Note: no power on this planet could snatch MAYHEM back from me. Not gonna happen. I love this disturbing collection of 22 shorts, love its especial blend of noir, crime, horror, hallucination, love the way the most scariest stuff grows out of the characters themselves – ordinary people all of them, thrown into at once banal and horrible situations. Do you think you have become unshockable? Read MAYHEM, learn you haven’t.

R. Thomas Brown does not deliver fictional frenzy awash with blood. I wouldn’t want to spoil details, but for one thing his sentences are not stocked with body parts. Rather, this baffling stories rise and fall on quiet wings. The confident style is pure and elegant, the language aggressive in a fascinating, stopped way that pulls the rug right out from under our feet.

MAYHEM vibrates with a sort of violence that hits and fades almost instantly into something like a frozen frown: this book is as much about human pain and the dark energies it sets loose, as it is about uncomfortable questions behind, eg: what does it take to turn people into numb, unfeeling creeps?

Brown pulls us close almost casually, has us peer into a plot pit not only filled with a bunch of bodies, but with humanity reduced to the level of rubbish, fit only to be kicked out of the way. With what seems to be a scientific interest, the author examines how his contemporary protagonists become blocked internally, how they seem to forget about moral experience in an instant. Just like in Ridley Scott’s Alien, evil can take on any form here, and erupts like a sudden introduction to hell.

Throughout MAYHEM, Brown avoids flashy effects and shocks; he keeps the stories calm and sceptical and creates a world out of everyday moments. Even when things turn crimson in tooth and claw, it’s hardboiled in a brooding way. The sun shines in some of these 22 stories, but there is never a sunny moment in this book. Rather, MAYHEM as a title hints to what is left of the various characters at the end: wrecked human beings to whom no real redemption is granted. They simply disappear into the mysteries of lost battles…

So, coming full circle here, back to my original warning: don’t even THINK of trying to snatch this one from me!


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