WHAT ED READ >> 8.31.06

ed gorman what ed readQuick takes and capsule reviews from the dark suspense master himself, Ed Gorman!

postcripts magazine reviewWouldn’t it be nice if there were a sleek, handsomely illustrated, high-quality magazine that published first-rate horror, science fiction and crime tales – one which also featured in its first six issues work and interviews with such writers as Ray Bradbury, Ramsey Campbell, Robert B. Parker, Michael Marshall Smith, Stephen Gallagher, Robert Sheckley, Richard S. Prather, Lucius Shepard, Steven Ercison, Chaz Brenchley and the hottest new name in horror, Joe Hill?

Well, thanks to a fine writer-turned-publisher named Pete Crowther, such a magazine can be yours right now. It’s called Postscripts. For full details, visit their website, and while you’re at it, check out all the other PS Publishing books as well. This is a unique publishing venture that is a major player in England, but has yet to get the audience it deserves over here.

The August 2006 issue of Postscripts – its seventh –  features work from Lucius Shepard, Stephen Volk, Jack Dann, Rhys Hughes, Jay Lake and many others.

• • •

ellery queen mystery magazine reviewTwo more magazines you should note are Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, though they both publish stories that stretch the definition of “mystery.” I mention this point so you’ll understand that they rarely do the old-fashioned, fair-clue, drawing-room type of mystery. Instead, you’ll find very contemporary stories here, treated in serious adult fashion.

In addition to name writers such as Joyce Carol Oates and Jeffery Deaver, they also publish a list of people who are some of the best short story writers around: Ruth Rendell, Nancy Pickard, Brendan DuBois, Clark Howard, Doug Allyn and Ed Hoch, who manages to be in every issue of EQ.

Janet Hutchings is the editor of EQ and Linda Landrigan the editor of AH. That they’ve managed to survive the so-called “death of short fiction” is miracle enough – that they’ve done it while improving their respective magazines with virtually each issue makes their accomplishments even more amazing.

Here’s the magazines’ Mystery Place website. Give it a look.

• • •

live girls reviewI don’t know how many times I’ve reviewed LIVE GIRLS by Ray Garton, but now that Leisure’s brought it out again, I want to at least take note of its reappearance. There are two vampire novels I think you can put on the same shelf with DRACULA and I AM LEGEND. One is ‘SALEM’S LOT and the other is LIVE GIRLS.

What Garton has done is take the tropes of the vampire novel and sexualize them in a way that would have been impossible a quarter century ago. This is a raunchy, gritty, sometimes hilarious and always spellbinding novel set in the universe most of us inhabit. At least most of the time – bosses, lovers, budgets, relatives, etc. Where we depart company with the protagonist is when he starts going to live porn shows and, baby, that’s when he starts the long, dark slide into several kinds of death.

Garton nails every character. For all the praise laid upon the novel, I’ve never seen anybody talk about its people. They’re great. A few of them I’ve never seen before anywhere and I don’t mean just the vampires. Even the walk-ons have the stink and sass of real people – not necessarily people I’d like to have lunch with, you understand, but real nonetheless.

The other thing Garton does is make the sex here both truly seductive and truly scary. You think AIDS is scary? Wait ’til you meet this crew. This is one of the novels I give mystery readers who are leery of horror. It usually meets with effusive approval.
This is one you’ve got to pick up.

• • •

some of your blood reviewMillipede Press is one of the small publishing companies that have started doing big and important work. How big and how important? How’s this for its current offerings?

SOME OF YOUR BLOOD by Theodore Sturgeon, with an introduction by Steve Rasnic Tem;
THE FACE THAT MUST DIE by Ramsey Campbell, with an introduction by Poppy Z. Brite; and
HERE COMES A CANDLE by Fredric Brown, with an introduction by Bill Pronzini.

