A Sliver of Darkness
At last, a debut collection of eleven dark tales from the pen of multi-award-winning author, C.J. Tudor. Four of her novels have garnered The International Thriller Writers’ Award for Best First Novel, the Barry Award for Crime Novels, and the Strand Critics Award for Best Debut.
I anticipate that this compelling collection will win awards. Nine of the eleven stories have not been previously published. Her novels are known for their dark and twisty plots and this collection will not disappoint. Each of the stories feature elements of horror, dark humor, thrills and chills, and unexpected twists. Each story is introduced by Tudor with relevant personal events and observations, providing insight to the story’s inspiration. Most of the stories are incredibly unique while being menacing, creepy, spooky and dark… all with surprise twisted denouements Due to the recent pandemic, several are post apocalyptic with dark, dystopian futures. All are tagged with indelible glimpses into her weird imagination. Most stories merit a 5 Star rating with an occasional 4 star. The following are thumbnail sketches of those I personally enjoyed the most.
In “Runaway Blues” a skinny, pale white dude appears on stage and astounds the audience with his melodic rendition of his own jazz and blue compositions with voice and saxophone, all to thunderous applause. They call him Fatman, and he comes on stage with a hatbox in front of him, in which he retrieves a brown trilby and ceremoniously places it on his head. He dedicates all of his songs to his curvaceous girlfriend, Veda, who bought him that marvelous hat. Suddenly his performances are marked by mournful songs of love and loss. Although his hatbox is in front of him, it remains unopened. We learn his girlfriend has jilted him, unceremoniously for another man. What actually is in that hatbox? Love can make good men do bad things! This was written as a tribute to Stephen King.
In “Completion” the reference is usually made with the Seller completing (or sealing the deal) the sale of his property or estate. ( Tudor muses even in an apocalypse the only things to flourish will be cockroaches and real estate agents) A smarmy and slimy agent, Dan Ransom is known to lie, cheat and swindle to complete a deal, Integrity has no place in his countenance.
He is anxious to return to Bragshaw Manor to complete the deal with its owner… who he describes as the decrepit, disgusting old bastard. The manor sits on the hill like a huge ugly vulture… certainly reminiscent of the classic haunted house. He describes his drive to the manor as tiresome, having the usual obstacles of protestors, vagrants, infected and dead bodies littering the way. He readily admits he would lie, cheat, and even take bribes to bring about a “completion”. He has no idea what will be expected of him to complete this deal!
In “The Lion At The Gate” we experience a most unusual type of graffiti . A gang of four kids take a short-cut down a neglected, spooky road… based upon a dare. They notice on one of the gates a depiction of a massive lion’s head with multicolored mane and coal-black eyes, psychedelic and creepy. They are mesmerized and continue to take the same daily path in order to view the lion. In each viewing the appearance of the lion weirdly changes. At times it looks like it could actually open its mouth and take a bite. Will anyone actually reach out and touch the lion’s visage.
In “Gloria”—probably my favorite—Gloria reprises her role from the 2019 novel, “Hiding Place.” Oh, I thought she was dead! Gloria specializes in “cleaning” (well actually, cleaning crime scenes). She arrives at the scene with a chainsaw, in order to make the parts of the victim more manageable. Within hours the “parts” are submerged beneath concrete.
Gloria has a chance meeting with a young girl in a coffee shop, who has the ability to “get into” Gloria’s head. Gloria has had a gradual erosion of her humanity. She has maimed, hurt and even killed with little or no remorse. She lacks any form of empathy. This chance meeting will have gravely unintended consequences.
In “Copy Shop” we are posed with the question if a copy can be as good as the original? The sign outside the print shop states they can copy almost anything. Initially a broken vase with only sentimental value is brought in with excellent results. She laments to husband Alan that her beloved cat Marvin is aging poorly and decrepit, he suggests she put “it” to sleep. Instead, she presents Marvin to the copy shop. In two days, she is presented with a new Marvin, as good as a much younger version. What will she bring next for a better version?
In “Final Course” the world has gone dark. A group of five old college acquaintances meet for a dinner party at a large estate to discuss their future and hopefully their safety the world is populated by dark creatures who are devouring victims. Tom brings his eight-year-old daughter, Millie, who is blind and always wears dark glasses to cover her eyes. One of the guests, Amanda, is horrified by Millie’s presence. “Everyone knows that the blind act like magnets to those creatures.” Drops of blood from the ceiling fall onto the dinner table … directly over the “closed” east wing of the house. The host and guests call upon Millie to deal with these creatures. They have no idea of her special gifts!
Equally entertaining are:“I’m Not Ted,” “Butterfly Island,” “The Block,” “Dust,” and “End of the Liner.” C.J. Tudor masterfully crafts a delicious buffet of eleven, unique and riveting stories that showcases her weird but lovable imagination.Those in search of a fix for dark and macabre entertainmentneed to look no further than this brilliant collection.
Thanks to NetGallery and Random House / Ballantine Books for providing an Uncorrected Proof in exchange for an honest review.