Book Review: Little Black Spots by John F.D. Taff

Taff little black spots cover

Little Black Spots
John F.D. Taff
Grey Matter Press
Release Date: September 2018

Review copy received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

Description: First he gave us LITTLE DEATHS: THE DEFINITIVE EDITION. Then he unleashed his unique brand of pain in THE END IN ALL BEGINNINGS.

Now Bram Stoker Award-nominated John F.D. Taff – modern horror’s King of Pain – returns with LITTLE BLACK SPOTS. Sixteen stories of dark horror fiction gathered together for the first time, exposing the delicate blemishes and sinister blots that tarnish the human condition.

From a man who stumbles on a cult that glorifies spontaneous human combustion, to a disgraced nature photographer who applies his skills for a vile outcome.

Where a darkened city parking structure seems malevolently alive, and a Halloween costume has a husband seeing his wife in a disturbing new light.

When a ruined man sees far too much of himself in his broken family, and a mysterious bottle of liquid arrives with a deadly secret inside.

Little Black Spots is a beacon shining its light into some of life’s most shadowy corners, revealing the dark stains that spatter all mankind.

John F.D. Taff is a master storyteller. There are few who excel so brilliantly at the short story form in particular as he does and having had the opportunity to be in a workshop setting with him as a fellow participant was a humbling experience indeed. I’ve read and reviewed John’s work for the past several years, and each time he impresses me more than the last. He’s the real deal, folks.

“The Immolation Scene” starts off in a way where it doesn’t get much more memorable: red snowflakes “like snow in Hell.” Corey, the main character kind of seems to have spontaneous combustion issues (seriously). The girl he’s into has the same issues. As he validly brings up, they will burn each other to death eventually, which is a real concern through, but still, I think readers will find this story ends in a much more interesting way despite the inevitable aspects of the ending.

In “The Bunny Suit,” which is right around the time as Halloween approaches, the protagonist’s cheerful wife wants to pick out Halloween costumes and he doesn’t want to be he goes along anyway. She picks a bunny suit and he picks a black ninja outfit. She won’t take off her costume, and pretty soon this story becomes a very interesting variation on the “oh no! they are all turning into their Halloween costumes!” trope.

A “movie distributor” takes center stage in “The Depravity of Inanimate Things,” which involves a guy who illegally records films and sells them. The protagonist’s voice called to mind Christopher or Ralphie from The Sopranos, which lent an interesting change of pace to the collection overall. He hears voices telling him to do terrible things, and again, Taff manages to find clever ways to divert the reader’s expectations. Another story that does this in spades is “Purple Soda Hand,” which takes something initially deceptively simple and turns it into something much bigger.

Many of the stories within this collection include the theme of people changing into frightening things and not knowing what to do as well as not liking that they get off on the idea of someone hurting themselves and yet inexorably being drawn toward it. Another theme I observed related to this is characters with deep needs and urges they can’t seem to suppress in spite of their best efforts.

Although I found the first half of the collection stronger for me, and that it made more of an impact, there are definitely some gems toward the end of the book, in particular a story featuring Abraham Lincoln. Taff also offers up a cool Afterword at the back, which explains some of the processes and rationales behind the stories he devised, which I appreciated. Overall, this is another strong offering from one of the best horror writers out there today. Get your hands on a copy as soon as you can.

About the Author: John F.D. Taff is a Bram Stoker Award®-Nominated author with more than 30 years experience, 90+ short stories and five novels in print.  His first fiction collection, Little Deaths, was named the best horror collection of 2012 by HorrorTalk.  Jack Ketchum called his novella collection, The End in All Beginnings, “one of the best novella collections I’ve read.”  His new fiction collection, Little Black Spots, will be available from Grey Matter Press in the Spring of 2018.  Look for more of his work in anthologies such as Cutting Block Book’s Single Slices, Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories, The Beauty of Death, Shadows Over Main Street 2 and Behold: Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable Wonders.  Taff lives in the wilds of Illinois with three pugs, two cats and one long-suffering wife.