"But that night something horrible came out. A creature so hideous and grotesque it could only have come from the depths of hell."

This short story collection gathers eight tales of horror and suspense. Each “step,” as the individual stories are called, deals with different characters and topics. Some are supernatural in nature, such as “Deadly Diagnosis,” in which a psychologist helps a woman through an abusive relationship without realizing he may be too late to help her. Some of the other tales are action-oriented thrillers, like “The Not So Wise Guy,” which features an ex-convict using his uncle’s funeral home to launder mob money. “The Setup” is another thriller in which a television series interviews dangerous criminals about the possibility of parole. “A Conversation with Death,” the first story in the book, is an excellent blend of the two genres. In it, a widower works with the police to track the serial killer who murdered his wife and ends up receiving mysterious help from beyond the grave.

Several tales from the collection are less easy to categorize, such as “The Potion,” about a beautiful actress who refuses to age, no matter the cost. In “The Collector,” a magic coin gives its owners exactly what they deserve. “Best Laid Plans,” among the most entertaining of the stories, is about a dying professor of astral travel who uses his skills to find a new, more promising body. “Deadly Dream” is a slightly confusing tale of a bigoted man who dreams of a creature that will eliminate all minorities from his life.

Before each story is a manipulated photo relating to what readers are about to encounter. These photos give little away about the plots but provide a sense of foreboding similar to the macabre illustrations from the classic Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series. Indeed, this entire collection seems reminiscent of many classic horror anthologies. The Twilight Zone is perhaps the most obvious comparison, as each story contains some form of a plot twist or an unexpected ending. But the nature of most of these stories is satisfyingly pulpy, recalling more the storylines of Tales from the Crypt, Strange Tales, or Tales from the Dark Side.

It is a little unclear as to the purpose of the steps motif, as each step does not seem to lead anywhere. The stories, while intriguing, appear to be unrelated to each other, and their plots do not build to any particular cohesive point. With this in mind, the stories can be read in any order or at any pace, belying the conceit of them being numbered steps. Still, each one is entertaining in its own right.

Similar to the pulp horror stories of previous decades, none of the stories in this collection will leave readers unable to sleep, but each story aims to strike a moral chord. Evildoers, or even people willing to do evil, meet with horror or harsh punishments. Good people eventually gain rewards, and those who have suffered loss find their vengeance. This is the draw of the pulp genre: these tales are much more satisfying than the real world, with its murkier resolutions and lack of closure. Diverting and fast-paced, this collection hits the mark in all the right ways.

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