Slices, by Michael Montoure
“Some Stories Won’t Let You Go.”
That’s what the underwriting says on Michael Montoure’s Slices: 14 stories (and one introduction) from an up and coming author of horror fiction. And maybe you’ll see that and say “meh,” and think it’s nothing you haven’t heard before, and wonder why it’s not being published by a “real” publisher… and so on.
But hold on a moment, friend. Take that part of your brain that tells you why not to read something offline for a moment, and listen, for a minute, to the part that says do it. Because I’m going to tell you straight up — if you like your horror smart and sharp, with more brains than blood (though there’s gore and grue aplenty, here, too) then you should read this book.
I say this as someone who writes and reads horror — lots of horror, as well as its’ currently more successful children “dark fantasy” and “urban fantasy.” I have waded through forests of zombies, poked my lantern into entire suburbs full of haunted houses, and gone a’hunting for enough werecreatures to keep the Smithsonian in strange fur for some time. I’ve drank in bars full of monster slayers and lovers, and the strange entities they wind up hunting or humping (sometimes at the same time) and then gone on rampages with madmen and their victims, vampires and their kith, and mean, crazy, spinster relations and the innocent kids they lock up in the attic.
King, Koontz, Barker, Hill, Lovecraft, Poe? Got ‘em on speed dial: Ring-ring-ring. Sometimes they even pick up. (I think.)
I’ve even tried my hand at the game, and been published at it (in a real book, no less!) and found, to my own dismay, that I’m not quite “there” yet. So where’s “there”? To mangle that one Supreme Court Justice, I’ll know it when I see it, which isn’t always an easy thing.
So when I tell you, oh skeptical consumer, that Michael Montoure is “there,” you should pay attention. Not because he bribed me, or threatened me, or threatened to bribe me, but because I literally devoured Slices like a good, fresh bag of warm squeaky cheese curds, straight from the dairy.
And then I wanted another bag, right then and there. Which, while normal for cheese curds, is darn unusual for books, and only reserved for authors who have fired my brain up so well that I can’t wait for the next one to be crafted, published, and sent my way.
That anticipation thing might work for ketchup and maple syrup, but I want my good horror now, darn it.
And that’s why I’m saying you need Slices in your life, O valued consumer. Apart from the masters, you’ve probably only been handed small, half-baked, and imperfectly-shaped things that may bear the name “horror,” but not deliver. This does.
What’s in the box? Lots of interesting and darkly imaginative toys. We’ve got ghost plagues and infernal bargains, failed rescues and dangerous transactions. Hungry buildings devour the unlucky, powerful books rewrite the world, and love goes badly wrong while obsession turns raw and bloody.
And there’s vampires done right for a change in here, darn it. Surely that’s worth the price of admission, alone?
No? Well, how about this, then? I always say that half the battle of any short work is knowing when to end the story; when to stop writing, and let what you’ve said so far be enough to at least be satisfying, both to you and, more importantly, to the readers.
It’s not an easy skill, and some authors never quite seem to learn it — somehow coasting by on openings and climaxes, alone. But I’m happy to report that Montoure’s got mad skills in this department.
And while it would be outright criminal to give any of his finely-crafted curtain calls away, I would like to say that the ending of “Rest Areas” — with the sole survivor left waiting for help that may never come — is one of the most nightmarish fade-outs I’ve ever read.
The dialogue is believable, even in extreme situations. The plot hooks are good to skewer through your eyelids. Best of all, the endings are often as surprising as they are delightfully dark, which is something that’s hard to do when you’re walking down a path that’s been trod so many times before, by so many others.
See if you don’t agree.
Put simply, Slices is the best, recent horror collection I’ve read from an author since Joe Hill’s 20th Century Ghosts. If you like horror, you should board this sharp train, and seek out his other works: Montoure is going to be going places, and soon.