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Book Review – Ashes by Scott Nicholson

February 17, 2011 Leave a comment

Book Description:

A collection of 12 supernatural stories by bestselling author Scott Nicholson, including “Scarecrow Boy,” “Dog Person” and “Sewing Circle.”

From the author of THE RED CHURCH, SPEED DATING WITH THE DEAD, DISINTEGRATION, DRUMMER BOY, and the collections FLOWERS, CURTAINS, and THE FIRST, these stories visit haunted islands, disturbed families, and a lighthouse occupied by Edgar Allan Poe. From the mystery of the paranormal to the spiritual exploration of fear, Nicholson serves up chills, thrills, ghosts stories, and paranormal fantasy. Collected from the pages of Cemetery Dance Magazine, The Book of Dark Wisdom, Black Static, and more.

Exclusive introduction by Jonathan Maberry, author of THE DRAGON FACTORY and GHOST ROAD BLUES. The afterword explores the origins of the stories. Visit Scott Nicholson at Author Central or at www.hauntedcomputer.com

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I downloaded Ashes (A Collection of Dark Fiction) by Scott Nicholson for free at Kobo Books and read it on the Kobo iPhone app. I don’t know why the Kindle edition says there are 12 short stories, but the Kobo copy I downloaded has 16 stories in all. (Just an aside, page turns on the Kobo app are slow, just like I noticed with iBooks. Don’t know what Amazon did differently with the Kindle app since the page turns are noticeably faster)

Here’s what I have in the TOC of the Kobo copy:

1. Timing Chains of the Heart, 2. Dog Person, 3. The October Girls, 4. Murdermouth, 5. Sung Li, 6. In the Family, 7. Work in Progress, 8. She Climbs a Winding Stair, 9. Watermelon, 10. The Meek, 11. The Weight of Silence, 12. The Hounds of Love, 13. Penance, 14. Scarecrow, 15. Last Writes, 16. Sewing Circle

According to the author’s afterword, the stories in the collection were written from 2000-2006 when he was struggling with personal traumas like “alcoholism, depression, fatherhood, divorce…” Well, I guess that accounts for the dark (not necessarily scary) atmosphere that’s the common link among the short stories. And the span of time covered may also account for the uneven quality of writing. I thought that there were some stories in the collection that should have remained in the author’s archives for further development, but there’s some pretty outstanding stories in the mix too that I’ll mention here.

The best for me was the weird and creepy ‘Murdermouth‘ written from the point of view of a very hungry imprisoned Zombie who is on display as one of the acts in a traveling carnival/circus. It’s gruesome and horrifying, and there’s an underlying dark humor mixed with heartbreak to the thankless situation the Zombie is in that really struck home to me. If you only read one short story from this collection, let it be this one.

A close second for me would be the chilling ‘The Night is An Ally‘ where we follow German 1st Lt Heinz Wolfram and his Third Company soldiers as they carry out their orders to “relocate” Jews in the course of one terrible and unforgiveable night. In his afterword, Mr Nicholson said that he wanted to delve into what would turn ordinary and decent men into cold-blooded killers, and I thought he did a great job illustrating that via Heinz Wolfram, a man who ordinarily has no appetite for killing, but who rationalizes his crimes by filtering responsibility through the chain of command and dehumanizing the process in the interest of “efficiency”.

Third best for me was ‘Penance‘ – a post-apocalyptic future narrated by a young girl, Ruth, who is nailed inside her plaque-infested house with her dying family members. What makes the whole thing extra sinister is the religious fervor that colors all the characters’ reactions. This is one story that I do hope the author one day dusts off and turns into a full length novel. I’d love the full treatment for this, from the time the outbreak occured and the aftermath.

The Meek‘ is set at a post-apocalyptic Australia overrun with killer zombie sheep – I kid you not. This sounds like the plot of a really terrible movie, but I thought that Mr Nicholson made it work 😉 We follow Lucas, on the run from a killer ram, as he is “rescued” by a mysterious man who may have a worse fate planned for him. I don’t know, the whole thing seemed stupid to me, but at the same time, I thought the story was original and I liked that there were some unexpected twists in it.

I wondered why ‘The Weight of Silence‘ was included in the collection at first, since it was about a young mother consumed by grief, barely coping with the aftermath of SIDS. Well, at least until we learn that something more sinister may be afoot. The twist wasn’t as well executed as I wanted, but I thought that the writing overall was pretty good for this story.

Maybe you’ll like the rest of the stories in the collection, but I found them to be either weak, or just didn’t resonate or interest me. Overall, I do think the writing is pretty good, smooth flowing, pretty rich imagery, and some really original ideas. I’m now looking forward to checking out more of Scott Nicholson’s writing 🙂

Ashes (A Collection of Dark Fiction) by Scott Nicholson is available on Amazon as a Kindle edition ($0.99) and also for $0.99 on B&N Nook.

Or you can also get this ebook collection for FREE at Sony eBookstore and Kobo Books.

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