Review: Six of the Best

This is going to sound terrible. If you read this, it seems like everything I read is wonderful or I only know how to write sycophantic reviews. Well, that’s not the case… Honestly.

You see, I had the displeasure some years ago of attending a local wrestling ‘super-show’ and I wrote how bad it was (I won’t put the link up here). I received threats of violence and even a death threat from a female wrestler who has now made a name for herself in the USA, and after that I vowed I wouldn’t write a negative review (unless distinctly requested by an editor). So now I only write reviews if I like something.

This does not mean that I write reviews of everything I like – so many of the anthologies my stories appear in are fine works, but it feels like I would say the same things over and over again. Of course, I do try to be honest in my reviews, but if it seems I like everything, that’s because if I review it I do like it.

So if I write a review, it means I really think something is worth your time.

This brings me to a new work: Six of the Best: A Hellish Half Dozen by Kevin J. Bufton, available at Amazon in paperback or on Kindle.

Regular reads of my blog will know that name – he is the editor at Cruentus Libri Press, a company which has accepted 3 of my stories and has a habit of putting out well edited and intriguing anthologies. Well, this small book is 6 of his own stories gathered from various anthologies, put out as an introduction to the man as an author, and to the Cruentus Libri range of books.

A well-written foreword by Jay Wilburn and an author’s introduction which doesn’t out-stay its welcome sets a good tone for the book. So we come to the stories.

‘Mother’s Milk’ is the first story. Now, i should say I have grown to dislike zombie stories. Cliché-ridden and filled with the same stock characters and situations. But this one is so very different. The touches of humanity that are slowly giving way beneath the gravity of the situation, and yet that still shine through in a mother’s love. Touching and certainly creepy.

Next is ‘The Shoot’. I first came across this in Lucha Gore (in which I also feature) and thought it was one of the two best stories in that volume. The tale of the Marauder is one that, if I think about it, is rather slight, but it didn’t feel that way while I was reading it. For even reading it again, as I did here, I was dragged along for the ride. A writer who can take me along even when I know how the story ends is certainly a fine writer.

Another one I’ve read before is ’53 Minutes’, from Under The Knife (again, I’m in that one as well). It’s another zombie tale that approaches the old tale from a slightly different angle. And to its credit, this one doesn’t read as horror, more as action-thriller which certainly differentiates it from the standard zombie-fic.

‘Roots’ was my pick of the bunch, a really eerie and horrific story. This is the sort of horror I like – when the mundane becomes the terrifying. The descriptions are not overblown, but they certainly don’t leave much to the imagination. And the ending is the sort of open-ended finish I like so much that I probably do it far too often, though not this well. Great piece.

The fifth story is ‘The Wren’. I think I guessed the ending about half way through, but that really didn’t matter. When a story is as well-written as this, you can get taken along so easily for the whole ride. Kevin described it as his attempt at a folk or fairy tale, and that it is – the sort of story that the original, dark, disturbing tales that fairy tales actually were.

The final is ‘Hooked’. Another zombie story, and one that is saved by the different setting and the writing. Having said that, this is the one story that did not resonate with me.

We finish with a section on notes about the stories and I am a sucker for these  (Stephen King does them for a lot of his short stories) as it intrigues me as a writer to see where the ideas of others come from and how they go about writing. The notes here are a fine way (if not a tad train-spotter-ishly) to finish the book.

Seriously, six short stories, and if you like horror you can’t really go wrong here. Kevin is not only a good editor but also a fine writer in his own right (write?). As Jay Wilburn says in the foreword:
“Kevin utilises vocabulary with precision. He builds the stories and characters well. He is concise with the space and delivers stories that are jarringly delicious horror.”

 Kevin says in his introduction that he was told that editors should not include their own works in their anthologies, but he does anyway. Well, judging by the standard of work presented here, he should have no fear that his own inclusions are a vanity – his stories deserve to be there and he deserves to be more widely read.

Thoroughly recommended.

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