Review: The Parts We Play

partsBy Stephen Volk

PS Publishing, out now

A collection of tales to make you wonder what is real… and what hopefully isn’t…

If Stephen King’s latest collection was a Bazaar of Bad Dreams then Stephen Volk’s is an Emporium of Emphatic Terror. To give you an idea – Newspaper Heart, with which this concludes, haunted my dreams for weeks after I first read it a couple of years ago (and thanks for bringing it back to the surface in this collection!). And it’s by no means the most terrifying of them all.

Volk has a gift for taking ordinary situations and making you see that darker side that lurks just behind… something. It might be just behind the eyes of one of the characters, or lurking in a bathroom door silhouetted in the night. Sometimes the darkness is clear – there’s a taut piece of flash fiction in here that doesn’t waste a word but leaves you in absolutely no doubt who the people are who Volk is describing and how what happens to them is so deliciously appropriate.

There’s an inexorable pace to them as well, leading you to the final line that you sometimes hope won’t be what it has to be, if only because of the bleakness revealed. There’s grossness here – in fact there’s one of the grossest stories I’ve read in years. But there’s also much to make you think: I’m trying not to give too many clues about stories so that you go into them cold when you read them, but I’ll make an exception for The Peter Lorre Fan Club – which I’ve now read three times and I’ve no doubt will go back to many more times – which may be set last century but says so much about our current world. It’s not all darkness and gloom: Volk’s contribution to the Professor Challenger collection of stories captures both the Brian Blessed-ness of the character and the milieu Conan Doyle wrote in.

Verdict: One of the best short story collections I’ve read in recent times – highly recommended, even if you’ve encountered some of them before. 10/10

Paul Simpson

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