This is a long one, but a good one. Thanks, Chuck Briggs! Download a copy– only 99¢!
I first encountered Gerald Dean Rice while slogging through some freebie zombie epics. As a rule, I don’t care for the genre – although I was a huge fan of George R. Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead” and even the Zack Snyder remake. Most of the zombie books I’ve encountered so far are just so much macho swaggering, damn the liberals, survivalist wet-dream fantasy. Not all of it, certainly. Who doesn’t like “The Walking Dead,” “World War Z” and “Sean of the Dead?” Anyway, in Gerald’s case, I came across his free read “The Thirty Minute Plan” (recommended) on Goodreads. I liked it. Sure, there was some tough guy, macho swaggering, but the macho types weren’t “told-ya-so” survivalists. They were prisoners pressed into the military by a panicked and faltering government. These were the guys marked “expendable” who somehow managed to keep their swagger and self-respect even though they’re literally at the bottom of the food chain. ” The Thirty Minute Plan” was a fast, intense and thought provoking, grim but defiant read. Not perfect, but damned good and with an unusual after resonance.
So, I made a note to keep an eye on this writer.
A couple of free reads and some flash fiction on Facebook later, my suspicions were confirmed. Gerald Dean Rice has the chops. His prose, although clean and unpretentious (the model obviously being Stephan King’s “Big Mac and Fries” metaphor. In horror, that’s GOOD. If the horror is presented in straightforward, almost documentary style, it is much more believable. That’s why Rod Serling was such a great narrator for the Twilight Zone and Orson Welles, one of the greatest figures of theatrical and cinematic history, failed at the job. Serling played it straight making what followed seem so much more real.)
Gerald is not afraid to write for popular tastes and follow trends, as witnessed by his love for zombie stories, but there is much more going on here. He ably shifts his voice and writing style to match whichever era he’s working in with his current flash fiction, “Historical Zombie” incidents. He’s also written some excellent, non-zombie dark fantasy, or as he calls it “weird fiction.” Well, as Billy Joel put it : “Dark Fantasy, Weird fiction, Quiet Horror, Splatterpunk, it’s all rock and roll to me.”
A 99 cent “dollar baby,” “The Best Night of the Year” is a collection of three of Gerald’s stories. The first one, “Mona” is a straight forward, old fashioned, hick cops in a witch house story. This looks like an earlier effort with a little bit of sloppy writing and a few too many clichés. Some of these, rightly, come from the mouths of the characters and are forgivable (people actually talk like that,) but some of it spills into the descriptive writing and should be cut back. Two or three of these are all you really need to establish character. However, the story itself is very good. You just KNOW this is going to get nasty when the redneck cops check out the suspect’s bathroom. NO problem with the descriptions here! And so, this story, although not as polished as a lot of Gerald’s work still keeps you reading and comes to a satisfying if not appetizing conclusion. Very good, old school, “Creepshow” style horror. Four stars.
The next story, the main attraction, “The Best Night of the Year” is superb. I love this kind story. The scares, weirdness and growing dread are perfectly executed, but more important is the subtext of what is going between the characters, A young father takes his kid out “trick or treating” on Halloween and allows the inevitable, weird kid/outcast/loner to tag along — in spite of his awful costume and just plain creepy personality. Anyone who has ever tried to do “the right thing” and had it blow up in his face can relate to this. Highly recommended! “The Best Night of the Year” deserves to be a classic. It sticks with you hours after you read it because the characters, the horror payoff and the underlying sense of decent humanism that somehow survives the encounter not only frightens but, oddly, uplifts. Five stars. Well done!
The final story, “Do Not Dig” is a zombie story but seems to fall outside of the whole “zombie apocalypse” sub-genre. Although it raises more questions than it answers, maybe not a bad thing, “Do Not Dig” is actually pretty good. Take a couple of gravediggers, a funeral for a very, very rich man who had a bit of a reputation for dabbling in the occult, shake well and serve chilled in an empty cemetery. Four stars.
For a buck, you can do a lot worse.