UNTOLD MAYHEM is a collection of short horror stories, each of which revolves around or culminates in an act of violence. Some feature supernatural specters like demons and ghosts, however most are simply about ordinary homicidal human beings.
A woman comes to a friend’s house to conduct a tarot card reading and discovers an angry and malevolent spirit in the basement. A young married couple moves into a new house and discovers a strange hole in a closet, behind which, they gradually become convinced, lives some kind of “little monster.” A man wakes up in the desert outside Las Vegas, naked, handcuffed and hogtied. These are just a few of the delightfully deranged plots in Mark Tullius’ short story collection UNTOLD MAYHEM.
We often enter the story in the middle of some pivotal scene and have to discern what’s happening based on context clues, a smart storytelling technique, as the disorientation heightens the dramatic tension. The stories are short, most spanning just a couple of pages, but they rarely feel abrupt, as the author is simply economical with language and skillful at establishing and maintaining a brisk pace. Some of the best stories have something of a twist ending, veering off course (usually into something demented) just as the reader has been lulled into complacency by a seemingly straightforward narrative.
The victims of the violence carried out in these stories are often virulent racists, pedophiles, or murderers themselves, but sometimes they are innocent and unsuspecting lambs to the slaughter. Unfortunately, most of the latter instances are women, and that can be a little unsettling, but there is a story about a woman turning into a fanged and taloned creature, unhinging her jaw to swallow a sex offender whole, which feels rather redemptive.
Based on the title and a brief plot description, readers will surely know what they are getting themselves into with this book, but it’s still worth noting that these stories are very, very violent. For example, “News First” features a gun-wielding psychopath conducting a terrorist assault on a university campus, shooting and throwing grenades from a rooftop. The concept is horrifying enough, but details like “the decapitated head splattered on the concrete bursting like a rotten tomato” are a bit beyond the pale. Some things are best left to the imagination.
Fans of the darker works of Bret Easton Ellis and Stephen King will find a lot to like in UNTOLD MAYHEM in terms of horror and first-rate storytelling. Any readers squeamish about violence and gore should probably skip this one.
~Lisa Butts for IndieReader