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Drive by Mark West

There’s an old joke that goes like this: “What this difference between a porcupine and an Audi? A porcupine’s pricks are on the outside.” Imagine if the pricks that normally drive an Audi were replaced by Alex and his droogs and now you’ve got the basis for Mark West’s “Drive” (Near to the Knuckle). The terror is always increasing as the Audi and its occupants torment an English village’s late-night party goers, it’s part “Duel” and part “A Clockwork Orange”.

I’ve jumped a little ahead in “Drive”, so let’s circle back. The book opens at a party with David, who has been in training for his company, stands glumly with a drink in hand thinking about how he’s going to get home tomorrow after his class. He runs into his friend Karen who pawns off her friend Natasha (or Nat) on him. The party winds down and David, being the ever English gentlemen, offers to drive Nat home. With a renegade Audi prowling the streets, things are about to quite dangerous for this unsuspecting pair.

West’s “Drive” doesn’t even reach 30,000 words but in its short eight chapters, West fills the novella with heightened tension as David and Nat try to outrun the thugs in the Audi. Every time they believe themselves to be safe, the Audi returns like a Great White circling a broken down boat. To his credit, West rarely lets them see the Audi approaching. First, they only hear “the heavy, low thud of hardcore bass” which builds up slowly along with their dread and anxiety. Then the panic arrives when the Audi’s high beams flash on directly behind them.

Mark West’s “Drive” is a taut pulpy horror novella filled with suburban fears of aimless violence. “Drive” would pair well with a weekend filled with watching ’70s B-movies.

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Her Name Is Mercie by Chris Roy

Chris Roy’s “Her Name is Mercie” (Near to the Knuckle) is a novella and a small collection of short stories. The eponymous novella is at times great and then other times bordering on a mess. Maybe it was the frenetic pace of Mercie’s life, but there were paragraphs and scene changes that felt jumbled. I understood the protagonist’s grief—her parents shot to death by the police—but I found her response a bit stretched. The parts that were good in “Her Name is Mericie” were good enough that I finished and I continued on reading Roy’s short stories. I was quite pleased that I did.

Roy shines with his short stories. Though not necessarily crime stories, they’re more horror than anything else, all four are well done and tight. Re-Pete is the tale of a child with severe OCD and how his mother and her boyfriend try to deal with it. In the story Hunger, two teenagers’ father has died. The daughter and her dog Hunger head out in their boat like she and her father used to do and then things take a turn.

She sat behind the wheel and found herself staring at the seat next to her, it’s deep impression. Sliding into it she looked around. Light headed, her pulse beat against the arm of the chair from her wrist. Chopping waves struck the pontoon she was looking over, spray misting her arms and hair. Hunger whined and clawed his way over the titling deck, in between the seats. His wet nose snuffled her leg, pushed up her shorts.

“We can’t be… I’m not sure…” Her ponytail swung left, right. She pointed at the horizon, finger bathed with green cutting through yellow, sky hinting at blue. “If that’s east, then the island is… We came from the north.” Hair pulled loose from the tie, slim fingers sinking into it. Standing, she turned in a slow circle. There was no land in site.

Hunger whined, lay at her feet.

“We’re not screwed just yet, boy.”

Libby’s Hands is an outright horror tale told during Halloween. And Roy’s collection ends up with Marsh Madness, a story of a family living on the edge of a swamp with an alligator that patrols the shores of their land. “Her Name is Mercie” might not be the complete package, but these four short stories that scrape along the edges of our humanity, where our fear feeds and grows, are perversely wonderful.

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