Reviewed by: Keith Nixon
Genre: Horror/Short Story Collection
Approximate word count: 15-16,000 words
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Richard Godwin is a widely published author, with a focus on horror and crime, and playwright. He has written two full-length novels – Apostle Rising and Mr Glamour – and has contributed multiple short stories to anthologies.
You can learn more about the author on his website.
Piquant Tales is a series of short, interlinked stories regarding The Mustard Man that were originally published over time in Pulp Metal Magazine.
If you’ve read any of my previous reviews you’ll know I’m not big on gory horror or gratuitous violence that serves no purpose. Thrilling or humorous horror though (such as that written and previously reviewed by Gerard Brennan) is another matter. I much enjoyed reading Piquant… an ongoing series of shorts that follow a mysterious figure, The Mustard Man, as he cuts a swathe through the unpleasant, distasteful characters who prey on others that he meets on his journeys. Intriguingly written each differs a little from the others in terms of style and (taking the food analogy) texture. What remains consistent throughout, however, is a sense of mystery (who really is the Mustard Man), gore (but, crucially, without glorification), and the (bad guys) getting their just desserts.
The Mustard man is introduced in the first short, where Norm and he go out for the night, pick up and murder two girls but the interlinking really starts in the second tale, Pickle Party. Jack Laretto is a recently married successful writer. His breakthrough came with a novel on a fictional serial killer, The Mustard Man. On returning from honeymoon he struggles with his noisy neighbour, Hank.
However, Jack starts to converse with The Mustard Man by e-mail, then telephone. Is he real or imaginary? It’s never quite clear. Hank ends up dead at The Mustard Man’s hand. He then starts a pilgrimage across America, moving from state to state dealing with people who have wronged others, all the time communicating with Jack who, in parallel, writes successful stories on his misadventures.
I enjoyed the stories, reading them with a bit of a grimace, but, as initially mentioned, despite the hard hitting style they never quite drifted into the extreme. The food theme remains throughout and the writing is by turns raw, cultured and visceral. Here’s some examples:
…she was nothing better than a hooker in Viola’s opinion ad had recently taken to insulting all the neighbours. Her skin had the used look of a bag that had been stuffed too full and she smelt of open sewers. He looked at Hank, his heavy simian face so incongruous in the setting of Echo Avenue it reminded Jack of a turd floating in a swimming pool.
The women who walked by were covered in onions. Their bodies bulged with them like some agricultural erotic affliction. They adhered to their sweating skins like the corrupted hands of a priapic wraith in some violator’s folklore.
Cerebral writing applied to murder, a fascinating overlap. I’ll be hunting down (sorry) Mr Godwin’s other work.
Rating: ***** Five Stars