This is Dan Howarth’s first collection of short fiction and it’s a good one, filled with diverse stories that all successfully highlight Howarth’s abilities as a writer.
There are eleven stories in total covering a range of topics, including wrong doings in a holiday park, the Liverpool blitz, stalkers, and a home that doesn’t want to be changed. My favourites include From The Ground Up, which is an excellent story about the dangers of buying your first home and discovering it’s not really the ‘forever home’ you envisaged. It is an excellent showcase of what Howarth does best: believable, relatable characters in a strange situation.
Another strong story is Nesting Instinct. It’s a bizarre tale, but one in which I think parents will recognise the underlying fear of messing up your children, albeit not in the exact manner of this twisted story.
The final story Collaboration is by far the darkest and bleakest of all. I don’t want to say anything about it, to avoid spoilers, but buckle up before you read this one: it is grim! As bleak and horrific as it is, it’s also my favourite in the collection.
Mergers and Acquisitions was the only story I didn’t really like – nothing wrong with the writing, but I didn’t really ‘get’ it. Howarth is striving for ambiguity in his tale of a high-flying banker type, and perhaps more certainty would suit the story better.
Clearly, I enjoyed this collection of high quality of stories. Author notes round it off and I wish more collections included them, although I concede that perhaps I find them interesting as I am a writer too.
Throughout, Howarth’s writing and voice are consistently strong, whether he’s writing from the point of view of children or adults on the verge of losing their minds. Several of the stories have family as their central theme: buying your first home together, becoming new parents or playing games with kids. These stories are the strongest in the collection and are perhaps a reflection of Howarth tapping in to what truly frightens him.
Based on this collection, Howarth has a great future ahead. Recommended.
This review first appeared on Ginger Nuts Of Horror. If you don’t know the site, you really should check it out. Start here, with an interview with Dan Howarth: https://gingernutsofhorror.com/interviews/the-dark-missives-with-dan-howarth