We’re going to try something different today.
As a burgeoning indie writer, one of the first things I learned is that the community is awesome. There are a lot of people in the same position as me–or those who’ve been there before–and they’re willing to help out. So I’m going to start a new segment on this blog to do my part: reviewing works by indie writers. This will be ongoing, but I can’t promise a regular weekly column (I don’t have that much time to read!). I’ll try to do at least one review every couple weeks.
For our first review, we have Ryan Casey’s Something in the Cellar, which you can find on Amazon here. This is a collection of two horror/suspense stories and an except from What We Saw, Casey’s upcoming novel.
Something in the Cellar opens the book, and it’s got a great premise: a woman has killed her husband and locked the body in the cellar. She spends the story wracked with guilt, rationalizing her actions–all while trying to keep her dog and young son from discovering the crime.
This story could have gone a lot of different ways. After I read the first paragraphs, I expected the protagonist to be a hands-rubbing-together villain, and the story to centre on her vile crime. Thankfully, that’s not the case; Sandra ends up being a layered figure, and nothing is as it seems. The reader quickly gets on her side, not because of her motives (which are revealed gradually) but out of empathy. She’s a genuinely likeable character, despite what she’s done.
Likewise, I expected something different from the tension and its resolution. I don’t want to spoil the story, so suffice it to say that what you think is causing the tension is resolved, only to reveal a new source in the last pages. The end of the story comes at the reader very quickly, and Casey’s use of short sentences and tense language creates a creepy atmosphere. This is one of those stories where, after reading the last sentence, you set it down just to catch your breath. I honestly didn’t see it coming, and wanted to read more–but the “hang” is perfectly effective as it is, and resolving it would have lessened the work.
Next is The Runaway. It opens at breakneck speed, and the reader is left feeling like they’re chasing the protagonist. All the while, questions are being asked; the protagonist doesn’t know who or where she is, or even why she’s running. But she knows she must keep going.
This story is tense for a different reason than the first. It’s not frightening, really, but there’s an underlying ‘creepiness’ to it. Because the reader knows just as little as the protagonist, they are left in the dark, grasping every clue in an attempt to figure it out. Casey is good at giving those clues bit by bit, just slowly enough to keep you interested without being vague. This means a loss of power for the reader; when we read a story, we want to be in control, to be able to figure things out at our own pace and revel in the deduction. Casey takes that away from the reader, and the result is unsettling, in a good way.
However, I felt that the resolution for this story wasn’t as satisfying as Something in the Cellar. I was a bit confused by the end; although I got the gist of what Casey was saying, certain details were lacking. Instead of creating subtle questions for the reader that they could answer on their own–which I think was the writer’s intent–it left me wondering about the motives of the characters. I still think it’s a great story, but it could have used some clarification in the final pages.
All in all, this is a great collection, and it’s a steal at $0.99. In my short time as an indie writer, I’ve read a good amount of other indie fiction, and Casey definitely stands apart from the crowd. He has a talent for creating tension, and seems to understand that true horror writing isn’t about scaring your readers–it’s about leaving them unsettled enough that they scare themselves.
Ryan Casey has another short story–Silhouette–which is also available at Amazon here. His first full length novel, What We Saw–is set for release in January 2013. You can find Ryan online at ryancaseybooks.com.
And stay tuned for tomorrow’s post, where we’ll be talking to the man himself!