"A Standout, frequently profound story collection"– Kirkus Reviews
Macraven’s (Testament of the Dead, 2014, etc.) latest horror outing is a two-story collection that delves into the dark hearts of people whose depravity includes murder and black magic.
In the author’s first story, “Thoughts of a Killer,” Detective Merrick is after a serial killer who’s mutilating prostitutes. A crucifix in one of the bodies implies a religious angle, but that doesn’t help Merrick whittle down the suspect list. In the course of his investigation, he encounters an abundance of unpleasant individuals, some even with the capacity for murder, but no one, it seems, who’d debase the victims in such a manner. Merrick is a memorable protagonist, tormented and haunted by both the murdered women and his partner, Cody, who was killed in the line of duty and with whom Merrick has entire conversations when organizing his thoughts on the case. Readers won’t easily identify the killer, as Merrick interrogates numerous male and female suspects; even he is prone to shifting suspicions from one person to the next and sometimes back to the original person. Scenes with Harry, the morgue attendant, relaying details of the bodies to Merrick can be stomach-churning, but they’re never outright offensive. The much-shorter “Missing Jezebel” takes place in the 19th century. Grazel Goodwin hates her sister, Abigail, for getting all their parents’ attention. Grazel’s incestuous relationship with her uncle incurs her family’s ire, and she leaves in disgrace, hiding away in the mountains where she meets Ravel, a black witch. Years later, having dabbled in witchcraft, Grazel uses a spell to lure Abigail’s daughter, Jezebel, away from her mother in a twisted tale of misguided vengeance. Both stories have a feel of vintage horror; despite the former story’s contemporary setting, its murders in the streets and butchered victims recall Jack the Ripper’s rampage. Yet the tales are vastly different. Third-person descriptions of the murders in the first story are visceral and sometimes repulsive, while the latter’s narrative spans decades. The book does have its share of flubs, particularly misspellings and mishandled punctuation, which too often distract from the otherwise engaging storylines.
A ghastly detective story and a macabre parable that should accommodate genre fans with a nightmare or two.
Fresh, original horror in three bone-chilling novellas.
This set of novellas takes readers into the frightening corners of haunted homes and possessed minds, as Macraven (A Diverse Gathering, 2012, etc.) explores man’s most intimidating fears. The tour begins in “Where the Dead Dwell” in an old Victorian home that once belonged to the Wilcox family back in the 1930s. The family is the first that the house watches, “absorbing feelings and deep emotions” from the parents and their daughter as they grow and change. Over time, the house ceases to be a mere structure and instead transitions into a container of evil, filling up with the spirits of the previous owners and haunting the new ones. Weaving among the generations of owners, family conflicts, secrets and fears rise to the surface as the house haunts its inhabitants with voices and images of lost loves. Each inhabitant must face down the evil that the house contains or live a life of terror. In “Watching Black Mountain,” a man rather than a property sets the reader’s fear in motion. Zachariah Prophet, a disturbed and troubled man, believes himself to be God. He devotes himself to brainwashing others into believing the same and furthers his own illusions with the assistance of illegal drugs. But as intoxicating as the power is, Zachariah is unknowingly headed to a tragic end. The collection ends with “The Devil Incarnate,” a brief story centered on Merrick, a detective haunted by the victims he couldn’t help. As he slips into a sort of madness, he finds himself drawn further into the world of his unsolved mysteries. Hypnotic in its delivery, this bold set of stories stalks the reader with haunting images and ideas that could stir up deep-seated fears. Ghosts, demons and spirits abound, as well as the frightening thought that we can be our own worst enemies.
Three riveting stories of evil, revenge and death.
In his latest short story collection (Tales from the Mind of a Schizophrenic, 2011), Macraven spins tales of murder, religious fanatics and people on the brink of insanity.
This book offers the variety of stories teased by its title, and many have recurring themes. Religion, for example, plays a part in many stories, including “Monk,” in which the titular character questions his faith. Lost souls torment a priest in “When Our Demons Come,” and in “Caught Up in the Devil,” a home invasion is believed to be the “devil’s work.” Several stories address mental turmoil, such as a schizophrenic’s internal struggle while attending a party in “A Case of Madness.” In the unexpectedly engaging “Irreversible Damage,” a psychologist discusses a patient’s years of drug abuse. But while the collection’s overall tone is bleak—most stories end in murder or imminent psychosis—Macraven keeps the book from drowning in unadulterated gloom. Several stories, such as “File 349” and “After the Fact,” have darkly humorous twists. He also judiciously handles religious issues, as when the nameless narrator of “My Rant” makes it a point to blame humanity, not God, for the world’s dismal state of affairs. Macraven’s style is often abstract but in an old-fashioned, romantic fashion reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe. Sometimes the Poe influence is overt, as in the 1832-set “Prior to My Madness,” which has a protagonist named Edgar Bellows; other times he uses it with more finesse, as in the Poe-esque opening line of “Murder”: “It was a warm Friday night when I first decided to end the life of Chet Williams.” Stories such as “Feeding,” “12:01” and “A Birthday Party” are quite unsettling, but the author surprises with the good-natured, poignant “Longing,” featuring a widowed woman living alone, and “Henry,” about an elderly man getting lost on his drive to a doctor’s appointment.
A standout, frequently profound story collection.