Hell Is An Awfully Big City: Spine-Tingling Tales of Horror and Suspense
D. L. Russell

Wild Cat Books
Trade Paper, 196 pages, $11.95
Review by Sheila Merritt

The nine stories in Hell Is An Awfully Big City are exercises in addressing the archetypes of horror fiction. The outer space alien, the ghost, the vampire, the ghoul and other familiar denizens of the dark are represented. Author D. L. Russell extends his imagination to widen the possibilities for these paradigms; his fantasies are sometimes fright producing and consistently fervently fanciful.

The stories frequently feature the elderly and the inherent fears that come with aging: Loneliness; the nagging knowledge of mortality; loss of independence are regarded with a fine sensitivity. The advent of middle age is addressed in the tale “Raymond Doesn’t Remember.” At his twenty year high school reunion, the protagonist has this introspection: “He couldn’t remember the last time he’d gotten a new CD and wondered if that one was one the first signs of getting old, one of the first signs that life was passing you by.”

Insightful though he is, Russell still plays to the baser basics of the genre. He doesn’t skimp on the gore, the sex, and the violence that have become horror staples. His application of these elements varies in quality from story to story. In the romantic ghost tale “Dreams Still On You,” he offers his most lyrical approach to love making. The main character is a book store owner and writer who reveres writers of dark fantasy. He and the others who populate this work are well drawn; accessible and engaging. There is a depth and delicacy apparent in the craftsmanship here.

The irritating issue about this collection is a large number of highly distracting typographical and spelling errors; whoever is responsible for the proof reading of this volume does it a great disservice. Noticing such things breaks the tension in some stories. Referring to unsavory flesh as “putrid meet,” instead of “meat,” is but one instance of how the flow of a tale can get thrown off by a discernible misprint. The book deserves better.

Hell Is An Awfully Big City shows that D. L. Russell possesses the ability to write with astuteness and vision. He clearly venerates horror fiction; and is at his best when he doesn’t succumb to pandering to the abject aspects of it.

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