Mark Allan Gunnells
Valhalla Books; 1st Edition (February 13, 2021)
Trade Paperback/ eBook/ 155 pp
“No one tells you how terrifying love can be.”
Just in time for Valentine’s Day here we have ourselves a rather feisty one from Valhalla Books. This time in the shape of a steamy ex-lover’s quarrel turning into a violent murder/suicide in the main character’s bathroom in his apartment 2B. When Berkley Simmons wakes up in the hospital with his best friend, Sasha, he is more than ready to go. Hospitals are an absolutely terrible place to wake up. Surrounded by so much pain and suffering and death. Especially after barely surviving such a traumatic event. Luckily, the paramedics and the guy with a crush on him that lives across the hall in 2A arrived on scene quick enough to bring poor Berkley back from the dead after being clinically gone for approximately five minutes. They even told him that if it would have been just a couple more minutes, he too would have been a goner for good, and not just his ex-sociopathic-lover, Kevin, who had just attempted to drown him in the bathtub while blowing his brains out all over the bathroom walls. After arriving back home, we as the reader quickly realize that our main protagonist, Berkley is not alone. Books and CDs whose artists and authors have all committed suicide in the past are randomly falling off his shelves and littering his apartment floor, and all the faucets keep turning on full blast and spraying out water. The mysterious events are even happening while he is at work at the bookstore. Water coming out of nowhere and flooding the pages of recently stacked books, as well as a myriad of items falling from their appropriate shelving devices.
“Home is the place that you have to go to, even when you’d rather go anywhere else.”
Berkley knows it is him. How could it not be him? Who else would come back from the dead and torment him like that? He’s never witnessed a ghost or poltergeist before. But it must be him. It’s all too real and won’t stop giving him the absolute creeps. But why does nobody believe him? Everyone thinks it’s all just part of him surviving a traumatic encounter such as the one he’s just been through. What can he do to prove it to them? This is when things get even more exciting as Berkley hosts a terrible dinner party with terrible food, but he does it all for the evenings main event. After the crew of four washes their food down their throats with extra glasses of water and wine and slips little pieces of scraps under the table to feed their imaginary dogs, Berkley breaks out the Ouija Board! I absolutely loved this scene as I am a huge sucker for the occult and paranormal, and I love a good old fashioned haunting/possession scene in my horror art and media. I promise this one will not disappoint. Also! The supernatural fun and games do not stop there. His boss from the bookstore eventually hooks him up with a young, psychic medium as the tragedy in apartment 2B prevails, and we as the reader soon discover that our main character may have even more baggage and quite a few more ex-skeletons than we had originally thought in his closet (pun very much intended), as the book leaves us hanging onto our own devices and questioning what really happened with two different potential endings (the author does this in a good way neither of which will disappoint) that are somehow equally rewarding as far as death certificates are concerned. The author puts the idea of a potential overall metaphor in our head as we are faced with the lingering question of maybe our main character was actually the problem throughout their entire relationship the whole time, and that is what had sparked his ex-lover Kevin’s sudden psychological glitch in the reality matrix, which had then resulted in and pushed him to such extremes in erratic, unpredictable, and violent behavior, or perhaps maybe he was just a raging sociopath with a plethora of childhood abandonment issues acting out in the most impulsive, aggressive, and violent ways.
I said it years ago after being introduced to the work of the author here and reading one of his brilliant earlier works (The Summer of Winters), as well as a few really solid, well-written short story collections (Companions in Ruin, Flowers in a Dumpster) that Mark Allan Gunnells was one to watch out for and I stand by that statement from years ago still to this day. The author has an uncanny way of engaging his readers into the psych of his characters. No matter how loveable or hateable his characters are, the author continues to make sure that we as the reader are able to connect/understand what the main characters/characters in his stories are going through, experiencing, or have experienced. There are SO many authors working today (big and small press) and I don’t even know how many books I will actually physically quit reading time and time again and year after year that are unable to pull this concept off… BUT the gift here is true and admirable and absolutely for real. Gunnells is also able to show off his obvious love for writing and horror in new and fun and exciting ways time after time with each and every release. For example, in this book we have a chapter more than relevantly but also hella creatively titled ‘It Follows.’ We also encounter random bits of early horror movie adoration and nostalgia and even a few book shout-outs in the most-clever and often humorous ways. This is a fun one, folks. Do yourself a favor.
Check it out!