Optical Delusion, the second in Hunter Shea's trilogy of Mail Order Massacre novellas from Kensington Press, is a more serious affair than Just Add Water and focused more on the psychological threat posed by X-Ray glasses. That's not to say Shea skimps on the gore, though! There's plenty of fun Harryhausen-like visuals on display as Martin Blackstone gets an eyeful of everyone he sees.
On a lark, Blackstone tries on his son's X-Ray specs, ordered from the back of a comic book, and finds, much to his surprise and eventual chagrin, that they actually work. At least for him. Brian and his buddy have already declared them a failure and waste of money, but after Martin's wife tells him he looks pretty cool in his new sunglasses, well...maybe they shouldn't be relegated to the trash heap quite so soon. The more he wears them, though, the harder it becomes to take them off, and pretty soon Martin is seeing far more than he wanted. What starts off as some peeping tom perviness quickly turns toward the grotesque. Beauty may be only skin-deep, but the darkness of the soul...well, that runs much, much deeper, and it's a foul thing indeed.
Whereas Just Add Water was a fun creature feature romp, Optical Delusion takes a decidedly more serious approach with its focus on an adult cast and deepening madness. I dug the direction this installment took, and while it's a darker work it is still compulsively readable. My only complaint comes in the story's resolution, which lacked much of a punch for me. Shea was building toward some really intriguing ideas, and while I dug the central thoughts behind the climax I wish he had explored it a bit more deeply. The story ended a bit too abruptly for my tastes, but the build-up and execution of the story overall was pretty dang satisfying.
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[Note: I received an advanced copy of this title from the publisher via NetGalley.]
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