When I was asked by El Presidente Andy, of *UKHorrorScene* , if I would be so kind to review another book my usual reticence once again re appeared.
It wasn’t as if I was asked to do it with a gun to my head. I know I could have refused – after all, Andy is a nice guy, especially now that threats he makes to his writers to do good work or ‘face the wrath of the boy’s’
Frankly, I have never met the boys or experienced their wrath….but I’m a born coward and so have quite wisely in my eyes never decided to risk the consequences. It’s not as if a badly written review has ever resulted in anything bad to one of his writers…..yet.
No, the email request was perfectly fine. It went as follows:
” Dear minion,
Now then Anderson old bean, I’m giving you another chance to redeem yourself so I want you to read and review a collection of short stories by a chappie called Terry M. West. He’s already pretty well known to most horror fans as the director of the critically-acclaimed independent horror film Blood for the Muse and Fever Dream’s Flesh for the Beast.
He’s returning to the horror genre after nearly a decade. so be a good chap and rustle up one of those pseudo-witty and half-decent attempts at a book review of yours…..and don’t let his rather moody and sinister look in his photo put you off, he’s apparently a very nice guy, so you can be perfectly honest in your review without any, er, consequences….i think.
Have a smashing day dear chap and let me have the review as soon as possible.
Andy (The Leader)
P.S The boys say hello…………………..”
You see? All in all pretty OK, even though writing email’s to one writers in dripping red blood colour could be somewhat misconstrued I suppose. So what, may you ask, is the reason for my reticence? You know me by now, I love horror and love reading horror…..Stoker, Lovecraft, Barker, King – many of my most enjoyable times in life have been immersing myself in the bloody and terrifying landscape of this most wonderful of genres.
So what is the issue? Well, the problem is short stories – they simply have never been my favourite form of horror writing. As I mentioned, I love Stephen King’s works…… no, I ADORE his books. I have read everything, and I mean everything that he has ever written. The problem is that I’m not the greatest fans of short stories, even Kings’s short stories – and before any of you out there in Blogland start badgering me with emails about ‘The Body” or ‘Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption’, they weren’t short stories they were novella’s….so there. No, I just have some innate preference for the long story, the novel, something that I can lose and immerse myself in. A Novel is like a fabulous night’s sleep – refreshing and rewarding. Short stories on the other hand are like a nap on the sofa – occasionally acceptable but more often than not resulting in a headache and being swiftly awoken by the cat sitting on your chest waiting for his dinner.
Hence, the reason for my reticence for reviewing a collection of short stories. However, after due consideration I decided to put aside my dislike of the format and be the professional that I am…..OK, I meant be the enthusiastic amateur that I am.
*A Psycho’s Medley* is a collection of five short stories and one longer story at the end. For those of you wanting to bathe in the current fetish for supernatural tinged horror then go back to your ‘Conjurings’ and ‘Sinisters’. Because the concept that runs through each of the six stories is the existence of the very real psychopath.
There is no handiwork of the devil, vampires or ghostly like apparitions controlling the human impulses in this book – no, instead the stories delve into the psychological motivation and methodology of people (them and and us) who wander through existence adrift in a world of tortured and violent madness.
In other worlds, there is nothing supernatural to hide behind in any of theses tales, no comforting sense of being able to say to oneself ” well it’s only make believe monsters, and there’s never really one ever hiding underneath my bed”. This collection sits you gently down, asks you if you are comfortable……. and then introduces to the very real human monsters that could well be lying there under your bed and just waiting to introduce you to their insanity.
A Psycho’s Medley
“I was embracing the shadows with dear Mr. Hyde. He lent me the cape and cane.
He gave me justification and searing reason and just a spark of the flame. ”
*A Psycho’s Medley*, the first story in the collection is the taken from a the private journal of serial killer John Newport, written not long after his arrest whilst undergoing observation in an institution. It also happens to be my personal favourite.
The story is a delightful first-hand look into the mind of a psychopath.
The journal takes the form of written accounts and poetry of John’s memories, thoughts, and reasoning behind his becoming a serial killer. I really don’t wish to give anything away about this or any other of the stories, but what I will say is that the strength of this particular look at a serial killer is the shades that the author uses to build up the psychopaths character. There is no black and white, there are degrees of
sanity and insanity on show here and all written with a degree of humour that at times made me almost like the character of of John Newport.
“….Boy, the judge’s head would sure look nice on a spike. And that prosecutor… man, I’d like to cut him open and fuck his entrails and let him watch right before the last breath rattled from his body… Call me a hopeless romantic… ”
The thought that many psychopaths can be quite charming and funny is an unsettling thought in itself.
The Night Out
“(…you are a thirty year-old virgin…father would roll over in his grave and mother would be proud..…)”
The second descent into the realm of madness is called The Night Out. The story is about Kevin who goes out for a night at the Silver Pistol Club, a topless bar, and the events which occur as he attempts to reconcile the broken pieces of his memories with his complex upbringing. Here in the club he meets one of the waitresses, who just happens to be a long lost love from his days at High school.
This story is deliciously paced with the reader being gradually carried to the point where we witness an ever increasingly inevitable collision of the mans tortured past and sexually oppressed present. The writing too is clever, the complex mix of tortured memories vying with the attentions of Kevin’s present thought process is a nice examination of a tortured mind.Another story high on my list of favourites in the collection.
“I don’t know. Peace. I don’t want to be anxious all of the time. It doesn’t take a lot to keep my chin up, you know. I just need a little morsel of happiness from time to time. I just need something to take away the monotony.”
