"Matinee At The Flame" by Christopher Fahy
Reviewed by Andrea Speed
Although the cover of this collection may lead you to think this is all horror stories, that's not quite true.
These are, with an exception or two, "Twilight Zone"-style fantasy
stories with elements of horror, but it's quite high in ironic "twist" endings and low on gore. This is both a boon and a drawback.
It's a drawback because the stories never seem genuinely scary, but I'm not sure if that was really the intention. It's a boon because if you hate gore or splatterpunk, finally someone is writing for you.
Fahy must be a huge fan of "The Twilight Zone," as all the stories felt like they could have been episodes. The problem is I grew up on "Twilight Zone" repeats, and damn if I wasn't able to predict every "twist" ending within the first two paragraphs of each story.
The best stories break this mold. For example, "The Real Thing" is about a homeless man who lands a job as a store Santa and gets a bit carried away with his job. You expect that he'll discover he really is Santa Claus or get the job somehow, or at least end up miraculously with toys to give all the poor children in town, but this story settles for a more realistic, bittersweet ending which was surprising and welcome.
"Carnival" is actually a science fiction story which is a bit more graphic and downbeat than any other story in the volume, and is all about a futuristic city where thecarnival days are a time when absolutely anything goes, up to rape and murder, centering on the disgruntled employee who intends to put an end to his boss during the free-for-all. This is where Fahy's otherwise careful,measured tone becomes full-blooded and passionate, and it seems like you're really hearing the true voice of the author here. It goes on a bit longer than it needs to and ends very abruptly, but it was a genuine spark of life.
Sometimes the other stories--while always solidly written--seem cautious somehow, a little flat. For instance, "Trolls" gives away its major twist in its title, and because you know exactly what's going to happen, the story seems to go on way too long, never quite reaching the suspense it wished to sustain.
The truth is, this may be a problem of the reviewer. Because I saw every twist coming (with the two exceptions mentioned), I didn't find this collection as enthralling as others might. Fahy is a talented author, and people who want scares without the explicitness of modern horror fiction will really enjoy this collection. But I wish there was more "Carnival" and a little less "Trolls."
Two and a half stars.