Craig Saunders
The Madness
Robert Essig

Blood Bound Books, 2011
Review by Matthew Tait

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

With Scarecrow, Craig Saunders uses traveling gypsies as the ignition for bloodshed. 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 of torture and clout that far outweighs their original crimes…

Although the horror in Scarecrow is ironic and perverse at times (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 – and when that fragile union is split down the middle by all too human monsters the results are often 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 must take sanctuary with them when a gargantuan snow storm renders the roads impassable. At first Tony regrets his decision to ask for hospitality as there is something very wrong with the man of the house: Dan stares at Tony with a madness that belies murder. When the entire household bunks down for the night the morning will greet the family with something far worse than Dan’s madness…

If parts of Scarecrow were perverse, this is even more so. Just when you think you have your hand on the pulse of the story it quickly dovetails into realms more befitting a splatter film. There are surprising twists and scenes filled with horror that’s laid bare of any conscience. Like the previous tale the prose is adequate and well thought out. Humor is also a staple brand that complements the action.

What the authors and Blood Bound books have delivered is a double slice of horror very reminiscent of a grindhouse exploitation film or a hybrid graphic novel. The cover illustration is worthy of devotion whilst the stories themselves deliver exactly what is promised. The only small thing lacking is perhaps a detailed blurb on the back or sleeve.

Scarecrow and The Madness can be ordered from Blood Bound Books.

[Editor’s Note: Matthew Tait’s Ghosts In A Desert World is currently available for free from Amazon, while his novella, Slander Hall, is part of the Tales of Darkness and Dismay series and available for $2.99.]

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