4.5 stars, actually.
I read the author’s novel featuring this short story’s same town, Willoughby, first. I’m glad I did. Because with the framework of the novel in my head, including some characters that I found in this book (hi Edwin! hi Doris!) I could fit each story like a puzzle piece into the picture of Willoughby’s murder-and-hate filled history to create a whole.
I might not have had the satisfaction of that synthesized portrayal of a daytime-bucolic but nightime-horrific town without the novel first. So I totally recommend reading that.
The stories here I found fell into three different types for me, although all of them contained the kind of gut-twisting, visceral encounter with horror that I’ve come to see as one of Hafdahl’s specialties, especially with the language focusing on blood, mucous, and guts.
The first type of stories featured women as their main emotional focus, usually ones who were broken in some way, like Penny with an upset stomach obsessed with cleanliness, or Adelaide grossed out by her working-class lug of a husband. These stories take everyday, common issues and run with them into horror territory.
The second type of stories were kind of backstory horror stories featuring characters I knew from Her Dark Inheritance. I LOVED finding out more about Edwin’s realization about the evil in Willoughby. I also LOVED finding out Doris Woodhouse’s backstory and how she came to live in Fred Willoughby’s house. The most chilling story, hands down, for me was the librarian who helps the main character of Her Dark Inheritance. Here we get a glimpse of a terrible tragedy in her life that ended up blind-siding me with revelations about the grossness of predatory men.
The third kind of story involved unreliable narrators (my favorite kind) who seemed to be victims, but who I ended up enjoying their horrific punishment. Leon Small, a farmer who prides himself on the newness and neatness of his farm, finds a basket with an infant on his porch one night, and what transpires is a fitting punishment for the control-freak.
So a creepy collection of stories revolving around the evil in Willoughby. Just .5 star taken away because I think having the overall narrative of the fiction novel (Her Dark Inheritance) creates a fuller picture of the town– without which, this collection might at times lack a cohesive center.