Written by Gary McMahon and Simon Bestwick
Published by This Is Horror
The second in This Is Horror’s small press line of chapbooks, Thin Men with Yellow Faces sees British scribes McMahon and Bestwick sing a gloriously grim duet that is sure to delight any lover of short, shocking horror fiction.
Social worker Gabrielle Holmes’ latest case is the young Heather Mayhew. Living with her reclusive father on the rough, deprived streets of the Loudon Estate, Heather becomes the focus of an investigation when bruises are discovered on her arms in school and she begins to speak of seeing the creepy titular individuals standing in her bedroom at night. Refused entry to their home by Mr. Mayhew, Gabby is forced to retire for the evening and consider her next steps. She soon finds herself smack in the middle of something much bigger and infinitely more dreadful than she could ever have imagined. To say any more would be to spoil the brief little rollercoaster that is Thin Men with Yellow Faces.
And, being a chapbook, of course brief it is. Over the course of 24 pages, the talented McMahon and Bestwick craft a nightmarishly grotesque urban fairytale that thrills as much as it disturbs, gripping its talons ever more deeply into your mind before reaching a quite literally explosive finale. Since the readers spend almost all of their time with Gabby, it’s imperative that she’s well drawn, and the pair of scribes in charge here have absolutely no problem in doing that. Her concern for children dictates her every move, even if she is constantly anxious around the hooded teenage denizens of the Loudon Estate (something that many will no doubt empathise with); we feel every twinge of pride in her successes and every ounce of confusion and rage as the clandestine truth is slowly unfurled.
One criticism that must be noted, however, is the repeated references to Gabby gripping her pepper spray during moments of anxiety amidst the silently threatening streets of the Loudon Estate. The story appears to be set in the UK, where it is (or should be) common knowledge that pepper spray is a prohibited weapon under Section 5 of The Firearms Act 1968. It feels very out of character that such a professional career-driven protagonist would make so bold a move as to carry an offensive weapon with complete disregard for the law. Of course there are ways around this, but the authors’ nonchalant references to the device do nothing but expect such a large faux pas to be accepted outright.
On the other hand, most effective here is the realisation of just what exactly little Heather Mayhew has become a part of, and in just a few short pages McMahon and Bestwick are able to bring to life an idea so grand that it could quite easily form the latter parts of a full-length novel, with an intelligent and equally dour subtext underpinning spurts of pulse-pounding action. This is one short chiller well worth chewing slowly, so as to savour every delicious moment of its fleeting duration – pepper-coated or not.
4 out of 5