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Book review: Ominous - A Collection of Dark Tales by Ian J Middleton

Updated: Oct 7, 2021

Ominous by Ian J Middleton book cover

Last year I hosted a read along of my friend and fellow writer Ian J Middleton's collection Ominous. I find collections a great way to get to know an author before taking a chance on their longer works. The mix and breadth of the stories here are impressive to behold, especially given the brevity of some of the pieces. Some are dark and grim while others are more fun and playful.

I've reprinted my original reviews of each story here:

“Dig” is a quick & tense little thriller about a man on a cycling tour through Russia who sets up camps for the night in a rather unfortunate spot. Cleverly told from the POV of the man inside his tent really adds to the tension. Also having travelled & camped on the backroads of Eastern Europe, I related to the uncertainty of such a trip - thankfully there was no murder on our trip - though I did wake up to a cop pointing a machine gun at me!

“Loblolly” is a set on a sailing ship during a sea battle & but is intriguingly confined to to below decks in the surgeons quarters. I like these limited perspectives on larger events, here imbued with lots of nice historical details & a cool little twist.

“Park Life” starts as a rather humorous conversation between two generationally opposes men sitting on a park bench before giving it that ‘Ominous’ twist at the end. The dialogue really carries this concise & clever story.

“When Worlds Collide”. After the languid pace of the last story, this one drops you right into a crisis involving a Hadron Collider & a strong dash of cosmic horror. The story then backtracks to the buildup to the event which is a cool switch up but the abrupt ending left me wanting a touch more.

“D.S. Vitrine” was a fantastic tale of sinister nautical goings on. There’s something so creepy about ghost ships & this story nails what makes them so fascinating. I picked the twist coming but as it was such a good one it didn’t lessen the impact of the story.

“Blind Faith” sees a couple of urban explorers discover the answer to an old mystery in the ruins of a church. This story has a nice sense of dread & a satisfyingly dark answer to the mystery. And most people can relate to the idea of that friend who pushes you into scenarios you would rather not be in.

“Time & Punishment”

It’s all there in the title - a convict on Death Row is given a chance to revisit his crimes & that’s all I’ll say about the plot. Really liked this one, you get a good sense of the character & his choices & regrets. And the outcome is both expected & surprising.

“The Snowman” is a short sharp tale that would make a good Xmas Eve bedtime story to scare the kids.

“The Life & Crimes Of Danny Wilson” is a fun one. An ex hard man spends his time reading in a bookshop when he comes across a book tailor made for him so to speak. I liked the twist again, but I really like how we get a sense of a life lived in a few short pages.

“Mors Prope” is a gripping & ingenious way to tell the story of a battlefield & the characters fighting there. You’ll get a sense of the factions & the lives of some of the fighters (including a horse!) & probably wish it could go on even longer, though it is the perfect length really. Loved this one.

“Broken Arrow (Intermission)” is a fun interlude with a sense of humour.

“Trophy Hunter” is a twisted tale with hints of Chuck Palahniuk involving a bodybuilder & a strange collector of sorts. This story is also available to listen to on @theotherstories where it's called Prized Specimen, so check that out if you prefer your fiction inserted into your eardrums.

”The Pieces Shall Be Ordered” is an ominous (do you detect a theme here?) sci-fi tale with an intriguing idea & again sets up a whole world of possibilities in a few short pages. Impressive.

“The Swing” has an element of hoodie horror mixed with supernatural or is it all a delusion of the main character who is being tormented by a noisy swing outside his apartment? I dig stories like this one that could convincingly be either / or.

“Geisha” delves back into sinister sci-fi & AI / robotics with that signature Ominous feel that ties this collection together. The nice, vivid descriptions of Japan add to the mod of the piece. This story is also featured in @hawkandcleaver The Other Stories podcast.

“The Wind Chimes” is short & sweet with another good little twist. A man accepts charity from a strange old woman & is drawn to the wind chimes on her porch. A nicely sensory, creepy story.

“Tipua” harkens back to the sailing days of earlier story “Loblolly”. Here though, the sailors touch down in New Zealand & violate Maori customs & are pursued by the Tipua. Another story I would like to see expanded upon.

“Fingerprints” details a crime scene investigation that holds a dark secret. Reminiscent of the films Mirrors & Wounds in its imagery & tone.

“A Grave Mistake” tells a big story in only a couple of thousand words. Deals with the devil during the time of the Plague & twists aplenty make this another winner & also one I could see expanded into a novella. Nudge nudge Ian?

"Frozen Bodies & Shallow Graves” we come to the end of the Ominous readalong with the longest story in the collection. This is a very well written & interesting piece of historical fiction that deals with early gold rush NZ & Maori superstitions. This is a fascinating era to set a horror story in & I’m excited to hear Ian is looking to expand the story & mythology in the near future. A great finish to a strong collection of Ominous tales.

Visit Ian at his website:

Ominous can be bought HERE:


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