I can still remember the first time I read SOME OF YOUR BLOOD. This was the summer of PSYCHO, theaters packed. I’d just seen it and had been disturbed by it. Loved it, but it scared me in ways a film had never scared me before. Same with the Strugeon novel. Blood is not only perverse, but perverted, in the dictionary sense of that word – a kind of pornography of oddness as the people involved try to determine the exact nature of a very strange man.

Or as Steve Rasnic Tem puts it in his thoughtful introduction: “I kept reading it becuse I knew what this fellow was – but I had forgotten what I knew. I had kept reading because truth had been unfolding here, an insight into homo sapiens the animal I didn’t like to think about. I had kept reading because this book had made me uncomfortable.”

I’ve long gotten over the shock of PSYCHO. But as I discovered a few days ago when I reread BLOOD, I’ll never get over the nasty grip this book has on me. It’s still shocking and still makes me squirm when I read it. I don’t think anybody has ever written a book like it.

• • •

cujo reviewSomebody on Book Talk mentioned novels that deal with the theme of marriages coming undone. He named three novels I’d never heard of.

So I started thinking about books that deal with that theme. First and foremost is MADAME BOVARY. If you’re too lazy to read the novel, rent the Claude Chabrol-directed movie. Isabelle Huppert’s performance is lacerating. What’s amazing is how Chabrol manages to pack in so much of the novel without ever slowing the story.

For me, the grandpappy of all American novels about marriages dying has to be REVOLUTIONARY ROAD by Richard Yates, who, in many respects, was the F. Scott Fitzgerald of his generation. He had a great social eye for all classes of Yankees and could writes senteces that hit you between the eyes like a bullet. (For one of the most important collections of American short stories ever published, pick up THE COLLECTED STORIES OF RICHARD YATES and start with “The B.A.R. Man.”

My third choice would be CUJO. Yes, Stephen King’s novel about a rabid dog. I consider this one of his six or seven immortal tales. And the husband and wife he gives us … crushing, because most of us have gone through relationships like that. Sad, bitter, scared, self-hating at times, confused … in his way, King gives us his own working-class MADAME BOVARY.

And the husband! King’s portrait of him makes me squirm every time I read it. Way too much like me. And probably at least a bit like you, guys. A painful picture of a less-than-perfect mate.

I rarely see CUJO mentioned on the list of King’s best; I’ve always wondered why. But then, maybe I read books for different reasons. The books I remember are those that mean something to me as a human being and CUJO certainly qualifies. The dog is interesting and sad. But it’s the husband and wife who won’t let go of you. –Ed Gorman

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CELL by Stephen King
THE COLORADO KID by Stephen King
LIVE GIRLS by Ray Garton

Eyes Everywhere

eyes everywhere reviewEveryone’s out to get you! It’s all a secret plot. They’re after your kids and will experiment on them for evil purposes.

At least those are the major thoughts that run through protagonist Charlie Fields in Matthew Warner’s EYES EVERYWHERE, a novel chronicling the total breakdown of a man who can no longer deal with reality.

It starts out simply enough in our post-9/11 world. Charlie works in a dead-end job for a law firm in Washington, D.C. Everyday, he is scared that they will just let him go. (Anyone who has toiled in the cutthroat corporate world will really relate to these scenes.) Charlie’s suspicion kicks in right away when he is told a comment he made in a meeting reflects badly on him, leading him to believe he is first being followed, then constantly watched. Even when he is home with his family, he gets the feeling that his own wife is in on the plot.

Charlie builds up a paranoid fantasy in his head that is truly horrifying. Even though the book is told in third person, you’re really only getting Charlie’s point of view throughout. Slowly but surely, the madness in his head takes over; he leaves his family, takes all their money and tries to start a new life in a new apartment. Once “settled,” his obsession completely takes over his every waking moment, bearing awful consequences in situations which will just make you cringe. It’s like FIGHT CLUB, but with no fights and no Tyler Durden.

