[Please note that the publisher provided a review copy of this title in return for an honest review]
Reviewing Dreams of Lake Drukka & Exhumation, Mike Thorn’s entry in Demain Publishing’s Short Sharp Shocks! imprint, had me get a little nostalgic. That’s because it was Mr Thorn’s debut short story collection, Darkest Hours, which got me into reading and reviewing Horror fiction, and therefore led to this blog’s focus and my current near-obsession with the genre. He kindly sent me a review copy of the collection, and let me tell you it’s a cracking read, with some fantastically original and horrifying writing that crosses a number of subgenres; indeed, nearly two years later, the opening story Hair continues to inspire feelings of revulsion and physical nausea whenever I think about it. As such, I’ve marked down Mr Thorn as a writer of high-quality Horror fiction, and I was interested to see what he would come up with in conjunction with Demain Publishing. Dreams of Lake Drukka & Exhumation seemed to have some interesting concepts, and of course the cover art and general cover design by Adrian Chamberlain is as slick and enticing as ever.
The two stories in the book are separate narratives, though they’re paired thematically by the concepts of loss, grief, regret and the abandonment of promises made in moments of extreme stress and high emotion. Dreams of Lake Drukka is the longer story of the two, and was by far my favourite, following two sisters as they travelled back to the titular lake in search of answers for the death of their mother, who drowned under mysterious circumstances decades ago. The death of a parent is an incredibly dark and difficult thing to experience and Thorn articulates that incredibly well, especially considering the brevity of the narrative. The tense, fundamentally strained relationship between the two sisters is the lynchpin of the story, and Thorn shows how damaged both women are; and yet how despite everything that’s happened, those familial bonds of love and affection can remain. They’re both very different, especially in regards to how they’ve coped with the death of one parent and the estrangement of the other, and Thorn gives us some quietly insightful glimpses into the mind of a traumatised person who’s never been able to properly process the death of their mother, and the effective abandonment of them by their father in turn.
The first two-thirds of Dreams of Lake Drukka are incredibly touching and often emotional, especially as they come closer to the lake itself and it becomes more and more difficult to ignore the reason they’re travelling to it. Then, just as I thought I had a handle on the story and where it was going, Thorn throws in a complete curveball that fundamentally changes the nature of the story and the underlying narrative. There’s a nauseatingly horrifying antagonist that suddenly drifts into view – some of the wonderfully descriptive prose used here is reminiscent of the short story Hair – and also some shocking revelations about the death of their mother. It’s a powerful, emotionally-raw story that’s masterfully written, and certainly one of the short stories I’ve enjoyed the most in 2019 – particularly because of the ending that eschews the usual Horror genre tropes for finishing a story.
This is followed by Exhumation, a somewhat shorter story of a long-forgotten pledge to a supernatural power coming back to haunt someone. Attending the funeral of his cousin Alan, Abel is accosted by a stranger at the funeral service who seemed to know both himself and Alan. He also seems to know about something terrible that the three of them did when they were younger, and Abel’s attempts to refute him go terribly awry. Although this is a more straight-forward story in terms of the narrative, Thorn still demonstrates his ability to deftly move between subgenres, introducing some body horror and even Splatterpunk elements into this story with lashings of gore. There’s also the horror of Abel slowly but surely remembering what, exactly, it was that he and his cousin did that’s led to the events of the story; his memory, fogged and numbed by years of alcohol and drug abuse, is deftly revealed moment by moment by Thorn. Something was summoned by their actions, and now payment is due for services rendered. Exhumation is the (slightly) weaker story of the two in the title, as it was never entirely clear to me why Abel and his cousin did what they did, and what led to up to it; but it’s still a chilling and often wince-inducing tale that I enjoyed immensely.
Dreams of Lake Drukka & Exhumation is another excellent, high-quality addition to Demain Publishing’s Short Sharp Shocks! imprint, and also a further demonstration that Mr Thorn is a skilled and deeply imaginative Horror writer able to range across sub-genres at will. Dreams of Lake Drukka is a fantastic short story that really digs into the nature of parental loss, delayed grief and then mixing in elements of supernatural horror; and Exhumation is a fast-paced and gory tale of supernatural dues owed. I enjoyed them both immensely, and heartily recommend them to any fans of Horror in general, and Demain Publishing and Mr Thorn in particular. Hopefully this won’t be the last collaboration between author and publisher – I’ll certainly be reading anything else they produce.