title of the collection Looking At The World With Broken Glass In My Eye by Mark Justice is all the preparation you need before you dive in, as it sets the tone as to the humor and horror of the stories published in this collection from Graveside Tales.
Mark Justice has a dark humor to him that really packs a punch. It helps him make his horror that more sinister, as there’s always an edge in every joke, a little bit of poison in every bit of hope that might possibly be found within this book of his.
There are entries in Looking… that don’t mask their nature of being straight-premise based works. These smaller pieces are the vaudeville hosts cracking jokes in between the bigger acts, the palate cleansers between meals so that the reader isn’t overwhelmed if they go at it for one setting. “What if Death had an Agent?” Mark Justice asks in ‘Agent of Death.’ “Or, what would happen if the mythological pantheon of gods were to retire?” he inquires in ‘Nursing Home of the Gods.’
These almost-micro-fiction stories are written with a more irreverent tone. This tone is the winking eye that clues you in, the way Justice says “we won’t get a lot of mileage out of this idea but let’s enjoy the ride while we can.” Justice could have overwritten these stories but instead, chose brevity. The shorter stories are also stages for Justice’s twisted sense of humor.
The longer stories are perfectly fit for Mark Justice’s perspective, as he comes up with characters, voices and ideas that flourish with the breathing room. While the genre of ‘occultism alternative WW2 history’ isn’t all that radically new, I think Justice could offer a great contribution to it if ‘Das Hollenfeuer’ is any indication. ‘Father’s Day’ had a great take on vengeance and anger, and ‘Song of the Bones’ is a legitimately creepy story, especially since I recently moved to a densely metropolitan area.
Mark Justice is a showman with his fiction. There’s a great deal of entertainment in Looking… and I think that any horror fan should definitely pick this up.
Three major works divide up the collection, though the ‘Deadnecks’ story, split into two sections, bookends the work. ‘Dead Town’ marks the middle with ‘The Autumn Man’ anchoring the tail end of Looking…. Two of the three are set in Justice’s native Kentucky and deal with a lot of the perceptions of the area. Justice has written a lot about that part of the world, which holds a lot of eldritch mysticism to it. While the instant connotation of the ‘south’ bring sup the characters you’d find in ‘Deadnecks,’ the story, a twist on the zombie holocaust trope, is oddly comedic and strangely heartwarming. Even though it’s a story about being zombies, Justice makes the characters and, essentially, rednecks seem very human.
The differences between the nature of the supernatural in the other two stories – ‘Dead Town’ and ‘The Autumn Man’ –were stark and displayed how Justice has tried to expand himself as a writer. ‘Dead Town’ reads, to me, as a very urban, horrifyingly cold take on the world. It’s all buildings and concrete, whereas ‘The Autumn Man’ is very—surprise, surprise—nature, very wet, very alive.
While he maintains a signature voice when it comes to humor, drama and bleak terror, the stories in this collection are not repetitive. There is a great amount of variety here that whoever picks it up will find something to enjoy in Looking At The World With Broken Glass In My Eye. I definitely recommend it.
Mark Justice (with David T Wilbanks) has written two books in The Dead Earth series: The Green Dawn and The Vengeance Road. His forthcoming 2012 release is the western horror, The Dead Sherriff. You can hear Mark Justice on the horror literature podcast, Pod of Horror.
Thanks are given to Graveside Tales for providing the review copy.