Death Sentences:

Tales of Punishment and Revenge

Written by: Matthew Warner

Published by: Undaunted Press

Reviewed by Justine Manzano


     There are horror stories and there are things that just unnerve you right down to your very soul.  The things that illicit a cry of “Oh, no!  That’s just not right…”.  That’s what Matthew Warner writes.  Warner doesn’t need monsters to creep his readers out so much as his take on the basest ways of human nature.  In Death Sentences: Tales of Punishment and Revenge, Warner uses a series of five short stories to hammer home one truth that, upon reading this, becomes undeniable: No bad deed goes unpunished.

     The very first story in this novel is called “Middle Passage” and is about a future slave’s ride on a slave ship and the horrors that he and his daughter meet up with along the ride, including an evil captain who plots to destroy them for the sake of insurance money.  The horror here was mostly in the simple truth of the world they lived in, and as I read, I couldn’t help but be astounded at the tremendous amount of research that was poured into this, just one of his five stories.  But then, if there is one thing that seems to be Warner’s niche, it’s that.  As far as I can see, the man has never wrote a damn thing without an impeccable amount of research. 

     The second story, entitled “Angel’s Wings”, is about a young unwed girl in the old south named Alice who has gained psionic powers, upon becoming a woman.  Her mother calls these powers her “angel’s wings” because her mother believes that her powers were stolen from the angels and that, for this, God is on a mission to punish them.  The story follows Alice on a journey to understand both her powers and why she would be punished for something she has no control over.  A dangerous religious debate with the town’s religious leader, Reverend Forney (I have my own theories about why he might be named that) leads to a lesson about being sure you know exactly who you’re trusting. 

     The third and fourth stories were shorter than the others, but were my favorites by far.  The true and heart-wrenching tales of two separate boys going through a divorce and the difficulty they face dealing with their parents afterwards, this one hit a personal spot with me.  Naturally, the tales themselves aren’t true but the feelings behind them ring through with great clarity.  The first of the two, “The Cave”, involves a boy named Carl and his attempt to rescue his father from a cave that may be alive.  The second, “A Second Chance”, is the story of Scott and the mystery of where he is and what has happened to him as he wakes up isolated and alone with vivid memories of the pain of his parents divorce but completely unable to find a way out of his surroundings. 

     The final story, “The Forgiving Type” is the most haunting by far.  The story is about a small town where the man who runs the crematorium is arrested for cannibalizing bodies and giving his customers fake remains.  In this town lives Parker, a cop who accidentally misfires his gun upon being startled,  thus killing his wife, and who finds out that his wife was one of those that had been cannibalized.  This story ends up as the perfect bookend to the collection as it is more about forgiveness then it is about vengeance.

     Matthew Warner is an intelligent writer that deserves praise.  His writing is gritty and realistic, hammering home the truth of the harsher sides of our world.  He doesn’t sugar-coat things and he doesn’t soften blows and though there are many writers out there who pull no punches, Warner is not out for gore.  He is out for truth in amazing circumstances and that is what truly makes a horror writer great. 


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