2017; 309 pages. New Author? : No. Genre : Short Stories; Anthology; Horror-Thriller. Overall Rating : 8½*/10.
Say, does the phrase “Tales From The Crypt” ring any bells for you? There were a couple films with that title in the 70’s; and a similarly-named TV series in the late 80’s to early 90’s. And if you’re a member of the senior citizen crowd, you might even remember the comic-book series with that title that started it all was back in the 50’s.
The comics are slightly before my time (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it), but I do remember sometimes finding them at used-book stores and picking them up for next to nothing.
I always enjoyed reading those comic books because, as a kid, they could scare me without giving me nightmares. Regardless of theme or setting, each ‘tale’ had a twist to it, plus a dab of macabre humor, and that’s what kept me looking for more back issues of it.
And if creepy tales with twists tickle your reading fancy, you might give Road Games and Other Weird Tales a try.
What’s To Like...
Road Games and Other Weird Tales is comprised of 10 short stories that sprang from the creative brain of Marlin Williams. The stories vary in length from 2-to-56 pages; from lighthearted to somber, and from the mundane to the paranormal. So if you’re reading one of the stories, and it doesn’t float your boat (which will happen with almost any anthology book), there’s a good chance that the next tale will.
Table of Contents (spoiler-free)...
01) Lickety Split – There’s more to losing weight than losing weight.
02) Life Form – Black holes and bio-ships don't mix.
03) Them – Aliens in a diner.
04) The Killing Kind – I’d like my Ted Bundy with a twist, please.
05) The Same Old Nightmare – A feeling of dread we all share.
06) Boucherie – Vampires, werewolves, and things that go ROWR in the night.
07) The Agency – An Oscar performance by a long-forgotten thespian.
08) Lint – What's the word for 'fear of laundry day'?
09) Cracked – What’s the word for ‘fear of aphorisms’?
10) Road Games – Smokey and the Bandit meets Deliverance. Plus bubbles.
My favorite story was the titular Road Games. I had a fun time wondering, along with our two protagonists, what the fiendish-but-innovative Wilkerson brothers would come up with next. One part of it reminded me of a scene from the Will Smith movie The Wild Wild West, and that was kewl.
My other faves were The Killing Kind, The Same Old Nighmare, Boucherie, and Lint, but honestly, all ten tales kept my interest. Your favorites will probably be different from mine.
You’ll meet Miss Coaly Banks in the very first story, Lickety Split, and I grew to like her. She pops up again in the two shortest stories, so that was a treat. She’s the only recurring character though.
The pacing is good throughout all of the stories; there really aren’t any slow spots. There’s a neat, short bit of prose by Marlin’s wife, Sheila, at the beginning of The Killing Kind. And I enjoyed the nod to Fantasia in Lickety Split, and a second nod to it (specifically the ‘bubbles’ in the subpart of it, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice) in Road Games. I chuckled at the made-up word “metaphoribly” in Road Games; I will have to work it into one of my reviews somewhere down the road.
“It was a satellite, or pieces of it anyway.”
He shook his head. “It was a flying saucer.”
“What makes you think that?” he asked.
“Why else would NASA be out here after that thing came down?”
“Because it was their satellite.”
“The men in black were with them.”
“They had tracking dogs,” said Mr. Robbins. He raised his chin at Ernie, looked down at him, and doled out his next statement in disjointed words. “Sniffing-out-little,-gray-skinned-aliens.” He sniffed. (pg. 89)
“If your plan is to confront a clan of vampires, aren’t we going to need things like wooden stakes, holy water, and stuff like that?” (…)
“I’ve got something better.”
She patted her handgun. “A silver bullet in the heart.”
“I thought that was for werewolves.” He chuckled at his joke and ended it with a smirk.
“It will kill a loup-garou as well,” she replied in a matter of fact tone.
He lost the smirk and wrinkled his brow. “What the hell is a loup-garou?”
“Pray you never have to find out.” (pg. 160)
“Waitress, there’s a piece of space shuttle in my lunch.” (pg. 88)
The quibbles are minor and not about the storytelling or the writing.
First, there are no page numbers, which messes up an OCD note-taker like me. Second, although the paragraphs themselves are properly aligned to the left, they aren’t justified. Kinda like the paragraphs in this review, but blogs can be excused from this. Last, and least, although there’s no need for chapters in any short story, here there weren’t any breaks between one paragraph to the next when the scene shifts, and that got confusing once or twice.
So I numbered the book pages myself, to appease my inner OCD. And ignored the paragraph breaks and justification issues, both of which can be easily fixed in the subsequent editions.
One last point about the stories themselves. For me, the best thing about reading Road Games and Other Weird Tales was trying to anticipate what the twists in each story were going to be. Marlin Williams is known for his “double twists”: just when you congratulate yourself for correctly guessing what wrinkle he has in store in a tale, he up and adds an unforeseen “twist to the twist”, which makes the stories' endings delightfully surprising. This “twofer” occurs in all of the tales here except the two shortest ones, and it keeps you on your toes when reading the book.
8½ Stars. Bottom Line: If you liked Tales From The Crypt as a kid, in any of its formats, you’re going to enjoy Road Games and Other Weird Tales. And after you've finished, give Marlin's novel, The Attic Piranhas, a try, and keep an eye out for a pair of new full-length books he’s rumored to be writing.