A successful short story collection in the horror genre – when all the elements come together properly – is a rare and powerful thing. They are strange beasts, and unless a name is synonymous with a proven track record, very hard to get off the ground and into the collective hands of a reading public. Fortunately, an established history is something that Brett McBean has been working on for the past decade, so I was more than eager to put up my hand for Tales of Sin and Madness – a vast, Aladdin’s cave of stories that span many years.
One of things I usually do when reviewing such a collection is give an appraisal of each story … but you will understand (when reading it) that this will not work in this scenario. Like a feast of S. King stories, Brett has taken the time to provide lengthy notes at the end of each one. The resultant outcome of this is something like a delicious banquet that’s more on par with a classic album, each story finely dissected and put under a microscope so we can see the genesis behind each tale. Any detailed breakdown will only spoil what Brett has in store for you. And what he has in the offing here is one of the most entertaining pieces of Australian dark fiction to come along in years.
We start off with Brett taking a jaunt into Brian Keene’s zombie world of The Rising and reporting what he sees there. When then go into the twisted maze and minds of serial killers and find, more often than not, that it’s possible for our sympathies to lie with them. Personal standouts included Hearing the Ocean in a Sea Shell … a nicely executed fable of a rising elevator that’s like a macabre metaphor for past (sins) and a lifetime of transgressions. Also Christmas Lights – a short and melancholy funeral song that first appeared in the Festive Fear anthology.
Throughout it all, you can feel the inspiration and personal homage’s to an author like Richard Laymon, but a reader will also hear a pertinent new Australian voice, one that isn’t bogged down in the past or feels dated in any way. On the surface - and taking off my professional voice for the briefest of moments – it’s no wonder that the stories here spoke to me: the author and I both live in the same country, are products of the same culture and grew up on a steady diet of the same literature. Brett McBean is the contemporary Australian voice for a new millennium and beyond.
With all the interesting discussions about ebooks lately, one cannot help but think their future is still down the track a little ways. For every now and again an edition will come along that is perfect to hold in the hands and cherish: LegumeMan Books new release of Tales of Sin and Madness contains six more stories than the previous North American edition and is a definitive must-have for any horror disciple.