I bring you another book by an author I have been following for a while. I shared my review for her soon-to-be-published novel (early in 2023) recently, but I couldn’t let this collection of short stories pass, as I know many people find it easier to read shorter fiction. And it is well worth reading. I have decided to write a bit about each story, but, if you know me you know that ‘a bit’ might sometimes turn into more than I intended. In case you don’t have time to read the whole review, let me tell you I had a whale of a time reading it (and a hell of a time, as one should).
A Sliver of Darkness by C. J. Tudor
PREPARE TO BE TERRIFIED THIS HALLOWEEN WITH C. J. TUDOR’S BONE-CHILLING COLLECTION OF SHORT STORIES
‘All hail the queen of scream. C.J. Tudor at her spine-tingling, nightmare-inducing best. Read it if you dare . . .’ CHRIS WHITAKER
‘Beautifully barbaric, creepy as hell and crammed with barbed wit’ JOHN MARRS
A creak of the floorboard, a shiver down your spine, the feeling that you’re not alone . . .
Join a group of survivors who wash up on a deserted island only to make a horrifying discovery.
Meet a cold-hearted killer who befriends a strange young girl at a motorway service station.
Travel along eerie country lanes in a world gone dark, enter a block of flats with the most monstrous of occupants and accompany a ruthless estate agent on a house sale that goes apocalyptically wrong.
These eleven twisted tales of the macabre from the bestselling author of The Chalk Man and The Burning Girls are your perfect companions as the nights draw in . . .
If you’re brave enough.
‘A decadent and phantasmagorical descent into the dark chasm where I first fell in love with horror fiction. Told with real heart along with daemonic savagery, these are stories to luxuriate with in the tenebrous’ MATT WESOLOWSKI
About the author:
C. J. Tudor lives with her partner and young daughter. Her love of writing, especially the dark and macabre, started young. When her peers were reading Judy Blume, she was devouring Stephen King and James Herbert.
Over the years she has had a variety of jobs, including trainee reporter, radio scriptwriter, dog walker, voiceover artist, television presenter, copywriter and, now, author.
Her first novel, The Chalk Man, was a Sunday Times bestseller and sold in thirty-nine territories.
NetGalley and Michael Joseph (Penguin UK) provided me with an ARC copy of this collection of short stories, which I freely chose to review.
I have been reading C. J. Tudor’s novels since she published her first one, and I always look forward to her new work. Her plots and characters are unfailingly gripping; she is one of these authors who is happy to interact with followers and reviewers, and she is genuinely interested in what her readers have to say. I always enjoy reading authors’ notes and their introductions, and I found this one particularly moving. Those of us who have tried to write fiction or have thought about creating stories understand how hard the process can be, and how not everything one tries works out, and here Tudor candidly explains how this collection of short stories came into being. However much you’re looking forward to the tales, I’d recommend reading this introduction, before or after the stories, as it adds to the experience. Oh, and each individual story has its own introduction, and that means that this collection feels, at times, as if we were having a conversation with the writer. And I really liked that aspect of it.
End of the Liner After a few words from the author, which help put the story into perspective, comes a story about a possible dystopian future, where most of the population and civilisation as we know it has fallen prey to some sort of disaster, and the survivors (or the majority of them, at least) spend their lives in cruise ships/ ocean liners, never setting foot on land, clinging on to new traditions, rules, and beliefs, and living an “ordered” life. The story can work as an allegory about controlling and authoritarian political regimes, but it also questions the stories we tell ourselves, how our perspectives and expectations change over time, the power of rumours, conspiracies, and misdirection, and as it is to be expected from this author, also includes a touch of mystery.
The Block The author introduces this story by explaining that she had been working on a YA story, and she finally decided that it didn’t need to be a novel, and it would make quite a good short story instead. It definitely has the YA vibe (young characters, a newcomer to the city, a boy trying to fit in within a group, a mysterious building, a bit of a dare…). It has something of the Gothic mansion story but in a derelict and inner-city setting, and those who enjoy monster or creature horror stories will enjoy this one. I particularly liked the members of the gang, the interaction between the characters, and the background story briefly hinted at. And the setting is quite something as well. It has touches of humour together with the infestation/monster horror, and it reminded me of the movie Attack the Block (though the story is quite different) and of Broken Shells by Michael Patrick Hicks.
Runaway Blues The main character, who tells us the story of ‘The Fat Man’ (and no, he isn’t really fat), is suffering from Alzheimer’s, so we wonder if we have to question his memories. The narrator’s unreliability, his voice, reflections on the nature of life, and sense of humour contribute to making this a cracking story, as do the noirish atmosphere, the blues music in the background, several twists, and the odd surprise as well. It might remind those who love horror (books and movies) of one or two things, but the winning combination of plot, character, and writing style makes it a perfect gem.
The Completion Any reader who has had a bad experience with a estate agent, selling or buying a house (or both!) will enjoy this one. And anybody who likes the sound of an end-of-the-world/zombie/pandemic story with a Gothic mansion thrown in, and a protagonist straight out of Glengarry Glen Rose, but with not a single redeeming quality, will have fun with this one. Curiously, I had just read a post about the importance of happy endings before I finished reading the story, and I wasn’t totally in agreement, as I felt it depends on the genre of the story, but this one made me think that perhaps the issues is not how happy or unhappy is the ending, but from which perspective we evaluate said happiness.
