Short Story Review: “Defining Shadows” by Carrie Vaughn

3 of 5 stars.

Peripheral to, but emerging from the world of Vaughn’s Kitty Norville series about a detective werewolf in the Denver area, this short story mentions but never sees Kitty. The tale follows police detective Jessi Hardin of the Denver PD. She’s not supernatural, but those are the crimes she investigates–not unlike Karrin Murphy of Jim Butcher’s Dresden series about an investigative wizard in Chicago.

This short tale takes a look at a neighborhood with a mix of cultures including immigrant Filipinos and the Caucasians that don’t understand them [and cannot tell them apart from Mexicans]. The case revolves around the bottom half of a body found standing up in a backyard shed. The top half is missing. The rotting flesh has been sprinkled with salt . . .

What’s most interesting here, is that like an episode of Supernatural, the investigation delves into folk beliefs from other cultures.

This tale appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran. I’ve previously read Vaughn’s Amaryllis and “Fishwife”, both of which were excellent.

 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “The Case of the Stalking Shadows” by Joe R. Lansdale

The Case of the Stalking ShadowThe Case of the Stalking Shadow by Joe R. Lansdale
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Despite the title of the tale and its inclusion in a supernatural detective anthology, this isn’t a detective story. It’s a supernatural ghost story with elements of Lovecraft in its default to unspeakable horror at its heart. I tend not to be moved by “unspeakable horror” since little tends to make it to the page to suggest horror. I find it akin to someone opening a box without letting you peek and then saying, “It’s the most wonderful thing I’ve ever seen. Don’t you agree?” I wouldn’t know, you aren’t showing me what’s in the box . . .

Horror works best with immediacy–something at stake with an unsure outcome. The stakes are raised if the hero might possibly not make it out of the situation. The horror is diffused a level if the narrator is telling the story after the fact. [Let me guess, you survived the room full of knife-wielding clowns long enough to tell me this story . . .] It’s diffused even more when the tale is not even told by the person who experienced it. [So, your neighbor went on vacation and saw a shark . . . ok.] This tale follows option 3.

An allegedly ghost-skeptical narrator was at a book club where a person recounted a spirit encounter from decades earlier. This is multiple degrees from immediacy. And despite the narrator’s affirmation that the tale he heard made him a believer, little to the story is compelling in the re-retelling of a vague unspeakable horror.

This tale appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran. I’ve previously reviewed this author’s:
     “Godzilla’s Twelve-Step Program”–4 stars
     “On the Far Side of the Cadillac Desert with Dead Folks”–2 stars
     “Torn Away”–2 stars
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “The Key” by Ilsa J. Bick

3 of 5 stars.

Modern day detective noir meets ancient Jewish mysticism in this tale of murder and convenient coincidence.

A Washington DC detective, Jason Saunders, and his new partner scope out the scene in a local park where a dead infant was found by a woman walking a dog. It happens to be the same park where a year earlier Saunders’ then partner committed suicide. A potential anti-Semitic hate crime had sent his Jewish partner along a downward spiral that ended with a self-administered bullet.

Fighting through the memories, Saunders notes a Kabbalah pendant around the neck of the dog walker. And his partner find a piece of cloth inscribed with Hebrew letters tucked under the tongue of the infant …

It may not matter if something supernatural is going on, or even if you belief something supernatural could go on, if others do believe . . .

The story presents a clash of faiths and levels of skepticism knotted into an investigative mess.

This tale appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran.
 
 
 
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Graphic Children’s Book Review: The Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman

The Wolves in the WallsThe Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Dave McKean brilliantly illustrates this tale with a collage of photographs and drawings to create a dark and foreboding ambiance perfect for this modern folktale. The drawings could be too sinister for some kids. Cleverly, the wolves are depicted as children’s drawings as if emerging straight from wild imaginations . . .

The tale revolves around young Lucy when she’s convinced that she hears wolves in the walls of her family’s old house. Her parents and her appropriately annoying younger brother all try to reassure her that she is mistaken. And that what she really hears is mice [mom], rats [dad], or bats [brother]. Presumably, these are all acceptable alternatives . . . yikes.

