This was my first venture into the world of Barker’s short stories, and although I was very excited to read the book, I found that it was as many short story books are, hit and miss.
The book opens with a story titled “The Book of Blood” which I suppose would be an intro, though it is almost a short story in itself. It is a good intro, drawing the reader in lots of ghosties, a haunted house, paranormal phenomenon and lots of blood. Excellent intro to amp up the reader and get them ready to dive right through the book. I’d give this short 4 of 5 stars.
The first story is “Midnight Meat Train.” I wasn’t overly impressed with the title but what the heck, it was a good story. A serial killed of the most disgusting kind, an unwitting accountant who finds his way into that serial killers world, and then bam, strangeness abounds as the supernatural makes its appearance. Excellent story again, 4 of 5 stars.
The second is “The Yattering and Jack.” I would in no way call this a horror story… it’s closer to something you would find in a Christopher Moore book, in fact I think he based the entire book “Practical Demonkeeping” off of reading this short. This story was a humorous tale of a lesser Demon sent to torment a man to insanity… the problem is that the man just doesn’t seem to care about anything the Demon does… including exploding a few household pets. I found myself giggling through this story. I don’t felt that it fit all that well with the rest of the book, but it was highly entertaining. 4 of 5 stars.
Third you have “Pig Blood Blues” if I recall the title correctly. This one was strange, but predictable. An ex-cop goes to work at a school for delinquent boys and finds himself mixed up in a strange sacrificial mess. The story seemed familiar, sort of like the Wickerman meets “Children of the Corn.” I can’t say that it was my favorite, but every short story book has at least one mediocre story in it. 3 of 5 stars.
Fourth is “Sex, Death, and Starshine” and interesting story about the life and death of Theater. Sex, murder and ghosts abound in this story. I think Dionysus would be pleased. Though this may have been the longest story in the book, I enjoyed it. I like ghosts and the theater, and I was very happy that it didn’t turn out to be another “Phantom of the Opera” which is what I was concerned with in the beginning. Though at times the story drug a bit, I think this was probably my favorite. 4 of 5 stars
The final story “In the Hills, The Cities” was completely bizarre. I can’t even begin to explain it because I couldn’t for the life of me comprehend it. I didn’t find it frightening, or even disgusting… just perplexing. Two gay guys go out into the middle of nowhere and find… um… two cities? I tried with all of my might to picture what was being described in my mind… but it just wouldn’t go together. I felt this story was by far the weakest in the book and a sadly pitiful note to end on. 2 of 5 stars.
All in all, I would say this is a 4 star book, the majority of which is very entertaining to read. I think the only scary stories in it were “The Book of Blood” and “Midnight Meat Train” but the others were good for what they were, except for the finale which was very disappointing.