Before you read the review for this collection, I feel it fitting to include this acknowledgement included by Steven at the end of his book. No other words are necessary.
‘On Valentine’s Day, 2019, Steven was admitted to the Golden Jubilee National Hospital in Clydebank. It was there and then that he found that, at 35 years old, he was in the critical stages of advanced heart failure. A heart transplant was imminent and successfully followed suit two months later, on Easter Sunday.
Steven will be forever grateful to those whom he encountered and wishes that you consider this hospital and the British Heart Foundation when making charitable donations.’
(Note: Our reviewer has done a more indepth reading of this collection for you and we hope it encourages you to read more of Deighan and his work – Ed.)
Submit Horror – An Overview
Toni Morrison said, “The ability of writers to… familiarize the strange and mystify the familiar is the test of their power,” and it is one of Deighan’s strengths. Infidelity, a ball game, teens sneaking out of the house – they have dreadful consequences in Deighan’s creative world of twisting what is familiar into something frightful. Although he tended towards excessive descriptions of details that didn’t need a lot of attention, Deighan is a maestro of constructing setting, and I wanted to see some of that same power used to delve into characters’ inner thoughts. In a couple of the stories, it would have enhanced my entertainment where the pace seemed too fast, particularly at the endings.
His stories take us from the hospital to the coal mines and everywhere in between. Deighan is skillful at demonstrating true-to-life human emotions. “Cardiac Skeleton” and “The Cutting Garden” left me in contemplative reflection. “Hannah Dancing” left a mark on my soul. I look forward to reading more by this author.
Shooting the P.I. – 3.5-4 stars
P.I. Dunn is introduced to us while on a stakeout. Clearly, he’s one who likes the action and lives for the challenge. No stranger to illicit conduct, he’s been doing the job for a large portion of his working life. But he blushed when a cute waitress said hello? That was the first time his character didn’t seem believable.
We don’t know what he looks like or if he has any unique tics or quirks. He comes off rather weak through the story and I found myself without empathy for him. I didn’t particularly want to root for him during dangerous situations.
He is surprisingly familiar with haute couture and knows an expensive skirt when he sees one? I don’t buy it unless the detective is wearing Ferragamo’s himself. He doesn’t seem like he’s got the confidence.
A certain amount of bravery is required for a private investigator, and Mr. Dunn is lacking. It’s difficult to conceive that this veteran P.I. was terrified after hearing one “I’ll kill you” from a scorned woman. Hadn’t he received that same threat about a hundred times during his career? Too often he sounded fearful and afraid, and as if he did not enjoy the thrill of the chase.
Although Deighan’s investigator could use some character development, the story kept me interested. I enjoyed the stakeouts, the spying, the messy office. I personally love a good cheater story, so I was eager to see if and how the adulteress would be caught.
Fantastic turn of events at the end, but my enthusiasm slammed into a wall. “… her name was Gina! How had he forgotten?!” There is obviously some important backstory to be told here but we find out—nothing. Deighan missed an opportunity during the climax of the story for another chapter, or more, to show us what happened with Gina and the P.I. and just how did he forget about her? How did he not see this coming?
“Shooting the P.I.” has a broad appeal to fans of sleuthing and detectives from Nancy Drew mysteries to CSI Miami cases. And they’ll want to read it all the way to the end.
Auguste (The Dark) – 4 stars
“Auguste (The Dark)” is the tale of Sarah, who is eager to get a one-day job as a Children’s Entertainer. Her young naivete is believable and kept me wanting to shout, “Don’t do it!” to her character.
“On a dark Halloween night, nothing could wrong there,” our innocent protagonist thought, regarding the location of the job. I couldn’t wait to see what disaster was in store for her after reading her angelic opinion.
There were several places where semicolons rushed the pace for me. I wanted to linger on one thought before proceeding to the next. Separate sentences would have taken care of that.
Regardless, the ending kept me holding my breath as Deighan avoided a definitive finish and left what was to happen to the reader-imagination.
This subtly suspenseful story earned 4 stars and will appeal to horror fans. WARNING! Those averse to clowns should read this story with the lights on.
Blood Donors – 4 stars
“Blood Donors” is a sci-fi story set in futuristic Edinburgh, Scotland. Much of the city has already been invaded and liquified by destructive fireballs discharged by bloodthirsty aliens.
