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Horror as a genre often has a way with tackling issues in ways that hit deep into the psyche. Instead of performing a realistic human drama to highlight the fears and anxieties we keep, horror can find ways to make it strike into something deeper in our consciousness. I was given the opportunity receive a copy to review Face the Music by Mark Towse.
Face the Music is a horror short-story anthology. Each story runs relatively short, with 22 stories running over 178 pages. Every short story is isolated from each other, covering a wide variety of themes and premises. The stories cover plenty of horror motifs, including ghosts, demons, and other malevolent forces.
Where Face the Music shines the most is the way it explores fear. Towse has a way with making shorter, punchier stories that never overstay their welcome while still maintaining a good amount of fear and dread; however, it also never ends before it gets good either. Towse keeps a great grasp over the amount of information the reader needs to know to feel satisfied but terrified. Some of the themes that Face the Music touches on in these stories feel deep and interesting. Some stories explore grief, anxiety, and PTSD in metaphors and descriptions that invoke emotions in a way only good horror can. In general, the malevolent forces in this anthology are interesting and varied. One of my personal favorite stories describes a teen being consumed by anger in the form of a malevolent briar as he gets tormented by bullies. The internal monologue threaded through the story paces itself extremely well as the main character is consumed.
This may go without saying, but if you’re squeamish or easily scared, this is not the book for you. Some of the descriptions of gore are hard to read at times, though there is only one story where I did have to get up and walk around after before resuming the book. Also, if themes such as suicide do put you off, then approach this book with discretion.
As much as I enjoyed the book as a whole, I did have a couple criticisms. While the writing shines in regard to horror descriptions or pacing internal monologues, more dynamic scenes that change location quickly sometimes come off as confusing. There is a running scene in one story that I had to reread a couple times since I realized I had misinterpreted what was happening. In service of keeping the story pace clipping and raise tensions, some details may have been lost, causing the scene to instead become more confusing than tense. Another issue I had is more of an issue with story order. There is a long run of stories for which women are the murder victims. The affect was off-putting and became difficult to read on. It ultimately took away from the actual stories—one just wanted to get through them after awhile. Spreading them out would have allowed the stories to be appreciated more otherwise.
Overall, I would definitely recommend Face the Music for any fan of the horror genre or anyone curious about getting into it. The stories create threats that are actually scary, while sometimes even making interesting parallels with our real, human struggles in this world. If what I described in this review sounds interesting to you, definitely give this book a shot.
Face the Music by Mark Towse
Publisher: All Things that Matter Press
Release Date: January, 27th 2020
You can find Face the Music for purchase on Amazon here.