I first encountered Craig Hallam's writing in Murky Depths*, an enjoyable blend of art and fiction that is produced in the United Kingdom. I was intrigued by his writing--there's a very confident approach to voice and pacing in the work--so I was happy to dive into Not Before Bed. I've been reading these stories in sips and swallows over the last few busy weeks, and I'm happy to say they've provided many moments of entertainment.
The collection runs from the atmospheric to the darkly visceral, with some nice injections of humor in the prose along the way (there is a Robocop reference I couldn't help but chuckle at). The influences and subjects were diverse: some supernatural, others of the creature-feature variety; some Lovecraftian, others of the shambling undead category. In short, there is a little something for all tastes.
What really made the collection go for me is the afore-mentioned voice/pacing combination. Hallam uses fragments really well--I like the fluidity of the prose as he underscores action with simple, succinct phrases. I also liked the dialogue. It wasn't tag-heavy and it felt very authentic. I like the use of italics for emphasis, and the descriptions. Consider this snippet from "Laughter on the Landing":
Then a sound from inside my own apartment. If it hadn't been for the silence, I would
never have heard it.
I leant to see around my feet which were up on the coffee table.
A drip. A splotch of dark crimson on the oak surface. For a second, I watched it as if
waiting for something to happen. It did. Another droplet fell in the same spot.
Drawn upward, my eyes widened.
On the ceiling, a line of the same fluid had trickled before dripping. It was leaking
through the floorboards in Jenny's apartment...
The tension in most of these stories is a creepy, slow build, and they deliver the goods in the third act.
There were a few minor typos and some of the font types and sizes were inconsistent (I read the Smashwords edition), but there was nothing that detracted from what is an otherwise strong collection. "Laughter on the Landing" and "Sarah and the Monster" were two of my favorites; they also best communicate the notion espoused in the collection's title.
Still (and if you're like me), you'll want to give these tales a look just before bed. Read them when the lights are down, when the sounds of the house settling add that wonderful little kick that makes good dark fiction so fun to read.
*Craig and I correspond from time to time on writing fiction. Please don't confuse our friendship for a lack of objectivity in looking at these stories...