Short fiction from Rex (Svengali, 2017, etc.) that asks the question “Did the devil make the world while God was resting?”
This collection of six stories draws on true-crime tales and obscure historical relics to immerse readers in the morbid and the absurd. Some works boast an eerie, Edgar Allen Poe–like tone, such as “But the Cat Came Back,” the story of a writer whose pet feline rises from the dead to haunt him. Others live in the realm of psychological thriller, such as “Schisma,” in which a deranged ex-boyfriend takes drastic measures to level vengeance against a woman who cheated on him. Where Rex truly shines are in his portraits of 20th-century New Orleans as a world of jazz, booze, and hedonism. In “The Mistick Krewe of Satyr,” an amateur detective lifts the veil on an illicit cult after attending a masquerade ball that devolves into a disturbing pagan ritual (“I followed the surreal Victorian sounds of plucked strings into a drawing room to find a nude woman playing a spinet for a fat rabbit busy stroking her golden tresses”). The author’s interpretation of a night in the life of the Axeman of New Orleans, a real-life serial killer who claimed several victims in the 1910s, is another gem. The narration alternates between witnesses to evil and its perpetrators, sometimes effectively calling attention to the fine line between the two; for instance, the closing story, “Svengali,” follows an FBI agent whose investigation into a child-pornography ring causes him to question his own behavior. Although some tales offer surprise twists, others foreshadow their endings, but both methods work equally as well. In “Requiem for Pancho,” for instance, a fading opera singer’s plot to murder his new rival is revealed in the first pages, allowing for dramatic irony to build. The consistent, hard-boiled noir tone does become a bit tedious at times, but overall, this set of tales stands strong.
A collection that’s deeply unsettling—in the best way.