Why is there a picture here, of a turkey, so long after Thanksgiving? Well, various minor calamities kept me from publishing this particular column on time, but I wanted my Space Turkey! So Space Turkey hopes all Americans reading this had a safe and happy Thanksgiving! I would have liked to have had this published on the day, but scheduling just didn’t work out. Here in Outer Space, we have Space Turkey with stardust seasoning and meteor gravy!
But all calamities, minor or major, aside, it’s time for a few reviews, This week we have an anthology of new horror stories called 19 Gates of Hell, and a new murder-romance-historical-fantasy book called Murder on Millionaires’ Row! I was hoping to do the November-December F&SF, but time ran out on me (next time!). Nevertheless, it’s a full plate, so let’s get to it. Starting with the last item first, here’s the cover of the ARC (Advance Reading Copy) I got for review (hint to small presses, etc.: send me an ARC—physical or eBook—to improve your chances of my reviewing your material. I have way too much to read, and not everything gets reviewed. End o’ hint.)
When I was given this ARC by the publisher’s rep (it’s published by Minotaur Books), I was told this looks like a murder mystery, but it has a secret. It does indeed—set near the end of the 19th century—1886—in New York city, this book has a little something that sets it apart from most historical murder/romance mysteries. (What? You didn’t know that was a thing?) The author, Erin Lindsay, has obviously done her Gilded Age research, and it shows. (This is her first murder mystery, I understand, though far from her first book.)
The protagonist, Rose Gallagher, is a youngish Irish girl from Five Points—if you’ve seen the movie Gangs of New York (with Leo DiCaprio and Daniel Day Lewis), you know about the Five Points, though that movie is set roughly 20 years before this book. If you haven’t seen the movie, it’s an area near the south end of Manhattan Island bounded roughly by Centre Street to the west, the Bowery to the east, Canal Street to the north, and Park Row to the south. It’s where a number of streets converge, and was considered a very low-class area, where there were many slums and immigrants. (A lot has changed since then.)
Rose works as a maid in the home of Thomas Wiltshire, along with the African-American cook, Clara; there’s also a housekeeper, Mrs. Sellers, who considers herself to be the supervisor of the two women.
None of the women know exactly what Mr. Wiltshire, who is single, does for a living, but Rose has a secret—well, Clara knows about it—crush on her boss. Rose’s mother and a boarder—an Italian immigrant named Pietro—live in a three-room flat back in Five Points. And one night, Thomas Wiltshire doesn’t come home at his accustomed time.
Suspecting that Mr. Burrows, a close friend of Mr. Wiltshire’s, might know where her employer is, Rose goes to Mr. Burrows’ house on Mott Street to enquire about him, and discovers Thomas W’s watch—a watch she has seen him wind every single day of her employment—on the mantle in the sitting room, but Mr. Burrows denies he knows anything. Like a real detective, Rose sets out to find out what has happened to her secret love; in the course of shadowing Mr. Burrows, Rose finds out several things: one, he and Thomas are probably Freemasons; and two, Rose sees and is touched by the ghost of a woman who was killed by a blow to the head! (Rose is not normally superstitious, and this vision shakes her to the core.)
I normally don’t go for romances, actually avoiding them if I can, but this one is not only—as I said—meticulously researched, and the romance part is not terribly intrusive. It’s kind of cute to see Rose yearning for a love that is “above her station,” as the saying goes. There’s a pseudo-scientific rationale for the ghost(s); not that I personally buy any of it, but in the context of the story, it works well. The trip around Gilded Age New York in pursuit of answers, and the various differences in the manners and behaviour of 19th-century people, plus the descriptions of places and so on are quite engaging. It’s obvious—and verified by the author’s website (www.erin-lindsay.com) —that this is the first of a series of ’tec novels featuring Rose Gallagher. I’d give it a solid 4 out of 5. ISBN 978-1-250-18065-0 (trade pb); ISBN 978-1-250-18066-7 (ebook); available now from your local brick-and-mortar store, or from Amazon or other etailers. ¤¤¤¤!
