I Smell Blood
 by Ralph Robert Moore

Second Collection

"We go into the doorways you’re too scared to go in, up the ladders with rusty bent nails sticking out of the rungs, down the drains and into the tunnels under the city. We poke our head up when you’re too timid to, put our hands in holes you’re afraid may be full of snakes. "

Reviewed by A J Kirby

Disturbing. Nightmarish. Terrifying. I Smell Blood, Ralph Robert Moore’s second short fiction collection, reinforces his reputation, amongst those in the know, that here we have a genre-storytelling giant in our midst. Fee-fi-fo-fum. Following on from his first collection, Remove the Eyes, this is a surefire cult hit which deserves wider recognition.

This is another wickedly observed, disturbing book of terrifying fiction from the darker side of the street; one which cannot fail to inspire a reaction in even the idlest of readers. Reading the stories within these pages is never easy, but that’s hardly the point. Here, Moore manages to distill the best qualities of horror writing and produce something which is unique. He may be a storytelling giant, but his tread is not heavy. Here, conventions go out the window, and through it, something far more beastly crawls.

I Smell Blood consists of eight stories, two of which are previously unpublished, and a short-novel-length work, Kid. As in every collection of short fiction, there is some variation in the quality of the pieces, but never in the richness of the imagination at work. Moore lends you his eyes (or lets you hop into his head, a la Kid) and it is a very, very dark place indeed. And I’m not necessarily talking about the slayer snowmen we meet in Rain Turns to Snow, or the "corpses" we encounter in the excellently titled Fleeing, on a Bicycle with your Father, from the Living Dead, or the tribe of carnivore cows which populate In the Tunnels of the Agogs, though these are fun stories, I’m talking about the more fully psychologised stories which form the majority of this collection. The stories which confront inner demons and human monsters which are far more terrifying, and fiercely written by Moore.

In The Little Girl Who Lives in the Woods, the unflinching story which begins the collection, we confront the uncomfortable truth in the fact that those who are abused so often become abusers themselves. The story reads like a fairytale, with much repetition and pared-back prose, and yet, the story which unfolds is brutal and honest. The problems the children face are real, sickeningly real. With this story we’re starting to feel out the dimensions of Moore’s dark places. We come to understand that the author won’t turn away when others would, that he’ll keep his internal camera whirring.

The Man Who Could Jump Off Roofs is another tale of abuse, of masculine power-play. Of distorted parental relationships with their children. Charley is the life and soul of the party because he can jump off roofs. That he is under investigation for child molestation doesn’t seem to matter because, as his neighbour Missy tells him, "I’m not a modern woman. I want to cook, I want to wash a man’s clothes. I want someone to hold me, fix the toilet if it’s broken, pick up the check in a restaurant, even if it’s with my money."

In the never before published Afoot, we meet Mason, who parks his Porsche outside a dry-cleaners and goes in to collect his tux. He’s got a dinner with the mayor later and is in a hurry. Only, his tuxedo appears to have gone missing. This story is a battle of wills from the start, between the middle-aged Mason and the tall young girl behind the counter. It begins humorously, Moore carefully drawing us in to Mason’s point of view, making the reader complicit in what will soon come to pass. We share Mason’s exasperation with this girl, we can picture her so clearly, perhaps chewing gum, TV faced, maybe distracted by thumbing out a text message on her phone.

Eventually Mason goes behind the counter to look for the tux himself and a struggle ensues. Which becomes sexual. And suddenly a jarring note sounds.
He got her face on the floor, looked down at her struggling body, smelling something earthy. Was that her cunt? He had an erection, had a wild thought of raping her, realized how ridiculous that was, looked down at her plump bottom, thought about at least spanking her, to teach her a lesson…
He doesn’t, but he does impose his will on her. So much so that she agrees to take him to the manager’s house in order to iron out the problem.

When the Big One Thaws is possibly the most powerful story in the book, certainly in genre terms, because it involves a mix of the speculative and the real. In this piece, the green-eyed monster jealousy puts in an appearance both literally and figuratively. In it, Phillip and Jill move back to Maine (King country) and are shown a house by a smarmy estate agent. To them, it feels like real tail-between-the-legs kind of stuff after not being able to nail jobs down in Colorado. They’ve slunk back, and are shown a lovely house, for a good price and all they can think is there must be some deeper reason as to why the house is so cheap. It comes as something as a shock when the agent answers: "The story itself is stupid. The story is that down there, down in that pond, at the bottom, frozen in the mud at the bottom, is a big frog."

The big frog represents Othello-like green-eyed sexual jealousy. Without an Iago to sow the seeds of mistrust, Phillip plants his own doubts in his mind. He sees himself as a failure, unable to hold down a job; believes himself unworthy of a partner. He begins to over-sexualise everything. His mind is warped. When he sees Jill, he sees "…bare legs and red pubic hair looking twice as large as the rest of her."

Eventually, Jill and Phillip discuss "the frog", Jill wondering whether they should call the police. She’s worried about the baby. He doesn’t seem to see the irony when he says of the ‘frog’ “It’s just… stupid. No matter what happens we’ll deal with it. We are not going to be destroyed by something that stupid. We’re too strong for that.”

This is raw, human emotion, though warped, seen through a glass darkly. Phillip’s jealousy is frog which has to be fed, and Phillip’s mind is ever-ready to do so. With increasingly dark results. As with many of the stories, Moore here tackles deep themes. Beyond the white picket fence themes. Sex games, gender relationships, obsessions. Despite the cows and frogs and snowmen, the deepest horror here are the things which human beings are capable of doing to other human beings.

Read a story from this collection on RalphRobertMoore.com (PDF)

A J Kirby is the author of four novels, Perfect World (TWB Press, 2011), Bully (Wild Wolf Publishing, 2009), The Magpie Trap (Youwriteon.com, 2008), and When Elephants walk through the Gorbals, and a new volume of short stories,  Mix Tape (New Generation Publishing, 2010).
A Js other Short Reviews: Route "Book at Bedtime"

Al Riske "Precarious"

Lorraine M. Lopez "Homicide Survivors Picnic"

Guy Cranswick "Corporate"

Johnny Towsend "Zombies for Jesus"

Howard Goldowsky (ed) "Masters of Technique"

Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology 3

Steve Morris "Jumble Tales"

Erinna Mettler "Starlings"
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Ralph Robert Moore's fiction has been published in America, England, Ireland and Australia in a wide variety of genre and literary magazines and anthologies, including the nineteenth edition of The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. His novel, Father Figure, was published in 2003. In 2009 Moore’s first short story collection, Remove the Eyes, was published.  Remove the Eyes was long-listed for Best Short Story Collection of 2009 by the British Fantasy Society. 

Read an interview with Ralph Robert Moore