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Voyeurs of Death
By Shaun Jeffrey
Doorways Publications / ISBN: 978-0-615-14567-9
It's always a crap-shoot here whenever a book of horror stories gets sent along for possible review; because although I'm a slobbering fan of certain types of genres (science-fiction, for example), and try to champion and defend good genre work here as much as possible, it's also true that I in particular just don't happen to be much of a fan of horror specifically (nor romance, nor crime, nor westerns, nor a whole series of other popular genres). And that's always the problem with genre work, and why it's called that in the first place, and why people are always slagging on it versus so-called "mainstream fiction" -- because the majority of it appeals only to existing fans of that genre, and only by delivering in spades all the fetishistic details associated with that genre, not because of it being a good book in general that will appeal to a broad cross-section of the population.
Take for example Shaun Jeffrey's story collection Voyeurs of Death, put out by basement press Doorways Publications; because the fact is that as a non-fan of horror, I can't say I particularly cared for it, although acknowledge that genre fans are sure to like it a lot more than I did. And indeed, Jeffrey has certainly proven his chops within the horror community already; nearly every story found here has already been published in one various fanzine or another, and in fact I can easily picture most of these pieces providing exactly eight minutes of light entertainment while sitting on the toilet with the latest issue of Phantasmagoratroninomicon. (Ah, who can ever forget the '70s glory days of Phantasmagoratroninomicon?) But that's the precise problem with these stories too, is that they barely exist from a general literary standpoint, with many of them being essentially eight-minute experiments in yelling "BOO!," using sometimes a whole collection of the most hackneyed tropes found in the entire genre. A "haunted" Scottish tourist-trap island turns out to actually be haunted...a crazed serial killer thinks she's the Tooth Fairy...witch-like older women use their quilting club as a cover for nefarious supernatural deeds; none of them are exactly bad premises, and none of them are written particularly badly, but neither do any of them seem to exist much beyond their cliched premises either.
Take for a very typical example the story "The Watchers" (and yes, I'm about to reveal the end of this particular story, so skip to the next paragraph now if you don't want it spoiled), which starts with an intriguing idea that had me interested from the get-go, of a young British couple who decide one night to actually participate in the urban legend of "dogging" (that is, having sex in your car in rural public places like parks and highway rest-stops, while others gather around the car and watch through the windows, a source of fascination for many Brits but something much more often talked about than actually done); but then just barely a couple of pages into it, it's revealed that the woman is actually a Satanist and that this was all an elaborate ruse to get her new boyfriend out into the woods in the middle of the night, at which point he's kidnapped and presumably chopped up or eaten or burned alive or whatever it is that dumpy suburban British satanic dogging enthusiasts are into these days.
And...um, well, that's it, a story with an entire plotline of, "Dude goes into the woods and gets killed," not exactly a satisfying read for someone like me who doesn't naturally care for Satanists or dark woods or any of the other details seen here. And that's why such books are always so tricky to review here, because it's actually not that bad a story for those who do naturally love such details, who legitimately are looking for just a small well-done scare and nothing else. So in that sense, then, Voyeurs of Death very much earns the solidly middle-of-the-road score it's receiving today; it'll be a pleasant surprise for those into such writers as, say, Joe Hill, yet can be easily skipped guilt-free by those who aren't. It should be kept in mind before picking up a copy.
Out of 10: 7.5
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