The third story in the collection is Morsel . The story is begins with introduced to a business man, angry and disillusioned with his life who we find in a city hotel room. We see him talk on the phone with his wife – their relationship is clearly strained and unfulfilling from his point of view,. We hear his thoughts about his career as a travelling businessman, as an adult, as a man – he is bored, he hates the fact he has little
control over his life.
The need to find something fulfilling and satisfying, to be in control of something in his unhappy existence see’s him arrange for a prostitute to visit him in his hotel room….. and here we discover that this disconsalete man enjoys a rather abnormal and particularly grungy fetish.
What I particularly enjoyed about this story is the ending. I had previously ignored any other reviews or opinions about *A Psycho’s Medley *before writing this piece, for obvious reasons. One review I did see about this story regarded the ending as a something of a disappointment, referring to the ending as being somewhat disappointingly positive. I would regard that as a major misjudgment of the climax of the story. In fact I would regard the nature of the ending as a chilling forbearance of the things to come – the continuation of a man’s descent into insanity.
Waiting For The Thunder
“she had been waiting for the thunder her whole life, it seemed…” *Waiting for the Thunder* is perhaps my least favourite of the collection – perhaps the fact that it is the shortest of all the stories has contributed to that opinion. It is a very brief glimpse into the consciousness of a woman who is perhaps insecure of herself and certainly has issues regarding commitment to relationships, especially one’s that constitute one night stands.
The writing and language is the usual high standard, but it ultimately left me feeling slightly unfulfilled, rather like the main character. Blimey, that might just have been the point!
“You gotta hunt to survive, lessen you want to end up a purty boy, kissin’ uptown men in Orleans?” The boy shook his head, reaching for the weapon……”
The penultimate story takes place in the southern American Swamplands and features the tale of a father taking his son (Dreg) on a hunt for the first time. Ah bless, a beautiful father/son bonding session. It beautifully focuses on the absolute need of Dreg to impress and not let down his father, whilst also hinting at the power that a father can have over a son to condition his behaviour – regardless of the horror of the activity.
When I read this I can genuinely remember thinking that whilst being a reasonably satisfying short story in its own terms, this would work better as excellent first chapter of a novel. Well bugger me, for once in my life
I seem to have got something right as it IS actually the initial chapter of
Terry’s novel Dreg.
Again, it’s not my favourite of the six stories, for one thing the direction the story took wasn’t a particular surprise. But as an excercise into looking at the power of conditioning the human mind to performing acts of absolute horror- it is powerful and thought provoking.
Hair And Blood Machine
“And Johnny, I know there is something you are reluctant to talk to me about,” the doctor said, with a knowing look. ………”
“………I don’t know what you mean,” Johnny said. “I’ve talked about everything with you.”
“I can see it in your eyes, Johnny. There so much you want to talk about, but you are afraid. You don’t have to be. I’m here to help you.”
The final story, *Hair and Blood Machine* is the longest , and perhaps my second favourite of the selections. It features Johnny, a young man from small-town America who has suffered a terrible personal tragedy and loss and is desperately attempting to keep his sanity under control. His problems are compounded by the not unknown small-minded approach of small towns everywhere after the way his grief and loss publicly manifested themselves on one particular tortuous occasion.
In his conversations with his therapist show him to be at his core a decent, caring person who is probably suffering from some form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. However, the author clearly hints at something darker, something in-decent lurking within him. This darkness is addressed by a chance meeting with the woman of his dreams at the town carnival.
So its a love story then? Well if you regard love as dark, twisted and violently vengeful then this is the sort of romance that will appeal to you – it certainly appealed to me.
Perhaps the most delightful part of the story is the day that Terry M. West takes you along a slightly familiar psychological journey, only to then use the most original slight of hands to take you to the most satisfying of climaxes. A delight.
So has Terry M. West changed my mind about the short story format? I will admit that I genuinely enjoyed reading this collection of journeys into the mind of the psychopath. Some of them are very different forms of insanity, each with their own origins and manifestations, but most of them equally effective. It could be that I never manage to reconcile my usual avoidance of short stories – I know for a fact that my next visit to
my favourite book shop will include numerous novels, and possible few short story collections. However, that may be be a fault that lies with me. What is certain is that this collection may have gone a little way in changing my reading behaviour in future – and that is a glowing reference indeed methinks.
*My personal rating 8.5 out of 10*
*C’mon Terry, give me your best moody
Terry M. West is a well known author, filmmaker and actor. He has written several books in the young adult field (most notably the graphic novel series, Confessions of a Teenage Vampire) and he has also authored several
horror stories as well as the novel, Dreg. His short horror work has appeared in FrightNet, Scream Factory, Agony In Black, Lacunae, Jackhammer, House of Pain, Dark Muse and Moonletters. He was a finalist for the 1997
International Horror Guild Award for a short story (The Night Out) and he made the 1999 Bram Stoker Award preliminary ballot for a piece of long fiction (Hair and Blood Machine). He was also mentioned on the 1997 TV Guide Sci-Fi Hot List.
His film works include his debut film Blood for the Muse (based on his comic book of the same name which was a finalist for the 1998 International Horror Guild Award for a comic) and Flesh for the Beast. He has acted in the films The Blood Shed and Gallery of Fear (both directed by Alan Rowe Kelly) and had a starring role in Joseph M. Monks debut film, The Bunker. Upcoming projects include: a revised edition of Dreg, What Price Gory?, Fear and Lesbians in New Jersey and Dead Aware. West currently lurks in southern California with his wife Regina and son Terrence.
*A PSYCHO’S MEDLEY* can be found at the link RIGHT HERE
Terry’s official Facebook page can be found RIGHT HERE