Friday, September 15, 2006

Shivers IV edited by Richard Chizmar

(pb; 2006: horror anthology - sequel anthology to Shivers III)

Overall review

Shivers IV is an uneven anthology, with a handful of decent tales and a few excellent ones. The other entries in this twenty-story anthology are generic. Save your money for more worthwhile books.

Review, story by story

1.) “Prohibited” – Kealan Patrick Burke: A smoker ignores a “No Smoking” sign at a bus stop and finds himself targeted for nightmarish, widespread persecution. Not only did it make me think of Stephen King's “Quitters, Inc.” (for its subject matter), but this also sports the feel of one of King's Night Shift-era tales. Fun and a bit over-the-top.

2.) “Last Exit for the Lost” – Tim Lebbon: Strange entry about a middle-aged alcoholic who receives three paintings in the mail. Interesting, quirky.

3.) “The Screamers at the Window” – T.M. Wright: A spiral-structured story about a writer (Daniel), his one-eyed terrier (Magnificence) and his perky spouse (Maureen). Colorful characters, but the story doesn't go anywhere.

4.) “The Man in the Palace Theater” – Ray Garton: A homeless man, staying in an abandoned movie theater, converses with cinematic iconic ghosts. Heartwarming, sad homage to classic (pre-1960s) films, with a weak ending.

5.) “Pumpkin Witch” – Tim Curran: An abused, pumpkin-happy wife dishes out grisly payback on her husband and his crone of a mother. This would make a wonderful giallo film (preferably directed by Dario Argento or Michele Soavi), given its long-on-Halloween-mood, short-on-logic structure. It is okay, if you read this with that mindset.

6.) “LZ-116: Das Fliegenschloss” – Stephen Mark Rainey: I have no idea what this story is about. While the writing (on a technical level) was decent, it bored me immediately.

7.) “Something to be Said for the Waiting” – Brian Freeman: Too-predictable, cliched story about a man who may have murdered his family. Mercifully, this story is brief.

8.) “Jack-Knife” – Gemma Files: Mostly gripping script-form take on Jack the Ripper. Runs too long, but it has some striking scenes (especially when Jack and Mary Kelly, one of his victims, interact).

9.) “The Spook” – Randy Chandler: Chilling, analogous offering about a soldier who finds himself in the middle of an unexpected war. One of the best stories in this collection, with a great ending.

10.) “Ever After” – John R. Little: Stunning, heartbreak of a tale. An unaging man finds himself at familiar crossroads. Excellent, this.

11.) “The Bittersweet Deafening Sound of Nothing At All” – Robert Morrish: Two investors check out an abandoned haunted SoCal business campus. Good story, predictable, but otherwise engaging.

12.) “Up in the Boneyard” – Keith Minnion: Brooklyn. A pilot (Anthony Spangler) confronts a hellish white-boned horror twenty-seven floors high, once in 1913 in an aeroplane, and later, in 1986, in a condo in the same spot. Off-beat, memorable work.

13.) “Mom and Dad At Home” – Ed Gorman: Economical, predictable entry about a boy, his stay-at-home mom, and his traveling salesman dad. Anybody who's seen the 1943 film Shadow of a Doubt will recognize the set-up right away. Despite that glaring predictability, this is an okay story, saved by Gorman's consistent sense of style.

14.) “Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot” – Bill Walker: Clever, appropriately-titled piece. A man discovers that the neighborhood bully of his childhood now works with him, more than twenty years later. The end-twist, effective as it could've been, doesn't work, though, because the author didn't foreshadow properly. Could've been good; is merely disingenuous.

15.) “In the Best Stories...” – Norman Prentiss: A man reads a questionable bedtime story to his nine-year old daughter. Author Prentiss seems to be trying for a subtler brand of horror – not boogeymen, but real life – and that's admirable. However, the story ultimately fails because the ending is too subtle, not developed enough.

16.) “Poetic Justice” – William F. Nolan: A teenage girl (Amber) talks her friend (Michelle) into murdering an “a**hole” classmate of theirs, Mike Rickard – then crazy complications ensue. This tale doesn't work because it feels rushed, largely because the three principles (Michelle, Amber, Mike) read like cardboard cut-out characters. This would be fine if this were a Grade-B slasher flick, but since it's not... Technically solid, but otherwise generic.

17.) “Dust” – Brian Keene: Post-9/11 piece about a woman grieving for her dead spouse. Different, worthwhile.

18.) “The Deer of St. Bart's” – Bev Vincent: Good story about what happens after a dean at a private school dies unexpectedly.

19.) “The Man in the Other Car” – Al Sarrantonio: A bizarre, semi-predictable, sort-of-makes-sense-but-doesn't denouement mars this could have been Twilight-Zone-worthy piece. Strange, at best.

20.) “Liturgical Music for Nihilists” – Brian Hodge: Lengthy tale about what happens when a man's corpse remains unspoiled, causing his friends to react in curious ways. Memories, messianic oddness, and dark family secrets form this work, which wasn't bad, wasn't great.

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