Robert Dunbar is one of a handful of authors spearheading the movement to infuse the modern horror genre with more “literary” sensibilities. What makes his work ascend to that next step, what separates it from “mere genre” work, is his focus on character, atmosphere, and language rather than cinematic plots and theatrical gore. Don’t get me wrong–I love a good two-fisted actioner as much as the next red-blooded American male and don’t have any problem with blood. It’s just that sometimes I just like my fiction to cut a little deeper. I like it to get into my head and under my skin. And in the short story collection Martyrs & Monsters, Dunbar demonstrates ample ability to do both.
Among the most noteworthy:
- “Getting Wet” : A dark and murky tale about a pair of ultimate outsiders who ride the line between love and need and are ultimately consumed by both.
- “Like a Story” : The adventures of two young loners who get caught up in their own imaginations with startling results.
- “High Rise” : Obsession lives beyond the grave and a young man must make a sacrifice to save a brother who is far from deserving of rescue.
- “Gray Soil” : A chilling, almost apocalyptic, tale of a medieval family facing a plague of verminous undead.
- “Mal de Mer” : Probably one of the most evocative tales of the collection, Dunbar paints a desolate picture of stagnation and sensuality at a dreary, seaside estate. The scenes literally drip with atmosphere and dread.
- “Away” : A chillingly claustrophobic tale of invasion, infiltration, and despair–Philip K. Dick with a dose of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
Overall, the stories in this collection are bound by themes of love, obsession, need, and sacrifice. Sensual images of water suffuse the tales–sometimes caressing and soothing, sometimes grasping and clawing. A symbol for life or change, or an active force and harbinger of destruction. Dunbar is a master at creating powerful imagery and evoking real emotion. Even the least effective of these tales draws the reader into its world and refuses to allow indifference.
Martyrs & Monsters is a powerhouse collection of creepy, disturbing tales guaranteed to evoke gut-level reactions and to stay with you long after you set it down.