Spontaneous Human Combustion by Richard Thomas

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‘Transgressive, dark and masterfully written – with ‘Spontaneous Human Combustion’ Thomas forces the reader to run the gamut of human emotions. With beguiling and devastating prose one can’t help but see the beauty in the macabre morsels Thomas has given us to consume. A truly breathtaking collection.’

Repent – I don’t know whether it’s because I’m a father or not, or that Richard Thomas wrote this story to within an inch of its life, but this story has all the feels. Unsettling, heartrending, tragic, painful – it ran the gamut of emotions and I for one couldn’t help but stand (or sit) back in amazement at what I’d just consumed. Our protagonist has a choice to make, or is it more a sacrifice to save his child from the cruel hand they’ve been dealt – it’s not easy but is love easy? The love that really means something, that sacrificial type of unity and devotion – this story is a perfect way to start this collection and showcases the powerhouse that is Richard Thomas.

Clown Face – This story is ominous, dark and so well done. Thomas makes you think one thing and then subverts that thinking to throw a fox amongst the chickens – this one really does have bite. The descriptions in this story showcase again the brilliance of Thomas and his grip on literary horror, there is beauty in his words, in his depictions of the macabre that you just don’t find in any book – these descriptions coupled with the wonderful sleight of hand in the story make this a wonderfully short but creepy read.

Requital – This is a story of pain and suffering and how much the soul can endure – our protagonist finds himself in a purgatory, eternal damnation awaits him and it’s all of his own making. Each time he wakes he sees the girl, it’s always the girl, and there is no escaping her or the pain and suffering that follows. I love how Thomas gives us just enough to make us know why he’s here, each part of the story builds the bigger picture and he allows the reader to fill in those gaps without overtly spelling it out (and i for one appreciated that) – many transgressions have led Graysen here and he’ll pay for every one…. ‘Open your eyes, Graysen.’

Battle Not With Monsters – A nightmarish vision into a serial killers mind – Thomas paints this in stunning lyrical prose, detailing fabulously the conflicting thoughts, the need to be discovered and the anxiety of the chase. This one builds to a fabulously dark and visceral ending (which I loved) which reminded me of American Psycho and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer in tone – also there is no mistaking there are some Ed Gein and Jeffrey Dahmer seasoning too.

Saudade – A prophet like being walks a dystopian landscape in a never ending loop; trying to change what is to come. Think Groundhog Day blended with elements of Mad Max or a film where some virus has wiped out the population – or better yet a darl spin on Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’.

Hiraeth – A coming of age tale drenched in folklore and wonder. A young boy and his family struggle to survive in a desolate wasteland of a town, their only chance of survival selling their crop for things that will last them in the harsh winter – but the boy finds something else in the town that his heart desires more than the supplies he brings home after each trip.

Nodus Tollens – In ‘Nodus Tollens’ you would be mistaken for believing it were a long lost story by Richard Matheson. This one reads like the demented offspring of his story ‘The Box’ in tone and execution, but having said that it’s given that very Richard Thomas twist. A man at a poker game where the stakes are high gets more than he ever bargained for from a stranger.

How Not To Come Undone – After watching a meteorite shower a set of twins soon discover that they got more than they bargained for that night as they develop some additional skills, new attributes that some celebrate and worship, bringing offerings to the special children with the gifts from the stars.

From Within – This is an interesting story, I don’t think I’ve seen Thomas do science fiction before, but I have to say I’m a fan, this is dark sci-fi (is that even a thing?) – the story of a man and his son as they struggle to survive this new way of life, a life of mining and providing for those that watch over them, those that rule. But what can the boy offer that will suffice?

The Caged Bird Sings In A Darkness Of Its Own Creation – I was lucky enough to have read this story a couple of years ago now, Richard Thomas was invited to enter a story for an anthology I was pulling together with STORGY called ‘Shallow Creek’ – he was the perfect fit for our crazy little town, but he didn’t have an easy task, Richard’s story had to take in all of the stories before it and come up with a fitting conclusion – and he smashed it out of the park! This is Thomas at his lyrical best, a literary horror story told with beauty and an innate darkness that drips from every line, this ones about a clown again… but I don’t think anyone could guess where this story goes!

In His House – A story in the form of a rescue letter or suicide note… you make up your mind. This one has Lovecraft vibes and the writer of the letter really resonates with the reader. I enjoyed the aspect that this was a letter sent out into the world, so end up on lampposts, some on the internet, email and also some appearing in collections / anthologies. That was a cool twist!

Open Waters – What one will do to escape their current predicament, our protagonist escapes into virtual reality to flee from his life and the way the world is, but what happens when he decides to stay a little longer than he should? Another science fiction story from Thomas that has its feet firmly planted in something Philip K Dick would write – I figured the ending out a little earlier than I should but it still makes a powerful read!

Undone – This story would fit firmly in the weird fiction category; along with Thomas’ grasp on dark fiction – it’s a tale of survival, of birth and transformation, told under the canopy of a dystopian world. Where things are not as they seem, where birth is a transcendence into the great unknown.

Ring of Fire

The longest story of the bunch and with that comes a fabulously woven tale from Thomas which allows him time to craft a truly memorable tale that is dark and sinister in tone, told with the backdrop of confinement, isolation and dread. I won’t go into this story in too much detail because Thomas has many threads in this story and to pull on one will unravel it for the reader – I’ll just say that what he achieves is truly masterful!

Spontaneous Human Combustion is published through Turner Publishing and is available here.

Richard Thomas

Richard Thomas is the award-winning author of eight books: three novels—Disintegration and Breaker (Penguin Random House Alibi), as well as Transubstantiate (Otherworld Publications); four short story collections—Staring Into the Abyss (Kraken Press), Herniated Roots (Snubnose Press), Tribulations (Cemetery Dance), and Spontaneous Human Combustion (Turner Publishing); and one novella in The Soul Standard (Dzanc Books). With over 165 stories published, his credits include The Best Horror of the Year (Volume Eleven), Cemetery Dance (twice), Behold!: Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable Wonders (Bram Stoker winner), PANK, storySouth, Gargoyle, Weird Fiction Review, Midwestern Gothic, Shallow Creek, The Seven Deadliest, Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories, Qualia Nous, Chiral Mad (numbers 2-4), PRISMS, Pantheon, and Shivers VI (with Stephen King and Peter Straub). He has won contests at ChiZine and One Buck Horror, has received five Pushcart Prize nominations, and has been long-listed for Best Horror of the Year six times. He was also the editor of four anthologies: The New Black and Exigencies (Dark House Press), The Lineup: 20 Provocative Women Writers (Black Lawrence Press) and Burnt Tongues (Medallion Press) with Chuck Palahniuk. He has been nominated for the Bram Stoker, Shirley Jackson, Thriller, and Audie awards. In his spare time he is a columnist at Lit Reactor. He was the Editor-in-Chief at Dark House Press and Gamut Magazine. His agent is Paula Munier at Talcott Notch. For more information visit www.whatdoesnotkillme.com.

Reviewed by Ross Jeffery


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