A band with no digital footprint leaves an audience mostly dead; a phone’s AI goes haywire, taking liberties that threaten its owner’s life; something sinister hides inside a conversion therapy school; and more in Leigh Harlen’s first short story collection, Blood Like Garnets: Haunting Tales of Terror. These eight tales, rooted in old school horror, are best when Harlen mixes in social commentary.
The title story reimagines and reinvigorates Richard Connell’s classic story “The Most Dangerous Game.” Blood Like Garents flips the point of view, telling the story from the hunter’s perspective. He picks his target because “Judging by her aesthetic, [she] probably [had] homophobic parents. That was good. Less likely to have a change of heart and go looking for her” (82). This is one of the many times throughout the collection that the real-life horror depicted scares the supernatural elements.
The way Harlen experiments with perspective in many of the stories in the collection is another highlight. In “This House is Not Haunted” and “Karaoke,” Harlen includes dueling points of view, presenting the thoughts of haunted structures in contrast with the humans’ thoughts trying to escape them. They also do excellent work fabricating documents, calling back to the epistolary form that was popular at horror fiction’s advent.
Stories like “The New Flesh” (which does not appear to be a reference to the New Flesh in David Cronenberg’s Videodrome) are too familiar to be interesting. While the story does have a strong ending, the witch taking blood sacrifices to reanimate her dead son feels like a cliché. “The New Flesh” is also missing a connection to the modern world. Not all horror needs that, but the stories in Blood Like Garnets without that commentary pale compared to ones that have it.
Each of the eight stories in the collection is adorned by a black-and-white illustration from Maria Nguyen. These images add another layer of creepiness to the collection. Nguyen’s style has confident lines, and she frequently decides to imply rather than depict the monsters, instead playing up the spooky atmosphere. There is at least one illustration that long-time fans will love because it pays tribute to legendary horror comic auteur Junji Ito.
Formed in 2017, TKO’s primary focus is graphic novels, and the illustrations seem a logical step in their production. Blood Like Garnets is their first prose book. There was at least one hiccup: the text size changes between paragraphs and pages throughout the book.
In the follow up to her 2020 novel Queens of Noise, Harlen gives audiences eight scary stories. Accompanied by beautiful black-and-white illustrations from Maria Nguyen, some of these tales will terrify you while others will feel a bit stale. Harlen is at their best when they shake up old school horror by dragging it into the modern-day.
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|Pub Date: November 17, 2020||Page Count: 160pp||Age Range: 18 & Over|
|ISBN: 978-1-9522-0373-2||Publisher: TKO Studios||List Price: $14.99|