Death comes in many guises and registers—tragic, comic, ironic—in these mordantly entertaining stories.
Ekemar (At the Heart of the Ivory Maze, 2015) crafts vivid, matter-of-fact yarns about characters confronting, evading, risking, and sometimes welcoming death. A blithe rich man’s fatal attraction to bullfighting unravels his secret lives; a Tibetan monk attempts a do-or-die escape from a Chinese prison; a Swedish businessman told that he has a year to live embarks on a plot to ensure that if death is inevitable at least taxes won’t be; a German officer makes himself the very picture of a competent bureaucrat and loving family man while also running a death camp; a henpecked husband fakes his own death to escape the improvement regimen of his shrewish wife; a lucky lottery ticket brings joy and then grief to a Malaysian farmer; a shipwreck survivor sees his only chance for life in a boat full of corpses; an aging Russian duchess is courted by a mysterious, handsome figure in black; a condemned man waiting for his lethal injection to kick in looks back on his adventures with the vengeful femme fatale who caused his predicament; and in the collection’s most disturbing tale, a Guatemalan youth viciously abused by society vents his rage on an even more innocent victim. Ekemar’s tales are vigorously plotted genre pieces, full of engrossing procedurals on prison breaks, bank fraud, mass extermination, and improvised shark fishing, along with colorful characters caught in improbable circumstances and deadpan wit; the stories have the feel of Ambrose Bierce’s macabre fables capped by O. Henry–esque endings. But they also manage to invest sometimes-lurid scenarios with psychological depth and social nuance, whether set in a placid Swiss suburb or a fetid jungle narcotics depot. Despite their lugubrious theme, these are lively stories told with considerable style and verve.
A collection of engrossing dances with death that highlights the vanity and poignancy of life.