McKiernan’s debut short story collection treads the world’s underbelly, permeated by fiendish creatures of supernatural origin or the all-too-familiar human kind.
The author opens his book with a terrifying cannibalistic killer on death row in “The Torment Within”: Walter “the Wolf” Vinyan was convicted of killing an entire family. The murderer, who bit and mutilated the bodies, is hours away from his execution but certainly not docile. He seems to shape-shift as guards strap him to the bed for lethal injection, thrashing and gnashing his sharp teeth. Corrections officer Karl Quinn is lucky to walk away with only a bite. Years
later, Quinn works in a prison that houses the drunk driver who killed his wife. In their last interaction, Vinyan may have afflicted Quinn with his “torment,” allowing the officer a chance at vengeance in brutal fashion. Family looms large in McKiernan’s stories; Quinn, once a husband and father, is a broken man before the violent finale is even underway. Similarly, in “The Purging Storm of Hell,” brothers Jesco and Jim Duke brave a fierce storm. But it’s more than just heavy winds, and a tooth hitting Jesco is merely the start of strange weather. Volatile pig farmer Leiland McEntire of “Bison on the Range” doesn’t just confront neighbor Gary Sanderson, whom Leiland’s sure is a mob rat in hiding, but his own sons as well. Both “Lady Elusion” and “Red Lights in the Fog” have unsurprising codas but boast strong storylines: a romantic train ride to Chicago and two boys exploring a not-quite-abandoned old house. McKiernan ends on a high note with the gleefully titled “The Disposing of the Decomposing John Doe.” In it, a (literally) no-name drug dealer finds a passed-out stranger in his house post-party. Turns out it’s a bona fide corpse, which he’ll have to get rid of while continuing to entertain friends/clients. The prose sacrifices humor for dark, indelible passages: “the rocks that entombed the fireplace were dense with dust and shrouded in webs.”
Horror tales cemented in the everyday monstrosities that hit frighteningly close to home.
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