Steve J. Shaw – Editor
A new section for my site – book reviews. Just as a preamble, before you read these reviews, I want to make it clear that I don’t actually know any of the authors contained within the anthology – also I deliberately didn’t look any of the writers up to see what their chops were. I read their stories cold and thereby could give my unvarnished and uncolored opinion without any preconception as to who these writers were, or what they had already done.
I am willing to review other authors/publishers work on a request-by-request basis. If you’d like me to review something (and don’t mind an honest and unbiased review), please email me at the link provided using ‘review request’ in the header. I promise I will get back to you.
-Ian M. Faulkner, Aug ’15
Tiny and Frank, two incompetent British gangsters find they have literally bit off more than they can chew when they inadvertently go the wrong address on the orders of their criminal boss to put the frighteners on a money-owing drug addict. They stupidly end up torturing the wrong victim – namely Harry, a local postman and exotic fish-lover – with deadly and devastating consequences for all concerned. Anna Taborska’s story is nicely paced, the moral of the tale well founded – the twist in the yarn is both unexpected and deliciously amusing.
The most endearing thing about this story, masterfully written by Christopher Law, is that is stretches the readers sense of reality. What is real and what is a deluded fiction on the part of the protagonist? It is a valid question, and one that the reader finds themselves posing to themselves as the story unfolds. Ostensibly, this simple tale revolves around a man who has had a fairly abysmal and loveless childhood, until he discovers, just shy of puberty, that he can transform himself at will into a magnificent and powerful bird of prey. In his later years, he seemingly arrives at a cathartic decision – he decides to bare his soul and ‘confess all’ to the reader, whilst awaiting his own death sentence to be carried out at a prison facility in America. But is he delusional, or telling the truth? On one superficial level, the story could be taken for just as it appears – however, this is merely one aspect of a multi-faceted tale. I really don’t want to give too much away – but this finely crafted work is a tour-de-force from Christopher Law; he is definitely a name to watch for in the future.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions. This tale gently lulls you nicely into a feeling of security at familiar characters, settings and comfortable situations. But as the story gradually unfolds the reader gets the distinct and unsettling feeling that there is a hidden icy-cold current running just underneath the accustomed waters. Writer D.S.Ullery, carefully draws the reader, unbeknownst, into a cleverly fashioned silk-lined trap – just as the central protagonist, Nanette Mitchell is, within the story. The pace is excellent, there are good characterization, and the fear and tension are well woven into the fabric of the tale. A good and satisfying addition to the anthology.
‘Hunting’ is a strange, absorbing and haunting re-working of the Celtic Selkie legends. I really don’t want to give too much away or reveal too much of the plot, as that would spoil it for the reader, but let me say that Rachel Halsall wields the English language like a finely honed knife – capably carving her words deep into the readers’ memory – I will guarantee that this story will not leave you for a long time to come. Her prose really is like a poetry and she is an absolute pleasure to take in. ‘Hunting’ is one of those stories that you don’t just read – it is one of those rare tales that is infused through the pores like a fine delicate fragrance – a story layered with false hopes, displaced people, and possessing a raw pungency of what it is to be a human being; for good and for ill. A scent that will cloy to you and one that will not diminish with time. A truly wonderful read and highly recommended!
A Little Knowledge is a Dangerous Thing
A quite dark and visceral little tale from Darrel Duckworth – the author deftly deals with an insidious and eclectic mix of greed, revenge, folly, magic and lycanthropy. A centuries old feud between two families comes to a grisly head when the last surviving member of the impoverished family tries to take an exquisite and seemingly fool-proof revenge on the man he perceives as his arch-nemesis – and the primary cause of his family’s misfortune.
A great little read for one of those wintery nights, tucked up in bed. That’s only the wind howling outside the windows, right?
The Shape of Nothingness
Not often I get to say this – but here’s a story dealing with a theme that has been explored by many writers in the past, all with varying degrees of success – and yet this particular one, from author Scott Shoyer, stands out head and shoulders above the rest – a rare tale that I found to be both refreshing and stimulating in equal measures.
The main protagonist is Daniel, a centuries old immortal who, for reasons that become apparent, cannot let a woman fall in love with him – the results are inevitably deadly for her – yet despite this, he desperately yearns for two of the most basic of human needs that has been repeatedly denied to him because of his immortality; companionship and love. Now, after untold decades, he finally meets a woman that seems like she would be his ideal companion – yet she is hiding a terrible secret of her own. This is a lively, well rounded story – both well-crafted and well balanced. A thoroughly good read and another fine addition to the anthology.
The Fragility of Flesh
An intriguing tale from author Laura Mauro – one that vividly captures the poverty of British inner-city modern life – a situation that would be recognizable to many. The main character of this story is Carol – a teenage child of a single parent, bullied and harassed by her peers at the local high school –tormented and miserable, the child has tried different strategies to escape her tormentors’ attention – to no avail. But a chance encounter with a fox may give her the escape she so desperately seeks. ‘The Fragility of Flesh’ is both insightful and extremely well crafted; the ideas behind it are obviously well thought out and researched. One of those story’s that you find yourself wanting more of – excellent!
