Dark Lines - by Jack Harding
Jack Harding is an author I became aware of through Dark Lit press, both through his inclusion in the “Slice of Paradise” anthology with his flash piece “She waits”, and through Dark Lit’s promotion of him with giveaways and Author Spotlights (If I remember correctly). When Dark Lit then produced a collection of Jack’s works, I jumped at the chance to read it – my thanks go to both Dark Lit and Jack for the ARC of Dark Lines, this is my honest review and it has been in no way biased by receiving a free copy.
Firstly, one thing all of the stories have in common (or most of them), is Jack’s penchant for perceptional twists – a lot of the stories complete themselves by panning out at the end of the story to reveal that the MC is not as you assumed – they are revealed to be the opposite of what you thought they were (and I’m not listing examples here so as not to spoil those twists). The gut punch to a lot of the stories is the realization that what you had assumed was wrong, and the story you just read needs to be read again in light of the new information. It works - I will say that after two stories in succession with that effect I braced myself for the shoe drop in every story, and quite often, the shoe dropped. The work itself though sells the book – each story is tight, polished, well thought out, and wonderfully constructed.
Jack can write very compelling shorts.
Harding utilizes description as a set card in his poker hand, and it’s generally the first card he plays. The setting descriptions in almost all of the shorts are in-depth, poetic, atmospheric, and detailed – smells, sounds, and textures, it’s all included to build the background to the horror Jack then injects into each story. Sometimes that horror is ambiguous, “A doctor’s note” for example requires the reader to take the logical step to interpret “made his way down to the ground floor” correctly – which scored kudos points from me, I’m a fan of allowing the reader to complete logical thought-trains themselves, my phrase “Let the reader think, dammit!” was not said in vain – there are others out there that believe the same, Dan Howarth tapped into that idea with his short “Dustin”, and Jack continues the tradition here. By that I am not saying I own the idea, I ascribe to it, as do many.
Highlights for me were “Silent treatment” and “The foot of the bed”, both utilizing the perspective change to hit home their messages. The longer “Driving in the dark” - itself a stand-alone novella included here as a part of the collection – was a nice addition, again a perception change as a smack at the end.
This collection is pretty solid. The style of the pieces is consistent, and as such, I think it’s a collection best read slowly, say one story a day, to really appreciate it. The writing is tight, the prose poetic and descriptive, and Jack does love to play with reader expectations.
The range here was broad, the writing easy to read.
This is (for me) a great introduction to Jack’s writing. I’d love to read something of his with a little more meat, there’s no room for doubt here that Harding has mastered the short-with-a-twist, I’m going to need to read a longer novella by him to see what he does with a larger palate and horror that has a slower build.
Yeah, I’m impressed. Harding’s a thinker, and I like that. I’m giving this 5 ⭐ ‘s because of the scope of imagination required here to construct the shorts in the way Jack did.
You can buy Dark Lines, by clicking on the appropriate Amazon link, below:
You can find Jack on Twitter, HERE.
You can find Jack on Instagram, HERE.