Secret Things – 12 Tales To Terrify by Stacey Longo; Books And Boos Press; 2013; 167 pgs; $2.99 E-Book US

Two of the hardest things to do well when writing short horror fiction is to keep readers from guessing how the story will end, and then to make the ending poignant enough to stay with readers after the last sentence is finished.  Stacey Longo is especially adept at doing both.  She also has another talent that distinguishes her in the field of horror fiction – she usually manages to make us smile despite the dark nature of her stories.

While humor is not prevalent in horror, it is not all that uncommon either.   The author’s who manage to pull it off well employ humor to keep their readers slightly off kilter, as well as a means to further the bond between their characters and the reader.  Longo’s distinguishing trademark in her dark fiction is her use of black humor; she is a master at eliciting nervous smiles in the most inappropriate of moments.  Having said that, I’ll add that Longo’s humor is fairly grounded, usually employing it as an adjunct to the narrative, never using it to the point where it overshadows the darkness of the story.  And her stories are very dark.

Secret Things contains 12 tales, all of them dark, all of them disturbing, and all of them at some point capable of putting a squeamish smile on the readers face.  While every story is top-notch, the following were highlights for me:

‘Secret Things’ is a story of a couple in which the wife has some secrets, and one of them is about an affair she is having.  The thing is, the husband has a doozy of a secret himself.

‘Good Night Francine’ starts off by introducing us to an old woman who is standoffish, a grouch, and sticks her nose into everyone’s business.  As we learn more about Francine, we come to realize that she is much worse than a mere neighborhood busy body.

‘Cliffhanger’ is a tale of love.  A couple goes for a stroll along some cliffs and the wife somehow falls over the side.  She is saved when she lands on a small outcropping of rocks.  While she waits for her husband to go for help, she begins to think that he’s taking too much time to find someone to rescue her.  And then she starts thinking about other things…

‘Josephine’ is another tale about love, this one concerns a woman who is willing to wait for the love of her life to come to her.  And Josephine is willing to wait as long as it takes.

‘Love Stinks’ is a gross out tale of a woman who sticks by her man, even after he becomes a zombie.

‘Trapped’ is a heart-breaking tale of an older couple that become trapped in their house during a snowstorm.  While their love is solid, they still have their moments of domestic conflict, and their relationship is tested when an accident befalls one of them.

‘People Person’ takes us along with a woman named, Jess, who takes on a job as a store clerk on an island, presumably, off the New England coast.  Jess is an outsider however, and is treated with casual indifference.  For a ‘people person’, that just won’t do.

‘Mother’s Day’ follows along with, Ella, and her visit to her mother’s grave.  Ella’s mother was a bit domineering while she was alive, and during this visit to the graveyard, we discover that Ella’s mother just can’t leave her daughter alone.

‘Denny’s Dilemma’ was my one of my favorite tales in the book.  While out partying with some friends, Denny passes out after drinking too much and has a dream.  In the dream, one of his friends, Diane, who he secretly loves, is killed after leaving the party.  When he wakes up he persuades Diane and her date not to leave, but to stay where they are until the morning.  Diane agrees, and the consequences of this decision are far reaching.

If you are counting, that’s nine out of the twelve stories that I thought were outstanding, not a bad percentage at all when reading a single author collection.  The other three tales were also enjoyable, and I’m sure that others would count them among their favorites.  Every one of these stories had twists in them that were a joy to read, and yes, the stories stayed with me long after I finished the book.  And, as I am writing this review and reliving the tales, the smile on my face is just as wide as when I first read them.

Secret Things – 12 Tales To Terrify has been the most fun I’ve had when reading a dark fiction collection since I picked up Dead Clown B-B-Q., by Jeff Strand.  If Jeff is considered the King of Humorous Dark Fiction, there is no doubt in my mind that Stacey Longo deserves the appellation of Queen of Humorous Dark Fiction, she is that good.  Secret Things – 12 Tales To Terrify is highly recommended.

Jan 26, 2014

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