Michael R. Collins’ excellent “Verum Malum” is a quick & dirty (and wonderfully inclusive) little take on cults and demon summoning.
One of the most enjoyable parts about reading indie releases is the uncertainty of what you’re jumping into. You never really know what you’re going to get.
For the most part, in my experience at least, when you read an offering from an established author, you kinda already know what to expect.
Reading Koontz? Get ready for troubled characters with supernatural abilities, small-town friendliness, and animals that are intrinsically tied to the plot (remember when all of his books had a golden retriever and a .38 Chief’s Special revolver?). Jumping into some of the established YA novels? You’ve probably got at least one love triangle and “chosen one” trope.
But, with indie authors, it’s like the Wild West of storytelling. Take Verum Malum for instance. I truly thought I knew what I was getting into, what with all the rituals and human sacrifices and such. And boy was I wrong!
Face it, we’re all familiar with the satanist storylines. They were huge back in the day, contributing to the Satanic Panic in the 80s, and establishing tropes and expectations for decades to come. And, initially, Verum Malum seemed to be cut from the same cloth. But as the story unfolded it gradually shifted to something else entirely.
To say WHAT exactly would be venturing into spoiler territory.
Suffice to say, Verum Malum has more in common with H.P. Lovecraft’s Great Old Ones than it does with established notions of Heaven & Hell.
A simple story of life, love, and the inevitable trip to Hell to save your husband’s soul from eternal torture.
I also wasn’t expecting a (by all accounts) straight author to handle a queer relationship so deftly. But Michael R. Collins imbues this short with both PoC and LGBTQ+ sensibilities, and it is all the better for it.
I can’t speak for all genres, but in my experience, it truly feels like Horror was way ahead of the curve on inclusivity. One of the big reasons that I love this crowd!
Another area where this book excels is in the imagination department. Mr. Collins does NOT skimp on the details…and what gruesomely delightful details they are! The dark & evil things are appropriately twisted and nasty, and I have to give props to any book that features musicians from a metal band as characters.
And yes, underneath all of the infernal trappings, it IS indeed a love story. And a totally unique one at that.
But for all that it does right, there are several missteps to be found in Verum Malum. There are more than a few instances of words being used repetitiously. Nothing egregious, and maybe I’m more susceptible to them due to my own works being in editing, but either way…it was noticeable.
Also, the story starts out strong, avoiding the frequent mid-book slouch that most authors are prone to, but kinda loses momentum near the end. Where it should be picking up steam, Verum Malum slows down a bit. Personally, I think the story needed a more breathless denouement.