Tuesday, January 30, 2018

THE NOBODY by Tom Piccirilli

Cryer is a man with no past. His previous life and his memory were taken when a man broke into his house, brutally butchered his wife and daughter, and left him with a knife in his forehead. Now all he has left is an obsession with finding the man who did it. As with most Piccirilli novellas, it's not a happy tale, but it's still a powerful and affecting one. It was riveting to see a man attempting to sift through and piece together a life he doesn't remember having, and it was pretty interesting to learn about him as a character as he learns about himself. And what a character he is; a man with nothing left but solving the murders of a family he doesn't remember, not necessarily because it would solve anything, but because revenge is the only purpose that remains.

This is powerfully written stuff (especially in that final chapter) and Piccirilli once again proved why he's the king of contemporary noir.



I enjoyed this second volume of Black Hammer even better than the great 1st volume! An unexpected visitor from the outside world has appeared on the farm, not only sparking a bit of hope for escape in our heroes but also sparking old memories. Similar to the first installment, it's structured by cutting back and forth between the present times and flashbacks to the past in our heroes' lives. But while in the first book, the flashbacks were used as introductions to our characters' origins, the ones here give us a bit more depth and insight into their present-day emotional state on the farm. And we find out more about who Black Hammer was and what led up to The Event!

I've really fallen in love with the world and the characters that Lemire has conjured here, you can really feel the love he and Dean Ormstom have for the classic age superhero stories. But there is also a modern feel to the way he tells the present day story. There's some great new character details here that I really enjoyed, like a look into the early relationship of Colonel Weird and Talky-Walky, and a really fascinating love story with Golden Gail, the nature of which I feel we've never seen before. There are also some great moments with Gail and Barbalien. I also loved seeing life in the town from an outsider's perspective, and focusing on how some of our heroes have given up trying to escape and have accepted their new lives...and some haven't.

I was truly bummed to find out that the series was cancelled by Dark Horse, especially after that cliffhanger! But then I got happy again when I learned that it was just part of a reboot and the story will continue this year with Black Hammer: Age of Doom.


Wednesday, January 24, 2018

BLOOD ALWAYS TELLS by Hilary Davidson

In my review of Davidson's collection, The Black Widow Club, I sort-of compared her to Hitchcock. Yep, I did that. And I'll probably do it again here. Davidson impressed me again with this book, with her skill with plot and character, and the melding of the two. She tells a crafty story about a former supermodel who's plot to blackmail her married ex-boyfriend is thwarted by a bigger, deeper, and ultimately more deadly conspiracy. To say more would betray to joy of discovering the Hitchcockian plot reversals and twists that always keeps you on your toes. And she really sucked me into caring about the characters in no time!
"At some point, you have to be more than a collection of all the rotten things that ever happened to you."
While reading, I realized how appropriate the title of the book really is, because the running theme through its entirety is how every character's motivations and decisions are ultimately informed by the effect of family and its legacy; family secrets that have affected the rest of their lives. Fans of the classic mysteries of Ross MacDonald will enjoy this one. Another thing I found surprising was how much the main character is constantly informing the cops about the case, when usually in the mystery genre, the amateur detective is almost always trying to work around the inept or corrupt police.

Another hit for Davidson!


Wednesday, January 10, 2018

CRY YOUR WAY HOME: STORIES by Damien Angelica Walters

Damien Angelica Walters is an author that's been on my radar for a while. She's a Bram Stoker Award nominee, a constant presence in the dark fiction community with her consistent short stories popping up in almost every dark literary magazine, and I really wanted too jump into her work. This collection, her latest release, is my introduction to her. Similar to Gwendolyn Kiste's fantastic And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe from last year, Walters collects a bunch of great dark fantasy stories and twisted fairytales. Aside from a few of the stories (including one narrated by a circus elephant), most of these are tales focusing on young girls and/or their parents dealing with some sort of transformation or transition. What I enjoyed about this book, and what makes this more than just a bunch of cool scary stories is Walters's focus on tackling a variety of real-life emotional issues but through the lens of the weird and the supernatural.
Through tears, she glares at the boxes piled in the corner—a sandcastle built by sorrow's hands.
She touches on topics like dealing with the death of a child ("Falling Under, Through the Dark"), sibling jealousy ("Deep Within the Marrow, Hidden in My Smile"), postpartum depression ("Little Girl Blue, Come Cry Your Way Home"), as well as bullying ("On the Other Side of the Door, Everything Changes"and my favorite, "Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice"), and skillfully uses fantasy and horror to parallel the emotional turmoil of her characters. And to the reader's who avoid short stories because of the constant story reset? Fear not, because Walters's prose grabs you quickly and holds you and she knows just when to end each tale, making for a smooth read from story to story. If you want your horror to be about more than just ghosts and goblins, if you enjoy it when dark fiction provides us with a way of confronting real-life horrors, then make sure to pick this collection up!
Is this magic or madness or something undefinable? Perhaps a bit of all three.


Wednesday, January 3, 2018

THE FADE OUT by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

Yet another masterpiece by the Ed Brubaker/Sean Phillips creative team. It might get a bit old now, all this praise I keep heaping on these guys. Like Criminal and Velvet before it, The Fade Out is an indelible piece of art not just in the comic book world but in crime fiction in general. Many crime writers have tried to recapture the feel of old "seedy-underbelly" Hollywood noir intrigue and this book does it with ease and without feeling forced and disingenuous like many others. Part of the reason is is how they prioritize placing compelling and honest characters in this world instead of focusing on playing up the time period.
I'm so impressed with the amount of detail in the book and how many different story elements are included here in such a relatively short page-count. Brubaker touches on the Red Scare/McCarthyism, Pearl Harbor, the changing studio system, the casting couch, cut-throat publicity, alcoholism, the price of stardom, and even the psychological effects of war, all in just three acts, without it feeling overcrowded or diluted. The creators have a real grasp of this material and it's on full display here. It's an engaging and dramatic classic crime story that feels of-the-time but avoids feeling dated at all. The Fade Out stands up alongside the work of James Ellroy, Dorothy B. Hughes, or  classic Megan Abbott. And damn, this hardcover edition is gorgeous!