Lovecraft Country Novel is a Good Spooky Yarn

I started the Lovecraft Country novel, written by Matt Ruff after watching the first episode of the new HBO series. I stopped watching the series and started the book. As such, I won’t be comparing the book to the show because I am not in a position to do so.

The image shows the cover of Lovecraft country novel, a house sits atop a hill that looks like an octopus with tentacles.

The Lovecraft Country novel does what the best horror does: uses the fear of the unknown to explore humanity. And what’s even more clever about this book is the use of racism to really drive the horror home. Without the racism that permeates the book, both in large and small ways, this would still be a good book. However, by placing the racism Atticus, George, Letittia, and the other characters face, this book really grounds the reader in reality. This is important when dealing with otherworldly forces because it gives readers something to grasp onto. And in this book especially, because of H.P. Lovecraft’s awful racism, the hate and bigotry take on an even more sinister notion.

Now, the idea that the real monsters are humans is nothing new in the annals of horror entertainment. But in this book, that adage takes on a deeper meaning. The characters are never safe in this book, even when it seems like they are. They are not safe from the cosmic threats they face, nor are they safe from cultists who would control those threats. And of course, they aren’t safe from racist attitudes and people, even in the North.

The combination of the racism and the existential horrors facing the characters makes the Lovecraft Country novel stressful to read. It’s a harrowing look at the persistence, permeation, and persistence of racism.

Racism is the Real Horror of Lovecraft Country Novel

Yes, bulging fleshy blobs that will kill you are scary. But, what’s even more terrifying is the everyday horror of bigotry the characters face daily. Reading this book gives readers some insight into what BIPOC face on a regular basis, and while fictionalized, we can’t ignore the lessons. Sure, the racism might feel too extreme or cartoonish, but that’s just not the case. I don’t think it is possible for creators to present racism as over exaggerated or too extreme. I know there are some people who do, but that’s silly, especially when Tulsa happened, the Red summer happened, Emmet Till, and countless other examples.

By focusing on the racist aspects of the world, and Lovecraft himself, the book forces the reader to confront US history. Now, there isn’t a deep dive into the causes of racism, or all of the horrible events done under its name. However, there is enough surface exploration to evoke curiosity and the need to know more, which is one purpose of art.

I don’t want to make it sound like the Lovecraft Country novel is a drab and dour affair devoid of hope of laughs. It isn’t. Despite the dire circumstances the characters face, they still manage to laugh and smile at times. They manage to live, even in a society that takes every pain to suppress and humiliate them. For me, this is the key to the book. If it had been all racism and existential dread, it still would have been good. But, it wouldn’t have been nearly as enjoyable or effective.

Have you read it? Let me know in the comments what you thought. Thanks for reading.

The Only Good Indians is full of Revenge and Terror

The Only Good Indians, written by Steven Graham Jones, is a hell of a good book. Briefly, it tells the story of four Native American Men (Indians as they refer to themselves) who make a mistake. At first, it doesn’t seem like a mistake, but it is. And it’s a big one, as they, and we the readers, come to find out.

The image shows the head of an elk with its horns on the cover of a book titled The Only Good Indians.

I don’t want to get too much into the plot details because the story is fairly straightforward. However, the way Graham develops and unfolds the story is masterful. From the beginning, The Only Good Indians, offers a sense of dread and fear. Oh, and violence, too, of course. This book has some moments of extreme and bloody violence that are visceral and powerful. The gore and the blood and the cruelty are not gratuitous; rather, it all serves the telling of the story.

At its core, The Only Good Indians is a story of pain, suffering, revenge, and atonement. Though, to be fair, that last one is iffy as its achievement is arguable. The novel also explores the dichotomy between Indian tradition and the modern world. This theme is a common one in Graham’s writing, and he really fleshes it out here.

All four men involved in making the mistake struggle with their identity and place in the world. They may know who they are, but they don’t know why, or what to do about it. Some have dreams of leaving the reservation, while others unhappily stay there. There’s so much truth about humanity in this novel, it hurts.

The Language of The Only Good Indians Sings With Fear and Pain

Graham knows how to use language to its maximum effect, providing sparse yet vivid details of frozen landscapes, dead animals, and bloody body parts. As I read this book, I felt the pain of the characters, their fear, and the chill of winter.

Beyond,that though, I could also feel their hopes, dreams, and contrition. It is not fair to call the characters in this novel evil or bad (even the killer isn’t evil, just forlorn). They aren’t saints, either, but rather are striving to do the best they can. Of course, when we try to do what’s right, or at least what’s right for us, things can go sour quick.

