Culled from 20 years of writing in a variety of genres including horror, SF, and erotica, the latest collection by Engstrom (Lizard Wine, 1996, etc.) contains 25 stories (all previously published) that, as the author’s introduction contends, are linked by the common thread of suspicion. Shorter pieces offer sex in weird permutations, as in “Elixir,” where a totally color-blind veterinarian finds a prostitute with a third nipple that oozes color into his world (though he turns out to be the wrong man for such a gift), or in the more mundane circumstances of “In a Darkened Compartment,” where an American woman lives out her fantasy by seducing a stranger on a train crossing Italy. Longer pieces include “Gemphalon,” about an insectlike being on another planet that gets summoned as the best of his kind for genetic enhancement, but that—or who—gets a little something extra when one of his human handlers decides to throw her own DNA into the mix; and the more pedestrian morality tale, “The Cloak,” about what happens when ectoplasm gathered from a medium’s séances is woven into an irresistible cloak by the medium’s husband: the cloak promptly kills him and brings out the worst in subsequent hapless wearers until it’s finally destroyed by a man pure in heart.
Wide-ranging stories despite the theme that binds them, but unfortunately also wide-ranging in quality.