Spontaneous Human Combustion

Image of Spontaneous Human Combustion
Release Date: 
February 22, 2022
Reviewed by: 

“Richard Thomas, the award-winning author of three novels, three short story collections, and over 150 stories in print, does not disappoint with his latest collection of short stories . . .” 

In his latest short story collection Spontaneous Human Combustion, Richard Thomas demonstrates a complete command of the craft and genre and presents 14 horror stories that blend elements of fantasy, science fiction, and horror.

The tales vary in length from short offerings like “Clown Face” and “From Within” to the novelette length of “Ring of Fire” and range from straight forward narratives to more cryptic, image-rich offerings well worth the effort to divine the depth of the characters involved. Each story is filled with vivid and evocative details and provides a fascinating journey that explores the dark places of our existence and engages its readers throughout.

In “Clown Face,” Thomas gives us a snapshot in the moment of the life of a clown with a horrifying past, present, and future. The story is evoked with haunting and provocative images such as when he portrays the clown, Bob, in his room, washing off his makeup and revealing the monster beneath. “. . . a mottled flesh rising to the surface, the concrete starting to accumulate other items—translucent scales, long sharp hairs, cracked, rotting fingernails, and square browning teeth.”

Beyond being linked through genre, themes of repentance and redemption are woven seamlessly throughout the collection providing a consistent perspective into the darker side of our nature.

In “Requital,” a man pays for a long list of sins, one at a time in a manner reminiscent of Groud Hog Day. “There is something else with us now, whatever love becomes when it is betrayed, the jasmine wilting, the fruit rotting in a liquid covered by buzzing flies, and she takes from me now what I took from her then. I plead for her to stop, asking for forgiveness. But it does me no good.”

In “Repent,” a bad man manages to find some degree of redemption by sacrificing himself in a final effort to atone for his past misdeeds.

Thomas demonstrates the breadth of his command of story genres with “Hiraeth” in which he delves into the world of fairy tale in a story of a boy coming of age: at first succumbing to temptation but eventually finding satisfaction and filling the hole within his soul.

“Open Waters” presents a man who finds life within a virtual reality game where he is trapped on a deserted island more satisfying than his own lonely, mundane existence in the real world. “I wait for the moon to fill with tainted light, for faces to appear in its surface. Fireflies flicker in the expanding darkness, the howl of the wolves in the distance bringing a smile to my face. I’m not alone, I whisper into the breath. I’m not.” He learns choices have consequences.

“Saudade” is a looping story about two personalities residing in the same person, two halves of one person, the good side and the bad side, begging the question of whether we can learn from our past mistakes or are doomed to repeat them over and over.

In the novelette, “Ring of Fire,” Mark is a test subject reliving a scenario over and over and failing each time. The overseers review the results and debate the possibility of his learning from past failures and moving beyond his behavior to make the right choice.

Richard Thomas, the award-winning author of three novels, three short story collections, and over 150 stories in print, does not disappoint with his latest collection of short stories, Spontaneous Human Combustion.