Review – Knowing When to Die by Mort Castle
Review By Chantal Boudreau
I volunteered for this review because the premise of this short story collection, stories about death, intrigued me. I especially like what I refer to as “real-life horror,” tales with no supernatural element so I don’t have to quash the skeptic in me while I’m reading, and I was hoping I’d find at least a few of these within the collection. I wasn’t disappointed.
I’m not sure I would describe all of these stories as horror. They do all deal with death, as promised, in many instances suicide, and at a minimum have an element of the startling or disturbing, but many of them did not chill or scare me. They were beautifully written, with a keen awareness of language and a plethora of metaphor, so they were definitely worthy of being read, but I was looking for something a little more scary. The stories I would describe as horror I would define as “literary horror” and play with the ideas within them. Some of the stories were concept stories, without an expected start to finish approach but more of an exploration of theme.
I did have some favourites amongst the collection. The opening story hooked me. I’m not a big celebrity fan type, and I think Marilyn Munroe has been overdone but found the novel way of presenting her death fascinating. “Guidance” is one of the scarier stories, and I liked it even though I usually find stories involving ghosts not all that frightening. I considered “Robot” quite entertaining and I’d like to see more stories with seniors as protagonists. It is one of the better character studies in the collection. And lastly, the story I enjoyed the most — the one that seemed the most chilling and jarring and is based on a real-life event — is “Prayer”.
If you are the type of person that looks for pulpy, gore-filled horror anthologies, this collection is probably not for you. On the other hand, if you are looking for something a little more subtle and intellectual, I would recommend this as a good read. It is certainly thought-provoking.