Ginger Nuts of Horror
'A Long December' by Richard Chizmar is a huge book! A novella and 30+ short stories means that you get some serious bang for your buck! As I do with anthologies and short story collections, when I've finished the book I look back through the story titles and see just how much I can remember. It is testament to the quality of the storytelling here that many of the tales included can be considered good to excellent. In fact, I don't believe there were any that didn't elicit some sort of emotion or enjoyment.
Chizmar's prose is very easy to digest. He has a wonderful narrative voice that is almost conversational in tone at times. It is as if you are propped up at a bar or sat around a camp fire listening to his stories and it is a style I really enjoy. I'd call Richard Chizmar a natural storyteller in the way that you're captivated by his stories from the first page. His characters are life-like and believable, you probably know somebody yourself just like them!
'A Long December' covers a variety of genres and perhaps the great Stephen King sums up Chizmar's tales best of all in the blurb where he describes them as "terrific stories served with a slice of disquiet pie". Certainly, opening story 'Blood Brothers' typifies the sort of journey you're about to take. It is brilliant and was one of my favourites in the collection. It is the story of two brothers who chose very different paths in life. When one of them returns home seeking money to get him out of a hole a meeting takes an unexpected twist, and in true Chizmar style the rug is pulled from under your feet. To go through every story would take too long so I will just pick out a couple that really worked for me. 'Ditch Treasures' was really superb. A clean-up crew on I-95 come across something truly bizarre, something otherworldly whilst working by the road side. Once again, Chizmar does a complete u-turn with this one at the end leaving you with an unusual taste inside your mouth.
'Brothers' with Ed Gorman is also superb. It's another look at the dynamics of family, and in this case two brothers who are also police officers (police officers are a regular occurrence in this book). The two couldn't be more different, one is a womanizer, whilst the other is more of an overprotective father figure. As the story progresses the relationship sours, other people are dragged into the mess and things become increasingly strained. I thought this was a great story, a sad end, but another high-quality tale.
The final story is the novella, 'A Long December', and, much like its predecessors it is an excellent tale that makes you question just how well you think you know your neighbours. A fantastic and fitting way to end a sublime collection of fiction.
'A Long December' really is a great collection of tales. It's good for getting lost in for a couple of hours or even just dipping into a couple of short stories if/when you have a break. Chizmar takes you on a journey, touches on taboo subjects, but always leaves you feeling hugely satisfied when you have finished reading. A lot of the stories feature only a couple of characters, but it's what Chizmar does with and to these characters that make his work so interesting to read. The focus of many of the stories is the relationships between people and how easily they can come apart. These are ordinary folk who are often caught up in extraordinary situations where you are never quite sure of the stories' outcomes. 'A Long December' certainly is a high-quality book, for sure. I loved it. Highly recommended.
In 1996, Richard Chizmar’s debut short story collection, Midnight Promises, was a finalist for the World Fantasy Award. Publishers Weekly called it “a sterling collection” while singling out “The Silence of Sorrow” as “an understated masterpiece.”
Two years later, Subterranean Press published a mini-collection from Chizmar entitled Monsters and Other Stories. In his introduction, acclaimed genre critic Edward Bryant said, “When all is said and done, this book should leave you in utter silence, giving you time and opportunity to contemplate what you just read. Tough storytelling from a tough writer; but a writer who is not calloused. Chizmar possesses a finely honed gift of empathy. With utter grace and loving kindness he’ll put you right inside the life (and soul) of the monster.”
Now, nearly two decades later, Chizmar assembles thirty-five stories, including a previously-unpublished novella, and presents us with A Long December. This massive new collection features more than 150,000 words of Chizmar’s very best short fiction and includes 8,000 words of autobiographical Story Notes.
Eerie, suspenseful, poignant, the stories in A Long December range from horror to suspense, crime to dark fantasy, mainstream to mystery.