4.5 / 5.0
ATTENTION: We have yet another release from Gemma Amor, and that is cause for celebration. This year, I have read three of her books (Grief Is a False God set to be my fourth before the New Year), and it was time well spent. Now, just as 2019 is closing, we have a new collection, one that proves once more that Gemma has no problem digging deep into your psyche with her stories.
I will start by saying, admittedly, I wasn’t feeling the instant awe as I did with Cruel Works of Nature when starting Till the Score is Paid (“Foliage” being a hard opening act to follow); however, the collection gradually becomes more memorable and thought-provoking as it moves along. While Cruel Works of Nature certainly hit those moments of personal, emotional turmoil – don’t get me started on that Jack in the Box story – Till the Score is Paid is more on the level of Dear Laura in regards to its inner turmoil. The pressure, the emotional scarring…
- HAVE YOU SEEN MY DOG? – This story had plenty going for it, but the weak explanation as to the why of things hurt my overall enjoyment. Don’t worry, though; the collection picks up from here.
- PURE WATER – This one reminds us (gruesomely) not to drink dirty water. It’s short and to the point, with a slight vibe of The Troop (Nick Cutter). I wish it had been extended a bit further, but it works well at this length as well.
- I AM GHOST – This crazy kid has issues. I would love a backstory telling us of the heinous acts he did prior to this particular Halloween night.
- JUSTINE – Gemma takes us on an unexpected and satisfying trip during “Justine,” one that is apt to bring upon an excitable squirm. I loved the direction she took it, and am pretty sure this is my favorite in the collection. This, or “Caleb.”
- RAT GIRL – Aside from an expected conclusion, this story set up the creeps well. The interaction between the two kids stood out. I could have read a full story about their odd friendship.
- MY BEST FRIEND – This was gross, twisted, and fun.
- HEART OF STONE – You’ve got to feel bad for this father. His ex-wife is a real shithead. I would have liked to see her removed from the equation, but the way Gemma has things play out is more haunting.
- CELL BLOCK B – I got Clive Barker vibes from this story. Dark and bloody and nightmarish.
- A BIRTHDAY CAKE FOR BRIAN – Remind me never to go to this kid’s house. Yeesh!
- THE STRANGLER – Remember how I said this collection burrows deep into your mind and mental state? “The Strangler” is probably the most personal and horrific story (aside from Dear Laura and the aforementioned Jack in a Box tale) I’ve read by Gemma. It visualizes postpartum depression as a sick monster, one that defiles you as it sees fit.
- CALEB – This closing story proves Gemma’s ability to blend genres seamlessly and still surprise us in the end of it all. “Caleb” is a darkly hypnotic mix of historical fiction, witchcraft horror, drama, and fantasy.
Where Cruel Works of Nature shined in its bloody and bizarre monsters and sets, Till the Score is Paid excels in its use of psychological horror. And though it isn’t without its flaws, the complaints are minimal and vastly overshadowed by Gemma’s ability to write.
Both Cruel Works of Nature and Dear Laura made my Top 10 Reads of 2019, and now I have Till the Score is Paid trying to wedge itself in at the last minute. Even if it doesn’t end up making the final cut, it will still have come damned close.
And as usual, if you haven’t read Amor yet, get on it already.