After my less than enthusiastic review of EDGE’s Expiration Date, I feel like I’m kicking the company with my less than enthusiastic review of another of their offerings.
I don’t really have it out for the company. I liked their Technicolor Ultra Mall, my first ever commissioned review.
Still, it was a struggle to write this one up because so many of these stories were mediocre and unmemorable. By mediocre, I don’t mean bad or of unacceptable quality, just unremarkable. Unlike the stars of a recent podcast I listened to, I know by definition that the outputs of any profession, including that of writers, is going to be mediocre. (Assuming, as Mr. Taleb would note, the range of quality follows a Gaussian distribution.) You probably live in a house with mediocre plumbing with mediocre food in the refrigerator, but you’re not going to forsake either.
Still, I promised a review in exchange for this book from LibraryThing. I’m not going to skimp on coverage. As usual, everyone and everything will get covered.
So … let’s get this over with.
Review: nEvermore!: Tales of Murder, Mystery and the Macabre, eds. Nancy Kilpatrick and Caro Soles, 2015.
This anthology has an even more diffuse effect than Ellen Datlow’s Poe. Both allowed a variety of stories in, not all of a fantastic nature. Poe was a more protean author than generally realized. (A point Uwe Sommerland’s opening article, “A Rather Scholarly View of Edgar Allan Poe, Genre-Crosser“, makes well.) He wrote in a variety of tones and styles and more than just the macabre and mystery stories he is most remembered for.
The connection many of the stories have to Poe is not obvious apart from the authors’ foreword though some are quite explicit takeoffs on Poe’s work.
Lest you get bored, let’s start us with the best.
The razor-wielding orangutan of Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” gets to tell his side of things in Robert Lopresti’s “Street of the Dead House”. He’s one of those science experiments gone wrong. A large mansion on the shores of British Columbia, a large family, and a family secret are the heroine’s inheritance in Robert Bose’s effective “Atargatis”. An archaeologist’s involvement in a police investigation and a pagan cult result in the oh-so-Poe ending of burial alive in Michael Jecks’ “The Deave Lane”.
Loren Rhoads places her series heroine Alondra DeCourval in Venice to put a stop to a rash of suicides in “The Drowning City”. Tanith Lee’s “The Return of Berenice” ruminates on the follow up to Poe’s odd tale of obsession and dental horror, “Berenice” — moody and effective.
The inspiration for Thomas S. Roche’s “The Masque of Amanda Llado” is obvious, but I appreciated the modern update of the tale with a dot.com entrepreneur paying the role of the fortunate one.
It’s grounded on an idea also used in the collection’s worst story in the anthology, Christopher Rice’s unimaginative “Naomi”. Don’t think of this as virtue signaling on Rice’s part. We need a word for unimaginative cheerleading for the latest egalitarian or charitable fad. “Virtue echoing” maybe. Its only saving feature is the idea of a viral pop tune on a cellphone.
The rest of the stories are the middling ones.
That the treasure of Poe’s “The Gold Bug” was real is the premise of Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s “The Gold Bug Conundrum”. It seems to be suggesting great mysteries – we even get a Lovecraft reference – but the dialogue strains under carrying the plot of a very rich game developer exploring an abandoned seaside resort and his more practical and unimpressed brother-in-law. That dialogue also has too many room descriptions in it.
“Finding Ulalume” from Lisa Morton is promising until the end, an exploration of the ghost-haunted Weir Forest that claimed the narrator’s 13-year-old sister. But it wobbles at the end when trying to incorporate material from the eponymous Poe poem.
Rick Chiantaretto’s “Obsession with the Bloodstained Door” has some nice, surrealistic images in a story of a boy wandering in a house for years – but that’s all it is apart from what seems to be a reference to Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym.
No, Barbara Fradkin’s “The Lighthouse” is not at attempt to finish the story of that name Poe started shortly before his death though others have tried that and there is a whole anthology of such stories. Its lighthouse is on Newfoundland in 1942. Like the Chiantaretto story, it ends on an enigmatic and inconclusive note.
The old amnesiac killer idea is taken up in Carol Weekes’ and Michael Kelly’s “The Ravens of Consequence”. Nancy Holder’s “Annabel Lee” is sort of a cento exploring the world of the Poe poem though it also works in references to gothic works as well. J. Madison Davis’ “Dinner with Mamalou” is a biter-bitten tale in the Louisiana bayou with the biter being the CEO of a fracking company and the biter of the second part being an old healer and leader of a community that is hampering his company’s drilling.
“Death is too good for them” is a sometimes heard comment on executing serial killers, and Richard Christian Matheson’s “133” explores that idea. The notion that a writer’s essence can be bound to the paper he writes on, that “writing and breathing are entwined with life and death” is bound to appeal to writers, especially late in their life, and “Afterlife” was one of the last stories William F. Nolan worked on, here co-authored with Jason V. Brock and Sunni K. Brock. But the story’s execution, mingling details of Poe’s life with his spirit after death, didn’t pack that much punch.
“The Orange Cat” is Kelly Armstrong’s updating of Poe’s “The Black Cat” and features her series character Gabriel Walsh, a sleazy defense attorney whose client wants to kill a cat. Cousins vex the protagonist of Jane Petersen Burfield’s “The Inheritance” after the death of her aunt. David McDonald’s “Sympathetic Impulses” is a gimmicky tale of Gothic torturers. Colleen Anderson’s “Asylum”, a translation of Poe’s “The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether”, is hampered by its modern day setting which undercuts the suspension of disbelief.
Finally, Margaret Atwood’s description of her “The Eye of Heaven” as “not very good, though it’s good enough for a sixteen-year-old” is accurate. Still, as a look at the first murders of its serial killer narrator, it works.
My duty is done.