I got this ebook from one of the authors (Matthew Hollis Damon) in the anthology. I’m unable to find out the ISBN, the cover artist, or the editor(s) of the anthology, though it is available from Amazon as an ebook. It is, obviously, a horror anthology. (Amazon just says “by R.L. Burwick (Author), Rich Restucci (Author), Sean Deville (Author), James Watts (Author), Frank Martin (Author), Alberto Pupo (Author), Jacob Floyd (Author), Marie Lanza (Author), Byron Craft (Author), Titan Frey (Author)” as attribution (leaving out a few), so maybe nobody’s the official editor. The contents are as follows:
“The Ways in Which We Love,” by Matthew Brockmeyer; “Road Closed,” by Jason Offutt; “Garbage Day,” by Dane Hatchell; “Gloom,” by Rich Restucci; “Blood in a Bottle,” and “Homunculus,” by Byron Craft; “The Beggar,” by Titan Frey; “A Dance With the Devil Under Pale Moonlight,” by James Watts; “The Hunger,” by Frank Martin; “Short-Off Mountain,” by Brandon Scott; “My Greatest Accomplishment,” by Alberto Pupo; “Cabin of Sins,” by R.L. Burwick; “Facing Death,” by Marie Lanza; “Your Fondest Wish,” by James Harper; “Undead From Outer Space,” by Jacob Floyd; “A Thirst For Scarlet,” by Chris Miller; “Dead Air,” by Sean Deville; “Killer Online,” by Ryan Wilson; and “Terror in the Deep,” by Matthew Hollis Damon.
Let me tell you which stories, in no particular order, I enjoyed most in this anthology; I won’t talk about the ones I didn’t enjoy except to say that first off, this anthology really needed a copyeditor and proofreader. Say what you will, but punctuation and grammar matter, even—or especially—in this day when anyone can publish ebooks with none of the above. As examples, a couple of stories use “lay” when “lie” is appropriate; the two-word phrase “all right” is here spelled “alright” (no, “alright” is not all right!); there are homonyms used (“bare” instead of “bear”) instead of the appropriate word; punctuation errors abound and, finally, I’m personally not a fan of double-spacing between paragraphs for fiction (although for this column it makes long texts a bit more readable).
A number of these stories deal with the zombie apocalypse; some deal with vampirism; some with werewolves; at least one with time travel; and some with literal heaven and hell. And one, “Homunculus,” by Byron Craft—with what appears to be a continuing hero his other story in the same anthology—is based on the 1973 TV movie Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, which was remade in 2010 by Benicio del Toro, and which starred Kim Darby (an actor I never really cared for, although the original movie was very good!). In fact, one of the main characters in the story is named Mrs. Darby. (The remake stars Katie Holmes, another actor I have little use for, though my wife likes her.) Anyway, the Craft story works well whether you know the movie or not.
Matthew Hollis Damon’s “Terror in the Deep” is another in the zombie genre; like Lindsay’s book, it’s meticulously researched (or Matthew has worked on an oil rig). Set on an oil rig named Hondo—I’m not sure where, because he mentions Las Flores Canyon, which is in a landlocked part of California (near Altadena)—our protagonist is a marine biologist sent as part of a team to test and examine Hondo prior to possible recommissioning. As soon as they get there, things start falling apart. It’s well written, and stands as a good example of the genre.
“The Ways in Which We Love,” by Matthew Brockmeyer, is a genuinely creepy horror story that could fit in a number of genres; I thought it the kind of story Alfred Hitchcock might have purchased for one of his anthologies, except that it’s a bit more explicit in its horror than Hitchcock liked. If you’ve ever read Charles Beaumont’s story “Miss Gentilbelle,” it’s that kind of creepy. “Road Closed,” by Jason Offutt, is a more standard horror story, but well done… no standard tropes except a certain inevitability coming for the protagonist. You can see it coming, and so can he.
“Garbage Day,” by Dane Hatchell, would be a standard “tomato surprise” story—a story in which the surprise is no surprise at all (a term coined by Dean Wesley Smith many years ago in our writing group, Writers’ Bloc) except that the ending lifts it above the rank-and-file of those types of story. You think you can tell what’s coming… but I’ll bet you can’t. “Gloom,” by Rich Restucci, has a new and somewhat unusual antagonist—no zombies, vampires, or anything you’re already familiar with: how about shadows? Yes, ordinary shadows cast by the light. Interesting premise and a pretty well-written story.
The other story I thought worth mentioning here was “Your Fondest Wish,” by James Harper, a story I can’t tell you much about without spoiling the ending—though you’ll probably have guessed it before it happens. The only thing I’d say is that the Tuckerization in it is very obvious, but probably done as an homage to the persons mentioned.
The rest of the stories range from very readable to kind of mediocre, which is why I won’t mention any names here of the stories I didn’t like. I don’t believe in discouraging writers, and this is, after all, only my opinion; others might like what I don’t. But since the ebook is only $3.91 (US) on Amazon, I’d say it was well worth the money. I’ll give it three out of five. ¤¤¤!
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