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I grew up – cut my teeth, you might say – on horror fiction and sci-fi. The first book I ever recall reading was a book of abridged stories by Edgar Allan Poe. I can still see the cover, an illustration of “The Cask of Amontillado” featuring Fortunato, his skull rotting away under a fool’s cap and his eyes gleaming malevolently yellow in the dark beyond the crumbling bricks. I broadened my tastes as the years passed, but I never outgrew my love of a good scare.
There are plenty of those to be found in Liaguno and Helder’s collection of 23 tales of queer faeries, psychopaths, ghosts of tormented lovers and hapless victims. What impresses me is the sheer literacy of these stories. There are no cheap shocks or Stephen King-like pop culture regurgitations here; only nasty things that bump and shudder the bed as you read.
Out of 23 stories, you’re bound to find one or two that suit you less than others, but Liaguno and Helder’s batting average is pretty high. It’s hard to beat Jameson Currier’s Lovecraftian “The Bloomsbury Nudes,” the pro-gay teenboy revenge scenario of Joy Marchand’s “Black Annis,” the beyond-the-grave poetry of Elissa Malcohn’s “Memento Mori” or the teen jack-off session gone horribly wrong in C. Michael Cook’s “The Boys of Bald Cave.”
Among my other favorites here are Jude Wright’s “Cask,” a continuation of the Poe short story that graced the cover of my initiation into horror fiction, Rick R. Reed’s “Sublet,” a nasty piece of New York City real estate terror (which could be a genre all its own) and – the star of the whole show for me – the horrific metaphor of Scott Nicholson’s “The Shaping,” a story any artist or writer will grok on several levels. Bloody marvelous in all senses of those words.
Beach read? No, this book isn’t for perusing on a sunny day. This is a wintry, dark-of-the-night book best suited for shivery reads in front of a fire as the freezing wind howls outside. But then a knock disturbs you. You pause, hesitant to stop reading but compelled to answer it in case some lost stranger might need shelter and warmth. Do you continue to read, or do you open your door?
Go on. Open it.
After all, that’s how stories like these get written.
Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler