Short Story Review: “Blossom” by Chan McConnell

3 of 5 stars.

Despite the innocuous title, this vignette is about violence–horrible, horrible violence. A parallel is drawn. A zombie is a human that has become so inhuman as to destroy and consume that of another human. A rapist is a human that has become so inhuman as to destroy and consume that of another human . . .

When your income hit the high six figures there was no such animal as date rape.

Based on the amount of money a privileged and empowered man spent over dinner, he assumed his right to have sex with his date. He doesn’t ask permission or create safe words. He destroys her clothes cutting them off. Ties her up to be kinky and puts a mask on her that suffocates her. Everything could have been consensual if he had only asked or cared.

Panting, he lumbered immediately to the bathroom. When he returned, Amelia had not changed position, and he finally noticed she was no longer breathing.

Sometimes it went down that way, he thought. The price of true passion, however aberrant. But she was still moist and poised at the ready, so he opted to have one more go.

The metaphor is completed in the second half of the vignette. Perhaps a bit heavy handedly, but the point is made. There’s not enough plot for a short story here, but that’s not the purpose. Tables turn quickly, if not misogynistically. While she’s eating through the leather mask and his face with one orifice, another orifice seems to have grown teeth and castrated the rich rapist . . .

This tale appears in Book of the Dead edited by John Skipp and Craig Spector.
 
 
 
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Anthology Review: Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran

Weird Detectives: Recent InvestigationsWeird Detectives: Recent Investigations by Paula Guran
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Where urban fantasy and detective noir come together lies a fertile field to explore the human [and non-human] condition. The detectives themselves are often the fantastical variant. This collection brings together tales of a zombie, 2 vampire, 3 werewolf and 7+ wizarding detectives, among others, providing an external view of the modern human life. Also included are a couple supernatural Sherlock Holmes tales and a handful of ghost tales with a couple stretching all the way back to the Elizabethan era. The crimes are mostly murders which by nature shatter the accepted human social ethics.

This diversity of tales despite a common sub-genre is reflected in my top 3 each meriting 5-stars and in my “honorable mention” 3 earning 4-stars. I’ve reviewed and rated each of the 23 tales included.

–Jim Butcher’s “Love Hurts” [5 stars] depicts an intimate look at his Chicago-based wizarding detective, Harry Dresden, as he tries to stop a series of curse-induced love-suicides.
–Neil Gaiman’s “The Case of Death and Honey” [5 stars] tells a heart-felt Sherlock Holmes from a vantage beyond both Watson and Holmes.
–Charlaine Harris’ “Death by Dahlia” [5 stars] circumstantially places an ancient vampire in the role of detective when a political vampire coronation of sorts is disrupted by a murder.
–Patricia Briggs’ “Star of David” [4 stars] tells a familial tale when a werewolf mercenary is called upon by his 40-years estranged daughter.
Faith Hunter’s “Signatures of the Dead” [4 stars] pairs an elemental witch and her coven-family with a shapeshifter to solve an Appalachian vampire problem.
Jonathan Maberry’s “Like Part of the Family” [4 stars] depicts the canine-like loyalties and ethics of a werewolf evening the playing field in defense of domestic and sexual abuse survivors.

Also included are:
Bear, Elizabeth–“Cryptic Coloration”–3 stars
Bick, Ilsa J.–“The Key”–3 stars
Bowes, Richard–“Mortal Bait”–3 stars
Denton, Bradley–The Adakian Eagle–3 stars
Elrod, P. N.–“Hecate’s Golden Eye”–3 stars
Green, Simon R.–“The Nightside, Needless to Say”–3 stars
Huff, Tanya–“See Me”–3 stars
Kiernan, Caitlin R.–“The Maltese Unicorn”–3 stars
Monette, Sarah–“Impostors”–3 stars
Parks, Richard–“Fox Tails”–3 stars
Vaughn, Carrie–“Defining Shadows” [Kitty Norville]–3 stars
Cameron, Dana–“Swing Shift”–2 stars
Carl, Lillian Stewart–“The Necromancer’s Apprentice”–2 stars
Clark, Simon–“Sherlock Holmes and the Diving Bell”–2 stars
Gustainis, Justin–“Deal Breaker”–2 stars
Lansdale, Joe R.–“The Case of the Stalking Shadow”–2 stars
Meikle, William–“The Beast of Glamis”–2 stars

 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “See Me” by Tanya Huff

3 of 5 stars.

This is a different sort of detective tale in that the one doing the detecting, Tony Foster, is not a detective by trade, but rather by circumstance. He is, however, a wizard. This allows him to delve more deeply into the mystery of dead elderly men without IDs being found near his work and near his home in Vancouver.

