So I thought I would write a review of some of the short horror that I’ve been reading.
The first is Norman Partridge’s “Lesser Demons.” I read it in Ellen Datlow’s compendium “Best Hoprror Vol. 3” but it’s also collected in Lear’s own book “lesser Demons.” While I intend to get more into Datlow’s books later on, if the review sound appealing, I’d whole-heartedly recommend that you buy Norman’s books.
You can do so on Kindle and you’d be: a) saving yourself some money, and B) supporting a worthy independent author.
(As a brief digression, all of Ellen Datlow’s horror anthologies are available as e-books online. I hate to foment the death of print, but these collections are really worth saving your money on, as you will certainly find a couple of stories amazing, some are are OK, and the rest are not worth owning. This will be completely subjective based on your vision of horror, but since her anthologies try to capture where horror is and where it’s going, there are bound to be a number of dead ends for everyone.)
Patridge’s “Lesser Demons” is a hard-boiled horror story. I mean that in the best of ways, but also I mean that it’s hindered by it’s structure as such.
The protagonist (because the term “hero” won’t do) in the story is a sheriff in a town gone to hell. As you’ll find out in a flashback, the hero has seen something mundane yet eternally preternatural occur and, as the only man on the ground and with a shotgun, he’s watched the situation devolve. This story is a chronicle of a little of his present tense, a tiny bit of his future anticipation, and a a whole bunch of his recollection.
I’ll start out with what’s good about this story, because it’s almost everything. Also, I want to be clear that I think this is a great story and that everyone should read it and buy (at least) one collection with it.
First and foremost, Partirdge’s bestiary is fantastic. If the first 5 pages sound like a zombie story to you, don’t leave because I can guarantee you the coming atrocities are exquisite.
The action is amazing. I won’t spoil it, but Partirdge begins in the middle of some action and never lets up. His diction and tone capture an immediacy that never lets up. The way that Patridge captures actions in the present and physical medium serves him well (*spoiler* – even when he goes into flashbacks), so every part of the story is visceral.
Furthermore, he captures the world-weariness of his protagonist incredibly well. I won’t draw too many explicit comparisons, but the the narrator is consistent throughout. In this short form there are limited opportunities for characterization, but the reactions the narrator recounts set the stage for the actions he takes and feel organic.
Unfortunately, the flashbacks mentioned above rob the piece of much of it’s tension. There is an underlying mystery regarding a secondary character, but because the protagonist is so engaging, it seems less that engaging. Also, because so much of it is in the past, while we (as readers) get to watch a mystery unfold, we don’t really feel any tension of the future. There are some stakes established early on (in terms of immediate, physical consequences) and a few introduced later, but those peter out and don’t pay off.
After you read it, too, you’ll wonder if there was more to the final “villain” and if Patridge wouldn’t have done better to linger on those implications, for (the character’s) better or worse.
Instead, we end up with a sort of forgone conclusion of heroic victory. Even in the darkened world established, we know/feel (from the general grist of the world) that things will continue on.
I would love to spend a novel in this world. I would also love to have a novella that wraps things up, even if just for the main character.
So would I recommend it? Yes, because the horrific imagery will stick out and the ambiguity will haunt you (even if more of it is about the author’s intention than the character’s fate)