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  • Writer's pictureLee Murray

Mini-reviews: Suites, Beasts, Cthulhu, Kingfishers, and Movie Mayhem

Updated: Jul 22, 2020

I'm behind on my reading again, so here are some more quick-fire reviews of titles I've read recently.

Bitter Suites is the newest short story collection by Angela Yuriko Smith. I know Smith predominantly as a poet ‒ her collection In Favour of Pain is outstanding, and a must-read for all lovers of dark verse ‒ and her skill with piercing and poignant vocabulary clearly shows in this collection of shared world stories about a recreational suicide facility. Given the soaring rates of adult suicide in contemporary society, there is no doubt this is a highly provocative and topical theme, but somehow Smith navigates the narratives with sensitivity in spite of the brutality of the subject matter. There is a lot to be consumed here, with every human avarice seen through the lens of pay-for-death commercialism, and yet these stories can easily be knocked off in a sitting. I can’t guarantee how long they’re likely to linger in your mind, though, which will no doubt be much much longer. I understand there will be a sequel and I’ll definitely be picking up a copy.

In Night of 1,000 Beasts, by Bram Stoker winner John Palisano, a superstorm hits an isolated Colorado ski resort, sending an avalanche down into the valley where five long-time friends have come to spend the weekend. Of course, as the title suggests, the weather is the least of their worries in this storm of a story where there are more monsters than snow flurries. And Palisano is a writer who knows how to write a monster, cataloguing entire orders of creatures, all with murderous tendencies. The race against white out and hypothermia becomes a race for survival and the narrative is equally fast with readers still gasping from one 'snowball' when the next one hits them full in the face. Night of 1,000 Beasts isn’t just a bloodbath, although there is plenty of blood, but a study of the fundamental attributes which drive us: jealousy, loyalty, and fear. The black and white cover image is also Palisano’s work and captures the desolation and creepiness of the book perfectly. Keep the lights on for this one.

I finally found some time to read my contributor copy of Cthulhu Deep Down Under Volume 2 (Steve Proposch, Christopher Sequeira and Bryce Stevens eds) which includes my story Dead End Town. I know, I know, I’m not supposed to review a book where my work appears, but there are stories in there that are not mine and I was excited to read how other authors, many of them friends and colleagues, would put an antipodean interpretation on the Cthulhu mythos. I wasn’t disappointed. As Peter Rawlik describes them in his introduction, there are some “luscious dark jewels” between these pages. In particular, I’d like to highlight two of the original stories in this volume ‒ the first by dark fiction writer Robert Hood a much-loved veteran of the genre, and the other by one of Australia’s newest horror writers, Silvia Brown.

Hood’s story is slick, well-crafted, and decidedly weird. In Time and Tide we are ‘transported’ to the seaside town of Mollymook ‒ a real place some 140km from Sydney ‒ where there is an ‘acrid putrescence tainting the atmosphere’. To reveal the plot would preclude readers from discovering the story, so I will simply say that Hood’s side-kick character Tangarine Harken, the well-meaning local busy-body, is so immediately recognisable that readers will be persuaded they have met her, that they spoke to her themselves when passing through Mollymook once upon a time on a summer holiday. With an element of whimsy and more than a whiff of magical realism, I highly recommend this entertaining seaside tale.

Silvia Brown’s story, Melbourne Calling, focuses on that inexorable descent into madness that characterises Lovecraftian fiction, the author cleverly juxtaposing the clinical diagnosis against the crazy madness of first love. Of course, as with any love story, Brown’s tale comes complete with the monsters of self-doubt that ravage everyone’s teenage years. There is a freshness to Brown’s writing, a certain naivete and simplicity that makes it wonderfully compelling, drawing us into the recent past like an amble through a second-hand antique store, where there is so much to discover. Brown is definitely an author to watch.

Available through all the usual channels, Cthulhu Deep Down Under Volume 2 can also be purchased directly from the publisher IFWG.

I was excited to receive an ARC copy of local speculative writer Kura Carpenter’s debut novel The Kingfisher’s Debt. Carpenter is an active member of New Zealand’s speculative community and since I’d had a chance to read an advance excerpt of this work some time ago, I’ve been looking forward to reading the book. It’s an excellent debut, a soundly-written urban crime fantasy with a cast of complex characters, some of whom aren’t too savoury. In the story, protagonist Tamsin Fairchild, linguist, is employed by the police to track down a baby killer, while keeping the supernatural powers of her extended family under wraps. On top of everything, someone might be out to frame her. To be honest, I liked the linguistic aspects of this novel as much as its twist on the traditional crime narrative, and the witches as gang members metaphor is inspired. Set in Dunedin’s gothic underbelly, the New Zealand flavour of this work is less pronounced than I’d expected, although the Kiwi vernacular is certainly there, as are the multi-cultural themes. Releasing 20 September 2018, it’s definitely worth checking out. Here is the blurb:

Within the small coastal city of Dunedin, local translator, Tamsin Fairchild has a reputation she hates. People think she’s psychic... Always hovering around and interfering in Tamsin’s life, part father-figure, part thorn in her side, Detective Jackson, is an old-school cop. Childhood friend to her deceased mother, Tamsin wonders could her mother have let an outsider in on the truth? Newcomer, rookie cop Scott Gale is forced to team-up with Tamsin when they investigate the disappearance of a newborn baby and a bizarre crime scene--satanic ritual or hoax? More and more the blame starts to point towards Tamsin... Tamsin must uncover who’s framing her, find the baby before it’s too late, unravel the mystery behind her elder brother’s disappearance, and stop Scott from entering a world not meant for human eyes. But Scott has family secrets of his own and Tamsin doesn’t know who to trust.

But can you trust Tamsin? What if the person who saved your life is about to frame you for murder?

For the kids, I'm going to recommend checking out Kevin Berry’s third interactive fiction title Movie Mystery Madness. I love these adventure books, and Berry’s humour suggests to me he has an absolute ball while writing them. In this one, budget cuts mean the set is short of proper actors and even a film crew, so the reader gets to step in and “deal with temperamental actors and their breakfast orders or choose to be an extra and play a role in the film itself: A kid’s birthday party with a murder mystery theme.” My first time out, my character ‒ let’s call her Scooter ‒ signed on as an extra, dressed up in an awesome ninja costume, and accidentally became the victim in the murder mystery. In fact, the director said my death was so natural, I couldn’t have done any better if I had actually died… Of course, I had so much fun, I jumped back in and made some different decisions, but I’ll let readers discover those choices for themselves. I see the publisher offers a boxed set which includes Movie Mystery Madness in an omnibus with two other interactive tales. If you get the ebook, that’s hours of top quality entertainment for the kids for just $1. Hint: grown-ups love these, too.

Disclaimer: With the exception of Kura and Silvia, I've met all the lovely writers I've reviewed here. The only way to really know if their books are as good as I say they are is to pick up a copy and read them for yourself.

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