By Kealan Patrick Burke
Background: I recently got myself a Kindle and decided to download this book after seeing it recommended on Horror Books with the Undead Rat. I was curious because the book had apparently become nearly impossible to find after its publication in 2003 and was now being made available as an eBook. Burke is a fairly new writer who has already won several major awards, including the prestigious Bram Stoker Award.
What it’s about: This collection of short stories is wonderfully well-rounded and creative. There’s one about a man who appears to be living out a comic book, one about a boy discovering a dark secret hidden in the room under the stairs of his grandma’s house, an original tale about intelligent zombies, one in which a book with mysterious symbols eviscerates some diner workers, and one where déjà-vu turns into a nightmare of clones.
The prose is quite beautiful and poetic, following in the vein of Bradbury, and was a joy to read. However, there was one annoying problem I had reading this book, which will probably not even be noticed by the average reader. I’m a total grammar freak, and there were dozens of instances of misused semicolons, which is perhaps the most misunderstood piece of punctuation in the world. Despite the lovely descriptions, I found myself questioning Burke’s skill as a writer if he doesn’t even know the fundamental basics of punctuation. Still, the stories are worth a read, and if you aren’t solid on your use of semicolons (which most people aren’t), then it probably won’t detract at all from the captivating stories.
Why it will keep you up at night: Burke has a way of capturing the reader and drawing them into the tale as he slowly builds the horror through description, atmosphere, and increasing dread. This reminds me a great deal of classic horror writers like Poe, rather than some of the things currently appearing in the horror genre where we are immediately introduced to blood and guts. I think this is an extremely effective way of allowing the horror to creep into our bones and settle there.
Burke writes in his commentary on several of the stories that he is very much a fan of creating a strong, unsettling atmosphere, and in many of these tales, his deft use of language evokes exactly that. He also confesses that he prefers “the type of story that can unsettle you just by what is suggested rather than shown.” Most of the stories are very high-concept with strong imagery, and they will stick in your mind.