Verdict: Made up of a handful of quick-to-take-in but difficult-to-forget tales of fairly everyday life twisted into crime and its consequences, Alaric Cabiling’s THE CLAWS OF PERDITION is unsettling and uncompromising in its often graphic encounters with difficult realities.
A collection of short stories – the author’s third – penned around dark moments emerging from largely everyday scenarios, the twelve tales of THE CLAWS OF PERDITION are short, sharp and severe.
Often set up in simple family environments or scenarios that’ll be oddly familiar to most readers, the tales typically start gently, exploring just enough character to give us a taste of what makes our various leads tick, before tumbling off a cliff edge of dark tangents.
The title story is a good example. Opening with a young dating angle reminiscent of any modern day teen movie, some nasty bullying creeps in, and the story quickly turns unexpectedly violent in the space of no more than a couple of sentences. The somewhat mundane background of the schoolgirl aggression makes the tale slightly unnerving, something that’s quickly explained by a toxic home environment and a scarred backdrop.
Similar themes persist throughout the text. In ‘Sadistic Intent’ – perhaps the best tale of the bunch – a seemingly harmless set of characters again unravel into chaos. Suffering a rape and attempted murder by someone a victim knows, suspicions run high. The attacks hold hollow echoes of some of the characters’ pasts, and lead others down dangerous roads as they come to terms with the assault.
‘For He Who Plies The Lash’ explores the world of an unpopular drunkard, meeting with some surreal slavery angles amid the themes of domination and lack of control. Interludes of the good life sit oddly alongside the plantation setting, exploring a blend of spoilt wealth and desperate poverty side by side, and the bitterness that comes with it.
The main issue for the book on the whole is the obvious one: after a couple of stories, it’s perfectly predictable that a dark twist is coming, and while the endings can be original enough in each case, the horror genre is piled high with well-worn tropes, and quite a few of them make an appearance in some form or another here. There’s drink, there’s jealousy, there’s malignant anger and family feuds, and while the settings charm, the stories are solid without ever really going beyond that.
Given the relatively short length of each individual tale, however, there is surprising depth of character here, with the thought processes sitting quite naturally and the alternative perspectives well rounded and presented as the tales progress. The word “perdition” means a state of eternal damnation passed into by those who don’t repent before death, in Christian tradition. At times, that might be how you feel reading this book: moments of normality are offset with chunky sallow shades and unexpected violence. Every happy moment is simply hiding a moment of horror.
~James Hendicott for IndieReader