Published by Graveside Tales
Full disclosure: Mark Justice, the author of the short story collection I’m about to review, is a local radio personality in the town in which I work. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him once or twice, so I hope you’ll take me at my word when I say that this in no way has biased my review. I hope you’ll trust me further when I tell you that, if you’re a fan of written horror, this book is a must-own.
Looking at the World with Broken Glass in My Eye is one of the finer collections of short horror I’ve read in quite a while.
Consisting of eighteen tales, this set runs the gamut of the genre, ranging from quiet dread, to action-packed terror, to comical farce. That the set still feels cohesive with this wild mix of tones is entirely due to Justice’s voice, which comes through loud and clear with his writing style.
The collection kicks off with “Deadnecks”, a riff on the zombie sub-genre featuring a group of good ol’ boys as the undead protagonists. The story’s unique spin on the zombie mythos has the titular rednecks as a pack of intelligent gut-munchers, who are just as able to think, reason, swill beer and crack wise as they are to eat you. “Deadneck Reckoning”, the story which closes out the book, continues the tale (though, perhaps, doesn’t conclude it).
Fans of these stories will also enjoy the hilarious “Nursing Home of the Gods” and “The Losers vs. Beelphegor”. The latter tale concerns a group of stoner musicians on their way to one last gig, and Beelphegor the Destroyer, a demon fallen from the stars, come to reclaim the world he was banished from a hundred thousand years ago. The story is, essentially, a single joke told very well. And, fortunately, the punchline is so well written you’ll likely forgive Justice for taking a bit too long to get to it.
On the darker side, we have tales like “Black Wings”, “Father’s Day”, and “Auschlander’s Gem”, all frightening stories tinged with melancholy which will stick with you long after you’ve read them. “Song of the Bones” and “Das Hollenfeuer” are both solid and, at times, outright terrifying, while “Hell is a Lonely Street” is a brisk, punchy tale with, perhaps, the single most badass ending I’ll read in any story this year. If you’re a Bradbury fan, you’ll enjoy “The Autumn Man”, while “Closure” is one of the more affecting stories you’ll read in this collection, even if it doesn’t qualify as horror.
The standout of this collection is, in this reviewer’s eyes, the haunting “Deadtown”. Featuring a group of characters as they come to grips with their arrival in what appears to be the afterlife, the story is both scary and somber, and features an ending that manages to be both downbeat , and yet, oddly hopeful. It is the story which inspired the book’s cover art, and is one of the best stories of its type I’ve read.
Further tales include “Life’s Work” (which details the inner thoughts of a sentient electric chair), “Agent of Death” (a funny critique on Hollywood, featuring an agent whose latest client happens to be the Angel of Death), and “Hole in the Sky” (a post-9/11 tale with a truly chilling ending). Perhaps the only weak link in this entire collection is the title story, which starts off as a strong, scary character piece, but ultimately dead-ends with its unsatisfying conclusion.
That niggle aside, I can’t recommend this book highly enough. If you’re a fan of short horror, or written horror in general, you need to seek out this collection. Stories that chill, entertain, frighten and haunt this much are in rare supply, and should not be overlooked.
4 1/2 out of 5