"Hunger for Death" Book Review

Written by Stuart D. Monroe

Published by Cold Hands Press

hunger for death joshua marsella poster large

Written by Joshua Marsella
2021, 190 pages, Fiction
Released on November 30, 2021

Review:

If you know me at all, then you know I always have at least one short story collection going at a time. It’s like a personality tic or something. I just need short stories in my life; it’s been that way since I devoured Skeleton Crew late in elementary school (thank you, Sai King). From there, I just needed more.

My 2022 Horror DNA reading slate opens with Hunger for Death, the debut short story collection from Joshua Marsella (Severed, Scratches). I’m damn glad it does, too. As short stories are my preferred way of meeting an author, I dug into the collection with a hunger of my own. I was rewarded with a smorgasbord of efficient and often personal horrors that span a wide range of “what the fuck?!” and “not where I thought that was going”.

Many of the stories in Hunger for Death are a hideous twist on a classic archetype, like “Coma Toast” and “The Cauldron”. Marsella shows an affection for the unexpected ghost interaction tale, eliciting wildly differing emotions with “The Blue Cliffs” and “Mean Old Mr. Amesbury”. “Desecrated” teaches you a life lesson about letting sleeping dogs lie, while “Man of My Dreams” offers zero chance of a happy ending. Whether it’s one of these or the other eight tales, Joshua Marsella makes it clear that he isn’t just here to shock you and be faux-scary…he intends for the horror to linger in your heart as well.

  • “Daphne”: A first-person tale of horror on the farm, what happens to the prize sow and her unborn piglets, is a solid opener. You can’t ever really go wrong with cosmic horror right out of the gates, and there are some interesting ideas explored that link aliens, hints of eldritch horror, and psychiatrists. It gets trippy.
  • “To Feast With Orphans”: Ah, Christmas horror! On a snowy night, a trio of drunks kill a street corner Santa collecting money for the local orphanage. The storm forces them inside the very orphanage they just stole from, and it only gets worse from there. With a NOS4A2 aesthetic and a Village of the Damned flavor, this one is a highlight of the collection.
  • “Coma Toast”: It’s the classic buried alive scenario turned on its ear and then uniquely tweaked a little more. A man returns to consciousness inside a body bag as he’s stuck in the flames…and the story really only starts there. Perspective is everything here. For those who like short and sweet mixed with just plain wrong.
  • “A Room Full of Toys”: Though this one is the least effective because of its inconsistent tone, it’s still a standout for its embodiment of the old adage, “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions”. And kids locked in tiny attic rooms is some seriously dark subject matter.
  • “Polybus”: A man named Danforth lives at the edge of society, caring for nothing but a good puzzle. One shows up mysteriously at his door that has no equal, but this puzzle from beyond the stars is missing one critical piece. My favorite of the entire collection (full disclosure: I’m a whore for cosmic horror, and my wife is obsessed with puzzles).
  • “The Blue Cliffs”: Gabriel is contemplating suicide from the same cliffs where his little brother Benny fell to his death (thanks to his inattention). His guilt has consumed him. He’s talked out of it by a guy named Sam, who’s straight out of the ‘60s. I love this story. It’s one of those rare times when a story goes exactly where your heart wants it to go. I can’t help but think just a bit of the criminally underrated film The Heavenly Kid. Simple, sweet, and heartfelt.
  • “The Cauldron”: A sixth-grader named Norman is told about an old witch’s cauldron in the middle of the woods by a greasy-haired seventh-grader named Trevor. Norman is a horror buff with an Instagram page dedicated to horror photography, and he can’t pass up the opportunity. He should have. Serious fun factor in this succinctly nasty yarn.
  • “Mean Old Mr. Amesbury”: This story reminded me of those “Unexplained” segments on Unsolved Mysteries in that it is a tad hokey but also sends a genuine chill up your spine thanks to a wonderful reveal.
  • “Trailer Park Christmas”: A miserable, lonely drunk living in a shithole trailer is visited by three evil elves and Dominicus Claus, the little brother of Santa Claus (and holder of the Naughty List). This story is a metric fuckton of fun. Also, I really need more of Dominicus Claus. Make it happen, Marsella!
  • “Man of My Dreams”: Every collection worth its salt needs one story that is bleak as hell and just plain ugly. This is that story. The Freddy Krueger inspiration is strong here. It’s something of a pastiche, but that doesn’t stop it from being vicious as hell.
  • “Desecrated”: What starts off as a sweet story about a guy doing a bit of illegal fishing with his granddad in the pond by the V.A. hospital turns into one hell of a cautionary tale with some biting social commentary well placed throughout. This story has aspirations; I feel like there’s more to tell.
  • “Unholy Communion”: I want to see this as a segment on Creepshow in a serious way. As an avid Dungeons & Dragons player and Dungeon Master, the narrator speaks my language and the admittedly easy to predict payoff is both blasphemous and irrepressible. It turns out that you shouldn’t go back into the creepy Catholic church after service has finished.
  • “Sacrifice”: The closer for the collection is a totally different kind of horror: straightforward and relatable without a hint of the supernatural. It’s also a legit heartbreaker. A mother-to-be survives a nuclear blast in the deep root cellar of a farm. Upon emerging she starts walking to escape the blast radius and hopefully find safety for herself, her unborn son, and her teddy bear named Bunky (nuclear holocaust is hard on the psyche, ya’ know!).

Joshua Marsella has one diverse palate – alien abductions, Christmas cannibalism, moronic funeral home techs, hidden attic children, The Puzzle That Should Not Be, a true heavenly kid, some not-so-forgotten magic, a sad old ghost, your new favorite Yuletide monster, Freddy Krueger 2.0, something afoul at the V.A. hospital, Communion gone horribly wrong, and the real meaning of a nuclear family.

The styles rarely repeat, and when they do there’s a unique twist on something familiar. As debut collections go, A Hunger for Death is as auspicious as it is vicious…so go ahead and take a damn bite!

Grades:

Overall: 4 Star Rating Cover
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Stuart D. Monroe
Staff Reviewer
Stuart D. Monroe is a man of many faces – father, husband, movie reviewer, published author of short horror, unsuccessful screenwriter (for now), rabid Clemson Tiger, Southern gentleman, and one hell of a model American who goes by the handle "Big Daddy Stu" or "Sir". He's also highly disturbed and wears that fact like a badge of honor. He is a lover of all things horror with a particular taste for the fare of the Italians and the British. He sometimes gets aroused watching the hardcore stuff, but doesn't bother worrying about whether he was a serial killer in a past life as worrying is for the weak. He was raised in the video stores of the '80s and '90s. The movie theater is his cathedral. He worships H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, and Clive Barker. When he writes, he listens obsessively to either classical music or the works of Goblin to stimulate the neural pathways. His favorite movie is Dawn of the Dead. His favorite book is IT. His favorite TV show is LOST.
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