I think this anthology is great. The theme is wonderful – 10 stories, each by a different writer, each corresponding to one of the (most commonly accepted) 10 Commandments. If I bought this book, I would consider it money well spent. Each story is different from the last, and each writer has put their own spin on their theme. Some stick to a biblical tone, whilst others interpret their individual commandment in a more abstract way.
Before I get into my thoughts on each specific story, I want to go ahead and say that every single one of them is very well written, and the book as a whole has clearly benefitted from a careful editor. Most anthologies that I’ve had the pleasure to review have unfortunately and noticeably contained spelling and grammar mistakes, but this anthology is mostly devoid of such errors, which makes for a ‘smoother’ reading experience. Additionally, there is no ‘weak’ story in this collection – they’re all of a great standard. Picking favourites is a lot harder to do with this anthology than most others, as I think the writers and their stories are all on par with each other, but I particularly enjoyed Dionysus (Jeff Gardiner), Confessions (Stuart Young), and The Tangled Web (Jasper Kent).
What we have with this anthology is a collection of very enjoyable stories, by a collection of very talented and intelligent writers.
Dionysus – by Jeff Gardiner (Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods Before Me)
There’s so much to love and admire about Gardiner’s writing in this story that I’ve had to edit this paragraph down several times to avoid an essay on it. It’s the tale of Ben and Emma, two people with separate lives but one thing in common, and severe consequences. It’s a well-paced story that leads you down a well-lit and friendly reading corridor, until you suddenly turn the corner into a dark place that stops you in your tracks, and it’s brilliantly done. Gardiner introduces us to the characters and allows us to empathise with them immediately, due to the way he sets their relatable worlds up for us. Character and locations details are dipped into the narrative with so much ease that you form a picture without noticing that you’ve been fed the specifics. As well as giving us a solid story (we care about the characters, their journeys are interesting, and the ending is well-plotted), Gardiner also delivers the story with intelligence in his writing and structure. He’s creative with the language and descriptions he uses, without being verbose, and finds new ways to describe things we’ve read a thousand times, e.g., “she vaulted the stairs” (rather than that same old ‘she raced up the stairs’). Overall, a great story that brings the biblical theme into modern day, and a fantastic start to the anthology.
The Last Dinner – by Amanda Bigler (Thou Shalt Not Worship Any False Idols)
The story of a man and his preferences….
We are able to gather a lot of information about our protagonist in a short space of time because of how nicely the details are woven into the narrative. I almost considered it a ‘twist’ that the speaker is a man, as diary keeping is typically associated with females, and this aroused my interest even more. I wasn’t surprised by the ending, though this is less to do with the writing and more to do with the fact that I spent almost 4 years in script analysis classes. Very little comes as a surprise to me, particularly with endings, whether it’s in books or on the screen. However, though that aspect of stories has been ruined for me, what I now appreciate is the set-up, rather than the payoff, and Bigler knows how to craft a set-up. This is a writer who knows how to use the art of language to detract and divert attention, and refocus when the time is right. A really enjoyable story, though if you’re squeamish you might throw up a bit in your own mouth…
All the Best Tunes – by Clare Littleford (Thou Shalt Not Take The Lord’s Name In Vain)
The story of a young couple forced to keep their relationship a secret, and a murder plot set against a biblical-feeling backdrop. We enjoy nice setting descriptions and gain a comprehensive view of the story world, which Littleford achieves beautifully despite the short-story format. The only thing I enjoy more than a love story is a horror story – there’s nothing better than glimpsing into a character’s mind to find dark things lurking there. There’s something so satisfying in reading the villain in this tale, and the ending is brilliant.
Confessions – by Stuart Young (Remember The Sabbath Day, To Keep It Holy)
The story of a priest trying to come to terms with a particular sinner’s confession. This is a smooth but thought-proving read. Thematically, it’s challenging and interesting and you just don’t know where it’s going, which is my favourite thing about it. I always admire a writer who does their homework on the topic they’re writing about, and found this story and the attention to detail impressive. I’d love to write more, but I can’t, because I’m flabbergasted by how much I like the story. That’s right.. my flabber is gasted. That’s about the highest compliment I can give – it takes a lot to render me (partially) speechless.
