Short story collections are usually a mixed bag; they usually contain half-baked ideas and the tales that preceded longer, better writing projects. While it’s interesting to watch the thought-process unfold, short story anthologies can sometimes compromise on readability as a result.
As such, I wasn’t expecting every story in Philip M Stuckey’s collection, Matters Of Life And Death, to interest me. I’d expected that some would be works in progress, but I was amazed by how engaging and unique each one is in this incredible collection.
The stories range from futuristic stories of how tech is changing our lives, through to timeless tales of witches and sorcery. There’s also a truly terrifying reimagining of the Bogeyman that will actually haunt your dreams. Some of the stories are clearly set in a specific time period or setting, usually the English countryside. Others are timeless and seem to be set in another world, but the author still keeps them grounded and unique.
Characterisation is amazing in this collection of short stories; Stuckey creates two dimensional, well-rounded characters with backgrounds, feelings and unique perspectives, despite the short length of most of the stories. Some are as short as just one page, but they still manage to pack a punch and capture the reader’s imagination.
What unites this disparate group of tales is the author’s unique storytelling and inventive plots. Stuckey deftly combines human interest with inventive plotting to create relatable short stories that capture the imagination and hold it long after you’ve finished this relatively short book.
While each story is unique and inventive, that isn’t to say that there are not some similarities and reoccurring themes throughout the collection. The tales in Matters Of Life And Death are all bound together with the same focus on human nature and the way that people are connected to the earth and the mysterious forces that drive the often inexplicable occurrences that come about in nature, such as coincidences and supposed miracles.
Also, some writing techniques, such as the simile of a mute dog straining at a leash, are repeated in several stories; after a couple they become noticeable. However, these repetitions are few and far between, so while you might notice them slightly more than you would in other short story anthologies, they don’t detract from the tales as much as they do in other collections. It’s clear that all of these stories are unique and that they’ve all been written specifically for the collection; they’re not just old, half-finished projects that are thrown into a short story book to make up the numbers and get something published. These are all engaging stories in their own right, and together they create an unmissable short story collection that has something for every reader.
One of the issues in this innovative short story collection is that some of the dialogue reads too well; it sounds like a written diary entry. Most people don’t speak in this flowery, descriptive way, so the dialogue sounds a little forced. The dialogue in some stories, such as the first one in the collection, Witch In A Bottle, should really have been a diary entry or a written statement. As dialogue, it seems a little overdone and unlikely, but it would make a fantastic written statement from the character in question, a historical priest who is the victim of a supernatural possession or crime.
My only other issue with Matters Of Life And Death is that there’s no author introduction. It would be amazing to have insight direct from the author’s mouth about the inspiration behind the short story collection, which is usually reserved for the introduction. This book is only around 100 pages long, so a short intro wouldn’t have made it too long and difficult to read. It would also give us an insight into the author’s fascinating life; Stuckey isn’t just an author, but also a entrepreneur, a singer, songwriter and a poet, so he clearly has a lot of interesting things to say. If they ever re-release this short story collection in the future, I think that his publishers should definitely insist on an introduction; I’d buy another copy just for that addition!
Despite these small niggles, I’m a pretty big fan of this collection of enthralling tales. It’s a great book to binge-read, simply because once you start it, you won’t be able to put it down until it’s finished. Some of the stories are haunting and evocative, so they’ll stay with you for a long time.
Overall, I think that Philip M Stuckey’s collection of eclectic, occult themed short stories is engaging and intriguing in equal measure. If you enjoy creepy, spine-tingling tales, then you should definitely check out Matters Of Life And Death. This incredible anthology has got me all excited for the author’s upcoming fantasy novel, The Hunt For Moss And Magic. If it’s even half as good as the short stories in this collection, then it’ll be a knockout.