The Sinister Horror Company gets it right. In the presence of greatness from Kayleigh Marie Edwards.
It’s not often that I will buy a book of single author short stories; however I bought this one mainly because it contained a short story which I’d seen a lot of people talking about. That story is the lead one in this collection ‘Bitey Bachman’, which takes the run-of-the-mill zombie/rage virus sort of story and moulds it into very often hilarious situations surrounding a feckless security guard working in an Asylum when things go decidedly pear-shaped. When ‘Bitey Bachman’ was first released solo there was a general buzz, the usual ‘well done you’ back patting and so on, but unfortunately these days relatively unknown writers can pump out any old dross and get a pat on the back from their buddies across social media, most of whom won’t have read the book, so it certainly means very little to me as it’s in somewhat the same category as ‘my Mum thought it was excellent’. I was indecisive over ‘Bitey’ but figured if it came my way at some point I’d give it a shot, read it with no intention of reviewing it, which means no disrespect to Kayleigh whatsoever, I’m just careful about the potential for abusing systems and the appearance of favouritism.
I have said that for a reason, although we don’t particularly socialise Kayleigh is no stranger to me as we both do reviews and articles for the Ginger Nuts of Horror. This could automatically result in a lot of booing from the peanut gallery as it may come across as a form of nepotism that I have chosen to review a colleague’s book, which would be a total shame as not only is ‘Corpsing’ technically very well written, it is also highly entertaining with a rich seam of comedy gold running through it which Kayleigh mines with apparently effortless expertise. My two favourite genres in any form of entertainment are horror and comedy, so a decent blend of both pushes my buttons, but unfortunately the majority of what’s available out there just doesn’t work because the humour is too often forced and self-conscious. Right from the beginning Kayleigh introduces fun characters who are individuals with genuine personalities and makes you care what happens to them in such an effortless fashion that one can’t help but be charmed.
‘Bits and Bobs’
The short story of hospital worker Steven Plunkett’s experiences at a ‘body farm’ used for training CSI teams is problematic. The facts in the story are all well researched, the general basis is sound enough and it is of course well written, so why do I find it problematic? Simply because I feel cheated, there’s not enough of it. It’s not that it comes to an abrupt end as the story is complete in itself, but that there is such a lot which is of interest here in the situation and characters that it could have been better served being much longer. To me it comes across as if Kayleigh had an excellent idea fully formed and so rushed to get it written down without considering the much greater potential this story has. It’s unfortunate because that’s the only way in which this tale is disappointing, which if you think about it isn’t particularly negative.
‘Siren’ Did you hear a very loud boom? If you did it was probably the sound of the third story in this book hitting me completely out of the blue. Whereas the first two stories have a cheeky comic undercurrent there is no such thing happening in ‘Siren’ with stark horror as experienced by eleven-year-old Lucy interspersed with an altogether bleak story which is as striking as it is gripping. ‘Bitey Bachman’ has horror offset with humour and does a great job with those elements, whereas ‘Bits and Bobs’ is more like a ‘Police Procedural’ drama with a humorous yet nasty slant, both stories set me to thinking this whole collection would be in a similar vein. I was wrong. ‘Siren’ reminded me of the better end of the ghost story spectrum with the classic almost Victorian setup of a ghost child in a misty lake, albeit in a contemporary setting with a suitably chilling ending. The characterisation is spot on and I think this would make an excellent screenplay.
‘Now You See Them’
So far we have had fun with the horror and been given a chill up the spine with the spooky story, now it’s the turn of absolute unrelenting horror with the story of the nasty things little Bobby sees in his bedroom at night. This is a very short story, for once I will say that it isn’t too short because although the writing is of consistent quality the concept here hits much harder with brevity. It is the stuff of nightmares and to have crafted something like ‘Now You See Them’ with such tight prose shows a skill few can match.
What begins with a venomous spider bite becomes something deeply personal with this one seeming as if written from a standpoint of self-hatred, with the central character, pregnant and socially isolated 15-year-old Amy, taking self-harm to horrific extremes. The horror unfolds gradually, deepening in intensity in what is quite possibly the most introspectively unsettling tale in this collection.
We take a step away from horror as Kayleigh presents the story of Bobby Taylor, an eight-year-old brat whose desire for chicken soup doesn’t bode well for mankind. With yet another perfectly handled change of style the comedic fantasy angle comes as a palate cleanser after the previous couple of stories and although not weak by any means this is much lighter than I would have expected. A fun read.
‘Barry’s Last Day’
Barry Pufton is disillusioned, overlooked for promotion 40 years into his job he decides upon revenge aimed at the young snot who got the promotion. This story appears, to me at least, to be something of an ill fit in this collection as although there is a mild comedic element I found it more dramatically sad. Although a revenge tale that is not necessarily horrific in content it does address a particular looming horror, that of the impending monotony of life after retirement and the accompanying feeling of uselessness. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great story well told, just not what I was expecting and seemed more like something I’d have read in a 1970s pulp collection. ‘‘twas the Night before Christmas’
The final story in this collection is both fun and gruesome in a manner Kayleigh appears to excel at. Christmas horror stories are often chilling affairs and this is no exception with the tale of two naughty boys and a rather unusual Christmas tree with a life of its own which their parents believe they are lying about. It’s an easy read with an outlandish situation presented in such a casual manner that it’s almost flippant with a rather fun and gruesomely fitting ending.
As a true story side note, when I was a kid we once had a Christmas tree with the usual tinsel and baubles as well as the addition of various chocolate liqueurs, the latter of which had a habit of disappearing. My parents didn’t eat them and so the finger of suspicion pointed firmly at me and my siblings, of course we all denied eating the chocolates. My dad waited a while and set a trap, loading the tree with more liqueurs, leaving a gap in the curtains and going outside where he waited patiently while watching the tree through the gap. It didn’t take long before the thief was unmasked. The villain in question being Fritz, the family cat, who went from floor to sofa to mantelpiece with the final leap at the tree grabbing chocolate on the way down which he then dragged behind the sofa, bit into and lapped up the liqueurs. Moving the sofa revealed lots of hollow chocolate corpses and shredded tinfoil left behind by an inebriated cat. An alcoholic cat stealing liqueurs from a Christmas tree sounds unlikely doesn’t it? But I swear it’s true.
Kayleigh’s story reminded me so much of that as it doesn’t really matter what kids say as they won’t be believed. No matter how bizarre the truth is the parents always desire the most obvious solution and refuse to accept anything outlandish.
Like so many of you I have read vast amounts of novels, anthologies and individual collections the majority of which are from established names in horror and indeed comedy. The saying in theatrical circles ‘dying is easy, comedy is hard’ is one of the truest things ever said in that dying is simple enough, we’re all destined to do it at some point. If truth be told even unintentionally making someone laugh isn’t massively difficult, but deliberately making someone laugh in a story takes incredible skill to get right and Kayleigh certainly has the skill required to not only provide intentional comedy but intertwine it with visceral horror. When setting those elements aside from one another and focusing purely on horror or supernatural storylines the stories are as good as anything else out there today and indeed far better than the majority I’ve read lately. The same can be said for her more tongue-in-cheek stories. As an established writer’s collection it would be excellent enough, but as a debut collection it is exceptional, it maintains a superb standard which one can only hope will be repeated in future offerings. I’m torn over Kayleigh’s direction because it is usually advisable to find your unique voice, your own style and focus on being as good at one type of thing as you can possibly be. Kayleigh nails comedy; she also nails horror and is adept at combining the two, so no matter what she decides to write in the future I can be confident that I will be in for a good time reading it.