CriminOlly thinks: A strong short story collection that provides a terrible glimpse into a very dark world. 4/5
Title: Sinister Mix | Author: Brian Bowyer | Publisher: Self-published | Page: 207 | Publication date: 17th April 2021 | Source: Self-purchased | Content warnings: Yes | Tolerance warning: No
Sinister Mix is a strange book. It’s a short story collection that falls into the extreme horror sub genre, one that intrigues me but which I’ve to date failed to really connect with. I think that Sinister Mix has changed that, but to be honest I’m still processing it. It’s a wild ride – extreme to be sure and rough around the edges from time, but horribly compelling. What’s strangest about it is not to so much the gory violence and dismemberment, but the structure of the stories. More on that later.
The 14 stories that make up Sinister Mix are all brief, punchy slices of very dark horror. They’re often shocking and the book comes with just about every trigger warning you could think of. It’s very graphic and unrelentingly bleak with no happy endings and a very high body count. The pain isn’t just physical either, Brian Bowyer does just a good job of describing psychological torture and the agony of grief as he does literal torture.
What’s most impressive about the collection is the sparsity for his prose and storytelling. At times the writing feels like that of an old pulp crime novel, if has that stripped down energy and punch. Bowyer sets up his scenarios with absolute efficiency, before getting into the horror. Often those scenarios are bizarre or horrific from the start – a virus has killed everyone who isn’t an alcoholic, a mother sells her daughter for heroin, a man hires a prostitute who looks like his dead daughter – but they’re usually only the backdrop for the real horror that follows. Crucially though that real horror is relayed with at least a hint of restraint. It’s often the ideas rather than the details that really lingered with me.
Which brings me back to structure. So the writing is good and the setting up of the scenarios is often great, but the tempo of the stories is unusual and it took me a little while to adjust to. They all basically go: Set up, something horrible happens, something more horrible happens, the end. I went into the collection expecting stories with a more classical pacing, that kind of twist ending that the EC horror comics excelled at, or at least some kind of resolution. Bowyer rarely provides that. The stories often finish not because the events have reached their climax, but because the camera has panned away from the action. It takes some time to get used to, and when you do it’s very unsettling. The book ends up feeling like multiple glimpses into a horrible world that continues to be horrible even though you aren’t looking at it anymore.
A family in mourning discovers a creature that renders grief obsolete. A cannibal hunts for food after a plague decimates humanity. A mother loses her son and will do anything to find him. A killer meets the man of her dreams at the tavern where she works. These stories and more are gathered in SINISTER MIX—fourteen tales of terror that will keep you reading long into the night.
Content Warning: Rape, child abuse, cannibalism, alcoholism
Tolerance Warning: All good