Reviewed by Phil Ambler
Birmingham based author Theresa Derwin brings us her debut novel Monsters Anonymous; a collection of fourteen horror shorts which mixes humour and terror. Monsters Anonymous is a support group for the ghoulish, the macabre and the undead, a place where monsters can come and talk about their varying addictions. Monsters Anonymous leads us on a journey through the streets of Victorian London, the jungles of deepest Mexico, the ancient city of Thebes and the sex-shop backstreets of Birmingham amongst other scenarios.
Derwin delivers some fresh takes on some classic tales and urban legends. We open up with a meeting of the varying monsters at a group gathering of our Monsters Anonymous gang hinting at some of the tales which are to be revealed. Whilst this opening story introduces us to the majority of characters, there is little beyond that which links these stories together. It’s not a problem as each tale that follows works well as a standalone but, as a reader, I was expecting there to be more linkage back to the opening later on.
What works well within Monsters Anonymous is the way that the writing style changes to suit each situation alleviating the danger of monotony that solo writer collections can suffer from. The fact that we are familiar with most of the characters from other incarnations in literature saves on unnecessary world building and throws us straight into the action in the main.
‘The Call of Home’ is a homage to the writing of HP Lovecraft, and in particular his creation of the Cthulhu mythos. You easily recognise the language traits of Lovecraft being recreated within the tale. ‘Something Fishy This Way Comesâ€¦’ takes us into pulpy crime noir territory with the Creature from the Black Lagoon investigating the murder of a teenage girl in the less than glamorous setting of Edgbaston reservoir. And ‘Whitechapel Transfer’ takes us into the world of Jack the Ripper yet mixes in a bit of future science and demonology just to spice things up.
I think my favourite of the pieces was ‘Priorities, Priorities’, a zombie attack set within the confines of an office. Having worked in the humdrum office environment myself, this struck a chord with me as the banality of office politics and procedures plays out with tongue firmly in cheek as the zombie hoards descend.
There were some stories which could have been improved upon. ‘Red Meat’ was a cannibalism tale which has been done many times over by others with a twist ending that didn’t overly work for me, and ‘Mikey’ was an interview with a zombie written to be comedic which failed to tickle my funny bone. I don’t think the book would have been weaker without the inclusion of either.
Overall though, Monsters Anonymous is a fun read with the usual variation in story strength and quality which is often to be found in single author collections. Worth picking up for the price, especially for those with a love of indie horror tales.