The One That Shows No Fear (Short Sharp Shocks! Book 45)
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.
Of all of the titles that formed the latest tranche of the Short Sharp Shocks! imprint to be released by Demain, I was most curious to read Steve Stred’s The One That Shows No Fear. I had seen a great deal of social media ‘buzz’ and conversation about Stred’s title, all of which had been very positive, and as such I was distinctly curious to see what the author had actually come up with. That curiosity was only sharpened by the fantastic cover art by Adrian Baldwin, with a vaguely sinister motorcycle stunt rider lurking in the corner of the cover in that monochrome setting, and also the back cover blurb that promised a coming-of-age story crossed with elements of cosmic horror. It all certainly seemed rather promising, and I was soon reading it on my Kindle.
There’s a strong, atmospheric opening as Stred introduces Timmy, a kid growing up in the United States in the 1980s and in something of a fractured home life. His father died when Timmy was young, and his mother has recently gotten into a relationship with another man, Michael, who now becomes his step-father. It isn’t exactly an easy or close relationship, and as with many such relationships, Timmy finds solace in a hobby – in this case, the new stunt show Daredevils! It’s a source of thrills and amazement, the sort of show that the infamous Evil Knievel used to participate in, and there’s a sense of youthful joy as Timmy starts to watch these shows in the glow of an old big-box tube television while he’s sick in bed, watching the cars and motorbikes do ridiculously complex and insane stunts in front of the cameras. But there’s one stuntman who stands out amongst all of the others – the titular The One That Shows No Fear. Dressed completely in black and never revealing his face, concealing it behind a helmet and black visor, he undertakes completely insane stunts that even the likes of Knievel would shy away from. Jumping through a pile of burning Humvees, and then somehow surviving when they collapsed on top of him, is just another day at work for this mysterious stuntman.
Even more insane stunts follow, and then the news Timmy’s been waiting for – a live stunt show coming to his town, including The One That Shows No Fear. It’s an incredible show even before Timmy’s hero turns up and does yet another unbelievable stunt, and despite seemingly perishing, he once again miraculously comes back from the dead. Only, there’s something not quite right about The One That Shows No Fear, and Timmy and his step-father come to realise this after a chance encounter. Stred builds up the mystery and slightly sinister aspect of the strangely-titled stuntman throughout the story, and genuinely had me hooked and very curious as to where this element of the story was going. The period setting really helps here – the combination of TVs allowing the viewing of such stunt shows, and the personality-driven stuntsmen like Knievel and his ilk first ground the story, and then help to highlight just how different The One That Shows No Fear actually is from all of his peers in the industry.
Intertwined with the rise of the mystery of The One That Shows No Fear is Timmy’s difficult and – unfortunately – abusive relationship with Michael. Timmy longs for his step-father to show him even an ounce of the love that his real father used to demonstrate, and for a very long time his tentative efforts to try and build a relationship only result in verbal and even physical abuse and a generally dismissive attitude. Eventually, the only thing that seems to begin to build a bond between them is through watching Daredevils! and jointly thrilling at the stunts undertaken by The One That Shows No Fear. It’s a strange, stuttering and multi-layered relationship that develops across the story, and Timmy’s melancholic hope that this time, this will be what makes Michael truly love him was hard to take at times. Stred deftly highlights that horrors don’t always have to be supernatural in nature – humans can create the worst horrors themselves.
As an overall conclusion, I’ll readily admit that I really, really enjoyed The One That Shows No Fear, taken in by the deft blend of human and supernatural horrors orchestrated by Stred to develop the overarching narrative. The titular stuntman is a mysterious and latterly sinister character that Stred develops well despite the short nature of the Short Sharp Shocks! format, and the relationship between Timmy and his step-father is an engaging plot in of itself. My only real problem with the tale is that it just feels so truncated and even rushed at certain times in an attempt to tie up the plot; and the fate of a certain character felt distinctly hurried in the worst sort of way. However, I note from another reviewer (the ever-excellent Kendall Reviews) that this is actually a novel that has been compressed down into this format, which makes a huge amount of sense when you read it with that in mind. The One That Shows No Fear is a great title in of itself, but I believe that the full-length novel has the potential to be a Horror classic. I can only hope that it sees the light of day before too long has passed.