A Penny For Your Thoughts by Robert Ford and Matt Hayward
Publisher: Poltergeist Press | Release Date: June 1, 2019 | Pages: 264
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Fresh out of prison, Joe Openshaw is hiking the Lowback Trail when he discovers a glass jar filled with pennies taped to scraps of folded paper. Curious, he opens one scrap and finds a young girl’s handwriting and a wish for a bike. It’s not just mere coincidence when his friend Kenny gives him a stolen bike to fence a short time later, and Joe sees a few other wishes come true. As a recovering addict, though, Joe knows nothing comes free, that there’s always a hook. Nothing is as simple as a wish granted, no string attached. There’s a cost, and the debt is starting to pile up…soon enough, it’s got to be collected.
Robert Ford and Matt Hayward have crafted a compulsively readable work of horror crime fiction. A Penny For Your Thoughts has a killer premise, and it’s populated with a ton of rich characters. Joe is a highly sympathetic and deeply flawed protagonist, with his background as an addict and unwitting getaway driver for a store robbery that landed him and his girlfriend in prison. His relationship with his father is rich and relateable, and the authors do a wonderful job of exploring the burgeoning friendship that arises between Joe, Kenny, and newcomer Ava.
Ford and Hayward also do a wonderful job of introducing their concept, exploring the curiosity and initial light-hardheartedness of it before plunging the story and its characters into darkness. There’s a great sequence early on when one character reads a young girl’s wish to hilarious results, but as Joe, Kenny, and Ava dig deeper into the nature of these wishes and their penny payments things get progressively darker. The innocuous wishes written by a young girl decades earlier take some horrific turns, and soon enough Joe is forced into the position of keeping this jar safe from others who would deliberately seek to use these magical pennies for devious ends.
My only criticism of A Penny For Your Thoughts is actually less a criticism and more of a desire for more. The Crimson Sisters are a mysterious group, one that sticks to the shadows, but what we get to know of them is pretty tantalizing stuff. I had really hoped for more involvement on their end, and the authors promised greater depths to their purpose with minor dashes of cosmic horror. With nods toward Elder Gods, and even Brian Keene’s Ob from The Rising, I had hoped for some deeper involvement of ancient beings. Unfortunately, the potential for the Crimson Sisters are not fully realized, and are, at a crucial moment, reduced to little more than a deus ex machina. The nature of the Crimson Sisters, though, is highly intriguing and I really wanted to spend more time with them, for Joe to learn more about their practices and peel back some of their mysteries. I wanted to know way more about them than the story or the authors could commit to. I wanted them to become a more prominent and overt force in the story, but Ford and Hayward keep things teasingly subtle.
Despite wanting more out of the Crimson Sisters, everything else about A Penny For Your Thoughts worked really, really well, and Ford and Hayward work with the synchrony of a well-oiled machine. Their collaboration here is awfully smooth, and it’s clear these two spent a good amount of time ensuring their prose styles mesh and seamlessly disappear into one another. A Penny For Your Thoughts is a smooth, easy, engaging read, and if I had but one wish it’d be for more Ford and Hayward collaborations. Maybe on something exploring the Crimson Sisters further, if I might be so bold.