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Jack of All Trades

A macabre collection of expertly crafted dark fiction, “Jack of All Trades” is an absolute treat for fans of the eerie and the eloquent.

Jack of All Trades

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I am about to review the short story collection Jack of All Trades, but before I do, I offer a full and immediate disclosure.

I know Jack Wells, the author of this saucy little tome. Not only do I know him, I co-host a podcast with him. Not only do I co-host a podcast with him, I consider him a friend. I understand that this might lead you to question my objectivity; I get it! And I value the trust we share, you and I. The things we’ve seen. The shit we’ve been through.

So please know that it is with absolute sincerity and earnestness that I tell you that not only am I capable of reviewing the work of friend objectively, but I am — if anything — more critical of their art.

I know what a friend is capable of, and if I see them falling short, well, that’s a paddlin’… even if it makes future podcast recordings awkward.

Imagine my relief, then, that Jack of All Trades is a goddamn delight.

Wells digs into certain horror archetypes — the unhinged murderer, the mad scientist, his creation, and the scrappy final girl — and infuses them with crackling life and charm.

Across a refreshingly varied collection of macabre short stories and one judiciously doled-out novella, Wells demonstrates an impressive gift for building suspense and creating fully realized settings and realistically populated worlds. 

Jack of All Trades is carefully researched without betraying announcing the fact.

Author Jack Wells

Author Jack Wells

This sounds like faint praise, perhaps, but do not underestimate just how difficult a feat this is to achieve.

Books, movies, and television shows that feature extensive scientific research or period detail often slip into lessons. Wells clearly values authenticity and has put considerable care into ensuring the accuracy of the worlds he creates.

However, he incorporates his hard-won knowledge seamlessly so that, for example, when he writes in the voice of a detective investigating a Jack-the-Ripper-like murder case, it sounds like an actual British inspector’s musings instead of a writer attempting to sound like a British inspector. 

But is it scary, you might ask?

Mileage is going to vary on that a lot. This old horror hound truly can’t remember the last book, movie, or TV show that truly scared her. I’ve just been in the game too long, y’all.

There are plenty of wonderfully executed horror elements spread across the pages of Wells’ lean book. Our author doesn’t waste words; he recognizes that brevity is the soul of wit and also the heart of suspense. His economic prose is carefully curated; a smart author knows how to develop character while moving the plot along, particularly in shorter formats, and Wells is an exceptionally clever storyteller.

While its detractors like to refer to horror as a genre of hollow, wooden characters, the reality is good horror relies heavily on the investment of the audience in the various and sundry victims, heroes, and even villains populating the page.

Wells’ flawed creations are easy to root for; you will want better things for them than what they suffer.

Jack of All Trades

So, while I cannot say I was frightened by Jack of All Trades, I still believe it succeeds as a horror book.

However, Wells’ strength, as proven by his truly inspired Monochrome Noir series, is his ability to spin an unconventional detective yarn using well-established tropes re-envisioned. Jack of All Trades allows him to apply this gift across a range of settings and crimes. It is, put simply, thrilling to read how he approaches each unique narrative. 

I am speaking holistically because horror fiction and detective fiction fare best when we go in relatively close to blind.

However, I will say — without revealing too much — that I doubt we will see a cozier piece of murder than Wells’ razor-sharp Victorian-era set novella “See No Evil” anytime soon. If you don’t find yourself compelled to grab a cup of warm tea, dim the lights, and burrow into your fuzziest blanket to savor the story, my name’s not Kelly Mintzer. And my name, I assure you, is indeed Kelly Mintzer.

Jack of All Trades is releasing just in time for the spookiest season, and it deserves to enter the ranks of Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree and whatever collection of Poe stories made you a fan of horror literature.

(It’s okay; we all have the same origin story).

However, I know I will be revisiting it in the summer months when I need a cool breeze and a shiver up my spine. 

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies): 4.5

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