Just to make you all aware, I received an Advance Reader Copy of this title from the author, prior to its release, in return for an honest review.
I’m going to start with a quick plot run-down of each tale, and then I’ll share my overall thoughts, at the end.
Laurence is part of Santa’s Elite. A group of specialists that deal with folks that get onto the naughty list. You see, there is a heck of a lot more people in the world now than there was when jolly old Saint Nick first started operating, and that amount of people puts more of a strain on the big guy each year. So, the best way to lower that workload is to reduce the number of people.
Easy, or, it should be if personal grudges didn't get in the way.
AWAY IN A MANGLER
Tanya has left London for what she hopes is a quieter life in the town of Winchelsea, on the South Coast. Taking the vacant position in a shop that seems to sell all manner of gewgaws and knickknacks, mostly glass sculptures, Tanya settles into her new job.
To say any more, would be to say too much, so you’ll just have to read it to find out what happens next. let's just say that sometimes, it's best to ignore strange noises. Curiosity can be fatal.
HO HO HOLLOW
It’s that typical Christmas morning. The scattered remnants of unplayed presents lay about the house, the scent of mulled wine drifts through the air, accompanied by the rhythmic sound of a knife chopping through vegetables, and the children play outside in the snow.
The idyllic Christmas morn. Until the madness begins. Until something far more terrifying than Jack Frost’s freezing touch chills this family to the core.
Well, I’m probably going over old ground here, reusing words I’ve typed down before in regards to Mark’s work, but I thoroughly enjoyed this trio of festive treats.
Mark's writing grabs you from the first few words and doesn’t let go. There is no time wasted on over-telling or superfluous padding. It sets the scene, introduces the characters and pulls you along for the ride. Even his acknowledgements filled me with memories of my childhood. Of visiting a store Santa, asking for Star Wars Toys (this was the late 70’s’early eighties) and coming away with a flimsy jigsaw and a badge proclaiming “I met Father Christmas at the Co-Op.”
It was a memory I had all but forgotten, but Mark brought it to the surface.
Such familiarity strikes in Ho Ho Hollow – which was also my favourite story. That perfect Christmas morning, filled with the typical sights, sounds and smells, brought firmly to mind thanks to skilful writing.
My only complaint is, again, one that I think I’ve voiced before in regards to his work. There isn’t enough of it. Characters and the world they inhabit are so well realised; I nearly always find myself wanting to spend more time in their presence.
This was the case with Santa’s Elite, which just, sort of ended. I wasn’t ready for the sudden stop, and after turning the page (well, sliding my finger over the screen) I had to go back to check that I hadn’t somehow missed a page. I even re-read the final lines just to check. My reaction was, ‘Oh, ok. I get it, but…where’s the rest?”
I was left wanting to know more of Laurence, what happens next and to even find out about other members of The Elite, how they all interact, and how they became recruited.
Away In A Mangler, was the story I was most looking forward to, just because of that title. The addition of a singular letter into the title of a well-known Christmas song changes the dynamic wonderfully.
I wasn’t disappointed. The story went in an expected direction, and may not have held any surprises for me, but that didn’t matter as it was so enjoyable.
When moments of gore and/or violence occur in Mark’s stories, they aren’t gratuitous, but they are visceral, and it spills from the page in this story.
The town in which the story is set also reminded me of another of Mark’s tales. The name of which escapes me at the moment, but it was one of his tales from the Shadow Fabric Mythos. I could be wrong, my memories muddled, but I’m sure there was a tale that contained a very similar seaside town, with a mention of a similar store.
If I am wrong, that goes to show just how skilled Cassell’s writing is and harkens back to my comment about my memories of meeting a store Santa.
His writing portrays the characters and locale’s so well, that it brings if not memories, then certainly imagery of similar locations bubbling to the surface.
If you still haven’t the chance to read any of Cassell’s work, this new release is a great place to start. Huddle up with a glass of mulled wine, wrap yourself in a blanket, and hope that it’s enough to keep you warm, and safe, as you dip into these chilling tales.
Murder, Machinery & Snowflakes will be available from December 1st.
You can find it here on amazon: Murder, Machinery & Snowflakes
As with Mark's earlier release of Monster Double Feature - CLick here to see our review - this title contains titles that have been previously released in other collections.
Santa's Elite was first published in The Horror Collection: White Edition. (KJK Publishing 2019)
Away in a Mangler was first published in Bah! Humbug! (Matt Shaw Publications 2016)
Ho Ho Hollow was first published in Collected Christmas Horror Vol.2 (KJK Publishing 2018)