Butcher Shop Quartet (Book)
Edited by Fran J. Hutton
Published by Cutting Block Press
Imagine how strange and complex the world would be if your life were a horror story. How far would you go to rescue a sibling or to prove your worth to an exclusive fraternity? To what lengths would you travel for the sake of vanity or destiny? Bringing four novellas together in one volume, Editor Frank J. Hutton gives at least some insight into possible answers to these questions, all the while raising many more for readers. "Four stories to disturb the adventurous mind" boasts the front cover, and they're not kidding.
The opening story, "The Last of Boca Verde" by Boyd E. Harris, takes the reader on a South American tour into hell, where the lead character, Barry, makes a desperate attempt to save his brother from raging fires, black monkeys, and unnameable supernatural forces. The farther into the jungles the characters go, the stranger and more macabre the story becomes. By the final few pages, the reader is left wondering just what happened, trying to work out the whys and wherefores without getting sucked too far into the story's psychosis.
"The House on the Hill" by Clinton Green hearkens back to the style and substance of Lovecraft in his heyday, proving once again that often what a person can't see is more frightening than what he can. What begins as a prank in World War I-era Australia descends into madness as candidates for admittance to a college are forced to spend the night in a certain house. Amid creaking boards and unseen pranksters, prospective students are weeded out, the weak from the stern, by who runs screaming into the night and who stays. The story shows how radically different the lives of one who fled and one who stayed became and provides a lingering sense of foreboding about what really lurked beneath the house. Though short, this story packs a powerful punch, providing the kind of dread that horror aficionados love.
Proving that horror and humor go hand in hand, Michael Stone snickers his way through "The Reconstruction of Kasper Clark." The title character, having been born with the unfortunate and strange deformity of a mouth in the center of his forehead (which leads to colorful nicknames like "arsehead"), makes a last-ditch effort to have some semblance of a normal life. Though countless doctors cannot even begin to figure how to fix his face, he hears about a place where supposed miracles occur with alarming regularity. This strange clinic offers reconstruction of even the most severe deformities, but not without a strange price.
The final offering in this collection, A. T. Andreas's "The Darkling Child," follows a family line and reveals a sacred duty. Passed to a young man too late by his dying grandfather, the college educated youth finds himself in the position of choosing between book-learned knowledge and the archaic folklore of his family and people. This dark and oddly erotic piece does its very best to shock readers and make them squirm, often succeeding on several levels. The strengths in this story come from the vivid descriptions of not only the more visceral moments, but of the forest landscape and the people of the rural area from which the lead character hails. There is also an interesting progression from the lead character as a child, who believes all the folklore his grandfather tells him, to a young man who rejects superstition and folklore to the wiser fellow who realizes that all his education is worthless against the powers of darkness.
While all the stories in this collection are well written and deserving of praise, two shine over the others. "The House on the Hill" and "The Reconstruction of Kasper Clark" represent the best of this collection through the authors' smooth prose and ability to tap into the emotions of the readers. In the first case it is the subtly underplayed horror and the questions left thereafter that make "The House on the Hill" such a great read. In the second every ounce of ridiculousness is played with tongue firmly in place in cheek, giving this pitch-black comedy enough of a toothy bite for any horror fan.
There are a few shortcomings to this collection, but they are easily overlooked and do not really detract from the overall product at all. First, in the case of "The Last of Boca Verde," the story can, at times, overwhelm the reader into wondering exactly what is going on. While the effect of confusion is probably desired, it does tend to distract from the actual story, which should be the most important item. Second, purely from an aesthetic point of view, the format of the book deviates from the norm in double-spacing between paragraphs. While not a big point, it served as a temporary distraction from the stories.
On the whole, Butcher Stop Quartet contains work by some excellent up-and-comers. Remember the names contained therein as they'll undoubtedly be heard from again.