Written by: Matthew J. Barbour
Jack Ketchum is a familiar name in horror. Often cited among the top ten horror writers of all time, he is best known for writing The Girl Next Door and Off Season. Much of his work is centered on reality instead of fantastical elements. Humans are the real monsters. Ketchum’s stories are surprisingly plausible and in some instances, based off actual historic events.
Peaceable Kingdom is a collection of 32 short stories. The vast majority of these tales have previously been published in other venues. However, many of these publications have gone out of print or have been have become hard to acquire. The stories in the collection represent a wide variety of material by Ketchum dating from 1994 to 2003. In 2003, Peaceable Kingdom won the Bram Stoker Award for Best Collection.
Listing all 32 stories featured in the collection would be overkill. Suffice to say several well-known gems are presented in the collection. These include “The Box,” which won the Bram Stoker Award for Best Short Story in 1994, and “Gone,” winner of the Bram Stoker Award for Best Short Fiction in 2000.
“The Box” and “Gone” are not the only standout pieces in the collection. There is very little filler. A surprising revelation given that the book is over 400 pages in length. There are even tales that contain speculative elements, such as ghosts, vampires, and zombies. These things are a rarity in Ketchum’s writing, but feel at home within the collection.
The only thing the pieces share in common is the clear no nonsense writing style that has been a hallmark of Ketchum’s craft since his arrival on the horror scene in 1980. Tales, like “To Suit the Crime,” fit within the splatterpunk styling of Off Season. Others, such as “The Holding Cell,” are reminiscent of The Girl Next Door. Then still others, such as Amid the Walking Wounded, appear un-related to anything else written by the author. Some even appear to have been inspired by classics. The story, “Chain Letter,” in particular, appears to be Ketchum’s homage to Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.” All are superb and feel like Ketchum even if their subject matter and tone varies wildly.
The collection begins with a bang both literally and figuratively with “The Rifle.” It is quite possibly the strongest work in the collection. A mother finds a loaded gun in her son’s closest. She moves to confront the child only to find that the rifle is just the tip of the iceberg. Faced with the realization that her son is a monster, she is left with a life changing decision. Her course of action will shock and startle you. Yet, if placed in the same position, would you make a similar choice?
Peaceable Kingdom is a strong collection. It is a classic in its own right. It is Ketchum at his finest, a must read for fans of the horror genre.