13 Dark Tales (Collection Two): Michael R. Martin
Reviewed By Ben Walker
Unsurprisingly, Michael R Martin’s 13 Dark Tales Collection Two contains…13 dark tales, and it’s…wait for it…the second volume. All the stories trapped in this little bundle are original to this collection, but you can ignore that alarm bell ringing. This isn’t a case of “these stories could never be published anywhere else because they’re not that good”. For your money, you get an interesting mix of river spirits, cannibals, vengeful ghosts, and good old fashioned covetous murder.
It’s also a very British set of stories, which means you’re in for plenty of people saying “plonker”, deep dives into obscure folklore, a heaping helping of cheeky humour and a final dose of soap-opera style drama. There’s even a haversack at one point, which is a word that feels so British that you risk sprouting a Union Jack from your head just by saying it out loud.
The introduction to the book promises scary stories, and the first three do offer some unsettling imagery and ideas, only they’re brief flashes, nothing that’s going to dig in under your skin and live there for a while. Even the scarier stories have a lightness to them, a tone that straddles the line between serious and playful, so it rarely feels like you’re witnessing some unending horror or being left to worry about a character’s fate. It’s odd, I don’t know if it’s because of the British slang which peppers the pages, but I never felt like I was able to take the stories that seriously.
Even though the frights don’t bite as hard as they could, the character work, drama and general sense of humour help carry most of the offerings. There’s some well-researched attention to detail and a few neat twists on well-worn ideas, but as the book goes on, the horror starts fading into the background. That’s mostly down to the endings; a few tales wrap up like a sitcom might, with characters more or less winking at the camera, dissolving any feeling of unease. It’s entertaining enough, but you might wonder whether you’ll get the goosebumps by the time you reach the midway point.
Some of the later stories in the collection also outstay their welcome as characters describe minute details of their run-ins with various nasties. This sucked any immediacy out of the narrative, and it’s hard to stay invested when you’re wading through a page or more of solid speech. Even in the snappier stories, incidental characters show up at the end to comment on what went before, which again feels like something that would happen in a sketch show or a less serious piece. This might leave you grinning, but it won’t leave you gripping the arm of the sofa.
Only one story here gave me the real skin-crawling creeps, and that was the cheekily-titled The Talking Dead. You might be expecting chatty zombies like I was, but this is actually about an old man gradually losing his mind after receiving a nuisance phone call. The tone gradually darkens before the last few paragraphs go pitch black, with an ending where you can draw your own conclusions. Big thumbs up for that.
So while this wasn’t as consistently scary as it threatens to be, and certainly not as dark as the title suggests, this would be a good one to pick up for some enjoyable Sunday night reading. Nothing too taxing, kind of like a BBC drama that you flick on while you’re having your tea.
13 Dark Tales: Collection Two
A headless corpse dumped in a field leads to a terrifying insight into the future, a UFO investigator gets more than he bargained for when he tracks down an eyewitness, and bank robbers find something in a safe-deposit box they wish they hadn’t.
Just three of the 13 Dark Tales, many inspired by macabre urban myths and sinister folklore, in this second collection by Michael R Martin.
Read them in the dark hours when they might call to mind a disturbing story you can’t quite place or a strange shape glimpsed from the corner of your eye; things you dismissed as too fantastic to take seriously but left nagging doubts, nonetheless.
Some of them may be true.
Ben got a taste for terror after sneaking downstairs to watch The Thing from behind the sofa at age 9. He’s a big fan of extreme & bizarre horror and well as more psychological frights, and most things in between. When he’s not reading, he’s writing, and when he’s not writing he’s on twitter @BensNotWriting or reviewing books on his YouTube channel, BLURB.