Well this sucks. Jack Ketchum, one of my favorite authors, has died. I got to meet him on a couple of occasions and it was a huge privilege and pleasure. He always had a kind word for his fans and made everyone feel appreciated. It was sort of funny that he was such a nice guy considering how brutal his work was, but that only made him even more interesting to talk to. Listening to him discuss where he got his ideas from was an experience that I'll never forget.
With his passing I decided to dig deep into the vaults for this Throwback Thursday and dust off a couple novella reviews that I wrote years ago for my old website. These aren't some of his better known works, but are pretty awesome.
This is a double feature from one of my favorite authors Jack Ketchum. What we have are a couple of novellas that run about 150 pages each. The first story is about a woman named Dora that has had terrible luck with the men in her life. We pick up the action in the middle of a bad breakup, the latest of many. After meeting up with a friend from her school days they tell her about a service called Old Flames. This is a detective agency that looks up that lost love and take another chance on them. Dora finds the “one that got away” only he is married and has a couple of kids. The rest of the story is her manipulating her way into his life and his bed. She gets what she wants but then things go bad, very bad.
I really like Old Flames. The pacing is quick with Ketchum wasting no time getting to the setup and meat of the story. This makes for a quick read even for a novella that is only 130 or so pages. Dora is an interesting character and while I thought I knew where the story was headed it surprised me with the brutal ending. The fact that nothing that happens to her justifies her actions means that Old Flames’ main character is really unlikeable and despicable. Dora isn’t happy so she is going to leech onto someone else’s happiness and steal it from them. I can’t remember reading a book that had me hating our protagonist so much. I found this both interesting and fun.
The second story is called Right to Life. This one is a bit different, though again our main character is a woman with a problem. Her name is Sara and she is pregnant by a married man. They decide to have the baby aborted but on the way to the clinic Sara is kidnapped by a sadistic man and his wife, who isn’t as twisted but is complicit. Soon Sara is locked away in their basement the victim of all sorts of humiliations and assaults. We watch as the abuse builds and soon Sara is so happy for the slightest kindness that she actually bonds with her captors and is given privileges. It isn’t until she has a revelation that she again understands whom she is dealing with.
At times this is a brutal story. Some of the things that are done to the Sara character are hard to stomach. The way she is dehumanized and callously injured for fun made me really hate the man that locked her in the basement. But this is the perfect tone to set and makes the ending all that more satisfying. The couple are so evil and their intentions so foul that Ketchum sets up the reader to root for Sara when she finally has had enough and acts to protect herself and the baby that she now wants. If any Ketchum story or book that I’ve read has a “happy” ending then Right to Life is it.
I’d recommend picking up Old Flames and Right to Life. They are great reads and a nice way to either continue with Ketchum’s work or to dive into it if you haven’t had the pleasure. He was an amazing author that deserves more attention from fans of horror fiction. The world is far less interesting with his passing.
© Copyright 2018 John Shatzer
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