deciding that he was pure evil, a man possessed by the devil. He claimed to be so vile and demonic that he was starting to resemble Satan in the face.

Such statements would normally accompany feelings of remorse or fear of death as the accused realizes that they’re coming closer to their execution. However, that was not the case for Holmes. Despite the admission of guilt and saying that he was possessed against his will, he remained oddly calm upon his arrival at the gallows.

If I could call A Serial Killer in His Own Words anything, it would be a study on mental deterioration, compulsive liars, and the psychopathic process of emotions. Throughout the chapterless passages that run across Holmes’s childhood and youth, there is a vain attempt at mimicking emotion and sympathy. In the beginning, Holmes takes a moment to briefly describe his parents and childhood but it is rushed and empty. Everything else he takes his sweet time talking about, but the one section of time that most people always stop to reminiscence about, he speeds past with a fast “my parents were lovely people” comment and leaves it there. As he describes himself as a boy, everything feels a bit hollow because I believe that he’s trying to imagine what the readers will think is sympathetic, but is unable to put himself in that mindset.

Once rushing past boyhood, you can tell we’ve reached the point in his life that he is most proud of. His medical accomplishments, education, the way he easily charms women, we get so much of this that it’s almost unbearable. One by one, Holmes meets the future victims that he claims he either hardly knew or cared for deeply and had no idea what happened to them, and again, we get more of the mimicry. Minnie and Nannie Willaims are two women, victims, that Holmes claims to care for and even love to some extent. However, the way he writes them, you can tell he doesn’t. He can’t wait to get past their section and get back to himself, which he does very quickly. The story of the Williams sisters, which ended in tragedy in real life, ends without a proper conclusion in Holmes’s narrative. He jumps around them, moving them around in the story so that he can clear his name while also not waste time talking about them and the result is a whole lot of bad writing.

I know this man was a serial killer, a monster even by the worse of standards but honestly, after reading A Serial Killer in His Own Words the man has lost the ominous allure as a study topic. This book could be adapted into a spoof movie about serial killers. That’s how ridiculous it is. Before, the man known as H.H. Holmes was on par with something demonic. He built this murderous castle, killed people beyond anything that can be called impulsive or pleasurable but as if that was the only thing his hands knew how to do, and his presence on this Earth felt ominous. Even after his death, his hotel was rumored to be cursed, with those who knew him touched by evil. However, after reading this, he no longer seems as such. As weird as it sounds, this almost ruins the shadow he casts over the city he once haunted because now when I think of him, I can only think of a guy that was incapable of telling a series of lies well enough to make sense. Plus, the stories he made up tells me that he probably read whatever the equivalent of cheesy detective novels was back then.

2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

Rachel Roth is a writer who lives in South Florida. She has a degree in Writing Studies and a Certificate in Creative Writing, her work has appeared in several literary journals and anthologies. @WinterGreenRoth

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Book Reviews

A Pilgrimage of Swords, a Book Review

A Pilgrimage of Swords (2019) is the first novel of a grimdark fantasy series (The Seven Swords) authored by Anthony Ryan.



A Pilgrimage of Swords (2019) is the first novel of a grimdark fantasy series (The Seven Swords) authored by Anthony Ryan. The book is technically a novella, running slightly short of a novel-length, but reads like a collection of short stories. This review will cover Subterranean Press’ digital copy of the novella.

Desperate to change his fate, Pilgrim forfeits his name on his quest to meet a mad god. He and his fellow pilgrims travel a dangerous road filled with abominations and horrors in the desperate hope that they might have one prayer answered. With a twisted sentient sword, he fights his darkness and the God’s abominations in the hopes of something better.

Mountain and desert region with named sections: The Crescent, Crucible Bridge, The Whispering Sands, Chapel of the Absolved, Valkerin Road, City of Spires, The Kraken Grave, The Execration
Interior Design by Desert Isle Design, LLC

What I Liked

As mentioned, this novella reads like a collection of short stories. Each story tackles a specific challenge and region. The strategy works well in building the torment of the journey and keeping the reader consistently engaged.

A voice plagues Pilgrim, constantly antagonizing him at every step of their journey. The style in which this “voice” delivers their intrusive thoughts, while not inherently unique, remains an enjoyable and satisfying read. The voice itself becomes a favored character of mine. Pilgrim and “voice” share a dynamic of brooding hero and antagonizer. Again, not unique, but done with great effect.

Despite the tight word count, several twists effectively engage the reader, helping to add to the world that we only get a glimpse of.


