By Jeff Parsons

Published by Hellbound Books Publishing (April 5, 2018)

Review by The Horror Zine Staff Reviewer Jonathan Chapman

Buy the book HERE




The conventional wisdom when building anthologies and compilations is that you place the best story first in the collection and the second-best story last: that way, you start with a bang and end with a bang, hooking the reader and leaving them with a positive feeling. This reviewer always expects the best story to be the first one in a collection. That was what I was expecting when I first started That Captivating Flame of madness by Jeff parsons.

Only…it wasn’t so. The book starts with a Twilight Zone (but more gruesome) type story of a haunted U Boat, Lost Souls. The reader will be satisfied at this start. But when reading the next story, The New Law, one thinks, oh, THIS should have been the starter! And then, with each subsequent story, the same thought…Oh! I would have started with this one! It is notable that the strength of the story increases as you read through this collection of 22 short stories of various lengths.

Mr. Parsons presents this collection as being reminiscent of the Twilight Zone and classic horror. This is a good description, as the book reads like an old familiar friend. Many of the tropes are indeed well worked (the haunted U Boat story, etc.), but Mr. Parsons twists them each in some new way that make them both familiar and new. For example, the story Devourers of Eternity opens with, “There was nothing like the steaming hot and mysterious Louisiana cemetery to draw out the haunting creepiness of the night world.”  Boom, one sentence and the mood is set. Each story is unique and has its own style and pace, though always hitting on accessible themes.

Starting with Lost Souls, the reader will notice that Mr. Parsons sets a blistering pace. Each story is pushed, it is frantic, it is shoved violently forward. The New Law, The Rain, Control, all blazewith a frantic pace. Like these stories or not, the reader will not be bored! Mr. Parsons starts with action and pushes the pace at all times, like a maniacal race car driver on a short track. As noted, you will not be bored. The stories won’t allow it.

At times, I would have preferred Mr. Parsons slow down. Mr. Parsons throws some very interesting ideas and concepts out there, and I wish these had been expanded and developed a bit more.  The New Law is more sci fi than horror and as such, plays with new technology as it impacts criminal punishment in a dystopian future. You are left thinking, wow, this could have been a whole book by itself! I won’t spoil the plot, but it provokes a lot of thought.

As much fun as the short action-packed stories are, it’s when Mr. Parsons slows down that they become increasingly satisfying. The Rain is a good example. It starts like a John D Macdonald mystery, and the pace is such that the reader is led to believe the story will be longer; but it comes to an abrupt end with the big reveal happening too fast. It feels like Mr. Parsons could have slowed that down a bit more, drug the mystery out longer. The stories where Mr. Parsons sinks in deeply are the best. The Bruja is a personal favorite. The reader really feels the terror of the night, the freezing rain, the darkness at night in a forest…you are grabbed from the start and held firm. Eye of The Storm also develops into a hard, tight moment alone in the growing dark (no spoilers) and the tension becomes hard to bear. The collection ends strong with Among Us, a story that is again more Sci Fi than horror, but a tight, fast read.

Ultimately, this is a fun, tightly wound, tense, fast paced collection of stories that almost all leave the reader rubbing their chin and thinking, Hmmmmm. Most of the stories, such as Devourers of Eternity, leave the reader thinking about possibilities, ramifications, things they would add if they were writing their version or taking it a step further in their imaginations. They are all fun and spark the imagination, even the short simple ones (The Invaders is  a good examplethough Mr. Parsons is at his best when developing a theme.

This was a fun read and I strongly recommend it to all. Mr. Parsons can capture a moment very, very well. I read it as both a hard copy and on Kindle while on vacation and it was the perfect series of short stories to fill in airport hours, plane rides, etc. The only real criticism of the collection would be that…most of the stories leave the reader wanting more. Which is hardly a criticism at all, is it?