Coralesque: Rebecca Fraser
Reviewed By Ben Walker
Anyone who’s seen me go on about the Dead Bait series in previous reviews knows how much I like a good seafaring scare, so the cover and title of this short story collection got its hooks in me faster than, er…well, a fish hook.
For your money, you get a mix of 25 stories and poems, and though you might expect a pervasive maritime theme from that fantastic cover art, there are more land-locked tales here than anything, encompassing horror, sci-fi and fantasy.
What Fraser’s writing does brilliantly is pull you right into memories and experiences that are not your own, with scenes so richly detailed that you can almost feel the sand between your toes, the pull of the tide at your heels. Some are everyday worlds and situations, and it’s easy to get so comfortable in them that the sight of blood or death becomes as shocking for you as it is for the characters. Especially when the non-everyday crawls its way into their worlds. Ghosts haunt the minds of tragic figures, Hallowe’en turns nasty for a nasty piece of work and a doppelgänger lurks in the night.
Other stories are set in more fantastical lands but are no less detailed and every bit as inviting – and threatening – as the real-world tales. One story is reminiscent of the Piped Piper of Hamelin, with more thievery and less pest control, another deals with love and invisibility, with no small amount of tragedy. Each offering is a neat surprise, sometimes chilling, other times affecting, and though some might signpost their endings a little, others will leave you shocked with their last-minute revelations or sudden bursts of violence. A few manage to give you a shiver right from the first line, and it was great to see such a range of settings, characters and ideas throughout.
One of the poems didn’t really land for me, just a matter of personal taste – but the rest bounce along like bawdy sea shanties, staggering happily (or unhappily) along with rhythms that demand you read them aloud for maximum effect.
So as long as you don’t go into this expecting seashells and slaughter on every page, I’d say you’d have a fine old time taking a dip in these waters.
A surfer who becomes horrifyingly one with the sea. A new mother’s devastating search for belonging. A stone gargoyle with a violent history. A fisher boy who discovers the real cost of forbidden love. A farmer whose delight at drought-breaking rain quickly turns to terror. A hedonistic rock star who manifests double trouble. A young girl’s chilling sacrifice for justice. A dirty ex-cop with a dirtier secret. An unscrupulous mayor’s solution to rid her city of the homeless…
These are just some of the characters you’ll meet in this collection of dark offerings.
From the harsh terrain of the Outback, to the depths of the Pacific Ocean, the wilds of Tasmania, dystopian futures, enchanted lands, and the familiarity of suburbia, Coralesque and Other Tales to Disturb and Distract takes readers on a journey into unsettling, unforgiving, and unforgettable territory.
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.