"Dark Screams: Volume Three" Book Review
Written by Steve Pattee
Published by Hydra
Edited by Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar
2015, 92 pages, Fiction
Released on May 12th, 2015
Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar return as editors in this third volume of Dark Screams, a series of anthologies consisting of five stories a pop, written by some terrific authors. So far we've seen tales by the likes of Stephen King, Graham Masterson, Norman Prentiss, Robert McCammon and more fantastic writers. These books have been nothing but delightful, so my expectations of the latest entry were naturally high.
Peter Straub's "The Collected Short Stories of Freddie Prothero" opens the anthology, and it's a frustrating read to say the least. Full disclosure, I'm not a huge fan of Straub's work. I've tried my best to get into a few of his novels, but outside of The Talisman and Black House - the two books he and Stephen King collaborated on – I just can't get into his work, and I can't explain why. (Trust me, I really want to like Ghost Story.) What is bothersome about "The Collected Short Stories of Freddie Prothero" is the premise is solid and it's so close to being amazing, but it's so hard to read it just becomes an exercise in futility. Basically, the piece centers on the title character and his amazing and terrifying writings that were discovered after his death at the age of 9. Freddie had authored "…ten of the most visionary short stories in the English language." After a brief synopsis of Freddie's life, it "reprints" the stories, and that's where the problems begin, as the tales are written (naturally) as if a child wrote them. Here's an example of just one sentence of what you're in for, "Baathy baathy momma sai baathy mi nom mommnas sai in gd dyz id wuzz Baaaaathy." To be fair, they get slightly easier to understand as Freddy gets "older", but it's still a struggle to read and figure out what the hell the kid is writing. The irony is I really, really want to like this story because it does have the potential to creep me out (and some of the lines the kid wrote actually did), but the work-to-payoff ratio reading it just isn't there.
The book bounces back with the next story, Jack Ketchum's "Group of Thirty". This one tells the tale of a writer who is invited by a book club to be a guest speaker at one of their meetings. He somewhat reluctantly accepts, and when he arrives to the meet, he finds that intentions of the group are a far cry from what he was led to believe. I really dug "Group of Thirty", and not just because of how meta it feels (I have no problem believing this very thing might have happened to Ketchum himself), but also on the nice little twist on how the character handles the situation he is in.
Darynda Jones' "Nancy" follows, and this one had my attention from the first sentence. "The floor and I met somewhere between my fourth and fifth cups of punch." As someone who frequently trips going up stairs, I immediately related to this character. The story only continues to get better after that opening, following a young lady recently moved into the most haunted city in West Virginia as she tries to find out about the ghost that haunts the local freak, Nancy. This is a wonderful mix of supernatural and mystery, with believable, three-dimensional characters. Jones does a great job playing with some stereotypes, and not everyone is what they seem.
Things take a dark turn from supernatural to sociopath in "I Love You, Charlie Pearson" by Jacquelyn Frank. The story follows Charlie (don't call him Chuckie) as he follows his school girl crush, Stacey. But this isn't puppy love we're dealing with, it's far more insidious and Charlie clearly has more than a few screws loose as it's obvious that, rather than following Stacey, he's stalking her. The story leads up to an ending where Charlie finally gets Stacey into his house alone, and I'll leave it at that for you to experience the ending yourself.
"The Lone One and Level Sands Stretch Far Away" by Brian Hodge appropriately closes out this volume of Dark Secrets. Aidan becomes fast friends with his new neighbor, the apocalypse-obsessed Marnie, and eventually takes up urban exploration with her and her friends, much to his wife Tara's chagrin. I'm oversimplifying this story as it's a very slow burn to its tragic ending, but that's because I don't want to give away too much. Hodge spends the majority of the tale allowing us to get to know his characters, and that makes the ending swift and somewhat brutal. All things considered, it's a nice closer.
Freeman and Chizmar have edited another winner in Dark Secrets: Volume 3. I don't know how many volumes this series will be, but if it continues at the current level of quality it has been, I hope it doesn't end.