Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Book Review: The Death Panel - Murder, Mayhem and Madness edited by Cheryl Mullenax
Comet Press follows up its fantastic short story collection Vile Things: Extreme Deviations of Horror with The Death Panel: Murder, Mayhem and Madness. Like Vile Things, The Death Panel is edited by Cheryl Mullenax and she definitely knows how to pick ‘em! The Death Panel is chock full of vicious, ultra-violent and hardboiled short stories from authors Randy Chandler, Tim Curran, John Everson, Brandon Ford, Kelly M. Hudson, David James Keaton, Scott Nicholson, Tom Piccirilli, Zach Sherwood, David Tallerman, Fred Venturini, Erik Williams and Simon Wood.
The collection starts with a bang with Randy Chandler’s Lipstick Swastika, a story with a ‘40s noir feel about a hotel security guard that suspects a buxom German blonde to be an escaped Nazi war criminal. The story is full of smoky rooms, irresistible broads, hard men and steamy sex contrasted against explosive violence.
The violence continues with Blood Sacrifices & The Catatonic Kid by Tom Piccirilli. This is about an older gentleman in a mental institution and the “The Catatonic Kid,” who one day snaps and escapes the institution, leaving a bloody wake behind him. Things aren’t always what they appear though, and the story features a you-will-never-see-it-coming twist!
One of the most imaginative of the stories is Kelly M. Hudson’s What Makes An Angel Cry, which creates a world where angels run Queens and Satan runs Brooklyn and the two sides are always fighting like rival gangs while humans try to steer clear. I really enjoyed this one, just for the sheer whimsy and creativity of the author, but there is also plenty of bloody fighting in it for the gorehounds out there. Hudson really develops the main character, a human named Billy who runs a bar, and the story has a gruff, New Yorker feel to it that just rang true.
In Brandon Ford’s disturbing tale The Neighbor, he keeps us on our toes as a trailer park wife suspects her neighbor may be a serial killer. This is a nitty-gritty tale that ratcheted up the suspense and kept surprising me with its many twists and turns.
The hits keep on coming with The Name Game by Scott Nicholson, about a snitch that loses his new identity only and the only way out from the mobsters he’s running from.
Next is one of my favorites, Fly by Night by Tim Curran, about some criminals who picked the wrong truck to hijack…and now must pay a very pissed creature of the night with their lives.
My absolute favorite of the collection, though, is Fred Venturini’s Detail. Precise and perfect, this short story had me by the short hairs. It’s about a car detailer that cleans up after people’s “accidents” and is known for being discreet, yet he keeps evidence against his clients in case he ever needs it. A fiber here, a blood sample there, all stored in a safe and carefully filed for potential future use. When he falls in love with a client who had been cheating on her husband, though, things take a tragic turn. Just like the stories title, it’s all about the details in this one and Venturini fits them together beautifully.
Parental Guidance by Simon Wood is about the perfect all-American family, the Barnes, and father Preston Barnes’ secret and extreme method of keeping his kids in check. Rindelstein’s Monsters by David Tallerman is a murder mystery filled with supernatural beasts confined to a mental institution. The Hooker in the Backseat by Erik Williams is about a grim father/son reunion after the son gets out of prison for covering for his pop.
The most shocking story of the collection is John Everson’s The Mouth, about a prostitute whose mouth is a vagina and whose vagina is a mouth. Apparently it gets pretty confusing for a john and he sticks it in the wrong place and impregnates her neck. Things don’t end well…
Nine Cops Killed for a Goldfish Cracker by David James Keaton is a surreal urban tale about a junkie trying to pay rent on time but having to face innumerous obstacles. I loved the inventive writing style of this one, but it’s definitely not for everyone.
Zach Sherwood’s Board the House Up end the collection with an uneasy story about a cop on suspension that decides to check out a burglary in progress but finds something much more horrifying than robbers.
There is not one bad story contained between the pages of The Death Panel: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness. I eagerly read the noir-tinged and hard-boiled stories of crime, violence and horror and eagerly await Comet Press’ next release, because they and editor Cheryl Mullenax are really making a name for themselves in the horror community!
Buy it on Amazon!