Today I am bringing you a review of a collection of Horror stories by Indie author John F. Leonard. John took part in my Indie Spotlight feature here on my blog, last Thursday (21st January), so I thought it would be timely to post my review of this book now.
The Dead Boxes Archive is a chilling collection of short horror stories and horror novellas. Together for the first time in one volume, seven tales from the critically acclaimed Dead Boxes series.
Dead Boxes are scary things. Wonderful and dreadful secrets hiding themselves in plain view.
On the surface, they often appear to be ordinary, everyday objects. Items which are easily overlooked at first glance. Perhaps that’s just as well because the Dead Boxes are as far from ordinary and everyday as you can get. They hold miracle and mystery, horror and salvation, answers to questions best not asked and directions to places better left unfound.
This collection offers an insight into some of these delightfully eerie articles. A stunning omnibus of old school inspired horror, the brooding and ominous variety. Not to say that there isn’t a little gore and gruesome in the mix. But one of the beauties of horror is that it comes in many forms. Blood and guts don’t need to be stars of the show for a story to be dark and disturbing. Something that will stay with you long after the reading is done.
There are five tales that are available to buy as individual books and two more with limited availability. The exceptional Linger is previously only published in the charity horror anthology, Diabolica Britannica. The Screaming Mike Hawkins Story is new for this collection.
Our diabolical banquet opens with Call Drops, a deliciously dark look at second hand shops, car boots and the infernal treasures which sometimes lurk within them. It might give you pause for thought about our ever-increasing reliance on the ubiquitous mobile phone.
“10 out of 5 stars” – Erik Henry Vick, author of Demon King.
Next up is the rather beautiful and deceptively innocent Doggem. In many ways, this short story defies description. It’s about a toy dog and school days and so much more. Ordinary families with folklore legacy, mundane existence amidst vaguely mythical settings, witchcraft and the supernatural. All mixed with apocalyptic undertones.
“The Velveteen Rabbit meets Rosemary’s Baby” – Barb Taub, author of Do Not Wash Hands In Plates.
A Plague of Pages is a nightmarishly enjoyable look at the perils of writing fiction. Betrayal, revenge and instruments of ultimate evil are blended into a mesmerising and horrific cocktail. Written well before the terrible events of 2020, it also touches upon historic pandemics and the prospect of present day apocalypse.
“a wonderfully creepy read” – Gingernuts of Horror, premier UK horror review site.
Night Service is a tale of travel and terror that quickly gets up to speed and then doesn’t slow down until the haunting finale. A warning for all the night owls out there who use those last dance, last chance darktime buses. It can sometimes be a helluva ride!
“flies by …excitement, chases, tension and bloody gore galore” – Char, leading Horror Aficionado and Vine Voice.
The ghostly Burntbridge Boys might initially appear to be about professional football. Don’t be deceived. When a Dead Box is involved, fraud and corruption in sport are only the tip of a demonic iceberg that spans dimensions and stretches into the dim and distant past.
“Sammy’s meeting with Burntbridge’s Chairman Millicent is stunningly good” – Terry Tyler, author of The Devil You Know.
The spooky old house, a gothic horror staple, gets a fresh lick of paint in Linger. Inheriting lots of money and a gothic mansion from a father you never knew sounds like some sort of dream come true. This revisit breathes new life into a horror classic.
” the Gothic …concentrated to its essence, with the richness this implies” – Ramsey Campbell, British Horror Legend.
We conclude with The Screaming Mike Hawkins Story, a darkly inventive final twist from a mind filled with bleak and creative twists. Part author’s note, part biography, the shadowy career of Michael Hawkins is a mystery wrapped in more than one conundrum.
Add The Dead Boxes Archive to your goodreads To Be Read list here:
Buy The Dead Boxes Archive here:
I read a kindle version of this book provided by the author – thank you very much, John! I read this book on behalf of Rosie Amber’s book review team. Thank you, Rosie!
The seven stories included in this anthology of the macabre are:
- Call Drops
- A Plague of Pages
- Night Service
- Burntbridge Boys
- The Screaming Mike Hawkins Story
These are clever and interesting stories filled with wit and intelligence. I enjoyed the throwback mentions of the Wombles and the New Musical Express and references to other popular culture peppered throughout the stories, including songs by Snow Patrol & Nelly Furtado. These references acted as a kind of light relief amidst the delectably disgusting and relentlessly repulsive images that kept getting put in my head by John F. Leonard’s ghastly descriptions of fearful, revolting episodes and horrific circumstances. Episodes and circumstances brought about by a character’s possession of one of the Dead Boxes of the title.
Themes within these stories include murder, infidelity, poisoning, and plenty of twisted madness. The stories are populated by unpalatable people made fearsome and horrific by the events of their lives. For example, in Doggem, childhood rejection of uncaring parents and personal greed leads to murderous, poisoning tendencies. Infidelity and double crossing by spouses and business partners lead to murder in Call Drops and A Plague of Pages.
The Dead Boxes Archive is a book full of victims. Victims of spousal infidelity, parental hatred, financial double crossing, suicide, being on the wrong bus or at the wrong football stadium at the wrong time. In most cases these victims of life and society turn the tables and make murder victims of their oppressors. We could ask if these murder victims therefore bring their fates upon themselves – but no one deserves such horrific fates as those dreamed up in these gruesome stories.
Many of these despicable characters have in common their lack of respect for human life:
“On the whole, humankind were a pretty motley crew. Loathsome, grubby creatures who invariably descended to the lowest level and wallowed in the filth they found there.”John F. Leonard
I particularly enjoyed the tongue in cheek wit from a writer of horror:
Some things didn’t bear contemplating, there was already enough horror in the world without inventing more.John F. Leonard
I also enjoyed spotting the connections between the stories. The geographical locations of Bledbrooke and the eerie wooded ‘beauty spot’ of Cenet Chase are mentioned multiple times throughout the collection. The Salton Marsh antique shop was mentioned in Call Drops and then echoed in A Plague of Pages.
Noel Bayley the private detective is run over and killed in Call Drops and later referred to in A Plague of Pages to name just a few.
My favourite story in the collection was Night Service in which a hapless young man and his new girlfriend take the night bus back to her place but the journey quickly becomes even more terrifying than the night bus journeys I remember taking from Trafalgar Square in the early 90s.
All in all I enjoyed my foray into the world of the Dead Boxes. Heaven forbid any of us should do anything to cross someone in possession of one of these accursed items – or get on the wrong bus, for that matter!
About the Author
John messes around with words for a living. He was born in England and grew up in the industrial Midlands. A place that lives in his heart. It’s where he learned to love scrawny cats, the sound of scrapyard dogs and the rattle and clank of passing trains.
Education was mostly English, Art and History – Grammar School style – everything else came later. The employment record is somewhat difficult to summarise (chequered is the word that springs to mind). Shop worker and office boy, sculptor and odd-job man, fraud investigator and thief. It’s all the same, when you boil it down. Pay your way and try to have a good day.
He enjoys apocalyptic stuff, horror, comedy and football (not necessarily together). A family man, John now lives a few miles from the old Victorian house in which he was born. Scribbling scary stories seems to keep him vaguely sane (accurate at time of writing). Current projects include more tales from the Dead Boxes Archive, another everyday cosmic horror novel from the Scaeth Mythos, and revisiting the post-apocalyptic world of Collapse.
Contact John F. Leonard here:
Amazon Author Pages:
UK – www.amazon.co.uk/John-F-Leonard/e/B01BHUE6Z6
US – www.amazon.com/John-F-Leonard/e/B01BHUE6Z6