I’ve read many, many short story collections over these past few years. Some good, some great and some that are just okay. So, where does Embers by Kenneth W. Cain sit? Well, Crystal Lake Publishing very rarely drop the ball with their releases. They are one such publisher I know I am going to get a quality read from more often than not. Their books always have great cover art and are presented in a professional manner with good editing and formatting. I am not familiar with Mr Cain’s work, but of the many short tales on offer here, I found myself really enjoying most of them.
Things get off to a great start with Chamber. This is a story set after the second world war. In this tale, something lurks within the darkness of a gas chamber and a soldier haunted by his past returns and comes face-to-face with an unimaginable, supernatural horror. Second story, Valerie’s Window is a zombie story! Oh no, not another zombie story I hear you cry…but, don’t worry, Cain’s Z’s are background to what is happening inside of a house where a woman is being held prisoner. I thought this story was very good. I’m not a zombie fan at all, but this story worked well for me and it was tough work in deciding whether Valerie was better off inside the house or out!
And so things continue with some good and some excellent short stories. Cain’s characters often deal with loss, so there is a grim atmosphere lingering through most of the tales, much to my delight. There are tales with strong Lovecraft influences, a little Ray Bradbury here and there and even a sprinkling of Poe. Cain’s stories don’t outstay their welcome; they are short and sharp which works well for the most part, though on occasion I did wish for a little more depth. Towards the end of the collection I found myself really enjoying Breathing Cave, a claustrophobic story if ever there was one and The Bad Men, which is a nice mix of science fiction and horror. Overall, most of the stories in the book elicited some sort of positive response from me.
Sadly, the collection ended with a bit of a whimper and I didn’t much care for Strip Poker, Crabs and Blue Women or particularly The Benefit of Being Weighty, though after reading the authors notes, I can see why the latter was included and perhaps why it is the final story in the collection, owing to its personal connection with the author. The market is flooded with short story collections and I sincerely hope that Cain’s Embers finds an audience as he has a strong voice and an obvious writing ability. A really good collection overall.
4/5 logs for the fire
Pick up a copy from here.