Those Who Fight Monsters - A Review
This will be the first of a number of occasional reviews I'll be posting to the website to take the pressure off space in Black Static itself.
THOSE WHO FIGHT MONSTERS: TALES OF THE OCCULT DETECTIVES
Edited by Justin Gustainis
Edge, 221pp, $14.95, pb
Editor Gustainis in his introduction takes a stab at justifying the occult detective tag, but only half succeeds. To my mind this anthology seems pitched at aficionados of paranormal romance and/or urban fantasy, rather than horror readers looking for work in the tradition of Carnacki and John Silence, and while some of the material might be horrific in nature, scaring the reader is more a side effect of how they work than the intent. All come from ongoing series, with characters many readers will already be familiar with, which is not to say they don't have rewards for the ingénue.
Opener 'Little Better Than a Beast' by T. A. Pratt, sets city magician Marla Mason against a monster from the past and a magician who wants to take her job, the two threats neatly disposed of in a story with an enviable lightness of touch and witty characterisation. In Laura Anne Gilman's 'Dusted' a detective who is part faun is hired to rescue a missing girl who has gone off to spend time among the gnomes, the ending underlining the difference between reality and fantasy. Set in the Nightside, 'The Spirit of the Thing' by Simon R. Green has John Taylor hired to rid a bar of its resident ghost and negotiate a truce with a truculent water elemental, but things get slightly complicated and not everyone is who they appear to be, so he doles out some justice of his own in a gratifying about face.
Carrie Vaughan's 'Defining Shadows' has Detective Jessi Hardin investigate when half of a body is found, the story revealing a very unusual kind of vampire, one that preys on unborn children, and offering up a moral dilemma for the detective. Another highlight of the anthology, 'Deal Breaker' by Justin Gustainis is a neat tale in which Quincey Morris helps a man get out of a demonic contract, and great fun to read particularly as it cleverly reverses the way in which these pieces usually play out. Tanya Huff's 'See Me' features a gay couple threatened by the attentions of some form of love vampire, but eschews the obvious trajectory of such stories, instead presenting us with an ending that involves self-sacrifice and hints at some form of symbiotic relationship between prey and predator.
In 'Soul Stains' by Chris Marie Green a vampire has reverted to human and is kept alive by the adoration of fans who worshiped her when she was a famous actress, the story sad and poignant, taking on board ideas of how we cling to people and things, often warping their existence into unnatural forms. 'An Ace in the Hole' by C. T. Adams and Cathy Clamp has werewolves and mobsters and secret agents, all trying to get their hands on a biological weapon, but didn't quite convince me, the story suffering from a surfeit of ideas running riot. Jackie Kessler's 'Hell Bound' is another highlight, a romp of a story as the succubus Jezebel tries to take the soul of a black magician only to find herself in a trap, the tale written in a deliciously tongue in cheek style and, as befits the nature of our heroine, far from coy.
'Impossible Love' by C. J. Henderson sees a detective enter the mind of a girl possessed by a demon, the story beautifully executed and moving in the way it depicts the plight of the innocent, positing an intriguing conceit as to the purpose of such possessions. And to bring the curtain down we have Rachel Caine's 'Running Wild' in which the djinn Cassiel tackles an avatar that has taken control of some women and is using them as Bacchae.
Stories by Julie Kenner, Lilith Saintcrow and Caitlin Kittredge round out an anthology that's entertaining and occasionally a bit more than that.
Section items by date: