1938 Vienna. Torchlight and guttural shouting as Nazi troops march into the city with evil in their heart and sledgehammers and other blunt instruments clutched in their fists. A pogrom is being unleashed – businesses and homes owned by innocent Jews are to have their windows smashed and put to the torch, their owners cowering in fear or trying not to be noticed by brownshirted thugs. One such thug wanders down a street, sledgehammer in hand, looking for something to smash mindlessly. One business has its windows smashed into fragments and, emboldened, he moves on to choose another. But the storefront he selects, lurking in the shadows at the end of a street, is different to all of the others. Or rather, its windows are different. For when the Nazi thug tries to smash one of its window panes, something strange happens to it, unleashing an ancient horror. This is the beginning of the short piece of historical Horror to be found in Shattered by Anthony Watson, and published by Demain Publishing under their Short Sharp Shocks! Banner.
It’s always a fantastic feeling as a reviewer when you find a new publisher in the genre you love reading, and doubly so when it’s apparent that they’ve already published a number of titles that you can get stuck into. Though this is the first title released by Demain Publishing that I’ve read, my experience has been entirely positive. The editing is top-notch, as is the interior layouts and font, and the cover design is one of the most distinctive and eye-catching that I’ve ever seen in the Horror genre, rather reminiscent of the old pulp comics. A blood-red side border contrasts nicely with the pitch-black of the rest of the cover, which has the story title and author name at the top (in a comic book-esque font) and a monochrome picture that represents the focus of the story. Then it’s all tied up with a skull icon at the top of the red border, and the book series number at the bottom. It’s smartly laid out, looks professional and is slick as all hell; highly appropriate for a publisher in the Horror genre, and extremely impressive for a publisher that only started up recently.
As to the story itself, well, the short length mean that writing anything in detail risks spoiling the narrative and the plot. But it’s not spoiling anything to say that I finished it in one sitting, which is rare for me, and found myself deeply impressed by the end of it. This isn’t an extreme Horror tale, or one that revels in blood, gore and entrails. Indeed, there isn’t any blood shed until the very last page in the book, and arguably not even then. Instead what author Anthony Watson gives us is a well-paced, atmospheric and quietly chilling story of violence and vengeance. As our Nazi thug attempts to break the window in the Vienna storefront, Watson smoothly shifts back into the past, giving us glimpses into how exactly this unusual piece of glass was formed, and the reasons why an impoverished Jewish family would be at such pains to transport it across entire countries and then keep it in one piece. There’s some great characterisation despite the short wordcount, each different time period and its location is made distinct from the others that are featured, and the writing is engaging and sweeps you along for the journey. It’s a masterful tale well told and I look forward to seeing more from Mr Watson, and from Demain Publishing as well; I have several more reviews of titles in the Short Sharp Shocks! Line to publish in the coming weeks.