Like many of the stories in this collection, this one had been published before. Unlike most stories, this one had never been released in English. Instead, it had gotten electronic releases in both German and French. As such, it may not be a “new” story in the strictest sense, but it is new to readers in the States.
Once again, we have a story centered on having a character relate his story to another. The format is getting a little long in the tooth, but it works well here as a death row inmate, named George Hallas, relates to his attorney, Leonard Bradley, the chain of events that led to him murdering a child. You might think that the inmate is the titular bad kid; that he’s giving us a glimpse into the mind of a monster. You’d be wrong though, as it turns out he’s the victim and the kid he killed may not be a kid at all.
The story’s a longer one, but it works to the story’s advantage. There’s more time to flesh out relationships and it adds weight when characters die. We also see said deaths take a greater toll and leave a more lasting impact, which is in stark contrast to “The Dune” where little attention was paid to the bizarre occurrences and their repercussions.
It’s also paced well. It never drags and even the cuts to the present help the story by filling in gaps or addressing questions the reader might have about what is going on.
As to how the kid fares as an antagonist, he’s OK. There have certainly been creepier child antagonists, but he gets the job done. Interestingly, he rarely kills directly, choosing instead to manipulate people and circumstances to achieve his goals. They aren’t the most elaborate machinations, but again, it gets the job done. It is shown that he also likes to leave a living victim with each murder, who can suffer from guilt about their role in things. It adds a level of sadism to the character in a way that you don’t see too often.
The fact that he’s a supernatural entity is apparent, though downplayed. He never ages and he knows things he shouldn’t, but by and large he’s just a troll, spewing malicious remarks to get a rise out of people and to mess with their heads. You could argue that it makes him more realistic, though personally, it seemed like he was at his creepiest when he acknowledged his roots at the end of the story and started taunting Hallas about the fact that even death wouldn’t stop him.
For his part, Hallas makes a solid protagonist. You feel for the guy as his life is repeatedly ruined as a result of the kid. After everything he goes through, you’re happy for him when he manages to successfully turn the tables on the kid. From an outsider’s perspective, him emptying a revolver into a child is monstrous (thus the death sentence) but he knows what the kid is and is more than happy to accept his punishment.
All in all, this was a good read. You’d think it would run the risk of falling into the same traps as “The Dune” but it manages to avoid that. It takes the time to build things up, but never drags. It makes for a solid yarn that strikes that balance between brevity and elaboration.