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.