NIGHTMARES on HOLM STREET: A Review of Chris F. Holm's "8 POUNDS"

(this review was previously published in a slightly different version on Crime Fiction Lover's website)

Chris F. Holm is a writer to watch closely. He published a few stories in Beat to a Pulp, Needle Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Thuglit, and a few other places. With "The Hitter", a (long) short story published in Needle, Holm received an Anthony Award nomination and lots of attention. His first novel, "Dead Harvest", will be published in March 2012 by the new and very interesting Angry Robot Books. A second Holm novel, "The Wrong Goodbye", will follow in November of the same year, still with ARB. In the meantime, you can enjoy his collection titled "8 POUNDS", available only in eFormat for the ridiculous price of 0.99 cents. The book is short, only 90 pages or so, but at just over one cent per page, you won't find much better deals.

The first story, “Seven Days of Rain”, is about facing the wrongs you’ve done in your life: the sins that you’ve tried to ignore, even if you’ve managed it until old age. Who’s ready to come clean, who still wants to deny the past? For some, 50 or 60 years ago can still feel like yesterday, because the past is never very far behind when you’ve done something very wrong.  In the story, the rising water in the town while the storm’s raging is a good image to represent the past coming back.

“A Better Life” is reminiscent of some Stephen King’s short stories in which human error, mixed to a bit of stupidity and foolishness, will often result in bad choices and ugly results. What do you do when you think you have rats or mice in your walls? Are you sure? Think again…  There’s a widely accepted idea that the unseen is scarier because what the writer can show you will never be worse than what your mind can imagine. Holm superbly contradicts that notion. The ending of this story will stay in your mind alongside the best horror stories you’ve ever read. 

In “A Simple Kindness”, Holm almost flawlessly rewrites the pulp noir classic about the good guy who helps the damsel in distress. Do you remember when your parents told you (maybe they still do) about asking questions first and making your decision afterwards? And to not take for granted what you see without thinking a little. Well, of course, sometimes you don’t have time to think and you just react. But that’s usually when it puts you in big trouble. Hopefully, not as much as the main character in this story.

“The Toll Collectors” is another example of the past catching up to you but in a way that makes you really regret your actions. Of course, it’s already too late for you. Holm’s creepy idea makes this an original story and one of my favourites, even if I was a little bothered by the repetitive use of some descriptive words. It’s a pure horror story with punch and intensity; the open ending for the character who finds himself in a no-exit situation is a brilliant idea.

In “Eight Pounds”, betrayal meets revenge in a spectacular ending. Make sure you know your best friend before you betray him. Here, Holm shows his talent at creating suspense through dialogue: you can feel the nervousness as the characters start feeling uncomfortable and suspicious of each other while they sit in a bar, drinking and talking. The tension mounts not only through their words but also in the unsaid. The only action is the walk they take at the end of the evening.  

In “The Well”, the title is almost as long as the story, the shortest one in the book. It’s the two-page tale of a girl who has fallen in a well, and who is very hungry. Not a bad story, and an original idea too. But to lifetime readers it doesn’t pull any punches or surprises. It could be a better story with a bit of background to beef it up. Then again, it is a nice horror vignette that can pass as a painting in a book of short films. Creepy short films.

With “The Big Score”, Holm gets back to noir and there’s no gray area about it. Some guy stole a treasure (old, valuable guns) but he disappears. His best friend is beaten and threatened because those looking to get back the guns think that he knows where they are. He decides to play their game.

In the last story, “The World Behind”, a teenager learns the hard way that you shouldn’t try to change things, even when your intentions are good. Others might not see it the same way. As in most of Chris F. Holm's stories in this collection, you are showed a landscape that you accept, only to realise too late that appearances can, and often will, deceive.

The stories in 8 POUNDS are sometimes clearly horror, sometimes noir-ish crime, but most of the times they exist somewhere in-between or in an interesting mix of both. They are in a world defined by good and evil, where the darkness either eats you up if you’ve been walking too close to it or regurgitates you like a small bone if you’re one of the innocent victims. One thing’s for sure, you don’t come out of it unscathed and you’ll never feel safe again.

Because on Holm street, the nightmares are real.

November 2011

Visit Chris F. Holm on his website, on Facebook, Twitter, or in Maine.
A big thank you to fellow Canadian Garrick Webster for his editing help and incredible patience.


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