A horror story is like a firecracker. When you start reading, you light the fuse and the suspense builds as the fuse smolders closer and closer to the explosive charge. Then, in the last paragraph or so, the story goes “bang”. At least, that's how John McDonnell does it in this book. The thirteen stories in this collection are short or very short, with “Don't You Just Love Weddings?” taking the cake with a mere fourteen lines (on my e-reader, that is).
All the necessary ingredients are here. In any other genre, they would probably be called cliches, but in horror, they are perfectly acceptable story building blocks. I mean, how can a horror reader ever get enough of zombie beauty queens, implanted transmitters, dark basements, chopped-off fingers in salads and ghosts in blood-stained dresses?
Stylistically, McDonnell keeps it straightforward. A little too straightforward for my taste: “You can feel it's presence. Like cold, clammy feeling; it makes your skin crawl. You know something's watching you, just waiting to pounce.” (from: The Thing in the Basement) I know, horror is all about delivering the payload and less about the belletrie, but I like my language a little more original - more literary if you will - than that.
Still, when the payload gets delivered, it will make you smile every time.
My favorite story is “Heart-Stopping Beauty”, about a man who, engulfed in the pleasures of a new love affair, has forgotten to get his watch battery replaced. For some reason, it is very important that his watch doesn't stop. His anxiety, and that of the reader, builds as he wanders through a deserted town, looking for a jeweler that's open. Ssssssst... BANG.