Having read and reviewed two books for Skullvines Press, I received an invitation to review another SVP book, Necrotica, a collection of stories from Hallam Heathcoat. Contained within are thirteen tales of sex and death, though not always at the same time.
Given that this is a collection, I thought it best to review each of the stories separately, and then deliver a final verdict on the overall quality of the selections.
A creepy tale about how obsessions with a muse can become deadly. But in this ghost story, some obsessions have the power to last beyond the grave, maybe even forever…
Visually light in the killing scene, I think this story is really setting you up. It’s good, and it provides a first taste of the writers style. However, visually this first story is lacking in details, sparing the reader to give you a prettier first story. It’s the comforting Welcome mat that you step over into this hell-house, and once Hallam slams the door at the end of this story, almost everything else becomes more visual and a whole lot more visceral.
Thaddeus has a body which most men would envy, and a face bordering on perfection. But he’s still a virgin, lacking a certain physical quality to be the perfect lover until he meets an exotic dancer named Absinthe.
This story’s early hints about Thaddeus’ unique physique did not lead to what I was expecting, and the same was true of the conclusion of this story. There is a vivid nightmare sequence here that cranks up the visual weirdness and blends it with sexual and violent themes. Because of this, I expected Thaddeus to become a stalker. Indeed, the story seems to lean this way before the final twist. It was unexpected, gory, and…dare I say, sentimental? There was a hard groan at the end, but I can’t explain why without spoiling the story
Ménage à Trois
Like Thaddeus, Daemon is also a virgin, but for an entirely different reason: he’s a prick whose real name is Frances, and he’s got all the social charm of a fat garden slug dropped on your naked inner thigh. You can’t help but not like this guy, whose goal in life is to have sex with the undead. Frances gets his wish, and gory screaming ensues.
While the first two stories were good, they didn’t make me cringe. This one did, a lot. I also said things like “eeeeew,” and, “oh, lord, don’t…oh, that’s not right!”
When a Girl Dies
The title of this story is misleading, because the death of the unnamed girl is not the subject. Instead it ought to have been called After a Girl Dies.
I can’t say I really liked this tale. No one is named, and the locations aren’t described very clearly. The story blurs and obscures everything but one detail, that the dead girl is pretty. This somehow fosters complete and total indifference in the unnamed gawkers. Not surprisingly, the story left me with a similar reaction.
Revenant: Curse of the Vampire
In Florence Italy, a brother is so desperate to cure his sister of the plague, he accepts a deal to turn her into a vampire.
There’s nothing really wrong with the story, but being placed after several more grisly tales, this ends up being pale by comparison. Taken on its own, this is a good story. But as part of this collection, it gets lost in the shuffle.
Young Maiden Red
Young Maiden Red must take some supplies to her sick…yeah, okay, you think you know where this story is going. Trust me, you don’t.
Ouch, and yet, at the same time, I found this oddly erotic. My therapist may charge me extra for this.
The Devil’s Belly
Another dead girl story, again with few details beyond the characters. There’s no explanations given, just the setup and the close. It wasn’t bad, but after the more gruesome stories in the front half of this book, this fell flat for me.
Necrotica: A Fable of Lust
A father lusts for his daughter in a fantasy story that has some sci-fi references thrown in for good measure.
It’s hard to think of what to say after finishing this tale. I mean, technically, this has a happy ending in a similar way to Hansel and Gretel. On the other hand, ew doesn’t even come close to covering it. This story also includes the single grossest reference to licorice I’ve ever seen. I’m not kidding. For the rest of my life, black Twizzlers are gonna make me gag.
The Copulation of the Flies
David has a rather unhealthy interest in dead things. So imagine his delight when he finds a zombie laying on his kitchen table.
I can’t say that I liked this one, but not for the content. I just don’t care for first person stories with this particular type of ending. The story itself is gory and gross, and causes lots of cringing throughout. That can either be a recommendation or a warning, depending on what your reading preferences are.
There’s actually no way to sum this story up without diminishing its impact. Deeply disturbing, and touching a taboo that will haunt you for sure.
Between Heaven and Hell
An angel and a demon have sex in a seedy motel.
Like Revenant, this story would be good stuff taken on its own. But being one of the later stories in the collection, its impact is dulled considerably. This is like sitting on thumb tack after you’ve just been stabbed through the gut with a rusty machete.
The longest story out of this collection is about the early spectral encounters experienced by a necromancer named Victor. In the story, he refers to himself as a summoner, but this really does not accurately describe the range of Victor’s abilities. Victors isn’t summoning anything that wasn’t already there.
This is the second most disturbing of the stories, both for the first scene involving a pedophile ghost violating Victor, and for the bloody rape scene that occurs much later in the story. And yet, this is not the end. The story winds through several other scenes before Victor closes his story in front of another haunted house.
I liked this story, but still felt it need to end earlier. After a certain point, everything else in the tale is diluted. Still a good story, but not the best ending.
Ashlee in the Dark
And here we come to the last story, one of a racist serial killer taking a child from her home to witness his work.
The story concludes in a bleak manner, and closing out this book, I felt hollow and wretched. Not because someone could write something like this, but because I know that there are people out there who are really this sick. All the other stories before offer some supernatural trapping to make a fantasy setting, and there’s nothing supernatural here. It’s all raw human malice.
Like most story collections, Necrotica is hit or miss on the stories. However, in some cases, the problem is the order the stories came in. To help make the less visceral stories stand out, the book should have been built in a more ramp-like manner. Instead the book has peaks and valleys, and unfortunately, the lows get lost. They shouldn’t, because they are written as skillfully as the other stories. They just don’t hit with the same impact being where they are.
Setting that aside, this is a collection that hardcore horror readers will want, no, that they will need to see. But all others should approach this book with a sense of trepidation and genuine dread, because what’s on tap here is not for the faint of heart, or of stomach.
I didn’t care for three of the stories, and in a collection of this size, that’s not too bad at all. In all cases, even the stories I disliked, the writing was excellent. I give the book four stars out of five, and recommend it to people who are already accustomed to treading in the darkest of fictional spaces.