THE MAD AND THE MACABRE by Jeff Strand and Michael McBride (2010 Dark Regions Press / 186 pp / tp)
The two novellas contained here are both equally terrifying in their own way, and while the ending of the second tale left me wanting, this is an overall good time.
Jeff Strand's KUTTER tells the story of Charlie Stanlon, a forty-two year-old, nerdy serial killer who tortures women in his sound-proofed basement by night and works a typical office job by day. He has a lot of self-made rules (including ONLY kidnapping one woman every two months). After he rescues a Boston Terrier one freezing-cold night at a local park, Charlie's life begins to change. He begins--for the first time in his life--to have feelings for someone other than himself. He eventually names the dog Kutter, and finds himself giving it more and more space in his home as well as his life. Things take a bad turn one night when he goes off his schedule and--on impulse--kidnaps a door-to-door salesgirl. Strand does a terrific job of making the reader care for this low-life serial killer, and I found myself actually cheering him on when he finally accepts a co-worker's inviation to come out of his shell and hang out with some people from the job at a local bar. KUTTER is a grim little story that manages to end on a semi-positive note, and even has a slight twist thrown in.
Michael McBride's REMAINS has a great set-up: a couple of years after some religious college students disappear while seeking proof of their faith in an isolated forest in Boulder, Colorado, a few of the missing students' siblings get together to take another look for them after local officials have continued to come up with no answers. One of them, Brent Cavenaugh, a college proffesor, has discovered something that has inspired him to head this search...and while he tells his companions what he has found, he doesn't tell them everything.
McBride does a wicked job here of building (not only) some serious suspense, but an expectation that kept me flipping the pages as quick as I could. When we finally discover what happened to the missing students, I continued on, psyched to see the final answer. But, when we discover the promised mystery of life, it was nothing readers of "Fate" magazine or followers of paranormal programs haven't heard a thousand times before. REMAINS is a very well written, suspenseful novella, I just wish the ending went for something a bit more unusual.
Despite this one minor flaw, I still recommend THE MAD AND THE MACABRE for those seeking some genuinely disturbing stories.