Beasties & Other Stories
As part of #DemainDecember on this blog, I’m reviewing as many titles from Horror publisher Demain Publishing as I can in the first week of December. Because, quite frankly, nothing typifies the spirit of Christmas more to me than seven days (at least!) of high-quality short-form Horror fiction encompassing a number of different subgenres. So over the coming week, as well as any other reviews I manage to write up, I’ll be reviewing some of the Horror, Sci-Fi (and Crime) novellas recently released by Demain, as well as a number of titles in their excellent Short Sharp Shocks! imprint.
All of the Short! Sharp! Shock titles I’ve read and reviewed so far have been single tales, which seems to suit the nature of the imprint and its relatively small word-count, so I was genuinely surprised to see that author Martin Richmond had taken the decision to devote his space to no less than three individual horror stories, each one entirely independent from the others. It’s certainly an interesting decision to take, and as I began reading I was curious to see whether it was a gamble that would pay off – could all three stories be of sufficient length to be self-contained stories that would satisfy me as a reader, while simultaneously still staying within the overarching word limit? Well, I’m happy to declare that it absolutely did pay off, with three excellent, high-quality and genuinely chilling tales to be found within the covers of Beasties & Other Stories.
The highlight of the short collection is probably the first tale, Beasties, which sees a woman driving through an isolated countryside area towards her home when she comes across a farmhouse she hasn’t noticed before. A memory stirs, and she quickly realises that it belongs to a farmer and her family who helped her out when her car had broken down one dark and stormy night. She goes towards the house to thank the farmer – but slowly comes to realise that the family isn’t there any more – and it isn’t because they moved. Richmond develops a good sense of atmosphere, bringing to the fore the isolation and semi-emptiness of the rural scenery, and the fact that a smashed-up and abandoned house is a natural curiosity. Curiosity kills in horror fiction, of course, but it’s an easily-forgivable sin because it’s a fast-paced story. The use of a child’s old-fashioned cassette voice recorder is used to good effect to provide context to the ruined house, slowly revealing the fate of its inhabitants, and allowing the story to close with a rather memorable ending that’s disturbing in its implications for both the protagonist and the wider community.
Through a Stained Glass Eye has a fascinating concept/plot device, one that I haven’t come across before and which has stayed on my head for quite some time after finishing Beasties & Other Stories. Todd Pringle has just purchased an old church, and wants to renovate it despite the objections of some cantankerous locals he meets. But upon exploring the building, he finds the titular stained glass eye, a strangely-coloured section of a set of stained-glass windows. He can see people moving about outside in the graveyard when he looks through the eye, yet they disappear when looking anywhere else. It’s a great concept with a horrifying implication and grim results for the building’s new owner, and it feels like the sort of idea that could easily be expanded into a novella.
Finally, Frighten Me is an interesting short, almost meta-fiction in its own way as a horror writer narrates his successes and how he’s currently staying in a purportedly haunted hotel to try and gain inspiration for some new writing that he wants to do. But there’s a sting in the tail – several in fact, and Richmond expertly unfurls them one at a time, drawing you in further as a reader and then hitting you with them. It’s a very short but exceedingly well-written and imagined story, and a great way to end the collection.
With Beasties & Other Stories, Martin Richmond has highlighted his obvious skill as a horror writer, demonstrating his ability to write in a variety of styles and subgenres, and crafting stories that all featuring cunning twists and stings in their tails. He’s showcased a huge amount of talent and imagination, to the extent that it feels like Richmond’s career as a horror writer is only just beginning, and I am eager to see what else he can produce – both with Demain Publishing and elsewhere in the genre.