by David Morrell
“The truth was, even if I had his promise in writing, the studio’s lawyers could have it nullified if Wes claimed he’d been misled. This town wouldn’t function if people kept their word.”
Somewhere in 2013, steeped in short stories and novellas, I began to get a better grip on where my tastes lie and what I was looking for. One particular author had a new collection coming out, the previous which was absolutely outstanding, but the publication was overdue. I waited, then a few months later with no update to the now-passed publication date I wrote the author (and publisher).
Eventually the new book came out, and it was easily one of the very best collections I’ve ever read: Little by Little by John R. Little. This kept the conversation going with Mr. Little, and at one point I asked him if he would provide a list of his favorite collections. Black Evening was on his list, so this is a favorite of a favorite.
The collection contains 14 short stories and novellas, around half of which were award winning or nominated. There is not a single bad story in the bunch and only two that were so-so but generally likeable. Two stories in particular, touched on below, border the brilliant. The rest are varying degrees of damned good.
“The Partnership” is a tale of two business partners that never figured out how to get along, and one resorts to hiring someone to ‘fix’ the problem with the other. Being America, a capitalistic hitman makes the most of the situation.
“Mumbo Jumbo” details the on-field and pregame antics of an invincible high school football team with an interesting locker room routine on game days, following two losers who make the team and the coach who leads them to victory.
The type of horror on display here shows strong supernatural elements in many of the stories but mostly stays away from monsters. It’s more the flavor of real life with supernatural elements added at certain points to add contrast to the story and color to the characters, perhaps a little similar to Jonathan Carroll’s short work. Nobody’s ever fighting vampires or running from The Devil, but ghosts and magic make a few appearances.
Overall the strong supernatural elements in most of the stories keep this collection firmly grounded in horror, but the sense of reality and sadness in a normal world is where the stories are centered. Then other elements are introduced to knock the mechanism of the story out of whack so we can see what’s really going on beneath the machinery.
Each story starts with a strong, full-bodied earth tone on the front end with dark, pungent peat following along with spicy undertones and finishing with alternating pepper, cherry and oak. Never tart, it’s all class.