Book Review: Dark Horse & Other Stories
Reviewed by Lindsay Crandall
An excellent collection of speculative fiction
First, I must admit that short story collections are my favorite genre. I love the multi-faceted and full display we get of an author’s style. In my opinion, four to six stories per collection is the sweet spot. This way, the stories are long enough that you are able to feel an attachment to the characters but short enough that you never feel the plot dragging. Coming in at four stories total, Dark Horse & Other Stories by David Ellis proves to be an excellent and unpredictable foray into the unexpected.
Ellis starts this collection with an introduction into the common theme running through the collection and the idea or circumstance that each story was borne from. This is a nice touch and sets the tone of what each story has to offer.
It starts with “The Soul Train,” a story in which the narrator describes a road trip that leads to a town that isn’t quite what it seems. The dialogue in this story is quite frustrating in a positive way, adding to the suspense of the story as each new detail of the town is revealed.
The second story, “Everywhere,” is written in a similar way, although this particular story is written in the third person. Readers follow along with Dougie as he goes about his day, from the time his morning alarm wakes him through to the pub after work, and finally, into bed in the evening. As he goes about his day, Dougie notices the everyday familiar faces he encounters; the bus driver, the woman at the coffee shop, are being replaced by the same two faces, each occurrence seeming more impossible than the last.
The first two stories in Dark Horse & Other Stories are my favorites. These stories invoke an almost Shirley Jackson-esque sense of unease while reading. Although Ellis isn’t writing outright horror stories, they are scary in their own way. And Ellis is able to write with a great sense for pacing in each of these stories, adding to the unsettling feeling that each character is experiencing or describing.
The third story, “The Devil in the Rainbow,” is a bit longer than the first two, introducing readers to Adrian and his mother, who are surprised by unique footprints leading out of their house out of town. Adrian gathers supplies and heads out, determined to see what has made the footprints and where they came from, eventually finding an impossible rainbow and an even more impossible figure.
The fourth and final story, our title story, “Dark Horse,” talks of two colleagues up for the same promotion at work. In an attempt to gain an edge over the other, they visit the Dark Horse pub, under the guise of afterwork drinks. However, the Dark Horse requires a check of the weather before one plans to attend, never quite knowing if they’ll be open.
The final two stories are a bit longer than the first two, which allows Ellis to expand on his characters. Readers are introduced to spouses, mothers, neighbors, and teachers, all of whom Ellis adds in effortlessly, giving just enough detail to make these characters come alive without overwhelming the story.
The pacing of the final two stories might feel slightly off, but that could simply be due to the fact that the pacing of the first two are so flawless. Perhaps, given a day or two in between each story, I would have felt differently, but I didn’t want to put Dark Horse & Other Stories down for long.
I would recommend these chilling stories to anyone who enjoys a bit of the unexpected or the seemingly impossible.
Publisher: Atmosphere Press
Genre: Short Story Collection
Print Length: 212 pages
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I’m reading an excellent collection of shorts called: She Walks in Shadows, edited by Silvia Moreno Garcia. Not an indie, but spooky creative stuff by women horror writers.