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Launch Day Review – Part 1: Ugly Little Things – Collected Horrors by Todd Keisling (Crystal Lake Publishing)

(Illustrations by the excellent Luke Spooner)

(Cover design by the amazing Ben Baldwin)

Part 1? There’ll be a part 2? Yep, because I’m halfway with the collection, and since it’s launching today, I’d like to review what I’ve read so far and add my voice to those who’be been lauding this collection, since it really does deserve to be lauded. 🙂

Every good collection begins with a suitable foreword, and in this case the tradition not only continues but does so wonderfully – I have yet to read Mercedes M, Yardley‘s work (I know, right? I’ve got so much to catch up on!), but she does a great job of intro-ing the collection because she doesn’t give anything away and made me excited to read it. She evokes the emotions the tales made her feel and, like a good bookseller, convinced me to begin reading. 🙂

The first tale, A Man in Your Garden, is an absolute corker – trust me, you’ll go through this thinking that it’s nothing special, nothing notable -but like all good word-wizards, that’s exactly what Todd wants you to think- and then the end hits you like a sucker-punch in pitch darkness. Excellent stuff!

 

The next tale, Show Me Where the Waters Fill Your Grave, is one of those quietly building horrors… It lulls you into thinking that the main character is am idiot for making the choices he does, even though you can understand why he’s making those choices, and I was left wondering at the end of the tale what his final choice would be: give in, or fight? It’ll probably leave you with the same questions.

 

Radio Free Nowhere works well as cautionary tale and plays with the city-folk-in-the-country trope – I kind of new where it was heading, but I still enjoyed the trip, as Todd manages to evoke that road-trip/desert-crossing/driving-into-the-unknown feeling amazingly well with his tight descriptions and fully-realized characters. Even the petrol-station attendant is given layers, instead of being the caricature most movies make that kind of character into.

 

The Otherland Express is one of the real stand-out tales, both a parable for our time and the kind of Horror tale starring a character we can understand and sympathize with – as Stephen King likes to do, this tale also reveals the hidden, uniquely strange things which might be hiding out there and humanizes them, forcing the reader to think about what they would do, if they were ever placed in a similar situation.

 

Saving Granny from the Devil is a wonderful tale and showcases Todd’s character-creation talents – we follow the life and decisions of the main character from when he’s a little boy until he’s an adult, charting the events in his life and the decisions he’s seemingly forced to make. Todd also gives us a new, almost perfect look at ‘the Devil’, one which upends some conventional ideas and revels in creating a new, interesting take on the ultimate bad guy. Really good stuff!

 

The Darkness Between Dead Stars is superb cosmic Horror – the kind of Horror which leaves you with more questions than answers; the story is tight and small, is written from an interesting angle (instead of the expected POV), and features some truly creepy visuals. It’s visceral and memorable and I’m pretty sure you’ll agree.

 

Human Resources is perfect. Just perfect. Corporate Culture meets Cultist Insanity. Love it!

 

House of Nettle and Thorn plays with what I believe to be one of the ultimate formative tropes teenagers in the US have to deal with – Sorority Houses. Being a South African, and not having had to deal with anything similar in high school, it still surprises me that these places exist. 🙂 I’m very glad that Todd didn’t go the way many other writers have, concerning Sorority’s, i.e. not crafting a tale in which members of different SH’s go up against each other. This is something cool and twisted and dark, explicit in places and disturbing in others, but damned good. There’s also an incredible quote-worthy passage in the tale, regarding what some men are meant to do with their lives, which made me laugh out loud it was so nail-on-the-head, but I’ll leave you to discover that passage for yourself. 🙂

 

So, that’s eight stories reviewed in part one, with three more coming in part two. So far Todd has been hitting home runs – going places where dark thoughts tumble, where strange things travel our roads, where irresistable horrors ensnare… So, should you buy this collection? For damned sure. Click on this link and do so.

And see you next week for part two of my Ugly Little Things review. 🙂

Be EPIC!

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Posted by on September 15, 2017 in Crystal Lake Publishing, Reviews

 

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