Editors Acevedo (University of Doom, 2017, etc.) and Viola (Blackstar, 2015, etc.) offer an anthology of noirish tales exploring the dark recesses of both real and supernatural worlds.
In Mark Stevens’ “Bone on Wood,” a preacher who makes house calls to parishioners is revealed as someone who may not be the best man to lead his congregation. Seedy characters populate the collection’s first half, and they’re often depicted as overtly unsavory. One example is the shiftless, drug-dealing Roach in Paul Goat Allen’s “Slug,” who wallows in his excesses. But although these tales are steeped in the gloomy shadows of noir, the anthology’s second half consists of otherworldly stories that often playfully twist the genre’s trademarks. Conventional private eye protagonists, for example, take on rather unconventional cases. In Alyssa Wong’s “A Clamor of Bones,” private investigator An Mei, who can speak to the deceased, needs help from a dead man who’s in pieces, while Devin in Betsy Dornbusch’s “A Rose by Any Other Name” searches for a thief of magic. Patrick Berry’s gleefully bizarre “Divided They Fall” is set in the world of mathematics (with characters named after numbers, gathering at a bar called The Denominator), but its base plot is about a gumshoe hunting a murderer. Throughout, the tales feature catchy dialogue: in Gary Jonas’ “An Officer and a Hitman,” Jenny, back from shopping, tells her killer boyfriend, “I got us some bullets and burritos”; and apparently immortal Pagey professes, “I gotta say, Juma, I’m feeling pretty damn good for a guy who got his brains blown out today” in Viola’s “Outsorcery.” Alvaro Zinos-Amaro’s somber “Morphing” goes in a grimmer, more surreal direction as it follows Cadmus, who’s simply trying to eliminate his rodent problem by using scores of ball pythons, and then his senses gradually disappear. Sean Eads closes the book with “The Ash of the Phoenix,” a poignant memorial to the late Edward Bryant, whose stories open both sections and to whom the book is dedicated.
Two sharp, distinctive, and complementary clusters of stories.