Warner definitely has done some major research into paranoid schizophrenia and all its symptoms. But this also raises a burning question: To whom is this book supposed to appeal? While far from Oprah’s Book Club material, it doesn’t seem geared toward the suspense crowd, either. I guess people who want to watch a man slowly deteriorate before their eyes will grab at this, or maybe those with a psych background. But I’ve got a feeling it’s going to be one of those books passed around like an underground classic. –Bruce Grossman

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Fun with Bookgasm (and still more aged Charo flesh)

charo breastsThis month’s BOOKGASM incoming-search-term roundup is just like last month’s, so there’s really not much more to say.

Except this: All totaled, an ungodly 5,955 of you came to us looking specifically for nude pics of Charo. That’s an exponential increase, up from July’s mere 147. Somewhere, Carol Burnett cries, realizing her R.I.F. program was all in vain. We join her.

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eternals omnibusTimed to coincide with the current Neil Gaiman-scripted ETERNALS miniseries featuring the same characters, Marvel has assembled all 19 issues (plus one special) of Jack Kirby’s 1976-1979 blast of bombastic galactic goodness in one remastered hardcover collection, ETERNALS OMNIBUS. Upon diving into this massive tome, I am 10 years old again, albeit a 10-year-old who can afford to plunk down $75 (or even an Amazon-discounted $47.25) for an oversized book whose content originally cost $6.25 total.

So what’s the book about? It’s about gods and demons and giant, robotic “Celestials” from outer space. Various cover blurbs promise, “DEVIL IN THE SKY!,” “GODS AND MEN AT CITY COLLEGE!,” “HE’S…THE KILLING MACHINE!,” “THREE AGAINST THE TIME KILLERS!” and “…TRAPPED BY THE THING IN THE BIG CITY CRYPT!” It’s about Kirby drawing big guys with big fists, sexy supergals in shiny skirts, faceless robots towering over massive cityscapes. It’s about the King of Comics at the top of his craft, shooting a whopping dose of four-color smack straight into the veins of Marvel Comics’ true golden age. Kirby Bless America.

bizarro world reviewBIZARRO WORLD is a worthy follow-up to 2001’s BIZARRO COMICS, DC’s first anthology of superhero stories written and illustrated by alternative comics creators. Though a few of the entries kill the momentum of the book, most – or least – notably, Maggie Estep and Dylan Horrocks’ “Supergirl,” which lasts 10 pages but reads like an eternity, and Ben Dunn’s “Lantern Sentai,” a manga take on Green Lantern that, basically, reaffirms my utter distaste for the unreadability of the form.

The best stories cast the characters in situations dealing with the minutiae of modern bullshit. The hilarious “Ultimate Crisis of the Justice League” has the Martian Manhunter battling his perceived lameness by cracking and incapactitating or killing the other members of the JLA; “Legion.Com” explores the horrors of corporate culture infiltrating the 30th-century Legion of Super-Heroes, and “Bring Your Kids to Work Day” is another Justice League yarn featuring the bored, tweener children of the heroes and villains who’d rather play with their Gameboys than fight each other.

The anarchic spirit of classic Mad magazine runs through the veins of these BIZARRO books, and my only hope with future editions is that they reject any stories that ain’t funny, ‘cause these indie folks spend enough time mopedly navel-gazing in their own books.

drawn quarterly showcase 4 reviewSpeaking of mopey navel-gazing, my favorite publisher Drawn & Quarterly has released DRAWN & QUARTERLY SHOWCASE: NO. 4 in their series which showcases up-and-coming alternative talent. This one, like the previous three, is a mixed but gorgeous bag.

Gabrielle Bell’s lead story of an art student’s relationship with a famous sculptor and his neglected son starts moderately interestingly, but devolves into a subpar episode of SIX FEET UNDER. Martin Cendreda’s two-color “Dog Days” is a slightly sweet, slightly spooky, ultimately inert tale of kids and dogs and a Filipino barber shop on a hot summer day.

