Warning Signs - by Jack Harding
The second collection from Jack Harding comprises 13 shorts. This isn’t a genre collection, it’s not all “horror”, this is Jack exploring, and richer for it. I think someone used the term Dark fiction, and that’s probably the best collective name I can apply here.
For this review, I’ll start with the stand-out shorts straight away. For me, the gems in the collection were, unquestionably, “The last round” and “The rub of the green”, with “In his eyes” a good contender to the throne.
The last round is simply exquisite. It’s not horror. It doesn’t need to be. It’s everything it pertains to be, a knockout snapshot of human emotion and the horrors we endure chasing our dreams, and the damage refusing to accept when they are over, does to us and those that believe in us. Jack, this is, in my opinion, the best story you’ve written, to date, that I’ve read from you (I am by no means a Harding expert). It made me want to go back and read it again. You couldn’t pack more emotion into a short.
The rub of the green has the beauty of a killer character, and whilst the identity of the other golfer doesn’t come as a surprise, nor the wager or subsequent change of wager, the loving description of the round of golf and the personality and character of the mc captivated me.
In his eyes brings the horror of a mother into play. I loved that Jack kept it short, it weighed in nicely against the longer pieces surrounding it. We saw the end coming, through the title, but the concept here is killer (see what I did there?).
Harding’s style of (literal) pages of initial description and internal thought process is evident here straight off the bat with Trinity – a fictional account from the pov of a soldier attending the first atom bomb testing. That premise, an actual event from a fictional perspective is mirrored in Enough Rope, a fictional account of the thoughts of the last sanctioned hanging in England, from the perspective of the hangman himself. I think knowing the inevitable endings here made these harder to read – you know going in that there aren’t going to be surprise endings. I was just along for the ride in seeing Jack do his thing.
Two of the longer shorts - React and Driving in the dark – are included here, and honestly, (putting my neck on the line here) I think that’s a mistake on Jack’s part. Both of those shorts appeared in Dark Lines, his first collection (published by Dark Lit Press), and both of those shorts were also published as stand-alone novellas before that collection. I feel (and still believe) it was as if Jack really wanted those stories to be read by as many people as possible, as examples of his work, and whilst they are strong, they’re not the stars of this collection (see above). Jack's writing has developed. I don't think the collection needed the buffer of those established pieces.
All in all, Warning signs is a solid collection and a glimpse into Harding’s writing as he hones his craft.
This gets 4 out of 5 ⭐ ‘s from me.
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