DarkHart Press / March 2009
Reviewed by: Joan Turner
The pianist John Mehegan once said that a good jazz musician should be able to play any tune in all twelve keys, recounts mystery writer Evan Hunter (Ed McBain) in his book McBain Duet. Hunter went on to say that he believed the same thing held true for writers, that a good writer should be able to crawl into the skin of a male murderer in Manhattan or a female librarian in Dubuque, Iowa, or be able to become a Masai warrior, a truck driver or any character he chose to convey. That achievement requires far more than the ability to string words on paper, it requires the skill of a master craftsman. Robert Dunbar has that skill, and his powerful new collection, Martyrs & Monsters, bears witness to the fact. Whether writing about traditional monsters like vampires and werewolves or modern day horrors, Dunbar’s characters breathe life into the stories, pulling the reader in and holding him as suspense mounts until the conclusion.
Martyrs & Monsters is a thrill ride in psychological horror. Readers familiar with the author’s longer works, The Pines, a novel that took the genre by storm and was hailed by many as the catalyst for the new literary movement in horror, and his strong follow up novel, The Shore, will find his short fiction equally intense and effective. Dunbar is a literary stylist who brings to his writing a deep understanding of human nature and genuine compassion for his characters.
Characters or subjects link some of the stories. “Are We Dead Yet” introduces readers to the gay lovers, Con and Tim, and plants seeds of disaster in their co-dependent and dangerous relationship that bursts into bloom in “Getting Wet.” “Red Soil,” recounts the horrors of a mother’s sacrifice and is prequel to “Gray Soil,” both reaching back to the common origins of vampires and zombies, and the two lost boys of “Like a Story” go on to become the tragic protagonists of “Killing Billie’s Boys.” These continuing stories are among the strongest in the collection.
Another outstanding tale, Dunbar’s evocative “Mal de Mer,” in a style reminiscent of classics such as Jackson’s “The Haunting Hill House,” recounts the heroine’s descent into madness. Yet as tragic as many of the stories are, a thread of hope runs throughout the stories.
In a lighter vein, one selection, “The Folly,” is a darkly humorous tale of a once wealthy southern family living in a crumbling alligator shaped mansion in the swamp who are both terrorized by and obsessed with a monster.
Martyrs & Monsters is a masterpiece, a well-written and disturbingly satisfying body of work that not only displays the range and depth of the author’s ability, but brings more literary credibility to the genre Robert Dunbar continues to help shape.
Purchase Martyrs & Monsters by Robert Dunbar.