Short Story Review: “Saxophone” by Nicholas Royle

4 of 5 stars.

In an interesting twist of alt-history, this tale depicts a ravaged Iron Curtain separating Communist Soviet Union’s sphere of influence from that of NATO’s. The tense border between East and West Germany led to shots fired, war escalating, and eventually biological warfare. Hungary and Yugoslavia are the worst ravaged, with most of the population turned to zombies and a dark trade in live organ harvestings. Harvested American military organs bring an especially hefty price on the black market . . .

The metaphor of zombies as denizens of warzones is both unique and particularly apt. It is a tense and joyless existence. The fully cognizant zombies try to keep their heads together [literally] to keep on going, even after the loss of their “lives”. Memories of better times, ie living times, are bittersweet.

Hasek, the main zombie POV, played jazz saxophone when living, now he doesn’t have the breath for it. Nor the instrument. That doesn’t stop him from fingering his air-sax out of habit as he tries to bring a little imagined joy into his music-less reality.

This tale appears in Book of the Dead edited by John Skipp and Craig Spector.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Fox Tails” by Richard Parks

3 of 5 stars.

Pre-Modern Japan anchors this tale of animal spirits, ghosts, and the rigid class structure of the nobility. A low-ranked noble is hired to find a lord’s wife and son that disappeared after it was revealed that the wife was actually a true trickster fox spirit.

The role spirits and ghosts play in the culture is made clear. As are the strict rules and dangers for interacting with said spirits and ghosts. However, not all fox spirits should be judged by their bushy tails [plural] as the 2-tailed Lady truly loved her husband, showing a loyalty not usual granted the fox spirits.

This tale appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran. I’ve previously read this author’s “The Manor of Lost Time.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Swing Shift” by Dana Cameron

2 of 5 stars.

The subgenre of supernatural detective noir gets a 1940s gangland Boston addition with this tale [and series]. Former detective partners Harry and Jake went their separate ways when Harry joined the FBI’s war effort. Jake retreated into the New England countryside. But a case of war effort secrets being passed from a high security lab to the Nazis has Harry call Jake in for his insights.

Jake has somehow kept his werewolf identity from his former partner. He also brings in his family comprised curiously of both werewolves and vampires. Their looks and abilities doesn’t pull from standard mythos, nor does it explain how genetic werewolf and vampire can be sisters.

The stakes of the case, and the reveal are all lacking in this detective tale. The tale’s really Harry’s awakening into a new worldview which he accepts all too easily and without curiosity.

This tale appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran.

 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Hecate’s Golden Eye” by P. N. Elrod

3 of 5 stars.

Chicago has had its fair share of supernatural detectives–most notably, Butcher’s Harry Dresden the wizarding detective of the modern era. This fun tale takes detective noir and Chicago back to its 1930’s bootlegging, gangsterland roots. Detective Jack Fleming happens to be a vampire, his partner, Charles Escott, isn’t. Together they right wrongs–at least as far as their clients are concerned.

This case involves a stolen inheritance of a rare yellow diamond called Hecate’s Golden Eye. It may be cursed, if one believes that sort of thing. What ensues is a mad scramble of alliances and subterfuge all taking place within a few hours on a single evening as money, the jewels and counterfeits aplenty play the Old Shell Game between the various suspects, clients and detectives.

Jack’s vampiric traits play a role in solving the case. Especially helpful is his ability to hypnotize and turn incorporeal.

This tale appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran.

 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “The Beast of Glamis” by William Meikle

2 of 5 stars.

A bleak Scottish countryside castle is a near perfect setting for a Victorian ghost story. Why what is clearly a ghost appearing as either a human shade or small mist-like emanation is called a beast is less clear, even in the retelling.

The tale itself introduces a different sort of spirit delving into Elizabethan alchemy implying a spirit adrift from time as much as anything else.

Unfortunately, the story is filtered through a series of characters. The narrator was never at the castle. He attended a dinner party for one who was. The host of the dinner party relates what the laird of the castle had related to have been his experience . . . The distance from the immediacy of the tale lessens it.

A nice touch is the use of Scottish dialect, Elizabethan expressions [in written form], and an accurate depiction of Victorian stodgy mannerisms.

This tale appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran.

 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “The Necromancer’s Apprentice” by Lillian Stewart Carl

2 of 5 stars.

While Victorian era detective stories aren’t rare–think: Sherlock Holmes, much less common are Elizabethan era detective tales. And yet here, the Virgin Queen herself makes a royal appearance.

Early in Elizabeth’s reign while Spain is still employing nefarious machinations to usurp the Protestant throne of England to deliver it back to the Pope, a lord rumored to have affections and possibly even relations with the queen loses his wife to an untimely tumble down a flight of stairs.

To stop the tongues from wagging about his own possible involvement, the lord orders a necromancer to obtain better evidence and insight into the death of his wife, to see if anybody was indeed responsible for the death. Was it murder? Or even shameful suicide?

The tale is rather light on the actual detecting aspect as it’s more of a mage’s tale. The necromancer really just sets about talking to ghosts, not hunting clues.

This tale appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran.

 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “The Case of Death and Honey” by Neil Gaiman

The Case of Death and HoneyThe Case of Death and Honey by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Once one of many serialized detectives, Sherlock Holmes has more than withstood the test of time. He has been canonized as a urban folk hero. Many movies and television series have depicted his tales spun by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and others have reinvented him for the modern era. Countless others have drawn inspiration from him.

This tale shows Sherlock himself as an old man in the decades after he’s quit working directly with his cohort Dr. Watson. It launches from a conversation with his even more brilliant brother, Mycroft, at Mycroft’s deathbed. Mycroft both corrects one of Sherlock’s criminal case solutions and challenges Sherlock to solve the ultimate crime of Death. Sherlock takes up the challenge and it leads him to studying bees and honey-making in the English countryside for the next couple decades . . .

Meanwhile, the tale also shows an elderly Chinese apiarist that’s alone after the long ago death of his wife and infant son. His honey has not proven extraordinary, indeed his cousin’s honey from the next valley is much more sought after. However, Old Gao’s wild black mountain bees prove unique if not particularly aggressive and hard to work with.

One day, an elderly white “barbarian” [Sherlock Holmes] comes to Old Gao’s village with a request of working with his unique bees . . .

This moving tale of two old men dealing with familial loss . . . and bees . . . is moving. It’s recommended.

This tale appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran. I’ve previously read Gaiman’s:
     “Black Dog”–3 stars
     “The Goldfish Pond and Other Stories”–3 stars
     “The Sea Change”–4 stars
     [w/ Dave McKean]–Signal to Noise–5 stars
     [w/ Dave McKean]–The Wolves in the Walls–3 stars
 
 
 
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