Mark Mathews’ Wicked Run Press has assembled quite the cast to share these stories of addiction horror. A mixture of novellas, short stories and a flash fiction piece, ‘Garden of Fiends’ is not a happy reading experience but it is an incredibly fascinating and at times grim one. These are dark tales set against a backdrop of fear, addiction and self-loathing where families are ripped apart and relationships are left in tatters. Some of these stories will infect your conscious, burying themselves deep inside of your mind, leaving you scarred and itching to read more.
Things get off to a truly excellent start with Kealan Patrick Burke’s tale of alcohol addiction. A man is plagued by his past in this dark tale that has elements of the supernatural cleverly woven throughout. It is a strong start to the anthology and sets the bar high for the rest of the book. With the second story, Jessica McHugh takes us into the future with a quite bizarre excerpt from her ‘Green Kangaroos’ novel. Perry is a drug addict. Atlys is his drug of choice, a narcotic best experienced when injected into the testicles! The cost of being an Atlys addict though is high and it might cost you a few body parts in order to pay for it! This is a great story and I highly recommend picking up a copy of the before-mentioned novel by McHugh to fully experience this drug-fuelled dystopia. Editor Mark Matthews’ is up next and his story is typically heartbreaking. It paints a vivid picture of a family torn apart by drug addiction as we follow a father who will go to extreme lengths to help cure his daughter. Harrowing and brilliant.
The flash fiction piece by Johann Thorsson, up next feels a little out-of-place. Being a flash piece it doesn’t really deliver the depth I think is required for this sort of subject matter. I would’ve much preferred a short story with a little more meat. There is nothing wrong with the writing, I just wanted a bit more. John F.D. Taff is a huge favourite of mine and although his tale is short, it has that trademark Taff quality to it. It is the story of a man provided with the opportunity of a quick fix for his alcoholism. Ted accepts the fix and life moves on in a wonderful new direction but there are consequences that lurk further down the line. A really original story with a sucker-punch ending, I really enjoyed it. Glen Kirsch also delivers an excellent tale about demons and addiction. Very unsettling, well-written and damn creepy too. I really need to be reading more of Glen’s work.
So, this brings us to the novella by Max Booth III. It features some of Booth’s trademark dark humour and also provides a welcome change in tone. It is still a dark story but there are some laugh out load moments and some great dialogue too. The opening few paragraphs will have you asking WTF? But things settle down and a fine, amusing but at times sickening tale unfolds. Jack Ketchum has the final word with his short story ‘Returns’. As with Johann Thorssen’s tale, it is a little too short for my liking and I craved a little more depth, though it is Jack Ketchum, so it’s well-written, haunting and once again it approaches the subject matter differently from the other stories.
‘Garden of Fiends’ is a very solid anthology, a quality group of writers have done a great job in creating dark, often bleak tales of suffering, self-loathing, despair and horror. Certainly with most of the stories I found myself heavily invested in the characters and their families. If you enjoy themed anthologies then ‘Garden of Fiends’ is definitely one to add to your collection.