I am weird. I enjoy what I do. There’s nothing better than this. Such a beautiful gift. I live far away from people. Kidding. New York City is an exquisite playground, but you knew this already. It’s really easy to deceive people into believing I’m such a nice and helpful neighbor. I like to have my little secrets. They’re mine… forever. I don’t even need a photo album. I can remember each of them so vividly. Ah… Let me contemplate this for a second… Yes. That’s right. Perfect.
from “Open Letter to a Kindred Spirit,” by Johanna K. Pitcairn
Stories from the Underworld is a collection of tales that share a sameness of setting and mood which I found immediately engaging. There’s a perception of New York City’s atmosphere that permeates every story, and even those that don’t explicitly take place there are influenced by it in some way or another. There’s a dark and gritty feel to every sentence, as if each word was pulled from a dark and damp alleyway in the dead of night. The stories will shock you, and maybe even surprise you with a twist or two.
The tales within Stories from the Underworld run the gamut in genre from horror to suspense to near-future dystopia. Despite this, there seems to be a continuity linking all of them together—the characterization of the setting. It is consistent and realistic, and becomes the cord linking the collection together, even though one story may take place in a disabled subway car while another plays out in a wooded battlefield in the near future. The characters all seem to either be trapped in the city or in the process of escaping, physically or psychologically.
Some of the stories are graphic, others are subtle. One or two of the stories seem to end abruptly—but at just the right time. Most are first-person accounts from a female point of view, but not all. If there’s a common thread linking all of the tales together aside from the setting, it’s darkness and a sense of foreboding. These are not happy stories at all.
There’s not much to say here. The stories are well written and engaging, and there was nothing to distract from that. With such a wide variety of tales it’s possible that not every one will appeal to each reader, but that’s a matter of taste rather than quality.
The copy of this book I read was an independently-produced Kindle version. As such there were little or no distractions from the reading experience stemming from formatting or presentation. In fact, I have read some professionally-produced e-books from established publishers that have had more issues than this one.
I’ve never been to New York City, but we’ve all read books and seen movies or television shows set there. I even know a few people who’ve lived there. Just like every large American city, be it New York or Chicago, Los Angeles or San Francisco, Boston or Dallas, Atlanta or Detroit or Miami, perceptions can vary wildly, and I can say that I myself have been presented with a confounding number of different versions of New York. In Stories from the Underworld, Johanna Pitcairn presents a view of her city that is dark and mysterious, and not a little perilous for those who lack the necessary survival instincts. Additionally, she is able to convey a sense that, once entered, the darkness of the city can never truly be escaped, regardless of how far one may roam.
If you enjoy your tales dark and chilling, this book is an excellent choice. I give it four stars.