The Captivating Flames of Madness by Jeff Parsons
This week I review The Captivating Flames of Madness for Blackthorn Book Tours.
“Chilled to the bone” is an overused cliché, but that is exactly how I felt reading many of the stories in Jeff Parsons’ collection The Captivating Flames of Madness. Parsons knows the right ways, the right words to trigger fear. I am still haunted by his description of the teeth of a severed head clanking against a pipe as it rolls back and forth.
Parsons sets his stories in the most vulnerable locations: a plane, a submarine, a locked psych ward, forcing his characters to deal directly with the evil at hand. He channels many different types of horror, finding the right trigger for each in this fright fest of a collection. He inhabits a diverse cast of characters from a young meth head to a discredited paranormal investigator to a disillusioned U-Boat engineer in the heart of WWII.
There are a total of twenty-two stories in this collection, fifteen of which were previously published. “Bruja” takes the old story of a lost boy coming across a witch’s house and breathes new life into it with an unexpected twist. In “Nothing Personal” a hacker blackmails a pharmaceutical company into giving him their “immortality treatment” that leads to a disturbing eternal life he doesn’t want. “The Devourers of Eternity” struck a particular fear of mine in this story of cockroaches that will make your skin crawl.
My favorite of the collection, however, was “There’s No Place Like Hell.” The world is engulfed in cold, only getting colder, as shadows haunt the world and people disappear one by one. The story, I felt, was not only the best written, but also the most emotionally investing. By the end, the main character’s grief became my own.
Still, I had a few qualms with the collection. The quality of the prose was not always consistent. Some stories were wonderfully written, others—not so much. Both “Eye of the Storm” and “Among Us” didn’t do it for me, more from janky plot construction than the words themselves. Mental illness was a common theme (as seen from its title), but wasn’t always handled with the most accuracy.
Two stories alluded to a hidden evil beneath the ground, giving me cosmic horror vibes. I wish Parsons had explored this more.
Though I read this book for Blackthorn Book Tours, it is certainly a book I would have picked up on my own. And while not the most profound piece of literature, it is a fun and engaging read that will glue you to the page and transport you to a world of fear and suspense.
You can find The Captivating Flames of Madness on Amazon here.
You can find Jeff Parsons’ Facebook author page here.