Butcher Shop Quartet Reviews

Butcher Shop Quartet I


The Return of the Novella
reviewed by Joe McKinney

A few years back, Cutting Block Press set out with the mission statement to publish “the highest quality examples of all forms of Dark Fiction, running the gamut from traditional horror, supernatural, speculative, psychological thriller, dark satire, including every point between and especially beyond.” I recently had an opportunity to read their debut effort, a multi-author collection of four novellas entitled Butcher Shop Quartet, and I’m here to tell you, there is truth in advertising. Butcher Shop Quartet is an outstanding expression of Cutting Block’s promise to bring us the best in modern horror.

The lead off story, “The Last of Boca Verde” by Boyd Harris, is a psychological thriller in the same vein as Heart of Darkness, mixed with the creepy insanity of Fight Club. Our narrator is in Costa Rica, looking for his brother who has gone missing somewhere in the fire-ravaged rain forest of Boca Verde. The jungles are inhabited by strange black monkeys and choked with smoke. Harris’ simple, direct prose evokes the setting wonderfully, and as his narrator goes deeper into the depths of that setting, both his sense of isolation and his almost undeniable insanity reach frightening proportions.

Next up is “The House on the Hill,” by Australian author Clinton Green. Set against the backdrop of World War I, the story is about two young men whose lives turned upside down after spending a night in a haunted house. We are going to hear more from Mr. Green, I guarantee you. His writing is crisp and sharp, and his character development, especially as the men lose their na?ve love of adventure and glory in the face of the horror of war, is outstanding. The twist at the end is wonderful.

The third story, “The Reconstruction of Kasper Clark,” by English author Michael Stone, is a darkly comic gem. Who would have thought that hell’s diet program and cosmetic surgery division could be so entertaining, or so funny?

The last story is “The Darkling Child” by a brand new author named A.T. Andreas. The story is written in a classic—some might even say Victorian—style, loaded with philosophical and religious digressions, but the mood it creates pairs smoothly with the over feel of the story. This is a solid effort describing the eternal conflict between good and evil.

The novella is something of a limited field these days. Most of the horror magazines out there, such as Cemetery Dance and Subterranean, limit their word counts to below the 5,000 mark. A few others, such as Apex and Postscripts, will publish the novella, but the cold hard truth is that there just aren’t that many markets for long fiction. Short stories are simply more cost effective. You can fit more of them into the pages of a magazine—and let’s face it, with the costs of printing and production being what they are today, everybody is trying to do more with less.

This is a real shame as far as I’m concerned. The novella has always been a perfect vehicle for the horror story, long enough to allow for the development of character, setting, and mood, yet not so long that more compressed ideas or visions can get the intensity of a short story. Cutting Block needs to be commended, not only for publishing the novella in the first place, but also for bringing us some bright new talents.

Highly recommended for public libraries and personal collections.

