Fresh from a stretch in prison, Joe Openshaw is living at home with his father and trying to get his life together again. He has let go of old habits, especially the ones that turned him into an addict and helped land him in prison.
On a hike along the Lowback Trail, Joe stumbles on one of the town’s oldest secrets—buried long ago, if not forgotten.
It’s an unusual but safe enough treasure—a jar of old pennies. What interests Joe isn’t the pennies themselves, but the pieces of paper taped to every coin—a child’s handwritten wish on each one.
When the first few wishes come true, they are simple things. Fun. Harmless.
Except as time goes on, Joe realizes they aren’t really wishes at all…they’re exchanges, and the bill was racking up.
Nothing is free in life.
Sooner or later, you always pay.
Joe Openshaw has just been released from prison. He’s an addict, certainly not a character that we would normally warm to initially but he’s a fascinating, well-written character full of hopes and flaws. When he finds a jar of old pennies with notes attached to them, he reads one and, to his surprise, it soon comes true. But, as other people read the notes, he finds that the seemingly innocent wishes don’t always have a positive outcome. A Penny for Your Thoughts is a cautionary tale about the dangers of greed and addiction as the characters find that getting what you want isn’t always a good thing.
The most striking aspect of the book, and one that I’ve become accustomed to in Hayward’s books, is how well-written the characters are. As I’ve said, Joe is a typical bad-guy. He’s a recovering addict and was a getaway driver during a robbery that resulted in him being arrested along with his girlfriend. But surprisingly, he’s an incredibly sympathetic and well-rounded character. We can also see that he’s struggling with his recovery and often comments on his old life and what he might be doing now if he was still an addict. He’s a fascinating character because he is morally ambiguous.
Many of the female characters in the book are also fascinating. Angie, Joe’s ex-girlfriend who also went to prison, is a great villain and is better written than many other female villains I’ve read in the genre. She’s heartless, cunning, and utterly engaging. As she isn’t in recovery like Joe, she acts as a perfect contrast to Joe and highlights the true selfishness of an addict. The all-female cult, The Crimson Sisters, also appear in the book and are a pretty integral part of it. Yet, although they don’t appear for that long, I wanted to know more about them. They’re made more fascinating by our lack of information about them.
Another impressive aspect of the book are the relationships between the characters: between friends Joe and his friend Kenny, between the unlikely trio Joe, Kenny, and Ava, between Joe and Angie, and between Joe and his father. It’s the last relationship that is surprisingly the most poignant and realistic as Joe is forced to consider their relationship following his release from prison and his father’s mortality. His relationship with his father has always been filled with tension but, after finding the jar of pennies, Joe soon gets to know his father more starts to understand their relationship more. Joe’s relationship with his friend Kenny is also an important one as it’s a source of comedy. Kenny is typical loser and picks out a particularly funny, and nasty, wish that is utterly humiliating. Yet, we are strangely enamoured by him.
I’m sometimes apprehensive about reading co-authored books as I’ve found that some can be very disjointed but I found that this is an utterly cohesive narrative. The fact that Robert Ford and Matt Hayward, two of the leadings voices in horror literature today came together to collaborate, means that readers will not be disappointed. The resulting book is a comic, thrilling, and terrifying look at addiction and greed but ultimately, it’s a story about relationships and how important those around us are in times of crisis or when we have gone through a life-changing experience or transition. It’s a hugely entertaining cautionary tale and I hope the duo work together again.
A Penny for Your Thoughts is published by Poltergeist Press on June 1st and is the perfect blend of horror, comedy, and poignancy.
About the authors
ROBERT FORD has published the novels The Compound, and No Lipstick in Avalon, the novellas Ring of Fire, The Last Firefly of Summer, Samson and Denial, Bordertown and the short story collection The God Beneath my Garden. In addition, he has several screenplays floating around in the ether of Hollywood. He can confirm the grass actually is greener on the other side, but it’s only because of the bodies buried there.
MATT HAYWARD is a Bram Stoker Award-nominated author and musician from Wicklow, Ireland. His books include Brain Dead Blues, What Do Monsters Fear?, Practitioners (with Patrick Lacey), and The Faithful. He compiled the award-winning anthology Welcome To The Show, and is currently writing a novel with Bryan Smith. Matt wrote the comic book This Is How It Ends (now a music video) for the band Walking Papers, and received a nomination for Irish Short Story of the Year from Penguin Books in 2017. He is represented by Lane Heymont of the Tobias Literary Agency and can be found on Twitter @MattHaywardIRE or at his website www.sundancecrow.com