Fully Loaded: Thrillers, by Blake Crouch

Four stars (of five)

This is an interesting collection of short stories by thriller/horror writer Blake Crouch. Gathered from previously published works, Crouch shows a great deal of his versatility in both his writing style and story ideas. Well crafted and highly entertaining for a reader looking for a brief sojourn from the fast-paced nature of the everyday.

*69

Four stars

Crouch is an epic storytelling, with his dark side pushing through in each tale. In this short story, the mystery and thrills have little time to develop, but come to a gentle boil at just the right moment. Tim and Laura West enjoy their time together as a married couple. One Thursday night, Laura discovers an odd message on their voicemail, some form of pocket dial from a cell phone. The message, full of choppy conversation, is thick with criminal innuendo and may be the recording of a murder. Unsure what to do, they try the old *69 to trace the previous call, but are interrupted and cannot retrieve the number. Worried that a killer is on the loose who knows them and will soon realise his error, the Wests ponder their options. Will it be too late to save them?

REMAKING

Four stars

In Crouch’s Remaking, nothing is quite as it seems, especially in small communities. Mitchell has an eye for odd situations. A young boy sits in a small-town diner with a man purported to be his father, but something feels off. Mitchell follows them at a distance and soon approaches the boy and poses as a police officer, promising to help young Joe. When the boy obliges, worried that he might upset the authorities, Mitchell begins acting on a scene he’s scripted for months. Unfortunately, Mitchell’s story may not have a happy ending, at least for the entire case of players.

ON THE GOOD, RED ROAD

Three stars

As winter sweeps into the mountain ranges, four men set out in the latter part of the 19th century, trekking from one mountain town to another. When the weather turns poor and a blizzard blows in, they are stranded and must begin making dire choices to survive. Nothing and no one is safe as discomfort turns to a disparaging level of hunger. When the snow settles, only the strong survive and complete the journey, but at what cost?

SHINING ROCK

Four stars

During their annual camping trip, Roger and Sue are finally living the empty nest life. As they set up camp and enjoy the solitude, a mysterious man appears and tries to befriend them. Donald seems affable enough and joins them for an evening of cards and storytelling. When the conversation turns to family, Donald admits he lost his daughter to a hit and run car accident six years earlier. The further the story progresses, the more Roger remembers that fateful day and how he sat behind the wheel. What follows is a panic as Roger waits for Donald to leave and admits his secret to Sue. To what lengths will Roger go to ensure his crime is kept under wraps?

PERFECT LITTLE TOWN

Four stars

Ron and Jessica Stahl are the ultimate power couple; he a successful plastic surgeon and she the cut-throat lawyer everyone fears. Choosing to take a trip to the scenic mountain areas in Colorado, they are forced into Lone Cone, a blip on the map, where they seek refuge from the weather. What begins as an awkward set of events turns horrific as the sun drops below the horizon. The Stahls soon realise that Lone Cone is anything but quaint and its inhabitants will do anything to protect themselves from outsiders. Will the Stahls be able to alert the authorities to the horrors they’ve seen, and live to recount their tale for years to come?

THE NEWTON BOYS’ LAST PHOTOGRAPH

Five stars

Never have I penned a review longer than the original text. That will be the case here, as the story is a mere 25 words long. Hint fiction at its best, the Newton boys prepare for a rafting trip, having all the gear they need to photograph all they will see. Alas, they have little idea that this trip might be their last.

THE METEOROLOGIST

Four stars

Peter is weather obsessed, to say the least. A disgraced former meteorologist, he drifts into town in his winnebago, looking for storms along the side roads of rural Kansas. After a day of spotting, he finds himself in a small diner, where Melanie ends up being his friendly waitress. They form a bond and end up out one day, chasing down a tornado. The adrenaline pulsing through them both, things take a turn neither expects and the tornado takes control. No ruby slippers, no Tin Man and, unfortunately, they are STILL in Kansas. Yet again, Crouch shows signs of tapping into Stephen King’s early years persona, where quirky characters come together and form odd alliances. A short story that both entertains and keeps the reader wondering what lies ahead.

UNCONDITIONAL

Five stars

Told as a set of monologues between a father and son. Set against the backdrop of a father recollecting his son’s growth and a young man reflecting back on a life he could not live. Crouch taps into the parental bone in those lucky enough to have children and the terror of seeing your child’s life come to a premature end…though who is to be held accountable? Therein lies the rub!
Enjoy this collection, as a whole, or pick out a few to pass the time!

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