pages in this section

Black Static

New Horror Fiction BLACK STATIC 82/83 OUT NOW

The Late Review: They Kill

10th Mar, 2023

Author: Peter Tennant

Web Exclusive icon

Following on from Wednesday's post, another trade paperback from Flame Tree Press gets late reviewed, and this go round it's the turn of They Kill by Tim Waggoner.

Waggoner hits the ground running. Sierra Sowell's dead brother Jeffrey is resurrected by the mysterious man known only as Corliss, but with a difference in that everything he touches turns to ash. Corliss also takes four people from Sierra's life and turns them into monsters with strange powers. Sierra joins forces with Jeffrey's boyfriend Marc to see if they can save him, but things go awry as her brother brings death and disorder with him, while the other four are intent on hurting or killing Sierra for imagined slights. Corliss offers her a way out, but at a huge cost.

What Waggoner has done here is to reinvent the superhero trope as a horror story. Jeffrey is an engaging character, but the real zest comes from the Fearsome Four. Controlling ex-boyfriend Stuart becomes techno-man, a machine human hybrid. Drunken neighbour Grace is given the power to vomit alcohol that lets her control other people. Prudish teacher Mandy becomes a sexual goddess, fucking everyone to death. Do-gooder Randall is reinvented as the savage Chuck. Each of them has a convincing back story, with the women made particularly sympathetic by virtue of what has happened to them. They are not bad people, just those who haven't responded well to misfortune and lash out under pressure.

And as usual with Waggoner there are no prisoners taken. The innocent suffer and often have no idea why, with even the good people and children brutally killed. Jeffrey is unable to make sense of what is happening to him, seeing his new ability as a gift to be shared, while the real Jeffrey fights to suppress this instinct. Corliss is a compelling and believably inhuman protagonist, the god in the machine, manipulating others and reality itself to achieve the end he has in mind, while detached from it all except in the most abstract way. Underlying his actions is the concept of The Gyre, which I first encountered in The Way of All Flesh and am now coming to regard as the metaphysical foundation of the Waggonerverse.

But it is Sierra who is the character we get to know best and who has the hardest choices to make, whether to kill the innocent before they become evil and thus save others. She is a woman with many admirable qualities, but also character flaws that can be exploited by others, and in part it is these that make her response to what is happening so believable. She is not some high-minded heroine, but a woman trying to do the best she can in an impossible situation, someone who screws up and hits out when hurt, willing to bloody her hands when she thinks that's what is required. At the centre of the story is theme of sacrifice, of both self and others, and Waggoner tests his central  character to destruction and beyond.

They Kill was a book that entertained, with plenty of thrills and spills, gore and gusto, invention and intrigue, but also one that makes the reader think, makes us wonder how we would act in Sierra's shoes. I recommend it unreservedly. And if all goes to plan, tomorrow I'll be discussing another Tim Waggoner/Flame Tree Press production over on my personal blog at 




Section items by date:

Pages in this section: