"12 Gauge: Songs from a Street Sweeper" Book Review

Written by Tony Jones

Published by Sinister Grin Press

Written by Dustin LaValley
2018, 282 pages, Fiction
Released on July 1st, 2018


If you’re looking for a punch-in-the-gut trilogy of novellas which sits comfortably in both horror and dark thriller genres, Dustin LaValley’s  12 Gauge: Songs from a Street Sweeper is a sweet deal. Two of the trilogy Spinner (2015) and The Deceived (2013), have previously been published by Thunderstorm Books in a limited edition hardback, and H/armed is published here for the first time.

First up, what a great name for a collection; 12 Gauge: Songs from a Street Sweeper. How the hell do you dream that beauty? Who knows, but what we have are three offerings interconnected solely by the brutality and evil that men do. Prepare for visceral violence, fast moving plots and killer endings. Do they have any kind of morale? Probably not, except that bad can very quickly turn to worse. Which it does.

Spinner opens the proceedings and although it is a page-turner, it is also an incredibly bleak and shocking tale with few redeeming qualities once everything is played out. It’s not going to be to everyone’s taste, but this simply-told story of an infamous serial killer who escapes from a prison bus and hides out with his girlfriend in the Adirondack Mountains whilst being tracked by the police is an absolute doozy of pain and redemption. Henry Spinner is also known as the “Adirondack Killer” and before long he’s back to his old ways killing hitchhikers with his jealous and possessive girlfriend Lucy in tow. Henry is being tracked by Detective John Bishop, who has his own family problems to contend with. However, as Henry goes deeper into the mountains, little does he know there might be someone even nastier out there than him. A fair bit of violence, sleaze, murder, cannibalism and even necrophilia are thrown into this brutal but very enjoyable tale. And don’t even ask what happens to poor old “Mr Bonkers” the cat. You might need a shower after this one.

H/armed takes a bit of time to get going and is vaguely reminiscent of Battle Royale, The Purge and Stephen King’s The Long Walk. Teams of youngsters are pitted against each other in a locked-down supermarket, having to kill each other off otherwise unseen guards will do likewise to them. Not allowed to escape or hide, they have to use all the shop appliances lying around as weapons, attacking the others as quickly as possible whilst a vicious industrial metal soundtrack blares in the background.  This is real splatterpunk and as the irritating director states in his welcome address to the contestants, shouting “Welcome to Death-Mart!”, the blood really flows with a gigantic body count, with proceedings being filmed and streamed on the internet.  The teams included “The Lovely Buzzcuts”, “The Betties”, “The Lab Rats” and “The Chain Gang”, because it is so fast moving, it is difficult to pick sides, as the reader knows little of whom is being murdered. Although it is over the top fun, it seems disjointed and a little repetitive; probably the weakest of the three novellas.

Whilst the brutality is in full swing, lots of terrific heavy and industrial metal plays in the background, and the author namechecks lots of great acts, including the relatively mainstream “Slayer”, “Sepultura” and “Faith No More”. Others he enjoys are “Pig Destroyer” and “Dying Fetus”, however, my biggest shout-outs are for the mighty industrial legends “Godflesh” and noise band “Fudge Tunnel”. Down the years I’ve seen both bands live and “Fudge Tunnel” in particular are very obscure, so hats off to Dustin LaValley for his super cool taste in music. The novella includes the track list, so make sure you check out “Random Acts of Cruelty” for a truly fine piece of early ‘90s ear-shattering noise music.

Finally, we have a rather twisted home invasion story The Deceived, in which for much of this tense novella the reader is never quite sure who is the cat and who is the mouse. Or are Miles, Robert and Erin all cats? Once again, we have deceptively simple language and a plot that plays out over a few hours beginning when a young couple (Robert and Erin) turn up at the door of Miles claiming their car broke down and could he help? Little do they know Miles is having a personal crisis himself and the last thing he needs is an interruption. From that premise prepare yourself for a kick-ass story which pulls no punches and before long the blood is free flowing.

This is a fine introduction to the fiction of Dustin LaValley, who is well worth checking out should you like your horror mixed with noir, thriller and general craziness. All three novellas can easily be read in one sitting each, just don’t expect neat happy endings or the good guys to win. Hang on a minute…. THERE WERE NO GOOD GUYS!


Overall: 4 Star Rating Cover
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Tony Jones
Staff Reviewer
Such is Tony’s love of books, he has spent well over twenty years working as a school librarian where he is paid to talk to kids about horror. He is a Scotsman in exile who has lived in London for over two decades and credits discovering SE Hinton and Robert Cormier as a 13-year-old for his huge appetite for books. Tony previously spent five years writing The Greatest Scrum That Ever Was, a history book very few people bought. In the past he has written for Horror Novel Reviews and is a regular contributor to The Ginger Nuts of Horror website, often specialising in YA horror.
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