The third short story collection from Fangoria/Dread Central veteran writer Thom Carnell.
I have put off writing this review for a while now as I’m finding difficult to put my thoughts on this collection into words. I didn’t especially like the book, but I am sure there is a massive market out there – it just wasn’t for me. However, that said, there is much to admire here and some stories are superb.
See? This is going to be hard.
Sections of the prose are beautiful and the whole collection is nowhere near as pulpy as the collection suggests. The cover (excellent) suggests we’re about to read ‘stories of horror and suspense’, but actually most of the stories within are actually character pieces. Many of them don’t really go anywhere, but just introduce us to a character and a vignette of their lives.
A case in point would be the lovely ‘Standing Still’. This story is about two boys who meet at a football field – one is playing, the other is watching from the touchline in a wheelchair. Their burgeoning relationship is beautifully written, and I had a smile on my face reading it. Jeff – the wheelchair bound boy – moves stuff with his mind, and then the story ends. That’s it. He moves a rock with his mind, but nothing happens beyond that.
The story sums up my frustration with this collection: far too many stories read like opening chapters of longer pieces rather than being self-contained stories. Personally, I hate that, no matter how well written the work is. You, however, might think it’s great, which is why there’s definitely a market for this book.
When Carnell tells a whole story, it is absolutely superb. I really enjoyed Domicillary, a sf story with a really sweet ending, The Honey-Do (just leave the sink alone) and the best of the bunch – The Midas Gift. The last story about a girl and her relationship with a priest (no, not like that) and is full of emotion with a very sad ending.
There’s a story that shows a scene from a Romero film from a different point of view. This didn’t work for me as I don’t know the scene in question – it’s been a while since I watched the Romero zombie films! Again, long term fans will love the references. We also have a Cleese/Kekoa story which is nothing more than a teaser for another book in the No Flesh Shall Be Spared series. I haven’t read that, but given the quality of Carnell’s writing, I intend to.
The one misstep in the collection is Dogwatch. The police find a video tape and start watching a man show you how to butcher a human being. It is absolutely horrific and does not fit the tone of the rest of the collection.
Most of the stories are about grief and loss and the whole thing has been put together as a homage to Carnell’s mother who died in 2011. The best stories here tap into that grief that he clearly still feels, and I really wanted to like the collection more.
So, to sum up, excellent writing elevates this collection throughout, but there is a frustrating lack of ‘complete’ stories within. Please feel free to tell me how wrong I am in the comments, as Carnell is clearly a really talented bloke.