Preston grounds the speculative and fantastical in utterly realistic portrayals of human behaviour, creating horror that blends the fear of otherness with a visceral sense of plausibility.
This collection features six short stories in a variety of horror sub-genres.
‘Stump and Corpse Meet the Vampire Bride’: When Alderton’s wife was killed in a vampire attack, he buried her instead of destroying her; now he is ready to do what he unable to do at the time, but can’t do it alone. While this story is set in Preston’s Joe Coffin universe and is filled with the same gritty British criminals vs vampires tone, it does not rely on intimate knowledge of those events or characters, making it a solid modern vampire story in itself, a solid introduction to the series for those who have not read it, and an interesting glimpse of two side characters for those who have.
‘Population:DEAD!’: A ranch-hand and his boss’ daughter fleeing disapproval for their relationship discover a small group barricaded in an abandoned town. Preston opens with what seems an engaging realistic cowboy story before drawing the reader smoothly into something darker and stranger, making this a skilful example of the plausibly impossible.
‘Drive Fast! She Said’: A young woman challenges her boyfriend to drive blindfolded along a straight section of road. Mixing the tropes of classic urban legends with the more nuanced characters of other styles, Preston evokes the feel of a scary story without the corniness.
‘The Man Who Murdered Himself’: After a lifetime of violence and failed relationships, Cable Nash agrees to try a new therapy that will supposedly rid him of the dark part of himself forever. Preston skilfully uses unreliable narration to leave the reader not merely uncertain whether or not Cable really does have a second evil soul in him but feeling the real horror is not in why Cable is the way he is but how he acts.
‘Holiday Hell’: When a zombie apocalypse hits, a few surviving holidaymakers hide out in their resort, only to discover that boredom can be worse than terror. In contrast to the usual zombie survival stories featuring bikers, cops, doctors, and other people of strong personality, Preston provides a perspective on how people whose main pursuits are drinking, having sex, and relaxing might cope.
‘How to Eat a Car’: Years ago, Sharkman was a celebrity who ate anything people asked him to; in the hopes of reclaiming his fame, he has himself locked in a glass box and claims he won’t come out until he’s eaten the car that’s lock in with him. Preston interweaves ostensibly logical guidelines for achieving success with the strangeness of eating non-food items, framing the eternal narrative of the psychopath or sociopath in the modern trappings of the success guru listicle.
Each of Preston’s stories has a strong feel of their respective subgenres, but are also united by an underlying theme of human vulnerability (both mental and physical). Thus each story different enough that there is no stale sameness while still having a similarity that means readers who love one are likely to enjoy all the others.
As the stories feature the revelation of human fragility, the descriptions are visceral in places; however, this is in service to the sense of horror rather than for cheap shock value.
Preston’s cast each have the clear characteristics that avoid the need for extended explanations, strengthening the focus on the action; but this is paired with nuances of personality and intent that make these very much stories about characters engaging with a horrific situation rather than characters being acted on by one.
Overall, I enjoyed this collection immensely. I recommend it to readers seeking horror that draws on the very real dangers that humans are subject to without allowing realism to become a straitjacket.
I received a free copy from the author with no request for a review.