Tuesday, 31 May 2011

The Out-Of-Print Book Review I - "Black Evening" by David Morrell

Or, the first in what's likely to be an exceptionally occasional series that is intended to highlight out-of-print books that I've only just got around to reading...

'Black Evening' cover art, at least for the edition I have

I just recently finished reading Black Evening by David Morrell. It's a collection of, well, if not horror stories per sé then certainly unsettling stories. No, that's not the genre by which Morrell pays the bills - he's a thriller writer, most famous for writing First Blood. You get the impression from reading some of the author's notes in Black Evening that he isn't wildly keen on what Hollywood and Stallone did to his story but let's not digress. I'm here to talk about Black Evening.

I'll confess I hadn't even heard of David Morrell until a friend of mine, Mark, mentioned one of the stories from Black Evening in a blog post. That story was the excellent "Orange Is For Anguish, Blue Is For Insanity". Mark described that story very neatly, so I hope he won't mind me reproducing his précis - an art historian sees a whole swarm of hideous faces hiding in the paintings of the tortured artist - rather than spewing my own inferior version.

"Orange Is For Anguish..." is an excellent short story, and is among the stand-out efforts in Black Evening. That's saying something too, for although this collection presents its stories in chronological order, so that you can watch Morrell hone his writing technique (as well as seeing the effect events in his personal life had on his storytelling), the standard here is uniformly high. For that reason alone, I don't want to pick out or describe too many of the stories therein... but I do want to give two a special mention.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am an aspiring writer, and that most of the efforts with which I've had some meagre success are short stories of the sort that Morrell includes in Black Evening. No, I am not trying to compare myself to this multi-million selling master of the craft. I'm just trying to illustrate that I try to write what I like to read. And, after reading "The Storm" in Black Evening, I had a genuine I wish I'd written that moment. The story is simple: whilst on holiday, our protagonist comments to his son that a native American's rain dance is hokey and just for show, for the cynical benefit of tourists. Cue a curse on our narrator, who is then followed wherever he goes by a torrential storm. Of course he manages to get the curse lifted, but there's a twist in the tale. Isn't there always? Anyway... okay, yes, the premise reminds me a bit of Thinner by Richard Bachman (I'd have to do some research to find out which was written first) but c'mon, there's nothing new under the sun, after all. And that shouldn't detract from the fact that this story is beautifully, sparsely written, utterly absorbing and, despite the otherworldy content, made entirely plausible.

And then there's "Mumbo Jumbo", a tale of a US high school sports team mascot and the effect it has on the players. Now I didn't go to a US high school and the idea of American football is anathema to me... but that doesn't matter. Morrell weaves a tale that drags you in, takes you back to whatever your school days were and lets you reinhabit the mind of the person you were then. It's a beautifully told tale (with a little twist in the tale, naturally) and, like many of the stories in Black Evening, would make a fine story for The Twilight Zone. Or, if you're English, like me, an excellent Tale Of The Unexpected.

So, Black Evening... it's out of print, of course, but thanks to Amazon, I have an ex-library hardback in pretty good condition that only cost 1p (plus postage and packing), so there's a bargain to be had here. I recommend it to you unreservedly - if you're the sort of person who enjoys Stephen King's short stories (or just well-told short stories in general, as long as you're not averse to being creeped out now and again) then this is a book for you. Go, seek it out.


  1. Yeah, I read this last year - following your recommendation, I seem to remember after you pointed me towards Mark's piece on the coincidental plotting between Oranges and the Van Gogh Dr. Who episode. I enjoyed all the stories you mentioned.

    1. Yep, we both have something to thank Mark for on this one! Oh, and as a footnote both Thinner and The Storm were written in 1984, so who knows which came first...?