James Park manages to capture the reader’s attention from the first few words – a prerequisite for any author hoping to get their work into an anthology – he writes extremely well and his story of monstrous revenge, desire and duplicitousness is a delight to read. I’m loathe to give away too much, even as to the characters which, may I add, James Park fleshes out wonderfully – but let me just say that the whole tale is twisted, dark and thoroughly frightful and never disappoints; elements that any good horror tale should contain and this one has them in bushels!
‘Leydra’s Maiden’ is simply put, a damn good story. Atmospheric, dark, and as the tale unfolds, you feel yourself inexorably pulled into it – and then find yourself immersed into a late 1600s puritan England – a place where witches are frighteningly real as are their fantastical, other-worldly mistresses – you can almost smell the peat burning cooking fires, pungent herbs and created potions. Without giving too much away, Matilda is a young servant in a rich man’s farmhouse – basically a good man who only wishes to help out the local community with the creation and maintenance of a charitable pauper’s hospital. His wife however, has been struck down by a mysterious illness – she is tended to by the young Matilda – yet despite the servant girl’s best outward efforts, the wife is getting weaker and sicker by the day. All is not as it seems, and as a tale of deceit, loathing and murder unfolds the reader is drawn skillfully into a labyrinth of darkness and sorcery. Kelda Crich is a marvelous writer – a true wordsmith – I certainly hope to see more of her work in the near future.
H Finn weaves a nice little tale of horror here – one that has a great 70’s Amicus or even Hammer retro feel about it – it feels very cinematic in its style and content – the visuals that Finn conjures up with their words are skillfully yet gently achieved. In this reviewer’s humble opinion, this fine story wouldn’t have been out of place out of place as a screenplay in one of those wonderful horror film anthologies starring the likes of greats such as Cushing or Lee. The plot revolves around an anthropologist, on vacation in Brazil, who discovers a locally worshiped saint, called ‘Santa Marimbondo’, or the wasp. She sets out to discover more about it with the hope of writing a paper on the subject – but ends up embroiled in an entomological nightmare, one seemingly custom made for her in hell itself! Good stuff!
Kafkaesque in its overtones. ‘Centipede’ is a delightfully black, humorous tale about a pudgy nerdy teen, Alan, who has an unrequited crush on a beautiful fellow Asian/American student, Yuki. The character of the girl is a fine study from Helen Cattan-Prugl, of the epitome of a selfish and unfeeling American teenage girl consumed by materialism. She is entitled and shallow, and the character, beyond her looks, has no redeeming traits whatsoever. Thus she makes a perfect foil for the hapless Alan, so desperately besotted with her, he is willing to commit murder to gain her love. Both characters have so many personal flaws, the story could have quite easily slipped into a caricature of itself, if not for the authors delicate, intelligent and deft handling of it – it turned out dark, satirical, a damning statement on American consumerism, and above all, very funny. Top marks!
Calum Chalmers is a writer of great skill – seemingly effortlessly, he instills a wide seething vein of suspense into this smart and unexpected story that lasts from first till the last word. Sometimes as a reviewer, it is very possible to inadvertently say too much and give away the plot. I am always mindful that I have a responsibility not to do that. Suffice it to say that the story’s protagonist is cursed to a miserable existence that means once a month he has to undergo a painful and traumatic metamorphosis. His life is further complicated by a vile, bullying boss and a woman who he would love to be taking out – but Thursdays would be out! As a writer myself, I am practiced at using ‘trapdoors’ for my readers in my own work. But I do have to say – I didn’t see the one that this author used until I had happily fell down it. Brilliantly done!
Vinny, the eponymous hero of the piece, is sadly vertically challenged – born with dwarfism he has managed to overcome his physical challenges and positively thrived in the world of celebrity, entertainment and media. But after being attacked by something on a lonely dark road, his whole life changes for the better – and tragically, the worse. This is a great story – Johnny Mains does an excellent job of painting his character, Vinny, with subtle shades of light and dark pathos and humor – I’d love to see this character explored in a larger venue – it lends itself to a novel. Hopefully Johnny Mains will consider this, as I’m certain that this tale will get the author lot of exposure and attention that they rightfully deserve!
When a reviewer reads through an anthology, which I have frequently in the past, I inevitably find an incongruity – that one story that sticks up like a sore thumb and you find yourself wondering how that particular tale ended up in the pages. This, rarely, and happily, was not the case with ‘Wild Things’. Editor Steve Shaw has done a solid and inspired job with his first anthology editing job. The highest praise I have ever given an editor is saying that ‘they know their business.’ Steve Shaw does. My congratulations to him in his selections for it and order in which they were placed. Having been in his shoes, I can tell you it really isn’t the easiest job in the world – and he has acquitted himself admirably. I look forward to his next endeavor with interest.
-Ian M. Faulkner