While the supporting cast doesn’t have as much time dedicated to them, they collectively add to the experience with unique perspectives and dynamics.

In terms of horror, the final chapter provides the most stunning examples. This review is spoiler-free, but the build-up certainly exceeds expectations for the first read.

White background, rubber stamp with disclaimer pressed against the white background.
Disclaimer Kimberley Web Design

Tired Tropes and Trigger Warnings

A Pilgrimage of Swords resides on the lighter side of grimdark high fantasy, but it remains grimdark. The world of A Pilgrimage of Swords is uncaring and cruel, producing characters that reflect that, functioning as opportunists.

Animals do die, and children are equally prone to potential death. Again, not entirely out of character for the setting, but it should be mentioned for readerly consideration.

As the description might indicate, torment and suffering are recurring motifs in the story. While the tortures certainly are sadistic, readers get the aftermath. The novel doesn’t linger in its sadism.

A party of 7 and a hyena travelling up a bridge with a giant knight statue at its center. The Bridge overlooks a waterfall.
Dust Jacket by Didier Graffet

What I Dislike, or Food for Thought

As A Pilgrimage of Swords is a high fantasy novel with light grimdark elements, the horror reflects that concept. There are tense moments, and characters are prone to danger, but genuine horror remains lacking. The novel doesn’t claim itself as such, but our audience should consider this. However, walking gods of madness twisting their environment to reflect their psyche shouldn’t be ridden off too quickly.

While I mostly enjoy the brevity of the story and how the chapters read like short stories, it limits the time we have to invest in the characters and setting. This novel is the first of a continuing series, so this criticism doesn’t inherently apply to the other novels. This first introduction remains easy to recommend for those looking for a quick read, not a long investment.


Many plot beats are predictable and can somewhat underwhelm a reader when the obvious thing happens. I will admit that this isn’t too often a hindrance but compromises to accommodate the tighter word count. Luckily, there are plot twists to minimize this underwhelming predictability, but the chapters could still utilize an extended word count.

The name doesn’t exactly fit this first entry of the series. It might be a perfect name for the series, but this novel’s pilgrimage has little to do with swords.

Final Thoughts

A Pilgrimage of Swords has a few haunting moments but is an otherwise enjoyable and quick read. If a grimdark set in a high fantasy where cruel gods walk the earth sounds like an interest of yours, this will certainly satisfy that itch. While it remains a little too brief, this is by design and part of a larger narrative.
4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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Horror in graphic novels

Creepy Comics Collages by Jennifer Weigel, Part 5



Well, you won’t get rid of me that easily… Ha ha, I lied about coming to the end and the afterlife in the Creepy Comics Collages segment, it was just an opportunity for rebirth. Besides, it’s World Collage Day! So having come into another comic book to rework, here we go again…

The Voice creepy comics collage by Jennifer Weigel
The Voice creepy comics collage by Jennifer Weigel

Creepy Comics Story 9: The Voice (of God or Reason or perhaps an homage to my ex)

“Come to me my children, the voice of God awaits!… Don’t let them escape!” Please beam me up out of this weird comic collage alternate reality. “God I am your hand! Lift me… to your place. I commend my spirit!” I want to go back to dreaming about starfish.

The computer programmer behind the scenes turns to face us and smiles. “Guardians! This is a place of God!… Come to the true voice of God!” “I am everything.” “Come to the voice!” And the horrific AI generated creatures abide by his every coded word.

Just like last night in the — signs posted for Nightmare, No Exit. The deer spirit faun screams in surprise, “Eeek!” “No! I defy you!” She returns to the form of a little girl with arms outspread to the open sky. “Y’know, a day like today makes all the stuff that happened last night seem just like a bad dream!” The dream seems so real…

Somewhere in the city, the computer programmer sits up at night in pensive monologue, “You try to make a difference… But it doesn’t really matter.”

The City creepy comics collage by Jennifer Weigel
The City creepy comics collage by Jennifer Weigel

Creepy Comics Story 10: The City (Metropolis becomes self-aware)

This segment is brought to you by Dead Artists and Talking Dinosaurs. No really, wait for it…

Woooooo Uhhhh Wooooooo Uhhhh… Wump! Uff! Wump! Uff! “She belongs to The City!” The Glenn Fry 1985 hit single looms ominously overhead as Metropolis becomes self-aware. “The City… will live!… The City… will breathe!” The City gasps for air, “Got to… breathe!… Got to… Breathe!

