Tales of Sin and Madness
Brett McBean

Legume Man Books
335 Pages
Price: $4.99 (Kindle Edition)
Review by Darkeva

Australian horror has its own unique nuances, traditions, and influences, and although I haven’t had previous exposure to the works of Aussie authors writing within the genre, I couldn’t be more pleased to have received my introduction via Brett McBean’s short story collection, Tales of Sin and Madness.

The first story, “The Beautiful Place,” concerns a young couple caught amid a zombie outbreak that has affected the world, including Australia. It’s a deviation from standard zombie apocalypse stories and focuses largely on the male protagonist’s relationship with his wife, who is dying of cancer. It’s a beautifully written story, but my only quibble would be that he moves her from town to town in a sack, which, although she is severely emaciated and in a coma, I had a hard time believing, because she would be too big even for a duffel bag, or her bones would break because she’s malnourished. She’s 30 kilograms, or 66 pounds, which although it is tiny, is a bit of a stretch. Despite this, the story has a cathartic ending and it gets the collection off to a promising start.

“Amanda’s Gift” is the next story, and it’s a mix of handwriting and typeset text, which is neat. It’s about a writer, Julia, who is in a haunted house with her sister, Claire, and she can’t write because of the heat. Excerpts of Julia’s story are included in the McBean’s own story. The concept of the morphing photo is utilized well as a little girl, Amanda, was murdered in the house Julia is in, and she finds out by looking at the photograph. Although it’s another great story, it requires reading the ending a few times to understand what has just happened.

The third story, “Stolen Lives,” presents a man who has to make the same decision that the Meryl Streep character does in Sophie’s Choice – he gets a phone call and has to choose whether his wife or daughter dies. But this guy actually starts making a list of why he should save one person over the other. This story will really screw with your emotions and make you sick with what the character’s ultimate plan was concerning his best friend, who is with him for most of the beginning. You will think the story is going one way but it swerves completely and will genuinely surprise you.

McBean has a real flair for twist endings and surprise revelations that will shock most readers in the sense that no matter how much horror you read, you’ll still be surprised at what happens and won’t see it coming.

Next in “The Genius of a Sick Mind,” a murderer invades a couple’s home and writes them creepy instructions in real time but with a pen and paper, and not electronically on a screen. It’s bizarre, but fascinating. Sherry, the girlfriend in the story, completely toys with the reader’s emotions, and the story is ultimately a reflection of just how far some people will go to get revenge for being cheated on. It’s almost hard to believe that a story this good could have been the first McBean published, but it’s just a testament to how formidable of a writer he is.

“A Question of Belief” is another unique zombie tale that starts when a priest finds a man with horrific injuries on a beach. He takes care of the man, but things start to go awry when he turns into a zombie, and then his buddies show up and well, you can imagine the rest. While I appreciate that the author’s set his zombie origin in Haiti, I felt that his zombies were largely Americanized in the way he depicted them, but it’s a minor gripe for an otherwise great story.

“Who Wants to be a Survivor?” is a clever take on reality TV and what happens when a psychotic murderer takes over a set. What’s sicker is that people are watching this as entertainment, and not trying to help the “contestants.”

Next, “The Cycle” is the story of an Aussie who finds himself in the southern United States and he’s trying to forget about the death of his wife, and finds a hillbilly named Almus who has an interesting proposition for him. Although it was clearer where this story was going from the get-go, it’s still a highly enjoyable tale about a bargain gone horribly wrong.

In “Christmas Lights,” we get a creepy tale of a kid who is convinced that a light he sees outside the window is Santa Claus when that’s the furthest thing from what it really is – definitely worth the read.

A Jack the Ripper-influenced tale comes our way with “Mad Fred,” a story told in multiple parts; this one concerns Mad Fred, who is a Jack the Ripper copycat/wannabe. It’s the longest story of the collection, and although written well, it didn’t interest me as much as some of McBean’s other stories. Still, if you’re a Ripper fan and are curious to find out the Australian connection to the history, you’ll dig this one.

And “Come Morning” explores what would happen if a guy couldn’t sleep and if night turning to day depended on him going to sleep; time can’t move forward. It’s a scary thought, and insomniacs out there will appreciate the creepiness.

This is a collection that’s heavy on serial killers, so if this isn’t your favourite kind of horror, you may not like all of the stories, but that said, I usually don’t go for too much serial killer fare and I enjoyed the book immensely. Overall, this is a strong collection from a writer who, if you haven’t heard of him before, you will after this. It usually takes a lot for modern horror writers, or any writer for that matter, to impress me, but Brett McBean has left a permanent impression that will stay with me for a long time to come.

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