"Darkest Hours" Book Review
Written by Tony Jones
Published by Unnerving
Written by Mike Thorn
2017, 254 pages, Fiction
Released on November 20th, 2017
The author of Darkest Hours, a collection of short stories, has truly impeccable taste. Not only did Mike Thorn complete a master’s degree thesis on John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness, the endnotes mention his love of the influential industrial metal band “Godflesh”. If Mike and I ever met up for coffee, we would have a grand old time reminiscing about the mighty Godflesh, whom I haven’t seen in concert for a few years, but remain one of my personal favourite noise bands. The opening story features a girl buying a Godflesh t-shirt, so I already figured Mike Thorn was a fan, and in later stories other metal bands also get name checked.
It is enjoyable to read a collection which features stories which have previously been published in a solid range of magazines and anthologies, including DarkFuse, Dark Moon Digest, Double Feature Magazine and Creepy Campfire Stories (for Grownups). This is the correct way of developing a reputation and cutting your teeth as a writer of short fiction. This reflects positively upon the quirky range of stories featured in the anthology and the author shows drive in getting his work out there.
Now onto the content. Some of the stories are terrific, a few miss the mark, and several start out brilliant but then wimp out with unsatisfactory endings. It’s worth noting that strong openings, real eye-catching stuff, really is a feature of the collection, but the endings rarely match this. Mike Thorn has great ideas by the abundance, but some are not developed or followed through adequately for my taste. This is not to say I didn’t enjoy the collection, I most certainly did, such is the bizarre and unpredictable range of stories on offer.
The opening story “Hair” is a perfect example of a story with a terrific opening, with the reader genuinely wondering what the hell is going on, but is ruined by a shockingly weak ending. A guy working in a T-shirt shop has a thing about hair, to the extent he gets a kick out of eating it, other people’s as well as his own. For a while we’re in a Roald Dahl world of weirdness until we’re hit with an ending so disappointing it ruins what is a quirkily different little story.
Weak endings destroy short stories and sadly all too easily undo the good work done earlier in the tale. It is the final sequence we always remember. Whereas novels generally have happy or satisfactory endings, shorter fiction doesn’t live by the same rules and a strong conclusion can make or break the finale. A few other tales on offer here are broken, or at least cracked by their unsatisfactory finishes. “Long Man” is a prime example, a creepy number about a bogeyman-type creature that lurks in a mirror and stalks children in their bedrooms. This clever look at childhood fears was enjoyable, but when it continued into adulthood, a rushed and undercooked final few pages had me shrugging my shoulders.
Mike Thorn’s full-throttle imagination really goes to town in some of the stronger entries. “Party Time” deals with a very disturbed guy gate-crashing a party, seen from a skewered point of view; it really kicks with a cool ending.
I also really like “The Auteur”. Two friends who work in a video shop chat about films all the time, Cate shows Simon a type of film he has never seen before; you think it’s going to be a snuff film, but something much odder, hypnotic, and unsettling is served up. This offering has a juicily ambiguous type of ending which suits the short story format perfectly.
“A New Kind of Drug” is so far out of left field, you just have to laugh at its ingenuity. An odd story about a tiny monster that gives the weirdest drug kick, but only if you let the hit last a maximum of 30 minutes. So, you need a wingman to watch the clock. Just don’t ask what happens if you go over the 30 minutes. If you think that sounds dumb, then wait until you try “Mired”, which is another funny one about a man who finds a giant blob, living and growing in his basement. What’s an enterprising guy (or blob) going to do?
Perhaps my overall personal favourite is “Economy These Days”, even if I am slightly disappointed by the ending, I still love the extreme Fight Club angle. A man down on his luck and in debt takes on a new job, in which he is paid to let other people beat the crap out of him. There are certain rules to be followed (like in Fight Club), but ultimately he’s going to take a shellacking. As things develop, he is offered more cash just to let things go that little bit further.
A final three of the 15 stories I’ll mention include “Sabbatical”, a supernatural tale of two university students who go to a cabin retreat to write their dissertations. Although Thad and Gage spent a lot of time drunk, one of them manages to write their masterpiece virtually overnight. How? The friend begins to investigate, and he’s going to regret it. “Fusion”, is a fun story of drunken campers who don’t understand how they could have pitched their tent right on top of what looks like a huge tree root. Were they really that drunk? This isn’t nature though, far from it, and this story is entertaining stuff to the cool end. Finally, “Remembering Absence” is also well worth a look; a melancholic tale of a ghost reminiscing on his previous life and secrets.
Overall, this is a solid collection with a memorable range of stories ranging from excellent to forgettable. I got the feeling the author really enjoyed writing them and I really cannot fault his vision, creativity, imagination or his exceptionally cool taste in music.