Houses of the Unholy by JG Faherty
Publisher: Cemetery Dance Publications | Release Date: April 16, 2019 | Pages: 254
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
There’s something special about finishing a book and feeling like you’ve just witnessed a strong performance. You sit back with the music ringing in your ears, a big smile on your face, and the knowledge that they just gave you their all. JG Faherty’s Houses of the Unholy is that performance. From beginning to end, each story in the collection brings down the house.
Right from the get-go I knew I was in for something special. At first I couldn’t put my finger on it, but the further in I got, the more I was reminded of reading Stephen King’s early collections. Both authors have this way of writing that feels like a solid piece of work. They both can so perfectly capture the everyday person, from their way of speaking to their motivations. They can also easily drop them into a terrible situation and force them to make tough decisions until we as the audience have to squirm. Now, I’m not saying they are similar writers. King has his own brand of writing, and Faherty clearly does as well. But, as you move along Faherty’s stories you’ll recognize that you are reading the work of someone who is fully in control of what they are writing and knows how to deliver a story.
The thing that really makes Faherty stand out is his ability to craft stories that feel like urban legends or the seeds of a folk tale. I would not doubt for a second a legend about two drunk farmers who believe there are zombies on their field and how they went a drunken killing spree. Or I’m sure in some school hallway float the whispers about the boy that found a black box which can give him whatever he wishes for, but of course he doesn’t listen to the age old adage “be careful what you wish for.” Faherty’s storytelling is so natural that it is not hard to imagine that there is some truth buried deep in each story.
Faherty does seem to have a thing about zombies. A number of his stories feature the undead in one way or another. Some worked better than others, but he did do some creative things with the trope. He doesn’t always call them zombies and they don’t always act the way we are used to seeing. For instance, in the opening story The Lazarus Effect and its novella companion, December Soul, the zombies are called Lazari. The Lazari don’t crave brains or even attack people, they just come back from the dead and congregate in the places they remember. They also have this wicked ability to change others in Lazari by psychically attacking them, drilling into their thoughts the idea that it’d be better to be like them. It’s pretty disturbing in how effective it is. Faherty focuses these two stories on the survivors, giving them something to focus on other than the Lazari, which makes it all the more haunting when things go down. In another of his stories, Martial Law, only deceased soldiers and law enforcement come back to march in the streets with an aim to take over command. It’s a chilling concept that looks at who is in charge, what they are willing to do, and the dangers of thinking you are invincible. I’m not the biggest fan of zombie stories, I think we are well past the point of saturation with them. However, I did find myself enjoying what Faherty did with the concept and how he used it to tell something new.
Every story in Houses of the Unholy is a great example on how to write a horror short story. Faherty knows when and how to interject horror to keep the tension at the right level. Each story is varied enough to keep you engaged and excited to see what’s next. He also has this wonderfully annoying habit of ending a story with one final scare, forcing you to check over your shoulder or stare up at the ceiling while laying in bed as you imagine what the next scene might be. I am fully on board the Faherty train and am excited to read whatever he will deliver next.