Nailbiters by Paul B. Kane (book review).

December 11, 2017 | By | Reply More

Where once horror stories tended to involve the supernatural, these days writers have a choice, either to follow traditional patterns of ghost and demon-motivated stories while avoiding the clichéd plots or to go more for the splatter-type nastiness. Both types play on the fears of the reader but with the development of the ‘benign’ supernatural being such as the ‘noble vampire’, this type of fear as tended to dissipate. There are, though, some excellent practitioners of the ghost as horror story. The world has become a much scarier place and there is a lot of potential in drawing on the concerns and uncertainties of ordinary people. Part of this might be that the news of atrocities reaches more, more quickly and partly with an increasing population there are more people around to might commit them.

In this latest collection of short fiction, ‘Nailbiters’, from Paul Kane, the focus is mainly on the contemporary situation and the horrors that can stalk everyday lives for a variety of reasons. Many of the stories are an exploration of why seemingly normal people carry out abnormal acts. Although most of these stories are seen from the point of view of the perpetrator there isn’t necessarily a sense of having been cheated by not being told the thought processes of how they reached the situation the reader sees them in. Partly that is because the conscious mind is not always in control and reason is not what is driving the actions. Despite what may be thought, horrific crimes are not usually planned in detail.

Grief is a powerful emotion and people often act irrationally under its influence but it can get out of hand as in ‘Grief Stricken’ in which a husband feels the need to punish a surgeon for his wife’s death during a routine operation. The grief in ‘The Torturer’ only comes clear at the end of the story but also results in irrational and horrific actions. Under stress, minds can create fantasies and in ‘Remote’ the protagonist has detached himself from reality, believing that he is an agent on a mission.

The desire for revenge isn’t always associated with grief. Sometimes the victim doesn’t even understand why he has been selected. So when in ‘Cold Call’, a call centre worker hangs up on a potential client he is surprised that the man wants revenge for his perceived rudeness.

Obsessions can be a cause of aberrant behaviour. Janet, the check-out girl in ‘Check-Out’ is obsessed with Mark, who once made the mistake of making her think she was important to him. Now she is determined that he will notice her properly. Sebastian in ‘Gemini Rising’ has a different kinds of obsessions. He wants to know who his real parents are and after discovering a passion for cutting up initially dead bodies transfers his obsession to twins. OCD is an obsession rooted in the idea that if patterns are not observed, then disasters will happen. In ‘1,2,3,…1,2,3’ Michelle has proof of it, even when Josh tries to show her otherwise. Although the counting does get irritating after a time, it does give insight into the way someone with this disorder thinks.

Fear, too, is strong emotion and although fear may be induced in many of Kane’s victims it is the fear of change that makes Beryl in ‘The Anniversary’ behave the way she does as her husband of twenty-nine years threatens to leave her. Fear of the dark is fairly universal. For Kelly in ‘Blackout’ having the light go out on a night when she is alone in the house bring all those fears to the surface, to the extent that she is irrational. ‘The Cyclops’, too, is a story about fear tough in this case it arises from a misconception and illustrates the need for relationships to be taught in schools.

Horror, as the news keeps showing, can occur in unlikely places, where you are meant to be safe. ‘A Nightmare On 34th Street’ shows that even a visit to Santa’s Grotto on Christmas Eve can prove very hazardous.

Not all horror stories have bleak endings. There is one in this volume that has a happy ending. Also amongst these offerings are a couple of police procedural stories as cops are not immune to having nasty things happen to them. Not all of these stories are perfect as more than one has a predictable outcome. Since the creations of Arthur Conan Doyle are now out of copyright, Kane has added to the ‘Sherlock Holmes’ franchise with ‘The Greatest Mystery’.

All writers would like to see their work on screen. ‘The Opportunity’ is an atmospheric piece showing a felon stalking a woman with the clear intention of murder. Lewis Copson made it into a short film and the script is reproduced here. While we hear horror stories of what scriptwriters do to stories, in this case, seeing both the original and the script it is clear that the latter is faithful to the former and the film itself may well have enhanced the atmosphere.

To add to his versatility, this volume is book-ended by poems. Paul Kane is a good writer and for the horror reader, this is an excellent book to dip into.

Pauline Morgan

December 2017

(pub: Black Shuck Books, Kent, UK. 266 page hardback. Price: £20.00 (UK). ISBN: 237-0-00050-492-0)

check out website: http://blackshuck.greatbritishhorror.com/

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Category: Books, Horror

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