'Havoc Swims Jaded' (you're welcome to figure out the meaning of this
title) is, according to the author, his 13th published book, and
his seventh collection. Incidentally, it includes 13 stories.
Any cabalistic meaning? Again, go figure. Although a fairly successful
and award-winning writer with a good suite of followers, Schow never
quite made it so far into the Olympus of great horror masters. The reasons
may be various, but after reading the present collection my guess is
that it's because the quality of his work is extremely inconsistent,
varying from excellent to downright atrocious.
Among the stories included in the book, take for instance "Dismantling
Fortress Architecture" and even "Scoop vs Leadman" (a
further instalment in his Scoop miniseries). Here you can experience
examples of a nervous, sketchy narrative style that I find far from appealing.
Schow seems to want to avoid straightforward storytelling in favour of
a more elliptical, circuitous way of building the plot, which appears
terribly confusing. Moreover the characters have no thickness and remain
mere "personae" or comic strip stereotypes.
On the other hand there are splendid pieces where the author displays
what he can achieve when, giving up his attempts to be eccentric, he
forces himself to produce solid, consistent fiction.
This is the case with "The Pyre and Others", where a scarce
book by an elusive author, endowed with unusual properties, is the key
point of a fully enjoyable, well written tale, and the superb "Obsequy",
a compelling piece recounting the events taking place in a small town
when the disinterment of the corpses from a local cemetery brings the
dead back to complete the deeds left unaccomplished at the time of their
Other very good stories are "What Happened With Margaret",
a cruel yarn featuring an overweight housewife dealing with robbers and
rapists during a mild earthquake in California, and "Plot Twist" a
nasty, gripping tale where two men and a woman go astray in a desert
tainted with a weird atmosphere. While their relation gets strained and
bizarre theories are suggested to explain their predicament, things take
an unexpected turn. Absolutely perfect.
"Size Nothing" is a delightful piece where a woman obsessed
with the desire to improve her looks becomes an unrecognizable entity
Call" effectively depicts a world where suicide is considered a
social crime and has to be amended…
Other stories, however, are just fair and can be quickly forgotten, like "Five
Sisters. A Fable", which is exactly what the title promises, and "The
Thing Too Hideous To Describe", proving that the concept of "monster" is
In short, this is a book collecting a bunch of stories of variable rank
by an author who can produce with the same ease superb fiction and irritating,