My first experience reading J.W. Donley’s work was with his horror-tinged urban fantasy short ‘The Pigeon Lied’ in the excellent ‘Howls From Hell’ anthology. It was an anthology that I enjoyed so much I made a note to look out for any work being released by any of the authors within its pages. Donley’s short in particular is one that has stayed with me ever since, largely due to how unique the premise was and how skilled he was at creating a world and setting a tone in such a short piece. When he announced his next piece would be a short book entitled ‘Cats of the Pacific Northwest’ I jumped at the chance to read something new.

David and Emma are a new couple whose relationship is tested when a planned backpacking trip goes horribly awry and they both find themselves alone and stranded with no source of food or water.

As their situation becomes increasingly dire salvation appears to arrive with an offer of food and a place to rest. The fact that the offer comes from a pair of cats is certainly a cause for concern, but desperation causes the pair to follow them, deeper into the Pacific Northwest, heading toward either their deliverance or damnation.


Taking elements of classic fairy tales (most notably Hansel and Gretel) and using them as a basis to tell an otherwise grounded and often harrowing tale of a young couple whose relationship is tested when they become hopelessly lost in a dangerous and inhospitable environment, allows ‘Cats of the Pacific Northwest’ to simultaneously allow the reader to connect with and empathize it’s two leads while throwing them into an increasingly strange and outlandish scenario. The mash-up of horror and folk tale is note-perfect, giving the story an otherworldly, ‘anything goes’ vibe, but turning up the scares when the need arises. The fact that we get ample opportunity in the story’s early build-up to spend time with David and Emma goes a long way to making us care about their ultimate fate and they prove to be just as valuable to the story’s success as its high concept and assured execution.

I can’t wrap up this review without giving a special mention to Leo Corbett and the fantastic illustrations he has provided for the book.

His full-page black and white artwork that is interspersed throughout really helps accentuate the strengths of the story, and the tone of the pieces change throughout as the narrative does, starting quite light and fun and becoming creepier and more unsettling as we progress. It’s a joy to see the text and illustrations work so well together in telling the story. 

Cats of the Pacific Northwest almost defy description.

Incorporating elements of horror, fantasy, fairy tale and surrealism into a truly unique piece and one that sticks in the memory thanks to its strange and unsettling visuals contrasted against everyday, relatable characters. I’m very excited to see what J.W. Donley has lined up for us next.

Richard Martin

Richard Martin


Richard Martin started reading horror books at a young age, starting with R L Stine’s ‘Goosebumps’ and ‘Point Horror’ series. He traumatized himself at the age of twelve when he read Stephen King’s ‘IT’, and never looked back. He is currently based in the UK, where he lives with his partner and an inappropriate amount of books. 

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