Book review of Death Sentences by Matthew Warner
published in Cemetery Dance magazine, August 2006
Written by Steve Vernon
Reprinted by permission of Steve Vernon and Cemetery Dance.
DEATH SENTENCES: TALES OF PUNISHMENT AND REVENGE, by Matthew Warner; Undaunted Press, 2005; 116 pgs; $10.00
DEATH SENTENCES is a limited edition soft cover chapbook, perfect bound and autographed by the author, Matthew Warner, and the artist, his wife Deena Warner; making this chapbook a bit of a family enterprise. There’s a lot of family blood mixed with the ink of this little collection.
Let’s start with the first story, “Middle Passages”. This story was originally written for Lone Wolf Publications CD-ROM collection EXTREMES III – TERROR ON THE HIGH SEAS. It’s a haunting tale of a slave ship’s journey across the Atlantic, and in particular the fate of a slave named Poro and his daughter Sametta. The story is steeped in dark history, and offers the kind of horror that could only be scooped from out of the funky bowels of real life. Much of this tale is lifted from anecdotes and archives of actual history. It’s a terrifying piece, and the strongest story in the collection.
The second tale, “Angel’s Wings” is anything but an easy read. It’s a twisted fever dream of a yarn, “Angel’s Wings” meanders through a convoluted cavern of recollection and regret. It’s a dark tale dealing with multi-generational lies, secrets, and a tale of revenge that demands a second or third reading. It’s a complicated story, told in recollection and hearsay. Turn these pages with a clear head and never before bedtime.
I had read the third tale “The Cave” in the pages of CEMETERY DANCE, and enjoyed it then. It’s the most mainstream and prosaic tale in this collection, and seems a little pale in the darker shadows cast by the first two stories, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.
The fourth tale, “A Second Chance” offers little new, and is perhaps the weakest tale of the bunch. Both “The Cave” and “A Second Chance” are intensely personal in nature, and Warner openly admits that he was hashing out a few feelings with these stories. All writing is inherently therapeutic; it’s a risk we writers run as we repeatedly bash our collective skulls against our keyboards, yet I wanted a little more out of this story. Perhaps I’m being harsh, and should give it a second chance.
The final tale, “The Forgiving Type” is my favorite of the collection. It’s raw and rank, written with Ed Lee gusto. Although it hasn’t the haunting beauty of some of the other stories, it’s just plain fun. “The Forgiving Type” is a six-pack and skinny dip on a hot summer day. It’s a great way to end a great little collection that I recommend highly.
— Steve Vernon