Written by Chris F Holm — Having been shortlisted for an Anthony Award for his short story The Hitter earlier this year, Chris F Holm has begun making a name for himself as an up-and-coming new author. He also appeared in the Pulp Ink compilation and 8 Pounds is his own collection of eight short crime stories. At just 90 pages it’s a bit too short for me, but you know what? I enjoyed every story and 8 Pounds does satisfy on many levels. I just wished it had been twice the length. Here’s a run-through of what you’ll find inside:
The first story, Seven Days of Rain, is about facing up to the wrong you’ve done in your life – the sins you’ve tried to ignore, even if you’ve reached old age. Who’s ready to come clean, who still wants to deny the past? For the main character Eddie Hanscombe, who buried something 60 years ago, it begins to feel like yesterday as the water rising water in the town parallels his past returning.
A Better Life, meanwhile, is reminiscent of Stephen King’s short stories in which human error mixed with a bit of stupidity and some bad choices makes for ugly results. When a boy retreats into the woods to hide from a bully, he discovers not just more about himself, but also some dark secrets about the town he lives in. They say the unseen can be scarier because what a writer can show you will never be worse than what your mind can imagine. Holm superbly contradicts that notion. The ending here will stay in your mind alongside the best horror stories you’ve ever read.
In A Simple Kindness, Holm almost flawlessly rewrites the pulp noir classic about the good guy who helps a damsel in distress. Do you remember when your parents or teachers told you to ask questions before reaching a decision? But sometimes you don’t have time to think and just react. That usually leads to big trouble – hopefully not as much as trouble as the main character in this one finds himself in.
The Toll Collectors is another story about the past catching up with someone, errors and regrets. Creepiness runs through it as Ray McDaniel drives down a lonely road, back from a job carrying out someone else’s dirty work. The story has an original idea behind it and is one of my favourites, even if I was a little bothered by the repetitive use of some descriptive words. It’s pure horror story with punch and intensity; the open ending for the character who finds himself in a no-exit situation is a brilliant idea.
The book takes its title from Eight Pounds, where betrayal and revenge collide in a spectacular ending. Holm shows his talent for creating suspense through dialogue: you can feel the nervousness as the characters become uncomfortable and suspicious of each other while they sit in a bar, drinking and talking. The tension mounts not only through their words but also in the unsaid. The only action is the walk they take at the end of the evening.
The Well, The Big Score and The World Behind round off this excellent collection, mixing horror and noir just like the other stories as good intentions are brushed aside by the darker forces in this world. Throughout the book, Holm describes the landscapes we accept, only to realise far too late that appearances can be deceiving. The stories in 8 Pounds construct a world defined by good and evil, where the darkness either eats you up if you’ve been walking too close to it, or regurgitates you like a small bone if you’re an innocent victim. One thing’s for sure, you don’t come out of it unscathed and you’ll never feel safe again. After reading 8 Pounds – fantastic value at just 86p on Kindle – watch for Chris F Holm’s debut novel, Dead Harvest, which comes out in March.
Angry Robot Books
CFL Rating: 4 stars