A Monster Met
As part of #DemainDecember on this blog, I’m reviewing as many titles from Horror publisher Demain Publishing as I can in 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.
One of the things that I find so refreshing about the Short! Sharp! Shocks! imprint is Demain Publishing’s decision to incorporate so many different kinds of angles towards the horror genre, and the incorporation of numerous subgenres. I’ve only reviewed half-a-dozen of the imprint’s titles so far in #DemainDecember and already we’ve had everything from Poe-inspired murder mysteries, intense body horror, and existential horror. I love the fact that I never quite know what I’m going to be encountering when I pick up the next book in the pile, only that it’s going to be fresh, original and horrifying in some manner.
A Monster Met by Liz Tuckwell is a perfect example of this variety – here we have the tale of a serial killer boarding a cruise liner in search of his latest victim, only to find that she isn’t as easy a target as he first assumes. I instinctively liked the sound of that concept, and the plot occurring on a cruise liner seemed an oddly refreshing choice compared to the usual genre tropes of cities or isolated, rural environments. Here we have a large number of people crowded into a vessel the size of a small town that they can’t escape from and plenty of targets to pick from; but then also a relative lack of room for the killer to manoeuvre in, and lots of surveillance and crew members to compensate for during his hunt.
Joe is certainly one of the more interesting and – dare I say it – engaging serial killer characters that I’ve personally encountered in Horror fiction over the past few years, and Tuckwell certainly has a gift for writing interesting characters. Here we have a murderer who’s intelligent enough to take tips from true crime magazines and vary his victim types when hunting. But of course, being a serial killer, he’s also a deeply disturbed (and disturbing) individual, and Tuckwell also does a great job of getting into his head and breaking down the key elements of his personality. He’s somewhat vain and insecure, and resents classism and being patronised by people, especially women. It becomes easy to see why he’s a serial killer, and therefore all the more satisfying when things do begin to go wrong for him.
Having boarded the cruise liner, and the vessel has left port to begin its journey, Joe begins hunting for his next victim amongst the passengers and crew. There are a few scene-setting sections where he moves through the vessel sizing up potential victims, but soon enough he hones in on a victim – a woman, unsurprisingly, though there’s the added complication of the fact that she’s on the cruise with her elderly mother. It was intriguing to see such a character flaw – Joe’s arrogance and self-confidence means he doesn’t even consider approaching another victim, but simply assumes he can murder both women as part of his ritual. At first it seems like this will be an easy time despite there being two of them, but before long Joe begins to realise that something is different about this particular hunt. Slowly but surely, Tuckwell highlights just how different this will be for Joe – and not in any good way for the killer. The twist is distinctly surprising and not what I was expecting, which was a delightful surprise, and there’s some rather gory moments at the very end for those who prefer that sort of thing in their horror fiction.
I found A Monster Met to be a well-written, smoothly-paced and hugely enjoyable short slice of horror fiction that continued the genre diversity that Demain Publishing are demonstrating in the first series of Short! Sharp! Shock! titles. Tuckwell uses the limited word-count to full effect, efficiently and swiftly developing the character of Joe as a sinister, effective yet supremely flawed individual, and delivers a plot full of tension and some rather delicious irony in the form of the twist in the story. I look forward to seeing more from Ms. Tuckwell in the future.