While sifting through Smashwords for some new gruesome fiction, I’d quickly bailed on a couple of amateurish pieces before stumbling across H.K. Hillman. I wasn’t familiar with this author, but a brief sample suggested that I’d chanced upon a plump steak amid the gristle. And as they were free, I downloaded the three short stories on offer, and found some literate, vivid and rather entertaining old-school horror.
Room Service begins with tongue-in-cheek licence notes, warning readers that the events of the story probably won’t happen to them, setting an appropriately wry tone. Then we meet Bob, a jaded cemetery nightwatchman and his colleague trudging through their usual nocturnal routine. But in this necropolis, the coffins are fitted with emergency buzzers should anybody be accidentally buried alive, and one of them starts to go off. One that’s been buried for several weeks. Grisly goings on ensue of course, and it turns out to be an engaging ride that could’ve been an old episode of Tales from the Crypt. The dialogue is strong, despite being interrupted occasionally by excess description, and the tale has a likeable lead player and a grim pay-off.
It’s Halloween in Bernie’s Bargain, a shorter tale, and we’re introduced to an elderly gentlemen angered by a late night trick or treater. A skeletal figure wearing a black robe and wielding a scythe. But the old fella isn’t the least bit impressed, and there’s some genuinely amusing discourse between the two characters, a genuine eye for detail, and a clever biblical take on the legend of the grim reaper. It’s probably the lightest of these 3 tales with shades of Pratchett, and the conclusion delivers a wicked tweak.
A Little Knowledge… tells of Jimmy and Javier, two hardworking brothers who run a farm. But when Javier, the brains of the pair, introduces his brawny, poorly educated brother to the library and the joys of reading, we discover just how dangerous misunderstood or partial knowledge can be. Although I was jarred by a couple of clunky informative paragraphs, it rolls along nicely and becomes a solid meld of whimsy and hellfire.
Overall, I was glad to discover H.K. Hillman. His fiction breathes with a sense of devilish fun, and the dialogue gives it life. The characters are well realised, so there’s empathy to be had, though I noticed that the cast of these stories is exclusively male.
The author sometimes has a tendency to over-explain, which can be slightly frustrating, and to unecessarily describe what has been inferred. But these tales are all well paced, building to a gleeful twist, none of which feel stale. The sting in the tail is a tricky feat, but achieved here every time. These aren’t predictable, nor are they those annoying stories that rely solely on their punchline.
Click the links above for the Smashwords freebies, and if you like, visit the author’s site here. He has a novel and a couple of collections for sale, and to be honest, I’m rather tempted.