Dark Highways
By Megat Ishak, fantasy (2013)
Fixi Novo, RM19.90, ISBN 978-967-0374-40-6


Whether Dark Highways is worth the money depends on whether you have read Cannibal Vs. Ah Long And Other Bloody Stories, as a chunk of the stories here are taken from that collection. Then again, how many copies of that book were in existence anyway? Just like the previous collection, this one has short stories of the macabre, sometimes gory, sometimes just creepy kind.

The first story isn't bad at all. Grotto has our hero taking a new highway home, only to discover that there are strange things afoot along that highway. This one has a deliciously wicked concept, although a part of me snorts in derision at the idea of the Malaysian civil service being capable of sorting their heads from their rear ends, much less doing the things described here.

Cloud Sparkle has three dolts getting way above themselves when they mess with an alien cloud-thing. This one is supposed to be a homage to body horror classics, but I feel that the author hadn't done more than to take common tropes and slap some Malaysian names and settings on them. Also, he never went beyond the superficial here - the horror feels watered down.

Respect is basically about a killer avenging his dead Uncle Yon by going on a rampage. This was first published in Esquire, so it's actually tame than anything else.

Fork is about a cannibal who just wants to be loved. Some violence, some gore, but this story isn't memorable due to the length and the similarity of the protagonist to most of the sociopath males the author has written.

The Lake is taken from the previous collection. As I said in the review of that collection, this one could have been a beautiful tale of a man searching for his wife, who went missing while taking a swim at a lake, if I hadn't watched a certain movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo before. While these two stories are not identical, the twists are similar and, therefore, I saw the one in this story coming from a mile away.

Next is Ghost Girl, also taken from the previous collection. Let me just cut and paste my comments from the review of that collection: it isn't very ghostly at all. Rather, it's an amusingly set up tale of a typical male fantasy: getting back at the man that stole his wife while getting several other women vying for his affections at the same time. Only, the whole story ends up being too tortuous for its own good. Too many twists are introduced for the sake of being clever, and it feels pointlessly long to get to its denouement.

Next is something new: Signature Chocolate, the sequel to Ghost Girl, where our hero is rid of his wife thanks to the machination of his old enemy, but don't worry, he gets a new girlfriend just because. Maybe it's because the protagonist is the embodiment of every guy's sweetest fantasy and there is no need, therefore, to show me any believable reason why anyone would want to sleep with the protagonist. Just like the previous story, this one just brings on some pretext of horror to give the protagonist an excuse to lose the old ball and chain and find a new one.

The Movers is just pointless gore without much context. The author has done the cannibal angle several times before, and he's just rehashing things by now.

Paradise Lost, I guess, is supposed to be some kind of psychological horror, but it just ends up being some kind of wet dream for guys everywhere.

Next up: The Contract With Mr. Cadeer, taken from the previous collection. As I said back then, this is a ghoulish tale of an unfortunate sod who goes to the house of a client that hungers for something more than the poor sod can provide in terms of services. This one isn't bad, but the hero becomes unconscious one time too many and I can't help wondering whether there is a punchline in there. Also, by this point, the whole "I eat people, ha, ha, ha!" angle is getting old due to the overwhelming similarity in these stories.

More gore with Paula, this one combining talking heads (literally) and assassins. I'm far more concerned with how the hero, supposedly a superb killer, can sleep through his beloved getting raped and killed right next to him.

Mr. Bolero is a futuristic story telling the twisted romance of two killers. This one is okay, although I see the ending coming.

And that's a wrap. Just like the author's previous effort, Dark Highways lacks a distinct stamp of the author. The stories feel like popular tropes cobbled together to produce weak imitations of more established horror and urban fantasy stories, and some stories give me this impression that they have been hastily written in under an hour without much thought having gone into them. The author also has a tendency to repeat his formula too obviously, making many of the stories feel too similar for their own good. At the end of the day, Dark Highways is too self indulgent and not good enough.

Rating: 50


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