Humans who remain are under constant surveillance by cameras installed on lamp posts in the streets. They have their own wounded to care for and must collect blood as quickly as possible wherever the opportunity presents itself, getting their liquid loot before blood donor vans directed by the aliens do so.
Deighan’s story structure gives readers constant conflict that may or may not have a resolution. This will appeal to fans of Earth-invasion horror and will leave anyone who reads it believing such an event could very well happen.
Coffee Stains – 3 stars
A library assistant gets an unusual request for an elusive book from a stranger. The assistant, Lisa, delves into researching the book. The link to it appears and disappears in internet searches, only to have a used hard copy arrive at her door.
She is enticed into reading the book by some external force. Will its “instructional” contents mesmerize her into doing what it suggests?
I reread this story a couple times and felt like it needed more meat to it each time in order to let the subtle ending carry its weight.
Lisa’s brief encounter with the stranger is a little creepy, but could be more intense. The stranger was wacky, for sure, but nothing made me hit “uh oh” level. As far as the mysterious book itself, I felt like it deserved its own personality, but there wasn’t enough writing to give it that. I wanted it to become a formidable antagonist instead of leaving so much of its power to my imagination. More attention to what inspired the title could have helped with that.
I thought the pace of the ending was too quick. More showing of the protagonist’s helplessness with the hypnotic pull would have slowed the pace and forced me to tiptoe along with it.
Horror readers will understand why I gave 3 stars, and I think I can speak for them all when I say, “WE WANT MORE!”
I enjoyed the suspense of young Lauren searching for the board and of Aunt Leigh’s true story. We’re able to witness the close relationship between the two characters. Deighan gives us intricate setting details and I felt like I was there, handling the board and planchette myself.
One grammar note – There is an expectation of a break in character with new paragraphs, but that wasn’t the case in several instances throughout the story. Every sentence of dialogue need not be in its own paragraph when the action or thought taking place involves the same character. I note it here because the multitude of extra paragraphs interrupted the reading and confused the point of view.
With such a mysterious instrument of the occult at the heart of the story, I wanted to experience more urgency and fear when Aunt Leigh finished her gripping tale. Things in mirrors, speeding cars navigating bends in the road – the writing was too casual and passive for the action. What Deighan gave us was enough to surprise a character, but not unnerve them or make them shiver.
I wanted more details in the last paragraph. One never knows what might be conjured from the unknown… can we get a little more?
This story will appeal to anyone interested in the occult, particularly when it involves the power wielded by an instrument such as the Ouija board.
The Cardiac Skeleton – 3.5 stars
Deighan’s astonishing story walks us through the dark side of Rick’s recovery. He’d heard stories about transplant recipients inheriting traits from their organ donors. Is that what was happening to him? Could that explain his emotional, psychological, even physical changes?
It’s a unique story chock full of passive voice, and lots of telling instead of showing. “He was beginning to feel like a new person.” Readers want to hear him whistling a happy tune, not be told that he feels good. “Rick had even eaten the microwave meal she’d bought him.” Don’t tell us! Show us the dirty bowl in the sink.
There were a number of places where paragraphs could have been shortened to keep the pace flowing. Dialogue or tightening sentences to reduce telling, and increase showing, would go a long way in keeping readers engaged in the action. Deighan often uses semicolons where separate sentences would allow readers to pause, and pack more of a punch.
This story will appeal to fans of outside influences turning the good guy bad, and of evil lying within where the character’s psychology and physiology are teetering on explosion. It may hit a nerve with anyone who has ever been the recipient of a transplant, transfusion, or prosthetic. Days after reading “The Cardiac Skeleton,” the impact is still with me. As a blood donor who’s been on both sides of the needle, I look in my mirror and wonder, “Were my eyes always this color…”
I struggled between 3.5 and 4 stars. The story is still in my head and was memorable enough that I mentioned it to a coworker, but it was too full of passive voice and punctuation problems to tip it to the next level. The author held back from using all of his power in this one. Ultimately. I give it 3.5 stars.
Cruciform – 3.5 stars
Through a sexually explicit conjuring ritual (of origins that readers aren’t privy to), the main character, Mark summons a female demon from Hell, seemingly for his perverse master-and-slave amusement.
Deighan showed us a Hell with personalities and hierarchy instead of just a flaming abyss occupied by the one devil with whom we’re familiar. Setting and character details were outstanding, although there were some character inconsistencies.
