Full Throttle by Joe Hill

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I was thrilled to get Full Throttle in the post for reviewing for a number of reasons, one it contained two stories co authored with his father – the great Stephen King, and two I personally felt a little short changed by his novella collection Strange Weather – there were two remarkable stories in there, but the rest were quite forgettable (which was a shame as I love Joe Hill’s writing). So, when I tore open the envelope and discovered this beautiful collection of stories inside, so many stories, I couldn’t contain my excitement!

This collection is a real return to form for Joe Hill, and in my opinion every single one of them hit home like an axe to the head. There were stories of down right horror, haunting tales that made you feel unease and dread, then there were stories that made me want to run for the hills and hide – a real unease found within his prose. I found the collection to be a real diverse selection of modern horror – but each grounded in the uncanny, the peculiar and the strange. Horror has many faces and with Full Throttle, Hill shows us them all in blinding clarity, each face haunts us until we can gaze upon it no more!

The introduction to this collection is also another highlight for me, we get to delve into the mindset of a writer who has Stephen King and Tabitha King as parents, and how he dealt with the pressures of writing, having to make it on his own, and the burden of expectation and the innumerable comparisons that would be made. It was also great to read about the influential films and literature that played a part in creating Joe Hill the writer and when reading this and then delving into the stories, one can’t help but see the links between the two, a thin and delicate thread that pulls us through the collection and finding these links, these connections was another fabulous detail about the collected stories.

As I mentioned this is a collection that is all killer and no filler – so I’ll only be focusing on a handful of the stories for this review, as it’s best to discover this gem of collected works for yourself – to find the nightmares brought into blinding clarity and have them haunt your own minds, like they have mine. So, as they say in the theatre, on with the show!

Throttle – follows the lives of a biker gang that are returning after discovering that their meth lab has gone up in flames, but there is something else, something that none of the group want to talk about, something haunting that lingers in their eyes. Shit went sideways, and they got the hell out of there – but brought the horrors with them. Throttle reads like a fucked up blend of Sons of Anarchy, Easy Rider and Stephen Spielberg’s Duel – a superb, non-stop concoction that lives long in the memory, and perfectly highlights what makes monsters of men. Hill masterfully gives life to the beast of a truck called Laughlin (or Slaughterin) tremendously well, turning this truck into a living, breathing, mirthless killing machine (think Christine but on steroids) – it was a fully fleshed out character in it’s own right, and reminded me of the brilliance of Peter Benchley and the characterisations he was able to achieve with the shark in Jaws. The tale builds to an unforgettable conclusion – full of action, dread and inescapable consequences – a bloody road trip to hell and back!

Dark Carousel – I loved this story, it was freaky as hell and a non-stop thrill ride. On a pier sits a dark carousel that has been created from the salvaged scraps of other crazed contraptions – including a lovely nod to Something Wicked This Way Comes, as one of the horses on the carousel is from Cooger’s circus (if you read the introduction you’ll know that Hill has some great passion for Ray Bradbury’s work and this was a great homage, an Easter Egg as it were for fans of both Bradbury and horror alike) and just when you think that’s it Joe Hill also mentions that another item was donated from ‘Christmas Land‘ run by Manx (this is of course Hill quoting his own source material of N0S4A2). The story follows a group of friends who steal from the operator of the carousel, who they believe had stolen their money, we later find out this was a misunderstanding but already the wheels of revenge are already in motion and there is no way of stopping the coming storm. What we have here is a dark revenge story that chills the reader to their very core – as the charred and disturbing beasts of the carousel follow the fleeing friends into the night, hunting them down and serving a justice that is hard to swallow. Pure unadulterated, unfiltered horror and I bloody loved it.

In The Tall Grass – well it’s clear to say that King has a penchant for corn fields and has put me off ever running through one (unlike Theresa May – who by all accounts loves to run free), but with this co-authored story with his son they’ve only gone and tainted fields of tall grass too. This is a claustrophobic, tense, fear inducing ride into the horrors of the unknown. The whole story from the outset pulls you in, the prose and mastery on show keeps you locked in this void of existing and not existing all at once. You want to run away screaming, you want to hide, you want to get the hell out of there, but Hill and King seem to keep pulling you back, smothering you with a slow broiling horror that is as suffocating as it is intoxicating. Once you’re In The Tall Grass there is no escape, and after reading this story you can be sure you’ll never escape the horror that lingers after you finish. A haunting masterpiece in short horror fiction!

I realise that two of these stories were the ones that were co-authored with his father, but they were two of my favourites, so you’ll have to forgive me for that – they read like dynamite in your hand, and at their conclusions it was like I was staring at a bloodied mangled stump, completely transfixed by the horrors I’d just witnessed. But I guess that’s what you get when you have two masters of the genre writing together, you get lightening in a bottle and this collection is just that!

The other stories in the collection all hold their own, each draw the reader into a sprawling nightmare of writing that has no end – two other stories that I enjoyed very much were Wolverton Station which was as weird as it was frightening and Faun which was like a messed up hunting safari in Narnia.

The waters are dark with Full Throttle and something pulls at you from beneath the surface, dragging you into the depths of depravity and fear – of which there is no escape. Making this collection a full throttled road trip into the depths of personal hell’s – a remarkable collection where each story seals a nail on your coffin, leaving you trapped and shaking with fear within.

Full Throttle is published by Gollancz and is available here.

Joe Hill

Joe Hill is a recipient of the Ray Bradbury Fellowship and the winner of the A.E. Coppard Long Fiction Prize, William Crawford, World Fantasy, British Fantasy, Bram Stoker and International Horror Guild Awards. His short fiction has appeared in literary, mystery and horror collections and magazines in Britain and America. For more information, visit http://www.joehillfiction.com, visit joehillsthrills.tumblr.com, or follow @Joe_Hill on twitter.

Reviewed by Ross Jeffery

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