The Looking Glass Girl – by Laura Mauro (Honour Thy Mother And Father)
The story of a girl with a haunted past, and perhaps a haunted present. Melancholy in tone and beautifully written. Mauro takes you on an emotional, yet calm and peaceful journey. There’s nothing too shocking or out of the ordinary, but the story reels you in and allows you to become immersed because of Mauro’s talent for description. You glide your way through this like the story is seamless, and instead of seeing the words on the page you soon start seeing the picture they create.
The Dummies’ Guide to Serial Killing – by Danuta Reah (Thou Shalt Not Kill)
The story of an aspiring ‘study-at-home’ serial killer. It’s paced well – the narrative doesn’t drag but it doesn’t rush either – a balance that’s hard to achieve this perfectly in a short. A pleasant read despite the dark theme and tone, with bits funny enough to make you smile, as you get deeper into the protagonist’s journey. I took particular pleasure in the fact that I cared about the character, even sort of sympathized with him, though I really shouldn’t have. It takes a talented writer to get the reader rooting for the murderer.
Fuxnet – by Pat Kelleher (Though Shalt Not Commit Adultery)
Wow… what can I say about this one? It’s as uncomfortable to read, as it is intriguing. The story of a man who sacrifices his marriage for a dark place on the Internet, and becomes consumed. Is this a supernatural tale of the consequences of an unhealthy compulsion, or a metaphorical exploration into the psyche of a mentally disturbed man who snaps? The building sense of dread you feel reading this is attributed to the pacing of the story, and the payoff (I cringe writing the word ‘payoff’, you’ll know why if you’ve read it) at the end is bizarre in that it’s satisfactory, despite what’s happening. This story is sort of a gross out, but for some reason I can’t identify, it’s genius! I found myself feeling uncomfortable about the fact I was enjoying it, and then realised that my discomfort at myself mirrored the protagonist’s discomfort about what he enjoys. And that, my friends, is truly a testament to how brilliant a writer Kelleher is – lots of writers can get under your skin, but few can make you feel ashamed of yourself!
The Goblin Glass – by Mark West (Thou Shalt Not Steal)
This story is about a desperate man pushed back into crime, and the consequences of it. It has a lovely supernatural flair to it, with a nice set up. The combination of real-world hardship and the possibility of magic reels you in and suspends your disbelief with a satisfying balance that keeps you in the story throughout. My only criticism is that I was hoping for something bigger at the end. The pacing and the build-up of tension were great and I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen, but the ending didn’t quite get there for me. I wished there was more of the story to read; I just wanted to stay in the world for longer. A lovely, almost gothic tale, and a short showcase of West’s creativity and imagination.
The Tangled Web – by Jasper Kent (Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness Against Thy Neighbour)
The story of a person who just wants some attention and seeks it through social media, because social media doesn’t affect real life… right? A nice modern story of the consequences of telling lies, nicely paced and with a great sense of mounting tension. Just when I thought I really disliked the protagonist and had no sympathy for him, I found myself panicking about how he was going to resolve his predicament. Kent, you clever clever… Kent. My only criticism is that I wish there was more to read! I think this could have worked as a longer story, even a novella perhaps, though short and sweet works too.
Pitch – by Jacey Bedford (Thou Shalt Not Covet Anything Of Thy Neighbour’s)
The tale of a man desperate to strike a deal, at considerable cost to himself. This story encapsulates more than one biblical theme, including the sin of pride and the notion of the mighty falling, as it were. It’s a funny little horror that made me smile and dread the outcome for the protagonist in equal measure, and was an easy read. To clarify, by ‘easy read’, I don’t mean ‘simple’. What I mean is that it’s written wonderfully, I didn’t take my eyes off the words for a moment, and before I knew it, I was at the end. I was disappointed that my fun had run its course! This is a great story, and perfect to end the anthology on.
Purchase a copy from Amazon
Brian, a regular guy (despite his love of a certain musical), just wants to finish up his long and weird night at work in peace. Unfortunately, life has other plans for him. Working at a mental institution for the criminally insane can be a bit chaotic on a normal day, but on this particular night, Brian finds that things get a bit out of hand. A hysterical patient here, the jab of the wrong needle there, and all hell breaks loose. Short-staffed, expecting a useless trainee any minute, and obligated to work overtime to help out his peach of a boss, Brian isn’t having the best of nights. Things only get worse when a body goes missing and certain individuals get a bit bitey. Luckily, the trainee turns up just in time...To render him unconscious.
Luckily for Brian, this is the night he’s always been planning for.
Purchase Bitey Bachman