What I love about Gary Buller and his work is that you never know what you’re going to get. Each journey into his fabulously crafted stories and deranged mind, bring with it apprehension and dread, that the words you are going to read will taint you in some way, and for me, that is the mark of a great horror and dark fiction writer, to be able to put the reader on edge just by the mention of the writers name… and Dead and Breakfast is no exception.
What I really enjoyed about Dead and Breakfast was the structure, the way he grounded his collection within an ongoing story and narrative that is on its own scary as hell – two people on their way to a party, find themselves lost and their car has broken down, they eventually seek sanctuary in an old hotel to rest and recover,and where their host begins to entertain them with her own creative writing (these are our short stories), whilst they sit and warm themselves by the fire and wait for their rooms to be prepared.
Edgar Allan Poe’s poem springs to mind here ‘All that we see or seem, is but a dream within a dream.‘ – but with Dead and Breakfast we find ourselves in a nightmare within a dream, and we soon discover that things are not quite what they seem, but there is no waking from this nightmare that our protagonists have entered – the only way to escape is to read until the very end.
Due to this being a short story collection I will only touch on the stories that are held within as to speak too much at length would contain too many spoilers and this is a collection that deserves your attention and time – we have many themes and genres on show in Dead and Breakfast ranging from the Toxic Masculinity of The Brace, the dystopian horror fest that is Cords, the sci-fi infused The Weight of Nostalgia and the haunting and unnerving story of The Greyfriars Transcript.
Cords starts with a sci-fi element that soon reveals that we are in a dystopian future – we soon learn through our protagonist that there has been an invasion where these worm like creatures have populated the planet and we are enslaved to their cravings. The cords are delivered and the recipient has to answer them, like Alison’s family before her, her time was fast approaching, you see once you have reached your forty-fifth birthday you are duty bound to present yourself or be taken by the cords to the fissure, and from which you are never to return. This story is dripping with the menace of H.P. Lovecraft, the imagination of Philip K Dick and the sci-fi meld of Frank Herbert’s Dune – a stunning story to start this most beguilingly horror laced collection, and sets the benchmark for what is to come.
I have recently finished my own collection (a Novella-In-Flash called Tethered) that centres around a father and son and deals heavily with the themes of toxic masculinity, and it’s something that is very personal to me, so when I started reading The Brace, I was astounded by Buller’s brutal portrayal of this theme, it was thick with it, you could almost feel its suffocating embrace and how it destroys life and love and childhoods, moulding a child into something abhorrent and wasting. It focuses on a father and son on a hunting trip (what could go wrong I hear you cry), the son wants desperately to belong, to not disappoint his father, to be a son, but there is a secret history here and Buller masterfully unravels this with time and it builds to a disturbing vision or terror and vengeance, a story not to be missed.
The Weight of Nostalgia was a funny story, as whilst I was reading it, I kept on thinking about the visuals that Buller throws into the mix, I could imagine myself there, my own nostalgia coming to the surface, he mad me feel warm and fuzzy and reminiscent of a bygone time, and then he smashed it completely, a devastatingly brutal story that goes wherever the hell it will. This story is heavily influenced by the Twilight Zone, science fiction and I’d say Quantum Leap (nostalgic I know!) but it’s all held together by an exoskeleton of horror, I bloody loved it!
The Greyfriars Transcript was a haunting tale that set me on edge from the opening passages, a fabulously woven story full of the uncanny – my only gripe here would be that I wanted more from this story – it’s the shortest story of the collection, but I just wanted more of Buller’s words and this story. It was reminiscent of Sylvia Plath’s ‘Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom‘ but told in that no nonsense way that Buller writes in, heavy on the horror and dread.
But there is the ongoing narrative of which I alluded to at the start and after this final story we head back to the ensuing nightmare that our cast of characters find themselves in, and there is no hope, no holding back as Buller takes us by the scruff of the neck through to the stories conclusion, you want to look away but Buller’s hand is firmly on your skull and he makes you see the nightmares.
Dead and Breakfast is a feast of horrific delights, if you’ve not discovered Buller’s magic before, this is a great place to start!
Dead and Breakfast is published by Unnerving and is available here.
Gary Buller is an author from Manchester England where he lives with his long suffering partner Lisa, and his daughter Holly. He is a huge fan of all things macabre having grown up reading King and Koontz and loves a tale with a twist.
Reviewed by Ross Jeffery
Read our review of Last Meal in Osaka & Other Stories here.
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