by Sean M. Thompson
Sean M. Thompson‘s debut Too Late opens with a story about a murderess on death row who carves her victims’ heads into “art” before selling them online.
That’s a pretty good tone-setter for this book.
Let’s backtrack a bit – full disclosure must come first. Sean M. Thompson stories have appeared on this site before (the dark and gross “LillyBridge“; an original serialized novella called The Demon; and, on my Matthew M. Bartlett fan site, the manic nightmare of “Martin Pussfoot Strikes Again“), I am a devoted listener to the podcast he co-hosts, and I did blurb this book.
– there is a reason why I did all of those things.
Sean M. Thompson is friggin’ awesome.
So is the cover to this collection of shorts, as one can see. It’s by a fella named Mark Richards. There’s another bit of promo art that I don’t think has been used, by the talented Yves Tourigny. Let’s have a look at that below, shall we?
And those images capture the spirit of Too Late so very well – one bursting with energy and insanity, the other a quiet terror. There’s a good mix of both throughout the book.
The first story, the one I mentioned before – “Fickle Mortality” being its title – is an ideal example.
On the one hand, you’ve a (hopefully) insane woman raving about murder as a tool to travel backwards through the gateway of death into a new life.
On the other hand, you’ve got a tired old criminal sitting on death row, reflecting on their crimes, pondering what will happen next.
Such balancing acts are what Thompson excels at in these stories – an ability to make the supernatural frenzied and bloody while simultaneously slow and creeping.
This is continued into the next story, one called “Stranded in the Storm”. Brrrrr. I could imagine reading this by the fire on Christmas Eve, the spirits of Charles Dickens and M.R. James reclining in armchairs, delighted at the chance for one last ghost story for Christmas.
Except this isn’t a ghost story. Not, at least, in the literal sense.
Instead it’s about a couple driving in the snow when the car breaks down. This is a classic urban legend motif, of course, and but one of the reasons why Too Late‘ll make a great Halloween read (with its EC Comics-style nastiness and its inventive usage of classic monsters). I won’t delve into the details, but let’s just say there’s something very nasty in the snow – something both tragic and horrifying, with its eyes set on the young lovers.
My personal favorite, though, is story number three, a tale called “Jumpin’ Jack”. This introduces the forest of Whispering Pines, which is a connective element between some of Thompson’s stories. Its a very short vignette that only hints at the supernatural, but Jesus, it’s disturbing. The less one knows about this story walking in, the better, but it sent a noticeable shudder through my frame.
Then we have “Dust”, a ghostly Western following two murderous outlaws that come across a ghost town. The slow buildup in this one is delicious, and the characters are probably the most fleshed-out in the book. Again, any hint of what is to come is a bit of a spoiler, but it’s quite possibly the bloodiest tale in the book – at least, one with the most onscreen violence.
Concluding the book – wait, are we really done already? – concluding the chapbook is “The End of Humanity”, a short piece which is thematically connected to the aforementioned serialized novella The Demon. It’s a piece which damns you as you read the first word, epitomizes the title of the collection, claims to sentence the reader to eternal agony via a culturally transmitted disease – demonic possession. Thankfully, this story is a work of fiction. If it wasn’t, then I’d be dooming you just by writing this review – even as your eyes scan the screen, you’d be infected.
But it’s not true.
Look, the point is, Too Late is a knock-it-out-of-the-park debut and the perfect book for Halloween. Clocking in at an appropriate 66 pages, it’s very, very short, but what it lacks in length it makes up for in content. That content consists of good, realistic people (straight out of our own lives) thrown into nasty, bloody situations (straight out of the pulp magazines). It’s dark, it’s gruesome, and above all, it’s promising.
I’m a Sean M. Thompson fan.
And I’m proud of it.