The 10 horror stories and poems in Ken Michaels’ debut collection vary widely in subject matter and tone, some traditional haunted house and graveyard tales and others more satirical. Those variations, unfortunately, leave the collection feeling unfocused and scattered.
The two satirical stories, reminiscent of Bentley Little’s work, are the book’s strongest pieces. “Oilganic” follows Jerry Moore as he interviews for a position with the Texas Oil and Gas Association. TOGA has come up with a process that will solve America’s energy supply worries. Faux newspaper clippings interspersed throughout the story telegraph the grisly nature of that solution, but the tale still makes for entertaining reading.
Likewise, “The Exterminator” is predictable but still perversely satisfying as a slick door-to-door salesman gets his comeuppance from the housewives of a small Florida town.
The rest of the collection isn’t as strong. Michaels often uses gross-out descriptions (“She peeled back her purple lips to bare her green pointed teeth, and a dead cockroach fell out of her mouth”) at the expense of character development and genuine tension. “The Dare” is promising as a mildly creepy haunted house story with a twist that might appeal to tween and young teen readers, but the introduction is awkwardly written: “So the house stood proudly in its inanimate state, unaware and placid to the stormy gossip that surged through the town’s veins … ”
In fact, many stories in Voices in a Midnight Mind feature young characters and simple plots that might appeal more to a middle reader or younger YA audience than to adults. (Tracy Lesch’s black-and-white illustrations give the book the feeling of a Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark collection.) But the sexual and drug references and obscenities sprinkled throughout the book work against a YA focus.
Ultimately, the book’s tone is too uneven to appeal as a whole, either to younger readers or adult fans of the genre.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.