The Sea Was A Fair Master by Calvin Demmer

A review

There seemed to be a fair amount of noise generated by this book amongst horror reviewers, so I thought  I’d take the plunge. TSWAFM is a collection of 23 very short stories or ‘flash fiction,’ and Calvin Demmer has chosen it as his debut. This gives it an unusual niche in the market as there aren’t too many publications like this and it means you can dip into a story and have finished it within 5 to 10 minutes. If you’re a fan of Roald Dahl, Ray Bradbury or Michael Marshall Smith, then this should grab you. It’s not a stunning debut, as some stories fall a little short of the grandeur promised by others, but there’s plenty of meat here for the voracious horror reader. I’ll certainly be looking forward to more from this writer.

Seeing as Demmer has chosen short-form, I thought I’d deliver my verdict for each story with a similar approach.

On the seventh day – Nice opener. Relies on building an atmosphere, which Demmer does well. This is the first of three stories using the sea as a setting.

Restroom finds – A fairly predictable post-apocalyptic tale which nonetheless delivers with a punch and ups the momentum in the story progression.

Underneath  – Well written and suspenseful tale based on a haunted house trope. It’s sufficiently different to leave you satisfied.

Yara – She’s an android and, like many an sf story that’s been written, has pretensions on being human. This one does it slightly differently, though and ticks my boxes as a good Bradburyesque story.

The Peeper – One of Demmer’s more mundane stories about a serial killer. This one didn’t do a great deal for me.

Revenge of the myth – A not-so-nice-Christmas tale. I generally hate yuletide horror stories but this one had some original elements and didn’t overstay its welcome.

The one – One of the best stories in this collection. You understand from the outset that the mc is deranged. But wait til’ you meet his girlfriend. Juicy storyline delivered with an economy of words.

Fear the clowns – This doesn’t go where you think it’s going to go. That’s all I’ll say about this one.

West – This one had something of a Rhoald Dahl ‘Tales of the Unexpected’ feel to it. Although, like Dahl, the ending was a bit obvious.

The sea was a fair master – I can see why this one was chosen as the ‘title track.’ This is Demmer at his best, not having to rely on sudden twists, but simply telling a tale of the banality of evil and how men can consider others as less than human. Probably my favourite story.

Trashcan Sam – Dystopian tale which probably should be a scene in a novel-length tale. For me, this didn’t work as a short story.

Blind Teddy – Another Christmas tale. Did I mention I don’t like Christmas tales?

Voodoo Child – no connection to Jimi Hendrix’s song. This starts well but ends predictably.

Letting the dead grow – Another of my favourites. This is more weird fiction than the other stories and I like it all the more for this. The graveyard keeper’s strange predilections leave you all of a shiver.

The snakes or the humans – A good, original, convoluted tale that leaves you guessing until the end.

Not suicide – A tale of the sea and UFOs (I think). Not a bad story.

Evolution = crime – Another story that would work well as a scene in a longer tale as the characters are well drawn.

The guests – Wendy has a curious hobby, a missing husband and strange house guests. Short, snappy and entertaining stuff from Demmer.

Like a Spanish guitar – Another favourite of mine as the characters take centre place. I also identified with the MC’s day job working in a music shop, and his dreams of a better life. But, as they say, beware of what you dream.

Hangman – Throwaway story. The plot is in the title.

Graves – Emotional story with a certain connection to ‘Sixth Sense’ and ‘The Others.’ Well told, though.

Noisy neighbours – Filler. That’s not to dismiss it – you need tales like this to sandwich out a collection.

Sea ate nine – Grover’s a psychopath – but at least an original one. Fine way to end this collection.

The sea was a fair master is published by Unnerving Press and can be bought from Amazon

The author can be followed on Twitter – @Calvin Demmer

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