Mark is portrayed as an invincible, arrogant bastard in the beginning, but he transitioned into a weaker person by the end. The demon seemed like a stronger character than Mark from the beginning. She’s pulled into his world and becomes his prisoner, but she never seemed completely under his control. There was always a little spitfire to her. Scenes depicting her subordination were contradicted with instances of her standing in her own power. Maybe this was done on purpose?
The pacing kept my attention, and Deighan’s created an interesting protagonist and antagonist role reversal. Who would expect anything else when playing with the devil?
There is so much to this story that I liked, but I didn’t know the quest. Mark took his demon prisoner to a house that wreaked of wicked intentions, but why? I’m not sure what purpose the placement of his fiancée had in the house either. Deighan possesses strong scurrilous story-telling, but there were no hints of a wild threesome on the horizon, so the emergence of the fiancée wasn’t sexual. The fierce ending takes place inside the house and is performed remarkably with Deighan’s writing, but I don’t know why they went there in the first place.
Lastly, the title invokes, at least in this prodigy of Catholic school, something of a cross, but there was nothing significant about a cross in the story.
Horror fans will enjoy this tale of dealing with the devil, and for the hellfire it releases, I give “Cruciform” 3.5 stars.
The Cutting Garden – 4.5 stars
Lucy Stevenson has long wondered what ever happened to her brother after their mother died. With the help of a private investigator, she finds him at his own establishment called “The Cutting Garden.”
The title is an apt name regarding sibling separation, the sister and brother who are now miles apart both literally and figuratively. It’s a situation that many readers will be able to relate to. Who was wrong? Who was right? Do they say hello and then good-bye? Or do they agree to let bygones be bygones?
This story is an easy read and with both internal and external conflict. The pacing is spot on. I give it 4.5 stars. What kept it from a 5? Passive voice that pulled me out of the story and more than a couple instances of wordy and excessive descriptions forced me to reread and clarify the point being made.
This story made me want to reach out to my estranged sister who walked away from her family years ago. But I won’t. It’s complicated.
Picasso Project – 3.5 stars
The Picasso Project is the name given to a painting contest where participants are by invitation only. What’s so special about them? They only paint one thing.
Now, of course, I can’t ruin the surprise and divulge what that is. It could be nude women, which is what our main character’s jealous girlfriend thinks. Or it could be someone – something? – else. Jonathan Barr aspires to win the Picasso Project competition despite his apprehension.
There were a few places where dialogue or too much telling felt unnecessary and excessive. Conversely, I wanted to hear more of the goings-on in Mr. Barr’s head during the two-hour competition. The story jumped pretty quickly from the unveiling of the subject to the end of the project. Deighan gave us a little bit of Barr’s internal dialogue, but it felt like there was a lot of room to enhance anxiety and give me a knot in my stomach.
This story kept me interested and intrigued, and I couldn’t hide my own involuntary macabre interest in the painting project. We all have a fascination with – it – at some level. I give “Picasso Project” 3.5 stars for a simple story that threw tainted humanity in my face.
The Skeleton Quay – 3 stars
The setting is in a bar filled with seafaring patrons. Two wayward strangers enter. A coin in their possession strikes fear into the bartender. Is it a true omen? Will the destruction foretold in folklore come to pass?
As someone who’s become a fan of Mr. Deighan’s writing, I am guessing this short story was written long before the others in the 4th Collection. What struck me—simply too much writing. There was a great deal of description about minor details that didn’t require that much attention, and analogies were overused (and sometimes conflicting). Point of view was confused a few times. I thought I knew whose head I was in, and then a telling description came out of nowhere and made me think, ‘Wait a minute – how would this person know that?’
Deighan used long sentences that distracted me. Repeatedly, I felt like I was reading a detail that may or may not be significant, but I couldn’t get to the next sentence because it went on and on and on. One of the first paragraphs was comprised of only three sentences in thirteen lines of text. The longest sentence with over sixty words was later in the story. Since I couldn’t concentrate or absorb what was happening, I lost interest.
This story seemed heavy on uncommon words usage that, to me, seemed too fanciful for the story. I needed a dictionary several times; I may not be the only reader who doesn’t know what an ossuary is, or what patinaed means. “Inculcate” made for an awkward tag line.
There were details that didn’t matter, and details that were missing. It wasn’t important to know how long it took a bartender to carry a beer to a table, but I wanted to see what “a fraught look” looked like.
