Season of the Macabre by Damien Kelly

a review by Elizabeth Vinton

This book of short stories is a real gem and a must buy for those who like to read dark festive holiday tales in the lead up to Thanksgiving/Christmas, and even over the silly season itself.

I found Season of the Macabre to be like a chocolate box of tales, some are the most delicious things I’ve ever tried, some flavours are almost too dark for consumption (a very guilty pleasure) and some are not to my taste, but I admire the craftsmanship regardless.

It is reminiscent of Shirley Jackson’s short stories, and Roald Dahl’s stranger adult fiction, which in my world is very high praise as I have a great love of both these authors and the subtle horror they were able to imbue.

Please excuse the very short plot descriptions as I review each story – to say more would give away too much and it is really important that these plots are revealed by reading the actual stories, it is vital to their impact.

‘Cold Comfort Child’

The bargaining between a determined seven year old and Santas Claus for the perfect present.

Cold Comfort Child is a very subtle unsettling tale. I loved how the strange aspect of it plays out in a very picturesque and pleasant Christmas setting.

‘Thankless’

Thankless tells of a debate over the object of a thanksgiving dinner between a young boy, a young girl and the boy’s father.

Very well written evoking the time period it is set in. The young boy’s decision making process is a delight to read, especially as it leads to an extremely creepy and clever ending.

‘A Polite Exchange’

A disliked Christmas present is returned to the store to be exchanged for something more suitable.

Short and sweet with a very nice build up, had my imagination conjuring up all sorts of bizarre scenarios to work out the mystery.

Day of Rest’

Day of Rest features a crazy ‘one night stand’ and its consequences.

A modern gothic tale, perfect for those who like paranormal erotic dark fiction and an interesting take on a classic monster.

‘Kissing Mary Jane’

Sometimes what seems like a grand romantic gesture does not always go well.

I loved this story, short but packs a huge wallop. My insane laughter in response to it resulted in me having to read this story out loud to my friends who enjoyed it as much as I did.

Very black humour used very well – one of the best stories in this collection.

‘Unexpected’

A woman goes through Christmas celebration preparations, baffled by her current predicament.

I must admit this one had me confused at first, but once my poor brain got caught up, I admired the subtle brilliance of this reference to a particular Christmas tale. Really quite disturbing in many ways!

‘The Rare Gift’

Short, brutal and a very fresh take on a beloved aspect of Christmas myth – sorry I would ruin it to tell you more. Fantastic read.

‘And What Will the Robin Do Then, Poor Thing?’

A couple are visited by a insistent Robin with some news to tell.

Very odd but strangely charming tale.

‘Winter Barley’

A very sad tale about a little girl hiding from the bad deed she has done, which is very well told.

Not an easy read.

‘Unwanted’

A man sitting in a bar gets a visitor with a special gift for him.

Like Winter Barley, a very dark and melancholy tale, beautifully told.

‘Mine Alone’

Light science fiction in theme, it deals with a mother having to make a tough decision about her and her child’s futures. There is a sadness to it, and it’s futuristic tone makes it stand out from the other stories.

‘What Hearts Can Bear’

This is a wonderfully dark story about the relationships between fathers and sons and the cost on both.

I found this to be almost a very Dickens Christmas tale, very beautiful in its telling, and with a lesson to be learnt. It is bizarre in the imagery of the telling but emotionally real.

‘Yule’

A man who has done a terrible deed faces the consequences out in the wild.

Not for the feint hearted, it is gruesome and violent.

It is a very Pagan Christmas tale, with some amazing imagery and in style much like a Clive Barker story.

‘Merry Mr. Kent’

A very dark tale about the giving of Christmas presents in a prision.

Very well told, and the morality of the events taking place is hard to define – perhaps those who received their gift deserved their fate, maybe they didn’t?!

I highly recommend this book for reading now we are coming into Halloween/Christmas for those who like their Christmas stories bizarre and thoughtful.