X4: C.M. Saunders
Reviewed By Ben Walker
X4 is the 4th in CM Saunders’ X collection, where each book offers 10 short stories pulled from the author’s past publication history. As the afterword explains, these range from early works to more recent offerings, some pulled from UK folklore or personal experiences.
The stand out piece here is Jessica, a morbid love story where you might guess the outcome before it’s revealed, but it’s still a decent enough chiller, invoking the spirit of EC Comics. Only that’s the third story in the bunch, and until it comes along, the book doesn’t quite manage to grab you, seeing as the first two stories share the same kind of laboured setup with a distinct lack of punch.
That’s a theme which continues throughout the rest of the collection, where decent ideas never quite manage to deliver the shocks or shivers they promise, from spooky trains to mysterious sea creatures, unlikely murderers and a doppelgänger. Everything’s written well enough for the most part, but most of the tales feel too long despite being quite short, and vice-versa. The one drabble on offer, My Tormentor, suffers with a bit too much repetition, after which the final two stories – also the longest in the book – take way too long to get anywhere, with a serious lack of dread or drive. There are no ticking timebombs here, no characters to root for or against, just people who encounter vaguely spooky things, then either move on with their lives, or don’t. There’s a lot of contemplation, too much aimless reminiscing or questioning of current plights as characters saunter through melodramatic situations that fail to evoke a dangerous mood. You never feel the breath on the back of your neck, especially when the best reactions some characters can muster to the weirdness is “I wonder what’s happening here?” or “Who’s there?”
There’s just nothing exceptional enough in X4 to make you leap out of your seat, but maybe it’s just series fatigue, that difficult 4th album. Perhaps the earlier collections were better, and that’s something I mean to find out, eventually.
The fourth volume of short stories by C.M. Saunders features ten slices of horror and dark fiction taken from the pages of Liquid Imagination, Feverish Fiction, The Horror Tree and several anthologies including Terrors Unimagined and Monsters Among Us. Also includes extensive notes and original artwork by Greg Chapman.
Meet the old man with a dark secret under attack from ghosts, the city worker who comes face-to-face with himself, the teenager who learns that love really can conquer all, the commuter who takes a train into the past, and many more.
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.