I only have a layman’s knowledge of Latin, so the ending fell a little flat for me. Regardless, there is plenty of action in the last chapter.
Horror readers will enjoy this story that I give 3 stars. Aquaphobes – beware!
Of Slag and Stone – 3.5 stars
While the story didn’t have much of a plot, it was an interesting read of old miners fearing the return of the menacing giant known to appear in the coal pits. If I hadn’t experienced a coal mine tour myself, I don’t know that I would have liked this. But since I’ve seen the conditions and understand their daily challenges, I cared about what was going to happen to these guys.
Inserting a legendary tale about the giant would have given “Of Slag and Stone” more purpose and suspense, and more stars.
The story has a now-we-wait feel to it, and for putting the fear of the giant into his characters’ heads, I give this one 3.5 stars.
The Tent – 3.5 stars
“You stay away from that… that tent. It’s dirty, and nobody knows what’s inside.”
Stephen reacted as any kid would. Oh yeah, I’m going.
“The Tent” gives a realistic story about a parent’s warning to stay away, thereby exciting two kids to do exactly the opposite. We see them sneak out of the house, and traipse through the cornfield. Their trepidation unfolds as they got closer to their destination.
This was a fast and easy read. It began in present day and switched to backstory. The backstory could stand on its own. It introduced believable characters and setting details that left no doubt as to where I was. I knew what the main characters wanted and what was getting in their way, and Deighan kept me right there, sharing the internal and external conflicts.
Reactions to what was eventually discovered at the tent seemed overdramatic, but I can be persuaded, for the sake of a good story, that a preteen child might be overwhelmed and scarred for life.
It was the present-day part that threw me off. For one thing, present day mentioned that the character, Bethany was in a supernatural state, but then that detail never resurfaced and I was disappointed to have been given a teaser that amounted to nothing. The present-day story mentions merciless revenge on those who wronged her, but I have no idea who, what, when or where any of that took place. It isn’t addressed again. There’s a big fat something missing in that present-day part for it to have any relevance.
I did, however, enjoy the backstory. I believe that horror fans will especially enjoy the viewpoint from a child creeping out to the forbidden tent. I give it 3.5 stars.
The Voice in the Bush – 4 stars
Eight-year old Sam and her father go to a football game, innocently enough. Except Sam walks away and hears a voice in the bush. It’s reminiscent of Stephen King’s short story, “The Man in the Black Suit”, but with Deighan’s writing style. And I enjoyed the apprehension, while thinking, “Not the kid!”
I liked the everyday feel of the story and how someone or something that went unnoticed by the multitudes at a ballpark became so fearful to a curious child. Like that “bad feeling” when catching the eye of someone who seems to have been watching us all along, and the perp won’t look away. When intuitively afraid of someone, but not trusting that fear enough to stay away. That’s the feeling this story gave me.
I would suggest Deighan explain the football terms as they’re brought up. I didn’t know what the red and yellow cards represented, and now that I do, adding a short blurb would have enhanced the action on the field. It would also benefit a potential global reader audience.
The point of view is mostly Sam’s, but there were instances where the writing sounded older than someone Sam’s age would think or say. “Interjected imprecation” and “disembodied glee” are not terms most eight-year olds would know.
As Sam’s father gives his permission for Sam to walk around as long as he can still see her, he says, “Your mum would have a heart attack if you were to go missing again.” And we’re left hanging with the “again!” I was looking forward to reading that backstory, but it wasn’t given. It’s cruel to torture a reader like that!
Nevertheless, it was a gratifying read that I would reread, and I give it 4 stars.
Hannah Dancing – 4.5 stars
This story is so short that I can’t share many details without giving much away, but I’ll summarize it with, “Dear God.”
Hannah and her husband Steve are expecting their first child, and their characters could be anyone I know. Deighan takes us through an emotional journey. I found myself wondering right along with the parents, ‘Is the baby healthy?’ ‘How’s the heartbeat?’ ‘What if labor starts early?’
There were a couple unknown terms that pulled me out of the story. MOT (Minister of Transport) isn’t something I’m familiar with, and I assume “obs” are a patient’s vital signs.
I thought the labor scene should have slowed down to honor everything going on inside the characters’ heads in addition to what was physically happening.
I give “Hannah Dancing” 4.5 stars for being a beautiful story with an ending that made me smile.