Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Scarecrow & The Madness by Craig Saunders and Robert Essig

Blood Bound Books presents a double helping of sideshow fun with Scarecrow by Craig Saunders and The Madness by Robert Essig, both appearing together in the same volume. Two solid novellas that complement each other while showcasing monsters firmly established in the human realm. Although the stories have the subtle cavalcade feel of a Creepshow comic, a reader will find no supernatural trimmings when the blood begins to flow. Laid bare like this, the horror reaches that primal level seldom found in fiction.

With Scarecrow, Saunders uses traveling gypsies as the ignition for mayhem. It’s the holiday weekend in the English Fens, and local farmers Madge and her husband Bernie aren't particularly perturbed by the thought of gypsies being so close in their neck of the woods. When a bar fight breaks out involving Bernie and the leader of one of the gypsy families, they soon take a form of extreme revenge far outweighing their original crimes …

Although the horror in Scarecrow is ironic and perverse (and I mean that in the best possible way), the greatest strength of Craig’s story is the subtle humor and domestic setting. Both Bernie and Madge are an old-school couple set in old-school ways. When that fragile union is split down the middle by human monsters, the results are unpredictable and fun.

A much longer novella, The Madness by Robert Essig encapsulates another domestic setting – this time a family of three who embrace drifter Tony, who decides to take sanctuary when a gargantuan snow storm renders the roads impassable. At first Tony regrets his decision, as something malign lurks within the man of the house, Dan. When the entire household bunks down for the night, morning greets the family with something far worse than Dan's psychosis …

If parts of Scarecrow were perverse, this is even more so. Just when you think you have your hand on the narrative pulse it quickly dovetails into realms more befitting a splatter film. There are surprising twists and scenes filled with carnage laid bare of conscience. Like the previous tale, the prose is more than adequate. Humor is again a staple brand complementing the action.

What the authors and Blood Bound Books have delivered is a double slice of horror reminiscent of grindhouse exploitation or a hybrid graphic novel. With a cover illustration worthy of devotion, the stories themselves deliver. The only (small) thing lacking in this edition is perhaps a detailed blurb.