Beau Johnson’s All of Them to Burn is a Shotgun Blast of Thrilling Stories

Beau Johnson’s “All of Them to Burn” is a Shotgun Blast of Thrilling Stories

Hector Acosta takes an in-depth look at crime short story collection “All of Them to Burn” by Beau Johnson. 

Bishop Rider could beat the stuffing out of Jack Reacher. And that’s even with Bishop missing his ‘kicking foot.’

Much like Beau Johnson’s previous two collections of short stories, many of the stories in his newest release, All of Them to Burn feature the character of Bishop Rider, a traumatized ex-cop who doggedly pursues his vision of justice, through setbacks small and large—such as losing an aforementioned limb.

The collection is filled with thirty-nine stories, roughly half of them set in Bishop’s world featuring him or one of his two partners—John Batista, a friend of partner of Beau who ends up losing something of himself as the stories continue, and Jeramiah Abrum, a protégé of sorts to Bishop.

In the hands of a weaker or less insightful writer, Bishop Rider would be a walking cliché, a man spurned on to vengeance due to a tragedy which robbed him of his mother and sister. However, Beau fills the character of Bishop with a sense of dread of and futility that propels the character forward through story after story as he beats, mangles and kills men who deserve to be beat, mangled, and killed.

It’s clear from the first story ‘Clean-Up Men’ that Johnson understands the appeal of reading about someone like Bishop. Most of Bishop centric stories are like shotgun blasts, in that they are powerful and leave a hell of an impact, but are also over in a blink.

Bishop Rider could beat the stuffing out of Jack Reacher.

Most start with Bishop having already captured his target, and build the tension by focusing on how, not if, he will be causing the person the most amount of pain possible. Such as in ‘The Bone Boys’ when he starts off by removing the fingers off hand of a man who has committed, and videotaped horrid crimes.

One of the more interesting thing Johnson does in the collection, and something that helps tremendously in keeping Bishop from going stale is how the stories are not told chronologically, at least, not until you begin to come to the end of the collection.

As you read more and more of the stories, featuring Bishop, it starts to almost feel like a puzzle, as you begin to catch details that help piece a timeline. There are characters mentioned in some of the stories who then make appearances in later stories, events reference vaguely that later grow into focus.

As you read more and more of the stories, featuring Bishop, it starts to almost feel like a puzzle, as you begin to catch details that help piece a timeline.

Out of the nineteen stories featuring Bishop, ‘Hammer Time’ might be might be my favorite. The story epitomizes who Bishop Rider is, and what Johnson is doing with him as a character. Hammer Time deals with a regret of Bishop, a man he allowed to live “not once, but twice”. As such things happen, this show of compassion comes back to bite Bishop in the ass in the story.

Hammer Times deals with how Bishop handles Anthony coming back, and Johnson doesn’t veer away from the ugliness of the violence, but also doesn’t luxuriate in it. It’s quick and to the point, like Bishop himself.

The collection could stand on the stories dealing with Bishop alone, but Johnson also includes a variety of other tales. Some are similar to Bishop in style and voice, while others run the gamut of straight horror and science fiction.

Perhaps my favorite of his non-Bishop stories is ‘Building Character’, a humorous take on a character coming to life and being miffed at the way his creator treats him.

There’s ‘Reshoots’ a creepy story about a photographer who discovers the school pictures he’s taking hide an evil, and the lengths he’ll go to ensure it doesn’t spread. ‘Tomorrow Now’ is an apocalyptic tale of survivors and their dwindling days, while ‘Tea and Toast’ features a couple willing to try an experimental cure for cancer.

Perhaps my favorite of his non-Bishop stories is ‘Building Character’, a humorous take on a character coming to life and being miffed at the way his creator treats him. Considering how Johnson has been known to go back on forth on Twitter with his own creation, I wonder just how autobiographical that particular story was.

As the collection nears its end, we return to Bishop, and here the timeline is straight. We have a seventy-year old Bishop in ‘Mamet and Son’, who is somewhat slower, definitely older, but no less sated in his continued search for justice. The final story of the collection, ‘Once More, with Feeling’ (which I’m going to assume it’s a Buffy reference, even if it’s not) lays out a path forward if Johnson wishes to continue writing in Bishop’s world.

But, to be perfectly honest, I hope he doesn’t.  If only out of the selfish desire to see what new characters Johnson can provide us with.

*****

To read the collection of essays by Hector Acosta, please visit here.

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