Audiobook Review: Little Dead Red by Mercedes M. Yardley, read by Joe Hempel

“Yardley has crafted a tale that even the Brothers Grimm would find harrowing and disturbing. Full of the lyrical and powerfully descriptive prose that she is renowned for, Little Dead Red packs a gut-punch of beautiful horror.”

Little Dead Red Audiobook - coverFans of dark fiction in general and the This is Horror podcast in particular should already be familiar with the work of Mercedes M. Yardley. An author of stories, poetry and non-fiction, as well as a Fiction Editor at Gamut Magazine, Yardley specialises in horror and beauty, and the point at which the two intersect. With a short story collection, a number of novellas and a trilogy of novels already to her name, she has a proven track-record as a writer of exceptional ability. Indeed, Little Dead Red won the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in Long Fiction 2015 and is available in audio from Crystal Lake Audio, Listen2aBook.com, and narrator Joe Hempel.

The story begins “Once upon a time …”, which already hints at the fairy-tale nature of the story. There are nods and references to ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ throughout, suggesting a reimagining or retelling of the classic tale that is almost as old as mankind itself. But it only serves as a catalyst for the main story. The beginning is hopeful and upbeat. Until the last line few sentences of the prologue. Then we skip forward a few years to find protagonist, Grim Marie, and her daughter, Aleta, living seemingly normal lives, despite the tragedy of their past. Marie’s elderly mother is in hospital, and Aleta offers to drop off some soup. When Marie later travels to the hospital to visit her mother, disaster strikes again, and sends Marie into a downward spiral of despair.

Already we are fully invested in the plight of this poor family as they must endure the worst that life can throw at them. Yardley does a wonderful job of making us care about Marie and Aleta and the grandmother, as we can’t help but find them instantly relatable. We have all had loved ones, or know someone who has had loved ones, who have found themselves in life-threatening situations in a hospital bed. And, given the horrifying events of their past, we are instantly rooting for Marie and Aleta to prevail. But this is, after all, a horror story.

Following Marie’s latest tragedy, she resolves to bring the wrong-doer, the “wolf”, to justice. Whether that is a justice sought in court or by her own hand is a decision that she must come to on her own terms. But, given the nature of the crime, she is desperate to avenge the family she has lost. And, with the assistance of an understanding and supportive police officer and his wife, she decides that, in order to catch a wolf, she must first think like a wolf. Yardley portrays Marie’s desperate situation with such heart, and Hempel hits all of the right emotive notes with his narration, that we are swept along on Marie’s quest for revenge, her journey into the heart of darkness, as she pursues the wolf.

What began as a fairy-tale soon descends into every mother’s worst nightmare, and the path to the ending is no summers day walk in the park. Yardley has crafted a tale that even the Brothers Grimm would find harrowing and disturbing. Full of the lyrical and powerfully descriptive prose that she is renowned for, Little Dead Red packs a gut-punch of beautiful horror. And Hempel delivers a haunting performance that will only enhance his reputation as one of the most versatile rising stars of audiobook narration. It is hard to believe the same narrator could deliver the action-packed, mix of humour and horror that is Adam Howe’s Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet. And yet here he captures the voice of Yardley’s distraught protagonist in such a moving and thoughtful way. Yet another high quality and exceptional offering from Crystal Lake Publishing, a publisher that is fast gaining a reputation for producing the very best in speculative fiction, in conjunction with Listen2aBook.com.

THOMAS JOYCE

Publisher: Listen2aBook.com
Audiobook: 1 hour and 37 minutes
Release Date: 26 August 2016

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