A most disturbing collection

Dark and well crafted, dripping with atmosphere that makes it hard to go to bed immediately after reading, Darkest Hours by Mike Thorn is a triumph of the horror genre.

Mike Thorn’s collection of short stories is relentless and fast paced; each story tackles a new character, setting or monster. One minute the reader is dealing with a movie-style monster, the next they’re forced to confront the fact that society rewards the subtler monsters that lurk among us in everyday life.

The book opens with the story “Hair” that centres on a man named Theodore suffering from a sexual fetish with the hair on his and other people’s heads. It’s not typical horror, but it feels revolting and is disturbing to read. As Theodore explores his desires more and more, the pages grip you, while at the same time, urging you to shut the book and take up a more wholesome occupation.

From there, the book moves into a collection of stories tinged with supernatural themes of dread and horror.

We meet a monster, known as The Peeler in the story, “Mictian Diabolus,” who preys on children and removes their flesh for satanic rituals. The madness that ensues as one character willingly offers himself to the devil, while another flees, is rendered with language that evokes feelings and imagery that can be hard to stomach.

Thorn’s stories seem to nearly always feature the desires of their characters becoming corrupted and turning back on them tenfold. It’s really this theme that keeps the reader’s attention, that their initially innocent desires could be twisted, corrupted and fed back into some unspeakable primal evil.

In the story, “Fear and Grace,” Thorn deals with an entirely different kind of monster than standard horror fair. The main character is confronted with a former friend whom she shares a dark past. Without spoiling anything, it’s an excellent read because of how realistic Thorn portrays the “monsters” we deal with every day.

I would rather not further ruin the surprises these stories contain by delving too deeply into themes and plots. The hallmark of great horror is that it both surprises, scares, and most importantly, entertains. Darkest Hours succeeds on all these levels.

Overall, Thorn has written a collection of stories that simultaneously makes you turn pages, while wanting to bury the book somewhere dark and out of sight. This is not a collection of stories to read before bed, but isn’t that what anyone would ask out of a book meant to inspire honest horror?

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