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 / 5)
The Roots Grow Into The Earth
Launching next month The Roots Grow Into The Earth was a delightful read. It’s the premiere novel by horror author Bert S. Lechner. And after reading it, I hope it’s not his last.
The Roots Grow Into The Earth is a collection of nine short stories and novellas, including three previously published stories. The tales are all part of one larger story. A story of darkness, and madness. A story of a creature released that should never have been. That begins then to sink its roots into the Earth and infect innocent people far and wide.
One such example is The Wall. This is the story of a man named Sam and his wife Nat. They have a lovely normal life full of morning coffee and weekend pizza nights. Until Sam notices something on the wall of their home. While it appears to be nothing, a vision starts taking shape. With Sam’s help.
Another story that really moved me was The Orchestra.
Let me first stay that this was not a particularly fleshed out story. We do not see The Conductor before she’s infected. We don’t see the fallout. No real picture is painted for us, it’s more like a sketch.
In the case of The Orchestra, though, this is exactly the right choice. We don’t need to see the whole picture in gruesome technicolor to get what’s happening in this ill fated concert. We understand perhaps too well what’s occurring. And I thought that was brilliant.
I just want to start by gushing over this storytelling style. Short story collections always have a soft spot in my heart. In the case of The Roots Grow, all of the short stories come together to create one truly dark tale.
I also loved the clear Lovecraftian influence of this story. It’s clear that this was something that the author was going for, from interviews and social media comments. But I could tell before I saw any of that.
The story in The Roots Grow is one of madness. But more than that, it’s one of madness and destruction that the victims could not have avoided. There was no being clever enough to avoid these dark roots that touched them. There was no being strong enough, or selfless and good enough. If the roots reach out and touch you, you’ve already lost.
Finally, I want to extend some praise to my favorite character, Joanne. She is dealing with her own madness, her own demons. But she still finds kindness and strength to help others when they need her. Even against some truly dark odds.
What didn’t work
All that being said, I will say that some of the short stories felt incomplete. One prime example is What Lies In The Icy Soil. This appears to be nothing more than the tale of a person possessed by the need to dig. He digs up something that for sure shouldn’t be dug up. But there’s nothing more to the story. We don’t know who this person is. We don’t know who might be missing him, or what might come of this thing he dug up. As a part of the whole story, it fits. But if we are to consider every tale by its own merit, this one doesn’t have much of anything going for it.
That being said, this is one story in a round ten that wasn’t much of anything. The rest of the stories were wonderfully eerie, both on their own and as part of a whole.
The Roots Grow Into The Earth comes out on October 7th. And I think it would be a perfect addition to your Halloween reading list. (4 / 5)
Strange Eons Review: Cornfields and Eldritch Gods
“The elder gods arrived in the sky in early September, like an unholy aurora borealis stretching across a midnight sky. Their vastness blocked the sun, an unending eclipse, a liminal state, a breath that was inhaled but never let go. Lovecraft got it wrong, I think. It was not the sight of the gods that made humanity go mad. It’s what they destroy that hurts us. Somehow, these elder gods, these aliens, had killed time itself.” – Strange Eons by Keria Perkins
Strange Eons is a short story published in Bourbon Penn Issue 30 by Keira Perkins. Perkins, is an Indiana writer of short fiction and poetry that has also appeared in Non-Stalgia and The Heartland Society of Women Writers. Bourbon Penn is an online and print journal that specializes in speculative, odd, and surreal fiction. All issues are available to be read online for free or can be purchased as a paperback from Bookshop.org.
Strange Eons follows a young woman struggling to adjust to a life post-Lovecraftian apocalypse. This is a cozy story, the majority of which takes place as the woman lays in a cornfield and hides from well-meaning but unhelpful family members. While cozy, the piece is ominous, tackling the terror associated with pregnancy. Specifically, the terror that comes from living in a Red State and finding a significant lack of resources or options.
As a Hoosier capable of becoming pregnant, Strange Eons resonated with me. The imagery of cornfields and cicadas were very Indiana. However, so is a young woman covertly asking her sister to drive her to Illinois to receive healthcare. I loved how Perkins merged cosmic horror with the horror of receiving reproductive healthcare in Indiana but also the United States as a whole. All that was missing were predatory billboards advertising fake pregnancy centers! Talk about maddening and terrifying! Throughout the short story, the most horrific part of the young woman’s ordeal is not the eldritch gods appearing but her rather typical, hellish circumstances.
Aside from content, Strange Eons is well-written. It keeps you guessing where the story will go next. If you like a non-tropey cozy take on Lovecraftian horror or have struggled to receive reproductive healthcare, I highly recommend checking out Strange Eons! You can also check out the other stories in this issue of Bourbon Penn here. Or you can see what else Perkins is up to on her website.(5 / 5)
Walking Practice – A Book Review
Walking Practice is Dolki Min’s debut novella about an alien named Mumu, who must learn what it is like to perform as a human. Victoria Caudle, the translator of this unique Korean story, experiments with the English language to properly convey Min’s style. This, complimented with Min’s various drawings of the story’s protagonist, creates a poetic, outlandish reading experience that keeps you hooked from beginning to end.
Walking Practice: Never Enough Practice
After the destruction of their home planet, Mumu crash lands their spaceship in a desolate forest far from human life. They survive by having sex with humans then, with graphic violence and great diligence, eats them.
Mumu has a strict schedule and regimen for this process; they must shapeshift their body to the specific gender and personality their date is attracted to. While this process of gender conformation is a difficult one (as the alien will often tell us), it is nowhere near as hard as the ridiculous habit humans have of walking on two legs. This is one of the many obstacles Mumu must struggle with while playing the game of life.
Mumu is a rich, self-aware character who seems to trust only one human: the reader. They address us directly, asking questions and indulging us with their theories on what it is to live on Earth. They are knowledgeable about the complexities of personhood, and aware that a person’s gender and sex are complex and not one-size-fits-all. After years of experience in multiple genders, the alien theorizes that humans are treated as people as soon as they have a sex and gender assigned to them. However, depending on the sex and gender, that treatment is never equal.
While Mumu performs various genders and personalities to match the sexual desires of their future prey, they do not identify as human. At the end of the day, they go home, stock their human leftovers in the fridge and freezer, and unleash their natural form. Their only priority is their own survival and pleasure (which, arguably, is their most humanlike quality).
“I’ve learned that my face arouses homicidal impulses”
Walking Practice uses horror, science fiction and satire to create a passionate queer narrative. While Mumu is a serial killer who prides themselves on their murderous skills, it is hard not to feel for them when karma strikes back and they are hurt. The poetic elements of Min’s story and Caudle’s translation support our empathy for such a vicious character
Min’s artwork, depicting Mumu’s alien forms, complements Caudle’s stylistic choices. There is enjambment in several paragraphs, (which can be interpreted as the alien either having a flair for the dramatic or genuinely pausing to find the right words), thus enhancing their internal dialogue. There are moments when the Mumu’s stream of consciousness confuses reality from imagination. They will also lose all learned human skills and revert to their mother tongue; words either run together or are spaced apart, and sometimes there are unintelligible symbols. At the surface, it looks like a linguistic nightmare. Once immersed in Mumu’s narrative, it is a work of art.
Walking Practice‘s balance of ambiguity and transparency keeps the reader close while also allowing an array of interpretations. It is an eccentric piece of fiction that plays with the literary status quo, resulting in an entertaining affair with an unforgettable alien. (5 / 5)