In an alternate future, an ex-soldier and a teenage girl he saved from exploitation have formed an unlikely alliance to help each other survive in a largely deserted world haunted by Murmurers. . .
In The Gangster’s New Clothes, a successful assassin held up in a small town indulges himself by buying a tailor-made suit, but the moment he puts it on he finds himself questioning his sanity . . .
These and other tales find their protagonists On the Verge of Madness . . .
On the Verge of Madness by author George Wilhite is like a perfectly cooked steak…dark on the outside and a little bloody in the middle. This collection of fiction features eight very different stories, each showcasing Wilhite’s considerable talent and vast knowledge of the horror genre. His work has already drawn comparison to Poe and Lovecraft. But let me tell you, Wilhite’s own twisted style and warped voice is evident on every page.
The opening novella, Victor Chaldean and the Portal is worth the price of admission. Victor is desperate to solve the disappearance of his wife. After he begins to have strange visions, he seeks help from a psychologist studying the paranormal. An experimental drug takes Victor into a fractured realm, into a place trapped between life and death where he struggles to find his lost wife and each day is more convinced he is insane.
Next up is Murmurers. I settled in for a great read as Wilhite hooked me quickly with a story of an Earth all but stripped of human life. A former combat soldier and a teenage girl find a special bond after he saves her life. To survive they must trust each other and keep moving to avoid the mysterious Murmurers. The only problem for me was how quickly this one ended.
In Checks and Balances, alcoholic John breezes through the first of the twelve steps to recovery. It is step Eight – making amends with those he has hurt – with which he struggles the most. If only he could make a trade, a deal, to skip this step. But who or what would make such a bargain?
Lars kills for money. He is very good at what he does. When it comes to clothes, only the very best will do for Lars. In The Gangster’s New Clothes, Wilhite attempts a short in the style of the old Twilight Zone TV show. The result is a fun, frightening tale. A second after Lars puts on his handmade suit, he finds himself facing his checkered past and, step by step, is pushed closer to insanity.
Wilhite then gives us two amazing examples of the old adage: less is more. A Plea From the Cradle and Cast of Characters are “flash fiction” at its finest. Not a word is wasted – both of these tales will quickly put a shiver up your spine if not a smile on your face.
All good things must end, and I believe Wilhite saved the best for last. A Tale of Two Moons is a Werewolf classic and could possibly explain the origin of these legendary monsters.
Masque Profane takes us beyond the “Verge of Madness,” delving straight into full blown insanity. Rhonda and Jeff are happy newlyweds…or are they? Rhonda becomes obsessed with the fact that Jeff has never spent a Halloween night with her in their time together. This fixation takes Rhonda to the gathering place of a strange ritual one Halloween night. Her experience there, and later the birth of her child would one day take her to madness and a horrific murder.
In all eight of these stories, whether novella or short, the author’s skill at character development, crisp dialogue and page turning suspense is forefront. He captivates the reader with intriguing characters and fine plotting without the pointless brutal violence and gratuitous sex that has become so common in horror today. I highly recommend On the Verge of Madness and I look forward to the follow up, Silhouette of Darkness. I doubt that it will be long before a major publisher signs Wilhite, as his work deserves to be on shelves next to the likes of Peter Straub and Thomas F. Monteleone.
Highly Recommended by William Potter for Reader’s Choice Reviews
July 2008 An Exceptional Collection Of Short Horror Fiction
“On the Verge of Madness” by George Wilhite is a collection of disturbing stories that will send shivers down your spine. This book will make you think about and fear the person next to you on the bus even well after you put it down.
“Victor Chaldean and the Portal” is the first story in Wilhite’s “Fractured Realms” series of stories. It focuses on a self-described skeptic whose wife disappears and he agrees to participate in an experiment into the paranormal out of desperation, not realizing how completely it would turn his life upside down. The ending is shocking, but not more so than the journey there. The series gets off to a good start here, and more stories will be gobbled up by fans of both psychological and supernatural horror.
“Checks and Balances” is a story of a recovering alcoholic who makes a deal with a supernatural trickster. The story is about unforeseen circumstances more so than dire happenings, but the problems that arise from the main characters pact seem more like the laws of karmic justice. He is a sympathetic character and the reader feels sorrow for him nonetheless.
“A Plea from the Cradle” is a chilling tale narrated by a prisoner of his own body who wishes to communicate but cannot. His hopes for contact are constantly averted by circumstances beyond his control. The ending is somewhat reminiscent of “A Brave New World” and will horrify readers at the level of cruelty humans can achieve so calmly.
“A Tale of Two Moons” is a story about a wolf who changes at the New Moon with the help of a shaman for revenge against the white man for the murder of his litter and mate. When he discovers an innocent girl who does not fear him, it may be the end to his vengeance except for her protective father. The plot is interesting, but it feels rushed and as if it ended too soon. The shaman, even though he never takes direct action, is a vital part of the story. This character should have been more fully developee. However, this is a good werewolf story that fans of the genre would more than enjoy.
“Masque Profane” is the story of a woman who wonders where her husband goes every Halloween. She finds more than she bargained for when she follows him one year, and it has disastrous results in both of their lives. The protagonist is a strong independent woman, which makes the ending even more surprising when she seemingly goes mad. The consummation of her apparent madness is gruesome and yet even the audience does not know whether it was truly justified or simply a result of the trauma she suffered that fateful night. This story will make the reader think and leave them wondering about the state of her sanity.
This eclectic collection is a must for fans of dark fiction. The “Tales of the Fractured Realms” series has great potential to be a fantastic group of stories dealing with the darker side of humanity. The other stories are also wonderful in their ability to surprise and shock the reader. It is no surprise that some of these stories have already won acclaim and recognition in this genre.
The first three tales follow the same storyline. The book starts off with a foreword by Arthur Chaldean about his nephew Victor’s disappearance after his wife went missing. Arthur found a collection of notebooks that comprised Victor’s journal, and Arthur provides the narrative necessary after each series ends, lending an air of realism to the story. When the diary begins, the expectation has been forged so brilliantly one can’t wait to find out what ensues.
In “Checks and Balances,” an alcoholic named John must face the toughest part of Alcoholic Anonymous’s twelve-step program, step eight: apologizing to those he’d hurt when drunk. Some forgive him easily, others hold a grudge, but none are waiting to tear him apart like his wife. On the way to her house, he’s tempted to crawl back into the bottle and must match wits with a sinister force offering an easy way out. In “The Gangster’s New Clothes,” a hit man finds out what it’s like to step into his victims’ shoes. Literally.
On the Verge of Madness left me mostly satisfied from beginning to end with clever storytelling and strong characters that made me care. Only one story, “A Plea from the Cradle,” didn’t blow me away and left me scratching my head. Still, way over 500 is a great percentage, and I recommend this tome to all horror aficionados.