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BOOK REVIEW: Grotesque: Monster Stories by Lee Murray

Grotesque book cover

Bram Stoker Award Winning NZ writer Lee Murray’s strong collection of stories run the gamut from historical horror, to far-future sci-fi to a welcome dose of stories heavily based on Maori culture and myths. The author takes on a vast array of creatures from zombies to giant kaiju-like demons emerging from lakes to subterranean golems among others.

Her stories often move at a breakneck pace, feeling like the grand payoff in the third act of a movie. But Murray doesn’t short-change her characters, we meet them in situ and get a strong sense of them through their actions in crisis.

Murray skillfully transports the reader through vastly different time periods and locations, from medieval France to present-day New Zealand and into the distant future. Some stories, like Dead End Town, flow with dark poetry, detailing the hardships faced by a young woman in a small rural town. Fantasy and tragedy are combined here to great effect.

Selfie posits a bizarre post-apocalyptic scenario where an explosion fuses peoples bodies together. A man and a woman find themselves literally joined at the hip and have to work together to navigate their horrific new reality. 

The New Breed gives us a breakneck zombie story with a flawed protagonist and another richly imagined fallen world. 

Cave Fever is my favorite story with its richly imagined futures cape where people live underground and use genetically altered creatures called Diviners to seek out water. We get whole books worth of world-building in a short space of time, and this is one of those stories that could easily be expanded into a longer work.

The collection ends with Into The Clouded Sky - A Taine McKenna Adventure, revisiting the lad character from Murray’s Into the Mist series. Here we journey into a mythical underworld populated by golems, as Taine and his companions try and fight their way back to the surface. This is another fast-paced adventure horror story, that leaves us on a high.

It was a pleasure to read such a varied mix of stories and Murray’s strong sense of indigenous culture and history particularly enriches the work.

4.5 out of 5.

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