The depth Graham gives the people in this book is enviable and admirable, as are his terrifying descriptions.

If you like horror stories and Native American stories, then The Only Good Indians might be right up your ally. Check it out. And if you’ve read it, let me know what you think in the comments.

Mexican Gothic Is a Creepy Gothic Novel

Mexican Gothic written by Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a spooky and disturbing novel. I loved it. Briefly, the story centers on Noemi, a debutante in Mexico City. Her father has received a letter from her cousin, Catalina. The letter is strange and compels Noemi’s father to send her to High Place, where Catalina and her husband live. Arriving at High Place, Noemi discovers her cousin is ill and bed-ridden. From there, the story takes off and the spookiness begins.

The image shows teh cover of Mexican Gothic, a woman in a red dress

This is a Gothic novel, no doubt, and that is clear from the description of High Place. Similar to many Gothic mansions, High Place has seen better days. Once, it was magnificent and full of servants and clean and bright. Now, however, it is run down, dirty, and only has a handful of servants. Also, it stands high above the nearest village up a dirty road rutted by rain. High Place suffers from dampness.

I am not going to give a plot synopsis, suffice to say that Noemi faces many challenges throughout. What I do want to focus on, though, is Garcia-Moreno’s writing. The first paragraph hooked me so strongly that I read all 305 pages in about 5 days. That may not seem like much to some of you, but I think it’s pretty good.

Moreno-Garcia does a fantastic job of evoking Noemi as a character. The young woman is believable. She likes to have fun and party and dance with the boys. She’s carefree and strong willed, but I never felt that she was the spoiled brat people called her. Maybe that is just because I like her.

Beauty is in short supply in Mexican Gothic, Noemi and Catalina being really the only examples. However, ugliness abounds. The house is ugly, the servants are ugly, Catalina’s in-laws are ugly.

The Ugliness of Mexican Gothic

Speaking of the in-laws, there are Howard (the patriarch), Virgil (the first born, he’s handsome but cruel) and Francis (not a looker, innocent). But the ugliness in Mexican Gothic is more than just physical. Its psychological and primal. This is a primal book, despite its Gothic trappings. Or maybe because of them.

At any rate, Noemi experiences first hand the ugliness of High Place and its inhabitants in a tale that sent shivers up my spine and made my heart sink more than a few times.

I can’t recommend this book enough. If you’re interested in Gothic literature, and are looking for a twist on the classic genre, check this one out.

Have you read Mexican Gothic? If so, what did you think? Let me know in the comments. And as always, thank you for reading.

Mongrels: The Secret Lives of Werewolves

Mongrels, written by Stephen Graham Jones, is a novel about a trio of werewolves trying to survive and stay hidden from the world. This novel contains a wide variety of werewolf folklore, but with a twist. Now, to me, werewolves are some of the coolest creatures of the night, as well as the most tragic. Unlike Vampires, many people don’t consider them sexy or cool Rather, they are beasts and brutes and gross. Mongrels doesn’t shy away from this latter aspect of the wolf, but it puts it in a greater context. Also, werewolves just have more personality.

The image shows the cover to Mongrels, a book about werewolves.

A vampire want to seduce you and drink your blood. Vampirism is about controlling others. Werewolves, on the other hand, are all about fighting the beast within. A werewolf will lose control, that’s a given. However, the trick is maintaining control as long as possible. It’s kind of like sex in that way. Both vampires and werewolves have come to represent two sides of the STD coin. They both carry a disease that passes through the blood. Vampires, however, often seem to have the choice whether or not to pass the disease to their victims. Werewolves, on the other hand, especially in Mongrels, have no such choice.

Mongrels and the Dangers of Werewolf Blood

Werewolf blood is dangerous. It turns non-wolves into a weird hybrid that will not survive. If you are born with it, you have a better chance. But, that presents a whole new slew of problems. The werewolves in Mongrels, Aunt Libby, Unlce Darren, and the unnamed narrator, are constantly on the run. The transient nature of their lives demands it. Wolves are meant to run, not settle down.

I don’t want to give too much away, so I will be staying away from too many plot details. I will say, though, that the novel moves at a crisp pace, and has moments of humor and sadness. Like any good novel should.

What I most appreciated about this novel was the deep dive into werewolf mythology and history. Sure, Jones probably made most of it up based on some research. And yes, I know werewolves are the stuff of fantasy. But, here, he has done a stand up job of offering a new take on an old monster. These characters not only feel real, but so does their curse and affliction.

