Continuing in the creepy tradition of his earlier books, the novels Dead (a Lot) and Bloody Bloody Apple, Howard Odentz’s new effort, Little Killers A to Z, is a project that may seem more innocent than what’s come before, at least superficially. It’s no children’s book, though. Once you start reading, in fact, you start to realize just how expertly this author is able to plumb the depths of weirdness and horror.
Each story in this collection introduces us to a new character, with rhyming titles like “A is for Andy Who Watches His Dad” and “B is for Boris, and Rifka, and Vlad,” then, almost immediately, we discover the terror that lies beneath the surface. For instance, in “O is for Oz Who Has Piss Poor Genetics,” there’s a young boy whose controlling mother is determined to correct all the biological disadvantages he’s inherited; “M is for Maura Who Builds a Partition” gives us a girl who really, really wants to be alone; and in my personal favorite, “E is for Emmett Who’s Always Behind,” we meet a boy who just can’t seem to co-exist with his twin brother, no matter how he tries.
Essentially, Little Killers A to Z is a book of stories about children who do bad, bad things. Anyone who’s read horror or watched scary movies knows there are few things more terrifying than creepy kids, and Odentz takes this premise and runs with it for all its worth. For lovers of the genre, there’s a bit of everything here: killers, stalkers, chasers, revenge seekers, apocalypse survivors, evil twins, serial killers, supernatural critters, you name it. This collection employs many of the go-to tools of the horror story, but it manages to defy expectations at every turn. And be warned, it’s habit-forming.
Some of the stories in Little Killers A to Z will leave you with your mouth hanging open, a few will make you laugh (even as you hope no one hears you), while others have endings that will immediately make you want to re-read them. One or two just might even give you an excuse to mosey by the front door and check the lock. (You know, just in case.) And even when you think you know what’s going to happen, it turns out you really don’t.
Edgar Allan Poe once said that the ideal short story should be readable within one sitting. The tales in Little Killers A to Z fits this standard perfectly, with one significant drawback: You won’t want to stop at just one. Trust me on this.