I had the privilege of reading a copy of Michael Patrick Hicks’s new short story, Consumption, before publication. I was initially drawn in by the cover and description on his blog, so I’ll post those here and then give you my review.
Reclusive chef Heinrich Schauer has invited six guests to a blind twelve-course tasting menu.
What You Eat
While snow blankets the isolated Swiss valley surrounding his estate, the guests feast eagerly, challenging one another to guess at the secret tastes plated before them.
Meat Is Murder
As they eat, each guest is overtaken by carnal appetites, unaware of their host’s savage plans…or of the creature lurking below.
One thing is clear: There is more on the menu than any of them have bargained for.
This short story felt like a novelette to me, so I won’t give away any spoilers for those who want to (and should!) read it. To start, this story is wonderfully macabre with a lot of gore, in different forms. It starts off like the movie Clue where you are introduced to the guests at the dinner party. None of them know each other, and for the first half of the story, you are getting to know each of them in turn. Some wear masks, some don’t, but they are all sworn to secrecy. This is a dinner that is exclusively for them – and the reason for this is shocking.
The chef is famed Heinrich Schauer, and I was immediately reminded of our culture’s fascination with food preparation. Schauer felt like a high-class version of any number of celebrity cooks on The Food Network. Except, he’s not as approachable. In fact, Schauer remains hidden from his guests while he prepares their thirteen or so dish course of mysterious food. The food may be a mystery to the guests as they sample the “ashy” tasting soups and sautés, but the reader is given more than a few hints at what the food is made of, and it all comes from one animal source. And it’s unlike any animal that you’ve ever seen.
The cover of the book gives you an artistic glimpse of the creature that is being served to the guests, and I would say that the illustration doesn’t do the creature justice. Schauer keeps the animal alive while he prepares the dishes, and as the story continues to its conclusion, you come to know the monster completely – inside and out. This creature is no doubt inspired by the many Lovecraftian monsters that roam the dark mountainous ranges, and I felt horrified and sympathetic for the poor beast as it is turned into the different courses. And as with most Lovecraft tales, this one continues downwards until it becomes terrifically dark and twisted.
Consumption is wonderfully paced and a real treat for horror fans. I found myself rewarded with information ahead of the dinner guests, and this foreknowledge kept me turning the pages to see what happened next. There is plenty of blood and guts within this novelette and fans of gross-out horror will find a lot to savor here (as Schauer would want you to). Hicks has a strong ability to sear images in the reader’s mind, and this ability was at full-strength with this horror story. I was grossed out at parts, but also gleefully fascinated at others as the characters consumed their fate. As with a lot of great horror, this story commented on our society, specifically our fascination with fame and food. I can’t say I would have turned down an invitation to such an exclusive dinner party, but the lack of cell phone service or internet would have been a red flag were I to attend! Horror story common sense 101! But, who am I kidding? The fun of this creepy story is waiting for the characters to meet their fates!
If you are a fan of horror stories, you need to pick this one up and give it a read. I read it with the lights off and my Kindle screen turned up, and it was a totally immersive and satisfying experience. I hope that this is not the last time that Hicks dabbles in horror because he is so good at it.