Plus, I always find it fun to read a new version of a classic. I wouldn’t say the novel reinvents the werewolf story, but it definitely knocks downs some walls to create new hallways.

If you’re looking for a well written novel about one of the coolest monsters in the canon, then read Mongrels.

Have you read it? Let me know what you thought about it in the comments. Thank you for reading.

After the People Lights Have Gone Out Review

After the People Lights, authored by Stephen Graham Jones, is a collection of fifteen short and scary stories. Normally, when I review a short story collection, I try to find a commonality between the stories. After all, publishers place specific stories in specific collections for reasons. At least, that’s what it seems like to me anyway.

The image shows the cover for After the People Lights Have Gone Out which is an old house with a window with light coming out of it.

Is there a common thread that runs between all these stories? I am not sure. I do know, however, that they are all entertaining and spooky. In these tales, Jones presents several visions of people on grief and pain. Sometimes that grief is for things that have happened to them, such as in the final story. In others, it’s due to the things they have done, or the things they left unsaid. This latter idea is clear in the story Uncle.

Aside from pain and grief, another common element to this stories is general creepiness. There are some truly disturbing moments in this collection along with some lovely language. And this, I think, it was really makes the prose in After the People Lights Have Gone Out sing. Jones not only presents us with vivid and gruesome images, but he cuts to the heart with his language. No, it’s not overly flowery or arcane. It is, however, clear, easy to understand, and true. The truth of his language compels the reader to keep reading, even when the events of the story are awful and you want to stop reading.

Jones seems to understand what makes people tick, especially in their weakest and most vulnerable states. His descriptions of emotional and physical places are sparse but effective. He paints a strong outline for readers, trusting them to fill it in. A worthy skill, and one that makes this a must read.

What do you think?

Welcome to OrphanCorp Review: YA Dystopia Lit

This is a review of Welcome to OrphanCorp by Marlee Jane Ward. This short novella brims with tension, pain, acidity, and just a little hope. Telling the story of Miriiyanan Mahoney, this novella speak to truths about systems and offers a warning just as relevant today as 4 years ago when it hit the market.

The photo shows the cover of Welcome to OrphanCorp, the subject of this review. A little girl holds a sign with the title.

In the bleak future of this short novel, corporations have taken charge of orphanages. And let me tell you, they do not treat their charges well at all. In many ways, this novel acts as what could be a precursor to something like the Handmai’s Tale. Only instead of religious fundamentalists taking over, it was the oligarchy.Ward never explains how the world of Welcome to OrphanCorp came to pass, and for the purposes of this review it doesn’t matter. In fact, it’s not too hard to imagine something like this happening in today’s world.

All you have to do is look at the private prison system, and how private corporations are responsible for the mess along the US border. Those are real places, and this is fiction, but so often those lines blur.

Welcome to OrphanCorp Presents Freedom as the Lesser Evil

Mirii is a hard case. She’s got a smart mouth and a quick mind. She has been in the system for a long time and is a week from release. What happens when she gets released? Well, she gets to be free on the outside, but that is terrible as well. The world outside of the corporate orphanage has gone to hell, but at least she’ll be free. But what does that mean? She doesn’t have a family, or a job, or even a place to live. The prospect of leaving the orphanage is compelling, but it’s also a bit like jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Inside, the kids do whatever they can to remain sane. This includes cuddle parties, sex, and going on missions. The latter is where trouble really happens, as these missions are illegal. Whether it’s just sneaking out to explore the grounds or to steal some drugs from the pharmacy, missions are bad news if you get caught.

Laughs in the Face of Corporate Inhumanity

One thing that really struck me about this novella is the humor. Sure, the book is terrifying and tragic. And yes, it presents a world full of pain and anger and anguish. It’s hard reading about kids in pain, even if they are fictional. But, Mirii is so acerbic and clever that we can’t help laugh with her. She puts on a tough facade, and humor is part of her armor. Of course, she is not as tough as she appears, which makes it all the more heartbreaking when the times she falls apart.

Another thing I appreciated about this novel was the world building. In a short amount of time, readers understand this strange and frightening world. The adults at the orphanage are called Aunts and Uncles, clearly a perversion of family. When the orphans get in trouble, they have to face the Consequences and go in Time Out rooms. Both of these are awful punishments, but their names make them sound innocuous. It’s a great bit of contrast between the expectation of what those words mean, and the reality of the novel.

