Book Review: Dark Moon Digest, Issue 31

“Issue 31 proves that Dark Moon Digest continues to go from strength to strength and must surely be considered one of the leading horror fiction magazines available today.”

In the opening story, Joshua Chaplinsky’s ‘Nobody Rides For Free’, we are introduced to Trisha and Rake, stranded on the side of a highway and trying to hitchhike. They are shown to be desperate and fleeing from something that happened in a town called Bellamy. They are so desperate, they are prepared to do anything to pay just about anything for their passage. But the driver of the Dodge truck that picks them up will really put that to the test by the end of this story. Chaplinsky does an excellent job of effortlessly peppering the story with seemingly innocuous description that actually comes back to play a major part in the development of the plot. This is no coincidence; it is the mark of a thorough and meticulous storyteller. Also, some of the imagery later in the story is the mark of a writer with a dark and twisted sense of humour, but it really works for this kind of story.

In a strong issue for fiction, the second story is one of the strongest. ‘The Disposal of Piggy Stinson’ by Rachel Cassidy is told in second person from the point of view of an unnamed protagonist. Seemingly a police officer in a small American town, she is having a drink in the local bar when her partner, Poke, rushes in to say a body has been found. It’s local refuse collector, Piggy Stinson. During the short journey to inspect the body, the protagonist has fleeting memories of a disturbing ordeal she endured at the hands of Stinson and his friends when they were in school. Being flash fiction length, every word in the story is precious and Cassidy makes sure that every word counts. It’s almost an act of sorcery that she manages to pack so much into the narrative in so few words, such is the richness of the story. And the finale is an emotional gut-punch.

In George Lea’s ongoing non-fiction series, ‘Beautiful Beasts’, he takes an in-depth look at the xenomorph from the Alien franchise and explores the effect it had on the movie series, culture, and his own work. He examines the portrayal of the xenomorph, the way it was first captured on screen and then infected the imagination of the movie-viewing public, and even draws parallels with the creations of H.P. Lovecraft, of whom H.R. Giger was a fan. The article is more than simply a love-letter from Lea to Giger and will appeal to horror fans who enjoy their non-fiction.

Despite the zany title, Andrew Hilbert’s ‘Ancient Curse Alarm Clock Radio’ is a story with a great deal of emotional depth. When the unnamed protagonist has to help clear out the home of his recently deceased grandfather, he discovers the titular radio. Even though it comes with a warning, he still believes it’ll look good in his home, a sentiment not shared by his wife, Gina. We soon learn that some warnings ought to be heeded. The strained relationship between the protagonist and Gina is quickly revealed and the power of the radio is displayed to devastating effect. But where will the madness end? Can it ever really end when the man with his finger on the button has nothing to lose? Hilbert takes what could have been a run-of-the-mill concept and injects it with pathos and heart to deliver a story both entertaining and thoughtful.

In Jay Wilburn’s monthly column, ‘Bits of the Dead’, he explores what it means to be a fan of horror, and why we must always be explaining ourselves to those outside of the genre. Whether it is escapism, a coping mechanism, or simply telling a story that doesn’t have a happy ending (hey, those stories need to be told, too), there are as many reasons for loving what we love and sometimes we feel the need to give a more detailed explanation than ‘F— you, that’s why.’ Wilburn takes us through many of the reasons for our fondness of the dark, citing Ramsay Campbell and Stephen King along the way, and offering his own personal insight into the discussion. His is a witty and engaging style that makes him an entertaining and eloquent writer of non-fiction.

‘Amor Sacro e Amor Profano’ (Sacred and Profane Love) by Jonathan Balog takes its title from the 1514 painting by Titian, which plays a part in this story of horrific love and sacrifice set in present day Italy. American ex-pat John Lawrence is working in Rome when he spots the breath-taking Valentina at a party. What begins as a platonic friendship quickly develops into something deeper and more lustful, despite Valentina’s boyfriend warning John about the horror that lies ahead. There is something more sinister and chilling to the mysterious Valentina than John, or the reader, could suspect. But perhaps the reward for his sacrifice could still tempt John, as it has so many others, as shown in the last couple of pages of the story. A gripping and sensual tale of horror in the bloody style of Clive Barker.

Vanessa and Marie are new to the neighbourhood in Leigh Harlen’s ‘Blood Makes the Fruit Grow Sweet’.  While taking a walk, they discover a small white cottage set in an ‘alien Eden’, an overgrown garden seemingly more resembling a jungle. While Vanessa isn’t so keen on exploring, protagonist Marie feels drawn to the garden and, eventually, to the owner, Ela. Vanessa feels awkward in the stranger’s company, especially when it becomes clear that Ela has eyes only for Marie. The jealousy leads to an ultimatum; Marie is forbidden from returning to the cottage. But she cannot be so easily swayed, especially once she has tasted the forbidden fruit that experimental botanist Ela offers. A creepy and unsettling tale with elements of body horror, yet beautifully written.

In the final non-fiction article, ‘Sweet Dreams: The Nightmare Trope’, Vincenzo Bilof explores the use and effectiveness of the dream sequence as a storytelling device in horror fiction. Using examples from movies and books – including Nightmare on Elm Street and Dracula – he defends the use of nightmares as a way to develop characters and story. It is often the case that, when editors and publishers renounce one literary tool or another, authors shall take it to the extreme and swear to never use such a technique ever again, so help them King/Jackson/Lovecraft (insert literary deity here). With this piece, Bilof acts as the voice of reason and shows us that, when handled well, the nightmare trope still has a part to play in storytelling.

In the final story of the issue, and another extremely strong entry, Michael Paul Gonzalez evokes the style of Stephen King and Stranger Things with ‘Your Mutual Friend’. The story spans eight years but begins on Halloween 1986 with Chris running to meet up with his friends, Steve and Kevin. But he never makes it to the meeting point, a sinister black car roaring out of the night and stealing him away. But he isn’t the only one to go missing. Thirteen children in all disappeared that night. The remainder of the story follows Chris’s parents, Anna and Marco, as they try to deal with the grief of their loss. But they are never really permitted to move on, thanks to the cryptic and chilling messages they receive from the abductor over the years. Gonzalez’s attention to detail and his exploration of the grief experienced by the parents is at the same time wonderful and harrowing. Parents will enjoy reading this story for its depth and raw humanity, before immediately checking all of their windows and doors are locked and hugging their children tightly. It is a gripping and compelling story, and the finale is heart-breaking yet hopeful.

The care and attention with which Max Booth III and Lori Michelle approach every endeavour, whether it is a book release from Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing or an issue of Dark Moon Digest or even their tongue-in-cheek podcast devoted to the work of Stephen King, Castle Rock Radio, is exemplary of their professionalism. And this issue is further evidence. They have assembled a terrific line-up of authors, both established and emerging and, although a couple stood out from the others, they all delivered powerful and entertaining pieces of art. Interspersed with thought-provoking articles on the horror genre and writing, and including bonus content in the form of an excerpt from Patrick Lacey’s newly-released Bone Saw and Betty Rocksteady’s cat-inspired artistic take on a horror classic, A Nightmeow on Mouse Street, Issue 31 proves that Dark Moon Digest continues to go from strength to strength and must surely be considered one of the leading horror fiction magazines available today.

THOMAS JOYCE

Publisher: Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing
Paperback: 116 (pps)
Release Date: 27 April 2018

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