Book review: Baby Powder and other Terrifying Substances – John C. Foster


Not since John F.D. Taff’s short story collection have I enjoyed a coming together of short tales such as this. Though I have read some of these before, I was only too pleased to revisit the dark landscapes that Foster has crafted here with his imagination. To label ‘Baby Powder and Other Terrifying Substances’ (wow! what a mouthful!) as a collection of horror would be doing it a massive disservice. Foster has his fingers in many pies and his stories contain elements of crime, horror, science fiction and noir.

The opening story sees a train journey erupt into a fight for survival. I felt a little Lovecraft influence in this dark tale of body horror. What a great way to start! I dove straight into ‘Burial Suit’ even though it is a story I have come across before. It reads like a dark and violent crime fiction story but contains elements of the supernatural and it is one only Foster can write. Don’t lose your head over this one! ‘Talk to Leo’ was my first exposure to Foster’s writing and it was a joy to read it again. Ventriloquist dummies are pretty damn creepy at the best of times, but Foster turns the creep factor up to a Spinal Tap 11 with this odd little tale.

We then get into three fantastic tales. ‘The Willing’ sees a group of survivors summon forth an ancient evil to supposedly help them defeat an alien menace, whilst ‘Meat’ is a dark science fiction story where a ship crashes on a mysterious planet. Very little exists on this planet, though there are some ugly-looking trees scattered around. Only two people have survived the crash, but they are not alone. I loved this story, such a great ending. ‘Girl 6’ is another favourite. Anybody familiar with John’s work will be delighted with this story of strange Russian experiments inside a mysterious house. An interview takes place with a man recollecting his journey through the house where a number of young girls are found dead (sort of). This story has everything! It is damn creepy and the ending is simply terrifying. ‘Red’ is another science fiction tale about an alien invasion where the aliens are being hunted by a government operative. The aliens are able to clone themselves and regenerate at will leaving our operative facing an uphill battle.

I’m not big on zombie stories but I really enjoyed the undead setting of ‘Dead on Sunset Strip’ where a gig at the Whisky-A-Go-Go turns into a fight for survival as Hell on Earth is unleashed and a plague of the living dead take centre stage. ‘A Lamb to Slaughter’ is firmly rooted in the weird. A man takes up the position of being a witness to criminal executions. He soon finds out that all of his predecessors have died and that he could be next! One of the longer stories but an absolute ripper!

The final piece is the title story. A novella where Foster takes the familiar horror trope of the haunted house story but adds his own slice of weird to it. I think this was my favourite story in the book. It’s tension-filled, weird and just damn creepy. The Jacoby House is the centrepiece of the story, a house with a long, long history. It is a very real feeling entity, a living and breathing thing that cannot be destroyed no matter how hard people try. When a girl (Sasha) goes missing inside the house, her partner Gretchen turns to alcohol and drugs as a way of trying to cope with her disappearance. The girls are a paranormal investigation team, but it’s a bit of a scam and they bite off more than they can chew inside of the house. Gretchen leaves the house unscathed but there is something that left there with her and she soon begins to find strands of black hair everywhere. This odd but engrossing story sees Gretchen eventually return to the scene of the disappearance to confront the evil that lurks there. A damn fine story and a great ending to this one as well..

Foster’s ‘Baby Powder and Other Terrifying Substances’ is a tour de force in short story writing. With such a variety of stories on show, you never know what John will serve up next. But, rest assured, I will be at the front of the line when it comes to meal time! Superb, I loved it.

5/5 stars

Pick up a copy from here.

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