But then again, maybe Lucy is right . . .

This tale is not very long–which is fine. But I wish it were cleverer. I wish young Lucy or perhaps her whole family were more clever in their addressing the disturbances to their abode.

I’ve previously reviewed one other Gaiman/McKean collaboration and I loved it:
Signal to Noise–5 stars

I’ve also read Gaiman’s:
     “Black Dog”–3 stars
     “The Goldfish Pond and Other Stories”–3 stars
     “The Sea Change”–4 stars
 
 
 
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Novel Review: Jen Air: The Little Queen by John Coutelier

Jen Air: The Little QueenJen Air: The Little Queen by J. Coutelier
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This urban fantasy [with an emphasis on the supernatural fantastic] stands alone though it’s one of a series. Also, the title is a misnomer. Jen Air is but one half of a young adult, gal-pal duo. She gets less face time than her partner Kaya Cade, though she’s better developed. Kaya Cade, like most of the characters in the book, feels like a caricature. And despite the punctuation of the title, the little queen is a different character all together.

Kaya and Jen have a narratively muddled history of friendship and later non-friendship toward each other. But supernatural circumstances perhaps best described as killer faeries draw the two together. Jen brings the techie brains and Kaya brings spunk and little else as they try to unravel a scientifically dastardly plot involving lab-grown fae.

The best backstory is given to Jen Air, but not the narrative space to lean into that strength. Perhaps through the series, Jen’s own mysterious past gets explored. The best scenes are given to Kaya right at the beginning of Chapter 1, the opening lines of which should have opened the book to start it out on the right tone:

Kaya Cade didn’t believe in fate or destiny or in any form of confectionary with messages printed on, and yet some things she knew were just inevitable. It was just down to who she was, who her parents were, her environment–some combination of all those things meant she really had no choice in the decisions she made and so there was nothing anyone could have done to prevent her punching that smug idiot in the face and ending up in the back of a police car. Her only regret about it was that she couldn’t afford a lawyer.

Unfortunately, not 1 but 2 prologues are offered before this catchy hook. Neither prologue earns its keep. Aside from some questionable editorial choices to the plotting and dialogue, my copy carried a fair number of malaprops, missing words, and homophonic substitutions which ultimately distract from the fantasy.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Dirae” by Peter S. Beagle

DiraeDirae by Peter S. Beagle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The myth of The Furies [“Dirae” in Greek] gets revamped for the modern era in this short story where folklore meets urban fantasy for a new type of urban legend. The Furies of myth were the vengeful spirits of wronged women. They could drive offending men to death or madness.

In this tale the narrator is the newly formed Fury who slowly builds into a recognizable consciousness as she finds her form and pieces together accumulations of experience and memory. Her role as a defender/protector that doesn’t seem quite biological, though trending that way, is also reminiscent of golems of Jewish folklore.

She doesn’t feel conflicted about her justice against those that would harm children and women. But she does long to understand her own origin and purpose. Some local police that catch repeated sight of her at crime scenes would like to know the same thing, albeit for different reasons.

This tale appears in the anthology, Superheroes edited by Rich Horton. I’d previously read this author’s “Salt Wine”.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Windseekers” by Nnedi Okorafor

2 of 5 stars.

This airy tale fails to solidify its plot. A woman with the extraordinary ability to fly travels the world eventually finding the mythic land of Ginen which reminds her of her native West Africa. She also finds her equal, her potential soul mate.

But they are also alike in not wanting to be paired off, so she kills him before he will kill her. This is not a spoiler, it’s practically the opening line–She didn’t want to kill him the second time.

A potentially rich mythic tapestry remains unexplored and unrevealed here giving the reader nothing to hold on to, and nobody to relate.

This tale appears in Okorafor’s anthology, Kabu Kabu by Prime Books. It was previously a Writer’s of the Future finalist.
 
 
 
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