Dollar Dreadful Vol. 1: A Tangle of Shadows by M.L. Hart

A Tangle of Shadows by M.L. Hart
Dollar Dreadful Vol. 1:
Publisher: 451 ePublishing Haus
Genre: Horror, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (64 pages)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

1) Freak of Nurture

If, out of the blue, you were offered your deepest desire, would you immediately recognize it for what it was and seize hold of it before it slipped through your fingers forever? And could you even be honest about what that desire might truly be? Could you forsake your whole way of life, throw over your loved ones and life-long beliefs to pursue something utterly unknown? Would you fall prey to temptation, not knowing where it might lead, what its consequences might be? Or would you purse your lips, turn your face away from everything you’ve ever wanted and refuse it in the name of propriety? Would you really leave behind the daily grind, the mortgage and the marital bed for something so deep and secret you can barely admit it to yourself?

Christian Trent, weary and soul-sore on the commute home late at night, is confronted with this very proposition…

2) The Voice of Ignition
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Anton’s deadly obsession is fuelled by the voice of ignition that always insists, cultivating his urge to burn, prompting pyromania. The voice tells Anton that arson is his holy mission, that he’s destined to bring hell-fire to earth as the agent of fate, just and righteous. But despite his deep devotion to his fiery raison d’être, the voice is never satisfied. It whispers to him, ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see them all burn?’ and Anton cannot help but agree. And so the voice’s incessancy drives him out on the prowl once again, cans of petrol in his car-boot and intent to commit arson in his heart…

3) A Tangle of Shadows

You are trying hard to recover from a devastating breakdown. Then, as if by chance, you meet the most lovely, glamorous woman you’ve ever encountered. She is extraordinarily beautiful and, consequently, far out of your league. So, it is entirely unexpected when she declares her desire for you, how her intention is to satisfy your every whim. And, astoundingly, she proceeds to do so, fulfilling all your needs with a style and nonchalance that captivates you. You are falling madly in love with her and she reciprocates, a new life of delight is unfolding before you like a map of paradise. Then, the rub. She tells you that she is in serious trouble, the kind of trouble that would only get worse if the police were called in. Without even realising it, you’ve been thoroughly enmeshed in a tangle of shadows and both your lives are at stake…

Sometimes thoughts are the scariest things of all.

There are traces of Edgar Allen Poe’s writing style in this collection. Mr. Hart knows exactly how to inject a dark ribbon of dread into what should be an completely ordinary sequence of events. His use of uncommon, slightly antiquated vocabulary and his ability to step into the mind of characters whose understanding of reality isn’t always analogous to how other people would interpret certain events also reminds me of Poe’s work. This is a particularly good book for readers new to the horror genre who aren’t necessarily familiar with all of the sub genres because so many of them are included in these tales.

“Freak of Nurture” caught my attention immediately. Mr. Hart’s description of what it feels like to live with anxiety is extremely accurate. Christian is not always an easy character to like due to how quickly he’s willing to stereotype and judge others, but seeing how his fears affect every aspect of his life gave me sympathy for his plight. There is quite a bit of telling instead of showing in this piece, though, and for that reason it is the weakest one in this book.

By far my favourite story is “The Voice of Ignition.” Anton is a chilling and nuanced antagonist who terrified me within a few paragraphs. Figuring out how he repeatedly eluded the authorities made it impossible for me to stop reading.The final scene alone would have made me give this tale a much higher rating if it had been released on its own.

Framing the plot as the content of a letter gave a unique perspective to “A Tangle of Shadows.” More than once I was convinced I understood what was happening only to be surprised by yet another plot twist. While I had some trouble figuring out the ending, the dialogue was so well-written that I enjoyed going back to determine what had actually happened.

Dollar Dreadful Vol. 1: A Tangle of Shadows is a frightening and thought-provoking collection of short stories that I would recommend to anyone who likes psychological horror.

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