Peel Away the Skin


Mask of the Other by Greg Stolze

Man, it’s getting closer to Halloween, and I’ve barely reviewed any good horror stories yet. So here’s this fun novel, a keen mixture of military fiction and the Cthulhu Mythos, by Greg Stolze.

The story jumps around a lot in time, though we follow a small team of soldiers/mercenaries — Rick, Dirty John, Hamid, Doug, and Bandit — for most of the tale. We follow them throughout the Middle East, Japan, Australia, America, and Turkey as they come into contact with the powers and horrors hidden where no one knows to look.

Among other things, we discover Saddam Hussein’s secret occult weapons program. We watch over a monstrous being buried in Turkey, completely immune to every attempt by the Turkish army to destroy it and perfectly content to look for a way to seep out of its underground prison.

We tag along as an American rock band visits an isolated Japanese island to film a music video — and is quickly devoured by something hidden in the ruins. We witness the destruction of an Afghan village and a company of private security consultants because of a single unorthodox, terrifying weapon.

And we get to see what happens when the things hidden in the dark corners of the world meet the terrors from beyond space — and who survives the chaos.

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s an outstanding book, exciting, terrifying, bizarre, and just plain fun to read.

Gotta give a lot of credit to how great the characters are in this book. Our team of mercenaries are wonderfully appealing characters — Dirty John is probably the most fun, but you feel a lot of affection for all of them. And even the minor characters are strong, too. The doomed rock band, as well as their entourage, are outstanding, as are the star-crossed lovers in Turkey, the crusading investigator tracking the soldiers, and pretty much everyone else we meet.

We get three different monstrous threats — I won’t spoil who they are, because it’s more fun to see how they get introduced. But they’re presented in such unique ways that you may not immediately recognize them — in fact, there’s one that I suspect may be completely original to Stolze’s fiction. I don’t remember reading anything like it in H.P. Lovecraft’s fiction, but perhaps it’s just disguised very well. But it’s great to look at these Mythos monstrosities through less jaded eyes. It’s makes them stranger, more original, and scarier.

And the terrors here aren’t limited to the supernatural. These guys are soldiers, and they have to deal with IEDs, snipers, ambushes, and most terrifying of all, bureaucracy. It’s a great blending of otherworldly scares with gritty, real-life perils.

It’s a vastly fun book, perfect for anyone who needs some offbeat Halloween chills. Go pick it up.

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