Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler...Former teacher... Scientist... Published author... Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published October 1st 2019
Short in length, not short in quality
I have started to get into a lot of self-published writing of late. The majority is okay – not brilliant, and I can often see why the authors had to resort to self-publishing – an unfortunate amount is not good, but some is really well done. Only some. Too much is not.
As I have said time and again, if I find something that is well done, then I will write about it here, to help with the publicity, to give the writer (musician, artist, film-maker, whoever) something back for delivering a good piece of work. As has been my mantra since I started here, I will only write about stuff I like, so you know if you are reading about something, I like it and I recommend it.
Thus we come to The Eyes Of Death by Jennifer White.
This is a short story collection, horror and/or weird stories, many with those little twists in the ending that I like so much. It is not long – my first read through knocked it off in maybe four hours – and none of the stories outstays its welcome. Look, it's certainly no Stephen King (whose latest book is brilliant!) work, but it is still a fine collection. I will also say, this is the fourth book I've read since finishing King's latest, and the first I've decided to do a review for. Part of that is that anything that follows King is going to suffer in comparison, so I made sure the ones I read were not horror – a comedy, a non-fiction work, and a varied genre collection – yet it turns out the first book I've liked enough to write about is this one, a horror work. C'est la vie.
There are fourteen stories here, and so I've decided to treat it like an album review, and look at each one. I will try very hard not to spoil the endings of any of them (so you feel inclined to go and buy it! Only $3Aust on Amazon Kindle), but will endeavour to give you an overall impression of them.
'Feeding The Beast' The opening story is, to my mind, one of the least in the collection. The name of one of the main characters (Dave… a name that appears again in this collection… not that I'm trying to psychoanalyse the author!) threw me and made it hard for me to get completely into it. Having said that, it was a nice twist at the end.
'Saphira' The second one, however, is creepy. One of my old writing teachers would not have called it a story, but in the horror genre, it fits well. A tale of… possession? Not really. But the reason for it all… and the main character's feelings expressed at the end… wow. Well done.
'The Eyes of Death' I think I would have opened with this story in the collection. It is one of the best here, written really well. The response of shock in Charlie at what his vision suddenly tells him feels real, and the final denouement is perfect and fits so brilliantly. As I was reading this one, I could see it all in my head; this would make an awesome short film.
'The One That Got Away' This story has the best twist ending of any in the book. It feels like an assassin/stalking tale, and it gives that impression so nicely. But then the twist takes it into another realm. And I'll never think about the name "Stan" without thinking of this...
'Mosquito Island' This story had a great premise and an interesting horror set-up. The concept itself is great. What lets it down for me is the Big Bad(s) at the end seeming to take their time too much, which drew me out of what was happening, made everything feel too convenient. Shame. With a bit more urgency, this could have been really tense. But the ending is still a nice "out".
'Cyber Threat' This is one I didn't get on my first read-through, and so took a little more time to re-read it. Then I got it. An Alexa-type device worried for its owner. That is quite the science-fiction concept there. Sentience coming through, artificial intelligence gaining real intelligence. But maybe the owner should not be the one the device should be worried about. Creepy, in a good way.
'No Beef!' I did not see where this one was going until about halfway through, and then it hit me and I could see the ending coming. That does take away a little from the story; it is still nicely written and has that sense of inevitability that makes you want to see how it gets there. And I'll never look at 'Canadian bacon' the same way again…
'Where There's Smoke' This is one I did not see coming. I thought at first it was sort of like a take on Stepford Wives or that recent film Get Out. But it was actually funnier than that. The thing that causes these men to become zombies, the smoke that burns and encompasses them… I liked this. One of my favourites.
'Santa's Bell' This is one of those creepy stories that has an ending where the person gets what they are after, just not in the way they expect to get what they are after. Santa helping the girl so she could no longer be disturbed by the bullies was so well done. There is a touch of that ironical humour about it, but it is really the sort of Santa story I've sold a few of. I really liked this one.
'The Ring of Lost Hope' This is one of the few stories where I felt sorry for the main character and felt depressed for what happened to her in the end. It involves jewellery (and, again, not the only story to involve that… some themes/names do run through…) and a husband and a domineering mother. Yes, good story, and it must have been written well because of how I felt about the ending.
'Clone 3244' A story that did not resonate with me. It just didn't catch my attention or imagination enough.
'Graveyard Whispers' Another jewel! This story was one where I did not foresee at all. I didn't see the trip to the graveyard coming, or what they would find there. It was filled with surprises from a reading point of view, and then came the ending with a twist I didn't see coming again. Well-written tale, in that creepy horror genre.
'The Last Stitch' A story with a genuinely happy ending (despite a death). The feeling of isolation of the main character is well put forth, and then the terror at having her self-imposed exile intruded upon, leading to a positive. Nicely done. I would have finished the collection with this story, letting the reader walk away with the main character with a sense of relief.
'I Painted It Myself' Not a bad story, and the concept of the dead and the paintings is a really nicely done one. The ending, though, felt a little rushed, which did take away from some of the impact of the horror of the piece.
So, there you have it. Technically, I found maybe four mistakes (at most), which is exceptional for a book like this. As you can tell, I liked the majority of the stories, and all of them were well-written. Many of these stories could have been published in various anthologies I have appeared in over the years. Jennifer White has a voice that, as I read, became more and more apparent as being hers. This was not an author aping others or just churning out words – this was written by one, distinctive person. That is a huge positive.
This is a really strong collection. I recommend it to anyone who likes horror, the weird and stories that leave you unsettled. Nicely done.