The Lion at the Gate I loved this one. Again, one of the strong points is the voice of the main character, a young boy with a complicated and traumatic background, and getting an insight into how his mind works (this is a first-person narration ) makes for a pretty scary and effective read. A tale of a group of friends who have an eerie encounter with unexpected consequences. Fabulous.
Gloria Once more, the author’s introductory note gives readers an insight into the process of creation of this story. Gloria is a character that appeared first in The Taking of Annie Thorne, and one I loved, so I was very happy to hear from her again. She also meets a character from another one of Tudor’s novels, The Other People, well, two characters from that novel, but she only interacts meaningfully with one. The author explains that she feels her novels all take place within the same universe, and that could result in some pretty interesting stories in the future. For those who haven’t read either of those novels, this is a story of quiet menace, internalised dialogue, strange interactions, the price of survival and its aftermath, and people who spend their lives in hiding or simply falling through the cracks, pretending to be whomever is more convenient at any given time, and never settling for what most of us would think is a “normal” life. The ending is left to one’s interpretation, and I liked it that way. I don’t think it is necessary to have read either of the two novels to enjoy this story, but if you have, it will probably leave you wondering even more.
I’m not Ted The author describes it as ‘short and sweet’, and I won’t take issue with that. It probably depends on how you define ‘sweet’. It has some dark undertones, but a lot is left open to the reader’s imagination. Once more, don’t miss the introduction. Those who write will appreciate it.
Final Course A story with touches of Pitch Black; reminiscent of classic mysteries where a group of people is invited to a mansion for some hidden motive; especially recommended to those who love the presence of eerie children in horror stories; and, of course, it includes quite a twist (or two). Oh, and although the story is told in the third person, you should remain vigilant. I’m sure you won’t be surprised if I tell you that things aren’t exactly what they seem.
The Copy Shop In her introduction, the author describes this story thus: ‘a tale of a broken vase, a stale marriage, and a conundrum: can a copy ever be as good as the original?’ I’ll only add that it is pretty short, funny, and amusing, and it is likely to make everybody smile and wonder, would I?
Dust A charming hotel, dust, a holiday, a woman getting over a breakup… All pretty innocuous, wouldn’t you say? But memory can play tricks on us, especially when we refuse to remember, and ghosts won’t stay put. I found this story pretty disturbing and chilling.
Butterfly Island The author explains the autobiographical origin of this story (the initial seed of inspiration for many of these stories comes from the author’s life), and she also tells us it is one of her favourites, and it is easy to see why. I loved the “voice” of the unnamed protagonist, who has a very dark and dry sense of humour, and the situation has all the makings of a terrific horror novel. The author hints at the possibility of writing a novella based on it at some point, and I hope she does, because it is a fabulous read, and it is left wide open. (If you hate cliffhangers though, well…)
It is difficult to summarise this collection, because the stories spread across a variety of moods and genres, some truly scary, others more on the “what-if/Twilight Zone” territory, and some amusing little sketches, told from a variety of points of view, with a fair share of unreliable narrators, where things are often not at all what they seem. If there is one thing all of them have in common is that they are a fabulous read, the writing is solid and always at the service of the story, so people concerned about strange formats or getting lost with changes in time-lines or points of view don’t need to worry: although some are left open to the readers’ imaginations, they mostly follow a classic narrative pattern, with a beginning, a middle, and an ending, not always a reassuring one, as you might expect. Ah, and, no matter how scary they might be, there is always wit and a sense of humour (somewhat dark at times) hovering under the surface.
From the introductions, I gather that a couple of the stories have featured in previous collections, and although I hadn’t come across them before, people who often read short-story collections, especially in the horror genre, might want to check the titles and see if they are familiar with the content. As for warnings, some of the stories would be suitable for almost anyone, but there are some that feature violence, gore, and other subjects that might be upsetting, so a degree of caution is recommended.
I loved this collection, and I recommend it to anyone who loves horror, twisted, and wildly imaginative tales. If you love to read stories that make you feel uneasy and/or truly scared, you must give it a go. If you dare.
I couldn’t help but give you a little taster of some of the gems you can find in these stories, although, as I’ve explained, each story has its own unique style.
‘Men have a lot of little secrets. Women too, I guess. Sometimes I think it isn’t the truths that hold a relationship together but the lies. And only if you never tell.’
This one, evidently, refers to Mary Poppins.
‘Good old Mary, able to sort out everyone’s problems with a saccharine song and a talking umbrella. Back in the days when the world wasn’t superfragilistically fucked and the scariest thing lurking in the shadows was Dick Van Dyke with a British accent.’
‘Almost every bad plan is hatched over a few beers in a bar. The end of the world won’t finally arrive with a bang or a whimper. It will start with the words Hey — y’know what would be a really great idea? slurred over a bottle of Estrella.’
Thanks to NetGalley, Michael Joseph (Penguin UK), and the author for her stories, thanks to all of you for reading (I know, I keep promising to write shorter reviews… Perhaps that should be my New Year’s Resolution for 2023), and remember to share it with anybody who loves the genre, and if you have the time, like, comment, and click. And don’t forget to wrap up warm (if it is cold where you live), stay safe, and keep smiling. ♥