Bedbugs

Rick Hautala, Author
Rick Hautala, Author Cemetery Dance Publications $40 (400p) ISBN 978-1-881475-79-8
Mass Market Paperbound - 390 pages - 978-0-8439-5074-8
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Known for the past two decades as ""that other horror writer from Maine,"" Hautala boasts a reputation that rests primarily on more than a dozen novels of suspense and the supernatural set in his home state. The 26 stories in this workmanlike first collection of short fiction draw mostly from the same reservoir of regional characters and settings as his longer works and form a roadmap to the bedrock horror themes of the last 20 years. For the most part, their plots are simple setups with twist endings in which luckless or unlikable characters fall victim to unspeakable fates and poetically just deserts. In ""Voodoo Queen,"" a dissipated man learns firsthand the dark secret of a carnival freak show presided over by an alluring snake woman. ""Colt .24"" is an inventive variation on the deal-with-the-devil theme, narrated in the first person by a character anxiously ticking off the seconds as his inescapable doom approaches. ""A Little Bit of Divine Justice"" captures the flavor of the Twilight Zone in its eerie account of two men caught in a recurring cycle of death and retribution on a snowy winter night. As often as not, in stories like the first-person psycho narrative ""Bird in the House"" or the biter-bit tale ""Rubies and Pearls,"" Hautala is cramped by genre conventions that leave him belaboring the obvious or struggling to soften the predictability of a situation. But the book balances lesser efforts with effectively crafted shockers for a mix that lives up to the title's reference to discomforting things that get under the skin. (Feb.)
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