Monday 2 December 2013

Still Ill at Ease.

Ill at Ease was a collection of three stories that was also one of my first reviews. I enjoyed it very much so was pleased to see the follow up collection published recently by Penman Press which contains stories from the three original contributors (Mark West, Stephen Bacon and Neil Williams) joined this time by four new authors.
It's Stephen Bacon who starts off the collection with his story Double Helix. It's a clever title, a reference to the molecular structure of DNA - the genetic material which is altered and mutated to cause cancer, the disease from which the story's protagonist is suffering but also hinting at themes running through the story itself. Stephen describes it as one of the most optimistic stories he's written and it is optimistic, a story of regret but also hope. There's a fantastical element to proceedings but it's the emotional impact that's most profound. It's another classy piece of writing from a writer who's fast becoming a master of subtle, understated horror.
There's a distinct change of tone with the next story, The Shuttle by Shaun Williamson. It's a grim, shocking story about a couple's attempts to start a family inspired by the author's own experiences as described in the notes that accompany this, and all the other stories in the collection. I have to say it didn't quite work for me, I would have preferred a more subtle approach to the subject matter rather than the in-your-face horror that I felt was probably trying a wee bit too hard to shock.
Masks is by Robert Mammone and is a story I enjoyed very much. It's cleverly written and constructed, slowly revealing the story beginning with an almost surreal conversation in a funeral parlour and culminating in an atmospheric and gruesome climax in the subway system below Melbourne.
One Bad Turn by Val Walmsley uses bullying as the basis of its storyline. It also throws in a touch of ancient evil (here given physical manifestation as a yew tree) to enliven proceedings. It's probably the most "traditional" horror story in the collection and the conclusion is suitably dark and possibly not what you might expect.
Personal fears (and experiences) provide the motivation for Mark West's The Bureau of Lost Children, those fears in this instance centering around every parent's worst nightmare - losing their child. It's a story of two halves, beginning with a routine tale of a trip to a shopping mall. When Scott's son Josh goes missing in a computer games store however, panic sets in and Mark captures those feelings brilliantly. There's a feel of "The Twilight Zone" about the story's conclusion (which is in no way meant as a criticism) and the reason behind the boy's disappearance will have you looking suspiciously at those doors marked "Staff Only" on your next trip to the mall.
It's to be hoped Paradise Lost by Sheri White isn't based on personal experiences. It's the shortest story in the book but its theme is possibly the most epic. How will the world end? With a bang or a whimper? Mankind's demise in this particular tale is gruesome in the extreme - but makes for a hugely entertaining story.
Neil Williams' There Shall We Ever Be is the longest story in the collection and rounds it off in fine style. I think it's my favourite story in the book. It's a slow burner of a story, subtle and beautifully crafted. Its a contemplation of the past, of how history influences the present day. It's a story of childhood fears and memories, of how a notion that a sense of "place" is a real, tangible thing. A wonderfully atmospheric piece of writing, it's a fitting end to a high quality collection of stories.
Ill at Ease 2 is highly recommended and you can buy it here and here.

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