John F.D. Taff is an author who has more than 65 short stories and seven novels in print but I had never heard of him until I read his short story Cold Calls within the excellent anthology Best New Vampire Tales Vol I. I absolutely loved Cold Calls and the unlikely hero of the piece, Buddy Burnett.
It was without hesitation that I started to read Little Deaths; a collection of Taff’s own short stories.
The following synopsis provides an introduction to the author’s work:
“You think you’ve got bad dreams? Consider author John F.D. Taff’s nightmares. How about the one where a guy resurrects his dead girlfriend with a set of the prop neck bolts used on Boris Karloff in the 1932 classic Frankenstein? Or one where the ghost of the author’s dead dog keeps coming back to entice him into death so they can be together? Or the one where a guy loves candy…to death?
Taff has the kind of nightmares no one really wants. But it’s nightmares like these that give him plenty of ideas to explore; ideas that he’s turned into the short stories he shares in this new collection Little Deaths.
Little Deaths features 19 pieces of short horror fiction; some have appeared previously in print elsewhere, others appear for the first time here. All of them are chilling, weird looks at the human condition from a decidedly dark perspective.”
I often find the quality of anthologies can vary wildly and although I was a fan of the author’s work that I had encountered before, I had only read one piece by him…
What we have here in Little Deaths is a selection of Taff’s best work from his career and some new pieces that are not only novel in nature but are sure to entertain; and as is suggested in the title, death is ever present in every story within. Each tale within Taff’s anthology is very different and although it may well be criticised for not being outright horror, I would suggest that this book sits quite nicely within the genre. The overarching feeling permeating throughout all of Taff’s work in Little Deaths is something that is reminiscent of episodes of The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits. The author moves between science-fiction type tales, the macabre, psychological thriller, body-horror and more, effortlessly whilst maintaining his distinctly charming, pulpy and entertaining writing style. This style may be attributable to the fact that Taff seems to stick to the advice “Write what you know, write what you love”; since there seems to be a little bit of the author in many of his stories. Some of the highlights for me within Little Deaths were:
The Mire of Human Veins: A neat little story about a young girl with an overbearing mother that is decidely macabre and doesn’t quite turn out the way I had anticipated…
Helping Hands: A wonderfully enjoyable story about Victorian body horror that has the feel of a weird Sherlock Holmes tale.
The Mellified Man: A well-researched short story that turns out to be a veritable modern day fairytale that is filled with moral messages where one man’s sweet tooth proves to be his undoing.
Here: Despite being a horror yarn, this is an incredibly personal and touching short story where it is perhaps most evident that the author has poured much of his heart and soul into the telling of the tale.
Box of Rocks: This particular tale genuinely shocked me. Taff guides you through one man’s violent upbringing, with an ending that has tremendous impact.
The Tontine: This, among all of Taff’s tales here, was undoubtedly my favourite. For me, this was Taff’s love letter to the way the genre was and should be, while slickly commenting on the current state of horror simultaneously.
Despite his clear fondness for the classics of the genre, Taff’s stories contained within Little Deaths are unique and don’t rely on horror archetypes in the traditional sense of the genre; no mean feat in and of itself.
There is effectively a story here to cater for all horror tastes and I am of the opinion that Little Deaths would be perfect for the horror fan seeking to get back into reading; or perhaps for the reader who does not have the time or patience to settle into a full novel due to other commitments.
Little Deaths can be picked up for your Kindle for £2.60/ $4.11… that works out at 13p / 21c a story! What are you waiting for?!