Derek Muk’s Private Number and Claws are two terrifying tales of supernatural peril and mystery, and the author has released them as a double feature in one volume. The common link between the two stories is their hero, paranormal investigator Albert Taylor, a supernatural sleuth on par with The X-Files’ Agent Mulder.
I’ve always liked stories that spring forth from a radio talk show setting. An unknown caller’s voice and the anonymous malevolence it might bring with it is a concept that, in itself, is creepy. The main catalysts of Talk Radio, The Night Listener, hell, even The Fisher King originate from a shadowy voice on the other end of the line. Thus, when Private Number opened with a radio show encouraging listeners to phone in with their “most terrifying story,” I knew I was in for a treat. I was not disappointed. The final call for KRRM’s Paranormal State show is a woman named Faye who claims to be dead…and promises she’s going to butcher them all. As the story progresses, the radio show hosts team up with Albert Taylor in an attempt to determine the caller’s true identity and motive. The plot shifts between their quest, Faye’s back story, and a nefarious cluster of “fast moving dark shapes rising out of the shadows” to bludgeon unsuspecting victims. When the three pieces converge, the mystery climaxes to an original and satisfying conclusion both creature feature fans and supernatural thriller addicts will appreciate.
As Claws begins, Josie accepts a ride home from Manny, a co-worker at the diner where she waits tables. Although they’ve decided to pair up as a safety measure—brutal, nocturnal attacks by an unknown assailant have been reported in the area—ironically, Manny’s truck is besieged by a ferocious creature, “something big and dark,” that tears open the pick-up and slashes its helpless passengers. Muk’s description of this event, one of my favorite in the double feature, is not overly flowery—too many spices can ruin the stew, I feel—but instead, toes the line between subtle and detailed, and as a result, sends chills up the reader’s spine. Once again, Albert Taylor is called upon to investigate the crime. Along with local law enforcement, Taylor discovers what’s been plaguing the sleepy Nevada county, and if a horror fan knows one thing, it’s that evil is never going to be easy to stop.
I really like the character of Albert Taylor; I can envision Muk creating a whole series of opportunities for his monster hunter to shine. A full collection, or even a series of novels/novellas would lend themselves well to a television or streaming series. Moreover, Muk does a solid job of taking traditional horror monsters and updating them as urban menaces of the 21st century landscape. Any fan of speculative mystery and supernatural thriller needs to discover Muk’s work and devour it: they won’t be disappointed.