Tony works on the crew of a popular vampire/detective television show. His boyfriend, an actor, plays the detective on the show. Things get “complicated” when the hooker who’d been serving the first of the dead men takes an interest in Tony’s boyfriend. The police are too busy hunting recent missing persons to investigate old men dying of natural causes . . .

The unusual and complex relationship between Tony, Lee [the boyfriend], and Valerie [the prostitute] grows steadily throughout the story making it work.

This tale appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Death by Dahlia” by Charlaine Harris

5 of 5 stars.

One of the most wonderful settings for a murder mystery is the dinner party spoiled by a body. This classic setup appeared in the movies Clue and Godford Park and in countless television shows including the launch of Remington Steele and before that in scores of novels. The gathering of people, each with a potential hidden agenda, lines up the suspects before the clues have even been revealed. Distrust and tension immediately follow. And hopefully, some clever detective work.

This well paced and plotted tale ironically takes place at the vampire mansion where protocol and diplomacy ranks above blood lust. The gathering is to celebrate the ascension of a new vampire family sheriff. The dethroned former boss is still around, and the new guy hasn’t been living in the mansion with the rest. Also in attendance are a smattering of werewolves, demons and half-demons, and non-fairy fae. There’s also the dozen humans blood donors the agency sent over, one of whom fails to walk back out of the mansion again . . .

The politics between races of supernaturals is thick with tension. But it pales in comparison to the ranks and rankles of the vampires, where age and status mean everything. Aside from the new and old bosses, there the friend with benefits to the new boss, the human shepherd with a human lover on the side, and another vamp married to a werewolf. Dahlia, a petite old vampire with centuries on most everybody at the party, is called upon to determine why there’s a human sprawled in the kitchen with a missing throat.

And who called the police . . . ? . . .

This tale is highly recommended. It appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Like Part of the Family” by Jonathan Maberry

Like Part of the FamilyLike Part of the Family by Jonathan Maberry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While most detectives in such stories solve the main case at hand, not all own the case with such a deep sense of allegiance to the client. As the title implies, Sam Hunter, ex-PD and now a private dick, has a strong sense of loyalty and need to protect. Perhaps it comes with the territory–Sam’s a werewolf [No spoiler there.].

Sam’s main problem, and the reason he’s no longer on the force, is that he’ll go werewolf without regret on any molester/abuser using their power against the weak and disenfranchised. Call it evening the playing field, or better yet, reversing the tables.

The current client has put up with years of threats and abuse by the time she finds Sam. No, she didn’t report the previous black eyes and bruises. But after waking to find her ex-husband standing over her in her locked house, she’s convinced he’s out to kill her . . .

This tale appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Signatures of the Dead” by Faith Hunter

Signatures of the Dead (Jane Yellowrock, #0.7)Signatures of the Dead by Faith Hunter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A quiet Appalachian town is rocked by the gruesome murder and partial consumption of a young family of 5. The local sheriff knows enough to know when he’s out of his league and requests the aid of a stay-at-home young mother, who’s also a genetic elemental earth witch. Her sensitivity to life, death and undeath could just provide the clues needed to stop the murders.

The witchcraft here is second to the settings and landscape, emerging organically. Molly, the earth witch, and her sisters, witches of other elements and a couple non-witch sisters, have their clear limitations to their knowledge and to their abilities.

Molly also receives aid from a Native American shapeshifter, Jane Yellowrock–the hero of a series by this author.

There are many ways a tale about witches, a shapeshifter, and a rogue pack of vampires could go very wrong. But allowing the landscape and the local culture to center the story makes this very strong.

This tale is highly recommended. It appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Star of David” by Patricia Briggs

4 of 5 stars.

This one-off detective tale, brilliantly, is much more about the characters at its heart than about the case at hand. It would make a strong start to a series.

David discovered he was a werewolf when he returned from serving in Vietnam to a cheating wife with one foot out the door. In his uncontrolled rage, he destroyed his wife, her lover and the house they shared–all in front of his 12 y.o. daughter who bravely protected her 2 younger brothers from their father.

That was the last time he saw his daughter. For 40 years, he stayed away at her preteen, tearful request. Stella never married, nor had kids. Rather, she directed her energy into helping place fostered children into good, safe homes. The foster children are all her children.

When one of her good kids lands in the hospital with a broken bones and deep bruises after a new placement, one look at crime scene photos of destroyed furniture and the foster parents’ allegations of the bookish teen being the culprit sends Stella into flashbacks. She turns to her estranged father, now a detective and mercenary, for supernatural answers to an unexplained mess . . .

This tale is highly recommended. It appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran.

 
 
 
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