Overall, I recommend reading this book. It’s short and well written. The world and characters spring to life on the page, and the tension is palpable. This might be a young adult novel, but it is suitable for anyone interested in corporate over reach, finding hope in the darkness, and good stories.

Thank you fro reading my review of Welcome to OrphanCorp. If you’ve read this book, join me in the discussion in the comments. And if you haven’t, you should.

Killing Gravity: Sci-Fi Thrills in Outer Space

Killing Gravity is a short novella by Corey J White. It tells the story of Miriam “Mars” Xi, a young woman trying to make her way in a dangerous and futuristic cosmos. Xi (pronounced like the Roman Numeral) is the result of horrible experiments by the MEPHISTO corporation which left her with special powers. If you guessed these powers were psychic in nature, you wouldn’t be wrong.

The image shows the cover of the novel Killing Gravity, and has a woman in a space suit floating in the void of space.

Despite the familiarity of its premise, Killing Gravity offers plenty of new ideas for fans of the genre. Or at least it did for this fan. One thing that makes this story different from something say Firefly is Mars’ attitude. She is tough as nails and a loner, but she also has a tender side. Well, maybe tender isn’t the right word. Maybe a sense of guilt and atonement would be better descriptors. At any rate, it is clear from the moment we meet her that Mars takes no guff, but also is more than just a living weapon.

Of course, she can and she will kill when necessary, though it’s not something she likes to do. Eventually, as in all of these stories, she is forced to face the demons of her past because they won’t leave her alone.

Mars’s character arc, while somewhat predictable, is compelling nonetheless. She begins the story by just wanting to get away. That is not really an option. If it were, there wouldn’t be much of a story. As the disruptions in her life mount she meets up with a motley crew of scrappers who she grudgingly befriends. Mars’s relationship with this crew, Squid, Mookie, and Trix becomes an integral part of the plot and is important in helping to show Mars’s development. Without them, she’d just be a hard-ass.

Killing Gravity Has Action, Excitement, Death, And Heart

In any novel, but especially one like this, the characters are what matter. Yes, psychic powers and awesome weaponry are cool to read about. However, they are not enough to sustain this reader’s interest on their own. Luckily for me, Killing Gravity has plenty to offer beyond spectacle.

First, there is Mars. As I’ve already written, she is more than just a one dimensional waif or murder machine. She is a nuanced character who acts tough. And yeah, she is tough. But she is also sensitive, and near her emotional breaking point for the majority of the book. White makes the wise decision to give her emotional damage/vulnerabilities. These are necessary because her powers are so vast. As a voidwitch, she can crush entire starships, hurl meteors, and make heads explode. She’s dangerous, which is inherently cool. And sure, you can ride the coolness wave quite a ways. But there has to be more.

Beyond Mars’s fully rounded character, there are shocks and surprises throughout the novel. They don’t always succeed for me, but I appreciate their inclusion. White makes a genuine effort to play with readers’ expectations, and should be applauded. Sometimes, things were predictable, or not entirely refreshing. But, that’s okay. Not everything has to reinvent the wheel.

Plus, Killing Gravity has Seven, a weird cat-like creature with expandable guide flaps. I pictured it as kind of a cross between a kitty and a flying squirrel. Seven is Mars’s constant companion, and is one of the cutest critters ever to grace the page. She’s also quite dangerous when she needs to be.

Clean Prose, Good Descriptions

The prose in this novel is crisp and clean. White does a fantastic job of providing just the right amount of details to make the world come alive, but doesn’t overwhelm.

All in all this is a quick and enjoyable read with plenty of action, death, chills, and heart. It’s maybe not the most original piece of sci-fi I’ve read, but it does twist and turn the tropes of the genre in fun and exciting ways. It’s well worth the read.

Have you read it? Let me know in the comments. And if you haven’t you should purchase a copy from his website.

Thanks for reading, and until next time, don’t get into any trouble you don’t want to be in.

All Roads End Here Apocalyptic Bleakness

All Roads End Here, a novel by David Moody is apocaylptic bleakness at a frantic pace. From the very start, the desperation of the world never fails to jump off the pages. Moody has created a cracked world in danger of splitting completely apart. In a nutshell, this novel is about a virus or some other afflction that turns many people into Haters. What’s a Hater? Hater used to be human, but now they have only the desire to destroy the Unchanged (non-Hater humans). If you think of the creatures in 28 Days Later, you’ll be on the right track. Only, the haters have some intelligence, and aren’t complete mindless brutes. Just mostly.

