Rounding out Hunter Shea's trilogy of One Size Eats All novellas is The Devil's Fingers, a story of fungus getting freaky in wonderfully grotesque ways. The primary theme of this trilogy has been mankind struggling to survive against some particularly vicious assaults from Mother Nature, and Shea goes all out in this third entry with some wild and gory set pieces.
Native to Australia, Clathrus archeri, aka the devil's fingers, is a highly exotic fungus that looks like something out of H.P. Lovecraft's wet dreams. Upon reaching maturation, bright red tentacles burst out of an egg, covered in dark green slime. They smell like a rotting corpse, the perfect odor to lure in flies to carry off fungal spores so that the devil's fingers can reach ever and ever farther.
When a group of hikers stumbles across a mutant strain of Clathrus archeri deep in the woods of Washington, the plan to spread the ashes of one of their companion's recently deceased father becomes an insane battle for survival.
Shea wastes no time getting straight to the creepy point as the hikers become infected and rapidly fall victim to the devil's fingers, pushing each of them to the brink of both mental and physical collapse, straining their bonds, and driving them ever deeper into a hellacious nightmare scenario.
The Devil's Fingers gorgeous cover immediately sets one's expectations for the story within, and Shea delivers an almost pitch-perfect round of craziness, and the strongest entry in the One Size Eats All series. The plot and characters are a bit flimsy, and there are maybe one or two more names bandied about than there needs to be given their thin development and the short page count, but it's an minor complaint since most of these people exist solely to become fungus fodder. And sweet, stinky, glorious fodder they are!
Take another look at this book's cover because what you see is what you get. If you like that image of ornery tentacles bursting out of some rando's torso, then you're gonna love this one. Me, I'm a sucker for this type of story. A group stuck in the woods, cut off from civilization, stumbling upon their own brutal, insane deaths? Count me in! Make their means of destruction something natural, like a plant or fungus, and you've got me by my wallet for sure. Hunter Shea is one of the most consistently reliable writers of fun creature-feature horror, and he delivered exactly what I wanted in The Devil's Fingers - ruthless natural horror, a high body count that never skimps on the gore, and an overriding sense of hopelessness balanced against man's indomitable fight for survival no matter the odds. Lean and mean, The Devil's Fingers held me tight in its grip the whole way through.
[Note: I received an advanced reading copy of this title from the publisher, Kensington, via NetGalley.]
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