Book Review: Empty Hearts by Mark Finn

Empty Hearts Cover 96 dpiEmpty Hearts
Mark Finn
Monkeyhaus Publishing
Trade paper, 175 pp., $9.95
ebook $4.95

Mark Finn has worn many hats over the years, having written fiction of various lengths, radio and comic scripts, blog posts, scholarly articles, and an acclaimed biography of Robert E. Howard. One of his earliest endeavors with a collective with Bill Willingham, Chris Roberson, and Matthew Sturges called Clockwork Storybook.

This was basically a shared world set in the fictional city of San Cibola in California. San Cibola is a magical place, literally. It’s home to a large number of supernatural and magical beings.

There are eight stories included in Empty Hearts, all unavailable for years. It’s good they’re in print, because these are good stories. They also display a wide range of tone and subject matter.

“One Last Job” concerns a retired monster hunter who is called upon to tie up a loose end from his past. In “You’re Solid, Right?” a mobster tired of living in the Witness Protection Program tries to cut himself in on the local action and discovers that organized crime in San Cibola is in a whole different league than it is in New York.

“Eviction Notice” is a haunted house story. Robert E. Howard makes an appearance in “Afterlife”. “At First Sight” concerns a woman trying to find love through a host of spells and potions but is blind to what’s in front of her eyes.

One of the longest stories in the book is “Fourteen Vignettes About Love at Sanchez’s Grocery.” Through a set of interweaving character sketches Finn gives us a glimpse at the interactions between the employees and customers at Sanchez’s Grocery. This one has a lot of heart, and I’m sure it wasn’t easy to pull off, no matter how much Finn makes it appear to have been easy to write. This was one of my favorites.

“Which House?” was one of the most horrifying for me. It concerns the rivalry between a woman and her new neighbor. Finn captures the mindset perfectly, which was part of what was so horrifying, since my mind definitely doesn’t work that way. I detected echoes of Fritz Leiber’s Conjure Wife in this one, but maybe that’s just me.

The final story in the book, “I’m an Animal,” is a romance. I’ve read some of Finn’s work over the years and have attended some of his readings at conventions, and I never would have guessed he could write romance. And this is a romance, but one with a supernatural twist, where one member of the couple is a lycanthrope. (Keep in mind this was written years before this type of story made such a glut on the market.)

Empty Hearts just hit the shelves a week or so ago. It’s a great collection with something for just about every taste. Check it out.

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