Book Review: Broker of Nightmares by Jon Padgett

While the horror book sect can differ in a lot of opinions, if there’s one thing we can agree on in the dingy digital backroom of Signal Horizon, it’s that Jon Padgett is one of modern horror’s greatest treasures. Anyone who’s read The Secret of Ventriloquism knows that Padgett can stand toe-to-toe with our greatest talents. In it, he showed us that he could pull Ligottian weird horror into a new direction, being at once hyper-literary and accessibly plot-driven. His stories feature recurring names and concepts, rearranging themselves from story to story, never quite fitting the way you thought. It’s a cut and paste free association of dream logic, and in Padgett’s hands, it feels like reality folding in on itself. It’s this sort of mastery of both plot and technique, the full package so to speak, that makes Padgett the name we can agree on—the guy to watch. New content from Padgett is like a new magic trick, and we’re all left wondering what he’s gonna pull off next.

While The Broker of Nightmares is only a charity chapbook, it serves as good an introduction to the man’s work as any. Another example of an author at the top of his game—obsessed with dreams, reality, and everything in between.

The most telling aspect of the story itself might be its release date. October 30th, at almost the fever-pitch of Halloween season. This is, for me and many other horror nerds, the best time of the year. But while it seems natural for a horror chapbook to be released near Halloween, there’s more than one type of horror, and of all the terrifying literature out there, weird horror has always felt the least seasonally directed. Pumpkins, ghouls, and ghosts are not really the fodder for this style, and as such, don’t really capture the almost classical magic of the season. And yet, The Broker of Nightmares feels like weird-horror crafted for the holiday. Padgett doesn’t pull from Halloween tropes, but he does reach back for a common storytelling structure. The Broker of Nightmares has no haunted houses, but it has haunted people—and it’s told with the gradual heightening of a campfire tale.

Dr. Slaw is a doctor who can not dream. One day, two patients arrive looking for drugs, one of them offering dreams in return. This is the story at its most fundamental level, an exchange of goods. The premise offers itself up to the escalating structure of a ghost story, with next-weeks, and-thens pushing its plot forward between surreal and horrific episodes—before reaching its unsavory conclusion. In some ways, it reminded me of a Robert Bloch tale, who’s short fiction seemed to hinge on this sort of storytelling, almost always ending with a suitably spooky reveal. Padgett’s story is a lot more sophisticated, of course, but with it’s fingers dipping into old school storytelling, it feels appropriately resonant as a different take on a Halloween staple.

The Broker of Nightmares is the sort of thing I’d like to see more in the horror world—shorter, self-contained works. If there’s one criticism I can levy at almost every form in the genre, it’s that everything is too long. Novels shouldn’t turn to molasses in their midsection, short stories should be one-sitting reads, and collections should be as fine-tuned and cohesive as a good album. Less, in my opinion, is always more. The Broker of Nightmares comes in at a brisk pace, hovering around fifty pages with some beautiful, surreal, terrifying artwork included. A selling point in itself, as we struggle more and more to find reasons to buy real-life books—this one is packaged as a true collector’s edition. And although I only had access to the ebook for review, it’s easy to tell the final product will be something special.

 Final cover for Ashes and Entropy, scheduled for release December 2018

Nightscape Press, with The Broker of Nightmares, as well as the upcoming Ashes and Entropy collection, seem to be positioning themselves as an exciting new press in the world of literary horror. Judging from the names they’re collecting, they have the taste to make us curators worthy of attention. The Broker of Nightmares makes for a good read, for a good cause (a third of the proceeds going to the ACLU)—like much of Padgett’s work, it folds one reality onto another, this time: the classic horror story into the uncertainty of the weird.

Go to Nightscape Press to pre-order your copy, supplies are limited to 100 signed and numbered copies.  The copies are going fast and are scheduled to ship just in time for Halloween.  Nightscape Press is planning more charitable chapbooks from a wide variety of authors and benefiting a diverse range of charities.  

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