—Joe McKinney, author of Dead City and Quarantined





Doug Bentin, Bookgasm

When Cutting Block Press’ BUTCHER SHOP QUARTET hit the stands in 2005, it was subtitled “Four Bold Tales to Disturb the Adventurous Mind.” Wow. Re-arrange those eight words and a myriad of possible exaggerations leap out at you. (Let’s pause for a moment so I can admit that I’m not slamming this book, because I haven’t read it. I’m just tossing out a smart-ass allusion to a Dashiell Hammett story, the title of which I can’t remember.) Now BUTCHER SHOP QUARTET II, edited by Frank J. Hutton, walks among us, sans subtitle, and it’s comprised once again of four long short stories and/or novellas designed to mess with your mind, whether it’s adventurous or not.Greggard Penance’s “The Breach” features buddies Jared and Boris, who go diving when and where perhaps they shouldn’t. Penance’s prose is sly and sets you up for The Big Whammo in ways you may not notice on a first reading. Like this:“A moment later, a large object waddled up. It was a fish the size of a human. It brushed past them, then disappeared. … The fish swam by again, appearing to be curious. On this second pass, Jared recognized it as a lemon shark, mostly harmless to humans.”The word that might make you pause in your gum-chewing is “mostly,” as in “mostly harmless to humans.” A few sentences later we see “creatures dancing around in the corner of his vision.” Sure, fish and other marine animals would naturally be seen out of the corner of the eye, just like you’re supposed to see ghosts. “Road Rash” by Simon Janus follows the vehicle-troubled day of a man trying to escape with stolen cash when his car throws a rod and he witnesses a senseless head-on collision. When he pulls a badly battered survivor out of the only vehicle left running, a Chevy Caprice, to help him get away, well, bad things happen to bad people. Especially to bad people reduced to stealing a crashed-up POS Chevy.Rick J. Brown’s “Bodies Raining” has a sci-fi edge to it, and “Condemned” by Vince Churchill and Ray Brown is the most cinematic: “A large bald body pushed through to the front of the crowd. A streetlight illuminated the figure, showing it to be a woman. Made up like a hellish clown, her bald head was painted dead white, with a bright red frown smeared across her mouth. The ragged lace of a red bra could contain only one of her mammoth breasts.”The thought of a bra being able to hold only one large breast is usually enticing, but this time, not so much.

The tales are all worth a look and the book will make you hope that this is only the second in a long line of QUARTETs.

Red Room Review

Four powerful novellas by four authors. This themed anthology is the follow up to the original 2006 epic, supernatural anthology of horror, Butcher Shop Quartet. Each story disturbs beneath the skin, and moves the reader across landscapes and time to bring your deepest fears to life.Rick J. Brown is a horror and sci-fi writer whose work has appeared in the Cutting Block Press debut anthology, +Horror Library+ Volume 1. He has placed in numerous Writers of the Future contests since the 1980’s and has subsequently turned to screenwriting. He has worked in professional workshops with Hollywood writer/producer Glenn Benest, and his latest screenplay, BLOOD BROTHERS was deemed masterfully written by Twilight Pictures. He is a professor of psychology at Citrus College in L.A. county, and lives in Upland, California.Greggard Penance has spent a good portion of his life as a parttime free-lance writer for travel magazines. He has roots in Tennessee and Arkansas. Like a gypsy, he travels more than not, and cannot remember the last place he called home. He plans to write a novel soon, which like his story in this book, will tread the waters between the real and surreal.Simon Janus is the horror identity for thriller author Simon Wood. As Simon Janus, he s the author of The Scrubs. As Simon Wood, he s an Anthony Award-winner of five books as well as over 140 published articles and stories.Vince Churchill has published two novels: The Dead Shall Inherit The Earth, and The Blackest Heart. The Dead Shall Inherit The Earth was recently featured in XBOX Magazine s ZOMBIES! Collector s Edition as one of the 37 Greatest Zombie Triumphs. Vince has a Sunday column in the Jacksonville Journal Courier newspaper, and his Splatter Pattern column appears regularly for The Hacker s Source magazine. His short fiction has appeared in anthologies such as The Undead, The Undead II, +The Horror Library+ Volume 1, The Beast Within, and the recent Midnight Walk. He was also a list contributor in the recent Book of Lists: Horror. Vince s latest novel, The Butcher Bride, is scheduled to be published by Black Bed Sheet Books in the fall of 2009.Ray Brown is the author of The Quest, a five part series of novellas, including Book one: Dunumos, Book two: Chronicles of War, Book Three: The Darkness, Book Four: Evil s Dawn, and Book Five: The Child. Dunumos is published and available by Xulon Press, Chronicles of War will soon go to press, and The Darkness is currently being penned. Brown is a prolific writer and producer, having successfully translated Evil s Dawn into a promising comic book series. Condemned is just one project that Brown has shaped from concept to completion. While this is his first stab (pardon the pun) at horror, it most certainly will not be his last. His personal desire is to make movies that you can read. There are only two things he loves more than writing and they are God and his family.