The picture shows the cover to All Roads End Here by David Moody. The cover is red and black

The book takes place in an English city, and the main character, Matthew Dunne, ha spent nearly three months in the wasteland. For three months, Matt survived by avoiding Hater patrols and sacrificing friends and acquaintances. His one goal: to get home to his girlfriend Jen. Matt’s willingness to do anything to get to Jen is noble, and provides motivation. However, keeping Jen safe seems to be his only reason for survival, which I find off-putting.

Finally, he reaches the city only to find it a Mad Max style warzone. Helicopters hover, strafing the hordes of Haters massing and attacking the city. Troops and bombers make appearances as well. The descriptions of the battles engage and excite, and there is a lot to like about this book in the early goings.

All Roads End Here Lacks Character

However, as the novel progresses and we see more of Matt and the people living at his house with his girlfriend, the excitement wears off. At least, that’s how it was for me. Moody writes excellent descriptions, and he builds a well realized world about to collapse. Unfortunately, he doesn’t populate that world with characters I care about, making it difficult to invest in the story.

When reading this type of novel, I find I need characters to latch onto. They don’t have to be sympathetic. Nevertheless, I like it when they aren’t complete assholes. And that is my biggest issue with All Roads End Here–I don’t like any of the characters. Actually, I can’t stand any of the characters. They could be real people, which is probably why I don’t like them. In a world where society has gone to shit, I need people I can root for and feel a connection with.

Did I root for Matt? Of course I did because he is the protagonist. Having Matt as the point of view character forces the reader to side with him, at least a little. He’s telling the story, and we want that story to continue. Therefore, we want him to live. At least for a little while.

For me, the novel became repetitious and lost a little bit of momentum for a stretch near the final third of the novel. Thankfully, it was a short stretch of pages, but it did solidify why the book wasn’t clicking for me. The reason I felt things were slowing down and becoming a slog is at that point I didn’t care about the characters. Even Matt. Once I accepted that, it was easy to finish the book.

Last Thoughts

Overall, I would say All Roads End Here is worth the read, especially if you like post-apocalyptic literature and genre pieces. It has some vivid descriptions and exciting set pieces. The battle-bus, and the waste management segments come quickly to mind.

My biggest issue was that I didn’t care if the characters lived or died. This isn’t Moody’s fault, simply a missed connection between reader and author. No one changed by the end of the proceedings, and I don’t find static characters particularly interesting.

Have you read this novel? If not, maybe give it a shot. As always, thanks for reading.

The Den New England Gothic Novel

The Den is a New England Gothic style novel by Abi Maxwell. It tells the story of two different families, each facing difficult choices and circumstances.

It begins with the sisters Jane and Henrietta, and their dysfunctional family. Henrietta, age 15, has started to rebel, smoking cigarettes, and having sex with her boyfriend. Jane, 12, spies on her sister as she desperately aches to get closer to her. It’s all very dramatic and high hysterics, but with a slightly modern spin on typical New England Gothic by adding in some other intrigues and red herrings, though I suppose these are hallmarks of works in the genre.

The Picture shows the cover of the Den a New England Gothic novel. There is a long haired girl sitting on a chair, looking over her shoulder.

In addition to the coming of age aspect of the first part of the novel, there are secrets galore in this book. Jane and Henrietta’s mother keeps a secret art studio in the attic. Plus, Henrietta is pregnant and sneaking around. These are not the only examples of secrecy in the Den, but to reveal them would spoil the surprises in this New England Gothic novel.

Instead of focusing too much on the events of the book, I want to focus on the structure. The novel has four different narrators: Jane and Henrietta who I discussed above, and Elspeth and Claire. Elspeth and Claire are two sisters with a connection to Henrietta and Jane. The two pairs of sisters mirror each other in action, story, and trauma. Henrietta and Elspeth, while not terribly strange, are somewhat odd names. On the other hand, Jane and Claire are relatively plain names. Beyond the names, though, there is the behavior. Henrietta and Elsbeth appear adventurous, independent, and sexual. Their sisters, however, are as steadfast women who stand by their families and run the danger of becoming spinsters. Clearly, these stories have a deep connection.

The Den New England Gothic Meets Today

Maxwell does an excellent job of weaving these disparate but connected tales into one clear vision. As I read this novel, I was mostly able to follow the threads and twists and turns. Sometimes, I admit, the text turned where I didn’t expect. I love that. Gothic literature, no matter the region, needs some good mystery and conspiracy. The Den provides that at just the right times and in just the right amounts.

