Book Review: Classic Singapore Horror Stories by Damien Sin

This is a post that was sitting in my mind for quite some time.

I paused all activity on my blogs in the later half of this year due to job searching. The job hunt can be very time-consuming, so I had to put aside a lot of hobbies during that time to focus and concentrate.

With some effort and a bit of luck plus good timing, I got an offer and accepted.

I’m in the second week of orientation / onboarding and happy to be learning a lot.

If you’re on LinkedIn, you can stalk my career history and related interests there or reach out and say hello.

Short Note About My Other Blogs

I shared some thoughts on my planned 2022 blogging schedule on my 20+ year old dragon website.

To summarize (as I don’t want to repeat myself all over again), I’m aiming for:

  • an infographic style monthly post on the dragon site
  • a quarterly book review post on my SG blog (still a long list of books to get through)
  • fun and casual review posts as and when on this blog (books, films, etc…I am itching to give my two cents on 2001: Space Odyssey)

As this is a hybrid personal and portfolio website, I may occasionally blog about topics like career planning and professional skills. I have a good number of interests and it would be ridiculous and unfeasible to have a separate niche blog for each one of them…

Damien Sin’s Books From Around The Globe

And now to the actual book(s)!

Damien Sin, talented and tortured soul that he was, passed away in 2011.

These are his six published and now out-of-print books.

I ordered them from all over the place (UK, US, France, and Malaysia). It was one of my more memorable online hunts for books I really wanted a copy of.

I’m focusing on the four horror short story collections in this post to stay on topic.

My copies that came from around the globe…grateful to all the sellers!

Note #1: The Penang Bookshelf

Thanks to The Penang Bookshelf for having a copy of the sixth book to complete my collection.

Note #2: Angsana Books

Angsana Books (publisher): Are you guys considering making any of these out-of-print books available via print on demand? These bestsellers are a national treasure and it would be a shame to have them forgotten and unavailable to Singaporeans and horror fans.

Nostalgia…

If you grew up in or spent some time living in Singapore (particularly during the late 80s and 90s), these stories are guaranteed to take you on a trip down some type of memory lane.

I found the settings and descriptions of all of the stories to be very apt and honest.

And the Singlish (i.e. the Singaporean version of English) and choice selections of dialect / slang words were top notch.

Damien Sin (behind) doing a sound check. Awesome pic. | h/t Martyn See via Koh Nguang How’s albums on FB

Mayhem, Lust, Sin, You Name It

Book #1 (the first in the four-book horror collections) was my favorite. Well, it could be a tie between Book #1 and Book #2.

I found the first two stories in Book #1 fun, because I grew up in Bedok (the second story was about a “Bedok Lift Rapist”)…but the third story, Sealed With A Kiss, is where it really picked up for me in terms of character / mood / setting.

I believe the drawings in the first book were done by the author. It gave a unique glimpse into the author’s visual renditions and artistic skills.

Sketch from “Sealed With A Kiss” by Damien Sin

The stories are fun and rollicking because there’s nothing pretentious or forced about the writing. It isn’t high-brow, but there is charm in its level of insight and genuineness with exploring the (dark) depths of human character.

This third story on Ricky Koh (a “small-time Geylang pimp who graduated to glitzy Orchard Road”) made me chuckle as I thought back on some of my own escapades and adventures.

It also made me feel more alive in the sense that it reminded me of the simple, unadulterated joy of reading a good book.

A Few Highlights

Without spoilers, here are a few other stories I thoroughly enjoyed:

📚 Book #1 (Classic Singapore Horror Stories / Plain Text Cover)

Sealed With A Kiss: See above section.

The Hangman: Another nostalgic piece considering I read and reviewed Once a Jolly Hangman by Alan Shadrake years ago (a must-read if you are passionate about human rights). I also liked the Singlish phrases and the black cat who was one of the main stars.

Great Pig Mother: A few hilarious turns of phrase:

“…Romeo deluxe on his light blue Vespa.”

“She summoned all the skills she had acquired in her 50-odd years of life to please him.”

“…lethargic Lothario.”

I didn’t really know what to expect from this story. I was not disappointed with the imaginative storyline set in an old pig farm.

⚜️ Book #2 (Decorative Border Cover)

Paint It Black: Set in New Delhi after a marriage between a Chinese Singaporean woman and an old, rich man with a palatial ancestral home in India. This was a very vivid story and I could still recalls several scenes months after my first reading.

The China Bride: A tight and fast-paced story that captured the essence of a trapped, unhappy marriage.

Ghost Riders: One of the more wild and, uhm, graphic stories featuring a motorcycle gang and its seemingly invincible leader. There were very perceptive snapshots of thought processes related to carnal desires. I thought the ending could have been a little bit longer and fleshed out, but it was nonetheless good.

Little Devil: This one featured a toyol (an undead fetus brought back to life by black magic), oh my!

Moon In A Puddle: Another one with an unexpected ending or message. A little subdued but definitely not weak.

🦂 Book #3 (Scorpion Cover)

Symphony For The Devil: Involves a plastic surgeon. Gruesome.

Black Romance: More excellent Singlish and I like how it captured the sentiments of the downtrodden in society.

Down on The Farm: An interesting futuristic piece about human clones being harvested.

In The Name of The Father: Like Moon In A Puddle in the previous collection, this took place in a mundane day-to-day setting with a reflective ending on humanity and what it means to live with meaning.

🐉 Book #4 (Dragon Cover)

Jailbird: Sad visceral scenes set in prison, with LGBT and classism themes.

Tender Is The Night: Cool set up featuring an ang moh (Caucasian) “ex pretty-boy” staying in Batam to complete the memoirs of the host of an old villa.

Stepchild: Of a rich Indonesian family who settled in Singapore, and the illegitimate boy the family brought in as a stepchild.

Now this book DESERVED a better edit in terms of typos, flow, etc.

Perhaps it was rushed or had other constraints, but the editing could have been a lot more polished for a smoother read.

Closing Thoughts

Reading a book can be very subjective. My favorite books and media always give me something unexpected to savour.

The retribution and focus on humanity’s dark side > the supernatural in many of the stories were definitely strong points for me.

Completing these books also gave me the following personal takeaway to mull over: that I’m free to create my own happiness.

For example, I sometimes feel sad that I’m not exactly living in a cultural or cosmopolitan hotspot. While there are some things I like about my current location, the cultural events are kind of limited.

However, seeking out the art/books/culture I do enjoy gives me that chance to mentally explore in a way I absolutely could not do without an internet connection. I also learned that nostalgia often comes with a tinge of sadness, but it can also be inspiring in terms of seeing and reflecting upon one’s growth and life choices over time.

That was something highly unexpected from reading a dark horror collection, which is just one of the many reasons that I love reading.

I’m glad I had such a memorable experience with this fine collection of books DS gifted to the world during his relatively short stay on it.

Footnote on Blogging

I not-so-silently cursed several times while formatting this post.

For example, the classic editor used to display the word count of the post at the bottom of the draft. With the block editor, I had to Google to find out that you now have to click the ‘circle’ icon in the draft above to display the word count. The widgets section is a little wonky and I had to manually construct some sections. I even had to fight with the tags.

This reminds me of a previous blog comment which mentioned the classic block option. I will try it out on my next post.

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