IT HAUNTS THE MIND: AND OTHER STORIES by Nick Roberts (Crystal Lake Publishing, June 16, 2023) Kindle edition, 349 pages Overall rating: FOUR STARS

This is possibly the best single author collection of stories that I may read this year. All but two of these stories exceeded my expectations. There are three stories worthy of five-star recognition. None of these stories disappointed me. There is a high level of talent on display here.

Roberts includes author notes at the end that reveal insightful details regarding the creation of these stories. It also explains why so many of the settings are small towns in West Virginia, and also why multiple stories deal with opioids, drug addiction, and homelessness. Roberts pulls from experience.

SALLY UNDER THE BED is a variation on the urban myth where a name, phrase, or song is repeated and bad things happen. (Example: say “Bloody Mary” three times and she appears.) I enjoyed the set-up, with an online author of paranormal stories looking for a hot topic and finding it. The descriptions are particularly disturbing, and not just those of Sally but also the effect of meth addiction. FOUR STARS.

THE DEAL A hitman as lifestyle coach, with an extended contract that expires in the fifth year? I love that Roberts finishes the story with an ending paragraph that lets the reader decide how it ends. You can choose between glass half full or glass half empty. I can see it from both perspectives. Great creativity. FIVE STARS

THE HALFWAY HOUSE “The three men lived in an addiction recovery house in a small Appalachian town plagued by the drug epidemic. The national opioid crisis had come to full fruition in their home state of West Virginia. . . . . . The move to regulate legal opioids left a massive hole in the market just waiting to be filled. With its’ cheaper prices and easier availability, heroin gladly stepped in. Three men in rehab meet a new tenant, another addict who has been the subject of an experimental cure. It won’t be a house party. FOUR STARS

THANKS FOR SHARING Jack is haunted by the memory of his deceased brother, and keeps returning to the AA meetings that they used to attend together. Seems like a weak premise for a story, but Roberts knows how to sell it. It’s all in the characterization, which he has been excelling at so far in this collection. Plus, I left out a telling detail that would spoil it all. THREE AND ONE-HALF STARS.

THE PAPERBOY One of the longer stories in this collection, but deservedly so. In 1994, college students get into a drunken argument at a golf course that ends in a fight and an accidental death. The death is witnessed by a group of youngsters near the edge of the woods and river beside the course. This gave off a real STAND BY ME (the movie) vibe before taking two twisty turns and getting wild. I would read this one over again. The pacing is perfect.FIVE STARS

HUNTING SEASON A memory of a hunting accident haunts a lonely, troubled man. Very blunt and to the point, and also disturbing.THREE STARS

GRANDMA RUTH brings new meaning to the old adage “respect your elders”. Very high creep factor. Chilling. Also angry and mean. FOUR STARS.

PERCEPTO Roberts does an amazing job of creating characters in dire straits suffering from depression and making readers empathize with them before he details solutions, often also dire. The time, an operator of an old movie theater is inspired to take action based on a 1959 film, William Castle’s THE TINGLER which starred Vincent Price (one of the films that scared me at a more impressionable age). This story created a stinging, prickling sensation as I read it. FOUR STARS.

THE BITTER END is not horror, but an engrossing bit of crime fiction that actually ends on a positive note (but not for everybody). A homeless man gets pulled into an effort to take down some criminal drug dealers. FOUR STARS

THE DEVIL’S ROAD College student wants to solve his aunt’s unsolved murder from many years ago. She was the ninth victim of the Countdown Killer. The conversation between student investigator and the killer is worth the wait, especially when the buildup is so exciting. This has all the makings for a longer thriller novel, but Roberts keeps it taut at thirty-eight pages. FOUR AND ONE-HALF STARS.

TWO DECADES DOWN AND I ONLY LOVE YOU AT NIGHT Thirty years after fiancee Henry goes missing in the Vietnam War, Ava has moved on – married with children. But she visits Henry every night in odd dreams. THREE STARS

VOODOO BAY was one of the best stories in last year’s DEAD SEAS IV aquatic horror anthology. It still packs a punch on a second reading. Strange idol worship on a small Caribbean island. FOUR STARS

THE WEEPING WIND is not a traditional horror story but is extremely horrifying. A five year old has a traumatic incident implanted in her memory forever. Powerful and unsettling. FIVE STARS.

THE NOOSE A ghost story in the Old West. Gunslinger on the run. Well done. FOUR STARS

IT HAUNTS THE MIND This story fits inside the setting for THE EXORCIST’S HOUSE novel by Roberts, right in-between the prologue and the first chapter. Three teens decide to have drinking party on the site of the burned down haunted house. This builds slowly, then gets grim very fast. It’s just as wild as the novel, with plenty of scares. FOUR STARS

About Author /

Born in the 50's; developed in the '60s. An eternal child with the training wheels still on. Love all things pop culture: books, comics, film, tv, music, horror, crime, fantasy, science fiction.

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