Reviewed by Johnny Butane
Written by Jack Ketchum
Published by Leisure Books
First of all, don’t let yourself get too excited for this “new” book from Jack Ketchum. In fact Old Flames only takes up 130-some pages of the book, the rest of it consists of the short story “Right to Life”.
All right, with that out of the way, let’s get to what Old Flames is about, which is the inherit evil that is Woman (notice the capital “W”). Not that I think Ketchum really has an issue with women, but you can tell by reading this story he’s definitely had more than a few unpleasant run-ins with the fairer sex during his time on this mudball.
To be fair, Dora, our lead, has had her fair share of bad luck with men. When her latest boyfriend leaves her a note saying he won’t be coming back, she deals with it like any sane person would do; marches into his office and embarrasses the hell out of him. He really did have that coming, though.
By and by she hears from an old friend who recently re-connected with her high school sweetheart through a detective agency called Old Flames. They claim almost anyone, anywhere in the world, can be found with the right amount of money and time. Dora starts to remember the last time she was truly happy with a man, and can only remember her high school boyfriend, Jim. Curious more than anything else, she employs the agency to find him.
Turns out Jim’s done well for himself. He’s got a great wife, two kids, a nice house and a solid job; pretty much the perfect life. To say Dora’s happy for him would be a mistruth, though outwardly that’s how she portrays her feelings; in fact she’s insanely jealous and realizes she’ll do anything it takes to be the only woman in Jim’s life again.
You can probably see where the story goes from there, which was one of my biggest problems with Old Flames; even though you don’t really see the depths of Dora’s psychosis until late in the tale, you can’t help but figure out exactly where the story will go, even down to the tragic ending for all involved. Ketchum’s a writer who’s imagination has always been firmly rooted in reality, he barely ever resorts to supernatural elements to shape his tales, but Old Flames just didn’t feel like a Ketchum story, aside from his trademark punctuation usage and believable dialogue.
Now, “Right to Life” on the hand, is pure Ketchum through and through.
This one is the fucked-up story of a woman, three months pregnant, who’s abducted from outside an abortion clinic by a barren couple who believe keeping here tied up, beaten and broken in their basement is a much easier route to parental bliss than, say, adoption. It’s a harsh story, not something to be read if you or someone you’re close to is expecting to be honest, but that’s what makes it so vintage Ketchum.
For some reason Leisure does this a lot; they publish one novella as the title novel, but the other novella contained within is almost always better. I don’t get that. Still, even a predictable Jack Ketchum story is better than half the other shit out these days, so it’s not like I’m recommending you skip this one. Old Flames still has some unique Ketchum moments and his storytelling skill has never wavered and “Right to Life” is just downright vicious.
3 1/2 out of 5
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