"The Red Room and Other Tales" Book Review
Written by Tony Jones
Published by Room 13 Books
Written by Bruno Carlos Santos
2017, 111 pages, Fiction
Released on 1st July 2017
This slight, 111-page collection of five stories by Brazilian author Bruno Carlos Santos never really hits the heights, with the content just not strong enough to merit a single author anthology collection. I recently reviewed two such anthologies by authors who are amongst the best in the horror business; these guys waited years before lovingly crafting together the best of their short work. So that is the type of competition Bruno Carlos is up against. It might seem harsh to compare an unknown author to the big boys, but ultimately, they inhabit the same virtual shelf space with The Red Room and Other Stories falling well short in any cold light of day comparison.
It opens with the longest story “The Bones Goddess”, which has an intriguing beginning effectively crossing genres into crime, also jumping backwards and forwards in time. It has some decent moments, such as when one man is forced to attempt to murder another to pay a debt, with the author revealing the circumstances slowly. However, when the supernatural element kicks in, the plot goes off the boil, the two conflicting threads of the story do not gel, and my interest waned the longer I read. Perhaps it was a coincidence, but there is a character in the story called “Quentin Barnes”, who is the star of Scott Sigler’s “Galactic Football League” series of books; maybe the author is a fan? This story takes up 58% of the Kindle’s 111 pages and so the other four are briefer affairs in comparison.
“The Abyss” is a pretty bland science fiction horror story featuring a group of marines battling to stave off vicious creatures and close a portal they call ‘the abyss’, which the creatures have been coming through. There really isn’t much to say about this story except it could probably be fleshed out into something more complete, as it stands it’s a brief undemanding read. A few of the stories has this same problem and come across as undercooked or unfinished, often with unexpected endings that do not sit easy with the rest of the story. An unexpected ending is not the same as a twist ending, which is altogether sneakier, cleverer and makes sense within the boundaries of the tale in question.
“Paint in Black” is perhaps my favourite. Bradley is obsessed with Vanessa and has bought her flowers and chocolates, but when he intends to declare his love, he sees her kissing another man. Things then go from bad to worse for Bradley and the story goes slightly dreamy with a more convincing ending. It has a certain level of mood and melancholy which works well for the most part.
“The Red Room” has a very good first half and a bizarrely unconvincing second stanza that does not fit with the first. Vincent Parker returns to his childhood home of Falls Creek for a family funeral, which brings back unhappy childhood memories and he ends up staying much longer than he anticipated with his old football coach as a friendly and concerned host. This opening sequence is very solid and at this stage it is difficult to tell where the story is heading, which is a positive. After Vincent returns to the town for good, it takes an improbable nosedive into the supernatural as it heads to a conclusion that seems like it belongs to a different story to the one I started.
Finally, we have “The Evil Deed”, which is a pretty simple tale of a killer, Mr. Glass, stalking a young woman called Brenda. Apart from the insights of the previous killings of the killer and his formative years, once again, there is not a huge amount to it. But like other stories, it has scope for improvement, and could become something with more layers to the writing and nuances about the killer.
Five59.com is a self-publishing company, and although I have nothing against this form of publishing, a better editor would have picked the same holes in these stories as I have. I am not a fan of new authors releasing anthologies such as this at the beginning of their careers. The old fashioned and traditional route works best; send your short stories to horror, genre and literary magazines. If some of the biggest names in world horror still publish in magazines, new unestablished authors should do the same thing. If rejection letters arrive, then hold off releasing them in a book like this, as chances are they really are not good enough for the public at large.