As for the modern twist, Henrietta and Jane are alive in the 1990’s, and as such have phones, cars, the internet, etc… This provides us with a glimpse of how this genre and these stories are going to look as we move further away in time from the roots of these types of tales. However, The Den never feels fully modern due to Maxwell’s ability to maintain the style and features of New England Gothic writing. These include improbable coincidences, loss, forgiveness (or lack thereof), pain, family, coming-of-age, and sacrifice.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, and if you like Gothic style writing with a bit of modernization thrown in, you might like it too. Check it out. Thanks for reading and leave me a comment if you are so inclined.

Shallow Creek Review Deep Scares in Short Stories

This is a review of Shallow Creek, a collection of short stories centering around the titular town. It will not focus on each individual story, but rather the overall feel. The premise of the collection is simple. Storgy, the publisher, provided the authors with ideas and characters to use to develop the town. This is an interesting technique because it allows the authors to write their own stories, and bring their own voices, but it also helps maintain collection cohesion.

This image shows the cover of Shallow Creek, a collection of short horror stories.

First, this collection of short horror stories presents a wide range of terrors and characters. The town itself has seen better days, as is often the case in such things. Once upon a time, it flourished, but now its downtown is dying, the Church is failing, and the whole place exists under a shadow. Many of the tales feature the same characters, but in different ways. For example, sometimes Krinkles the clown actually shows up and joins the story, and in others readers only encounter him as a face on a cereal box. This method adds a nice twist to the standard thematic collection.

Despite the disparate authors involved in the collection, there is a unified voice, or at least tone. Reading through it, I was never taken aback by shift in style. Each author manages to stay true to the overall tone of the tome while adding their own twist. I have read many short story collections, but seldom have I encountered one as thematically rich as this one.

Shallow Creek A Brief Review of a Few Stories

This review of Shallow Creek focuses on a couple stories rather than each individual story.

The first story I want to focus on is Pentameter by David Hartley. This is the story of Jud, a broken man. He is the lighthouse keeper, and only speaks and understand Pentameter. Initially, this focus on Jud’s speaking style seems like a gimmick, and it is something that could easily become grating. However, the story that emerges through poetic form is gruesome, creepy, and powerful. Could it have been told in a more traditional prose style? Of course, but the impact would have been lessened.

In addition to characterizing Jud with his mental tic, the pentameter immediately informs readers that they are in a weird story. Furthermore, it helps illustrate how disconnected from the world Jud is. As the story progresses, we see that he has a few worldly connections, a voice on a CB radio named Mike that feeds him instructions, and Sian, a teenager who seeks his friendship. At first, Sian doesn’t grasp the idea of using pentameter to communicate with Jud, but she quickly groks it and the two become fast friends. There is also the matter of Jud’s wife, who he talks to often but the reader doesn’t meet until the end of the tale.

All of these elements combine to create dread, which is what I want from a horror story. Tension builds as Mike gives Jud instructions to sabotage the carnival that has recently come to town. When each of these attempts fail, the stakes rise, and things become even tenser. The escalation with Mike mirrors how his relationship with Sian develops. One is destructive while the other has the potential to save him. The resolution of which is terrifying and inevitable.

Thematic Resonance

The other story I want to mention is Backwards by Adrian J. Walker. This tells the story of the town Sheriff, another broken man. He has been investigating a murder, to no avail. As a result, he has earned the ire of the town, as well as lost faith in himself. He wishes to be anywhere but Shallow Creek, but that seems unlikely.

This story is different from Pentameter, and the other stories in this collection as it has a sci-fi bend to it. However, thematically, it keeps to the core of the collection. It tells the story of broken people in a broken town. Trauma is one of the strongest threads that holds this collection together, and Backwards has trauma in spades. The Sheriff has to reckon with his failures, and inability to change his situation. This is relatable to readers, and a hallmark of good stories, horror or otherwise. Also, it echoes Jud’s situation in Pentameter, though the resolutions are quite different.

All in all, this is a good collection of horror stories held together with strong thematic elements. It explores flawed characters and their struggle to survive in an inhospitable town. Some the horrors found in the creek are supernatural, while others are human. Many of the tales are dark bloody, and brutal, while others are more subtle and psychological. Each story in this collection is grounded in a hyper-real world that never feels fake or unbelievable, which might be its biggest strength. Horror works best when it feels possible and probably, and Shallow Creek delivers on that front.

Thank you for reading. If this collection sounds up your alley, get it ASAP. It’s well worth your time.