Her breath is the wind… Her eyes are windows. Her heart pumps fluid through buried plumbing… “I’m The City!” Her mind is The City!

And we have a celebrity appearance by Rich Koz “Son of Svengoolie” WFLD 1973: “I take a nap for 10,000 years and look what happens… some-body builds a city!” Kerwyn chimes in, “Geez! Somebody’s been busy!” And we cut out to a scene of Svengoolie standing alongside his coffin.

Portrait of myself with dark makeup and crow skull headdress, backlit by the sun.
Portrait of myself with dark makeup and crow skull headdress, backlit by the sun.

Well, that’s all folks. Or is it? For now, any way… until I get more comic books… Duh duh DUHHHH…

If you want to see more art, check out more of Jennifer Weigel’s work here on Haunted MTL or on her writing, fine art, and conceptual projects websites.

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Book Reviews

Dread Nation, a book review



Imagine if you will, a world in which the Battle of Gettysburg wasn’t just the end of the American Civil War. But that it was also the start of a zombie apocalypse. We’ve now entered the world of Dread Nation.

Written by Justine Ireland and published in 2018, Dread Nation is an alternate-history horror novel that considers what our nation might have looked like if zombies had risen at the actual battle of Gettysburg. What results is a dark, twisted, entertaining novel that is truer to reality than it should be.

Our main character is Jane McKeene, the black daughter of a plantation owner’s wife. She has a fairly comfortable childhood, being raised by her mother and the other women on the plantation as an adored and willful child. 

Outside of her family’s plantation, horrors abound. There is the grotesque living dead, of course. But there is also raging racism that leads the leaders of America to do horrifying, monstrous things. Things like taking black and Indigenous children from their families and placing them into schools designed to train them to fight the living dead.


I feel like it would be irresponsible to note here that schools intended to indoctrinate Indigenous children were a very real thing. Children were taken from their families and forced to assimilate into a WASP way of life. They were taught to be servants and told to be grateful for the opportunity. That’s scary enough without zombies, frankly.

By the time Jane is old enough to be taken, there is hope that the zombies are under control. Cities, like Baltimore, are up and running. The well-to-do attend theater and lectures and even bask in electric light.

Under control, of course, is a fragile concept. 

Jane is sent to Miss Preston’s School of Combat. The girls there are told they’re being trained to be Attendants. Their life will be one of servitude, to stand near wealthy white women and protect them in case of a zombie attack. Jane seems like she’s going to have a decent future. She’s good at her lessons, and good at killing the dead. She’s less good at following the rules. She gets in trouble for sneaking out at night, getting newspapers, and not minding her etiquette lessons.

Cover of Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Worse, she’s often compared unfavorably to Katherine, a classmate who cannot do wrong. She’s an elegant young woman, but perhaps too pretty for her good. She’s refused several Attendant jobs because women find her too pretty to be around their husbands.

When Jane discovers a secret about Baltimore that the mayor would rather no one else know, she and Katherine are thrown on a train and sent to a frontier town far out west, called Summerland. Summerland is run by a racist preacher and his hateful son, who happens to be the sheriff. Jane has to get herself and Katherine out of the town before they’re both killed, either by the living dead or the racist leaders. 


This novel was a delightful blend of zombie story and alternate history. And it manages to do justice to both genres. 

On the historical side, there are all sorts of delightful details that are just a little wrong. Just a little different than our Civil War buffs will remember. It feels like this world is just a step away from ours, as if we were to trip in our world we might fall right into this one. 

It’s the zombie story part though, that of course had my attention. And it should surprise no one that this part was fantastic. The dead are always creeping nearby, always a threat. The simplest actions have to be adjusted because the dead are always there.

What makes a zombie story good, though, is how the living responds to the threat. Who becomes a hero, and who becomes a monster? This is the real attraction to a zombie story. And it’s deeply and richly explored in Dread Nation.

This is the sort of book that is perfectly written, and by the only person who could have done it. Justina Ireland is from Pennsylvania, like me. You don’t grow up in Pennsylvania without understanding Gettysburg. The blood from that battle sunk into the land we were raised on. It’s in our very essence. And of course, Pittsburgh is the home of zombie stories. Ireland picks up the traditions of Romero and does the old man very proud.


Dread Nation is exciting and infuriating. It has enough twists to keep you guessing and just a little touch of magic. It’s honestly the best book I’ve read so far this year.

I will tell you that the story ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. Fortunately, the sequel, Deathless Divide, is already out. So if you’re going to read Dread Nation, which I highly suggest, make sure you have the second one close at hand.

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