The final story is by Dan Zettwoch (who also provides art for the cover and endpapers), and he’s the true find of the collection. His two-color, historical fiction “Won’t Be Licked! The Great ’37 Flood in Louisville” combines elements of Chris Ware (densely structured layouts highlighting mechanical details), Seth (early/mid-20th-century sociology) and Joe Matt (slightly cartoonish-looking characters in realistic surroundings). Though the story does drag on slightly, it’s an engaging slice of historical fiction, expertly told, and it’s gotten me very interested in Zettwoch’s future work. –Brian Winkeler

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Serpent of Eternity

serpent of eternity reviewHave you ever read a book and discovered that you weren’t sure if you liked it or not? I mean, you start reading it and think it’s really kinda “eh,” but you keep on reading it in case it gets better, and it doesn’t really but it’s got enough weirdness to make you want to, at least to see if you know what the hell the author is doing, and by the time the old exposition bus pulls up to the stop and explains everything to you, you realize you’re pretty much finished with the damn thing? But it wasn’t half-bad. And you still think you might have liked it.

That pretty much sums up my experience with Nikki Persley’s SERPENT OF ETERNITY. And that’s a pretty apropos title, because it felt like it took an eternity to finish it.

But see, this is exactly what I mean. That sounds bad, but it’s not really, as the book is actually pretty good. I’ll admit I groaned a little when I read the copy on the back cover and saw that it calls itself an “urban fantasy,” because when I hear the word “fantasy,” my mind automatically goes to a place where there are pixies and fairydust and unicorns that shoot rainbows out of their butts. And when you throw “urban” on top of it, the pixies start carrying gats and the unicorns are covered with grafitti tags. (It’s not a pretty place, my mind.)

So maybe I went into this one with a wee bit of an attitude. At first, the plot seemed like a retread of WAITING TO EXHALE, with a group of strong, gorgeous, successful African-American women sharing their romantic and professional ups and downs. Perfectly normal urban drama … except for the fact that one of the women, Anya, is the reincarnated goddess Ayalanna and she’s being tortured by dreams of her past lives (and deaths). Oh, and she’s being stalked by an incubus named Iakouta (a name that my eyes insist on reading as “Iacocca” for some goofy reason) that wants to kill her before she can realize her powers and lead the human race into untold advances in evolution.

Yeah, it’s just like WAITING TO EXHALE.

This is Persley’s first novel, and it’s written quite well. My only problem was the amazing amount of background information that she dribbles out in too-small quantities. At times, I actually had to go back and read a chapter after an explanation is given, just so everything would make sense. The whole mythology of the Epkoro Society (the name of the followers of Ayalanna and Amadi, her brother/husband … I know, ewww) is dense, complicated and difficult to follow, but it’s ultimately interesting enough to keep you reading.

There are two more proposed volumes following the adventures of Anya/Ayalanna, and I would imagine they’ll be more plot-driven now that all the explanation is out of the way. Which is good, because Persley is a talented writer who will probably only improve as she continues her trilogy. While I might not have savored every page, I have to say that I really respect the effort it took to self-publish this book. –Rebecca Brock

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Star Wars: The New Jedi Order – Edge of Victory II: Rebirth

star wars edge of victory rebirth reviewGreg Keyes delivers another great STAR WARS novel with STAR WARS: THE NEW JEDI ORDER – EDGE OF VICTORY II: REBIRTH. I don’t know why this is the second volume in the EDGE OF VICTORY series, because it really works as a stand-alone book. Whereas the previous book focused on Anakin Solo, this book brings all the beloved movie characters back to center stage. For one of these books to really “feel” like a STAR WARS movie, it needs lots of characters and lots of subplots – REBIRTH delivers both in spades.

One of the main subplots is the impending birth of the child of Luke and Mara Jade. Mara’s sickness returns, placing the baby in grave danger. This thread is really handled brilliantly and sensitively. Kyp Durron and his renegade squadron discover an in-progress Yuuzhan Vong superweapon and recruit Jaina Solo’s help in destroying it. Anakin deepens his relationship with Tahiri, who is recovering from her treatment at the hands of Yuuzhan Vong shapers. And Han Solo reverts to back to true form as an intergalactic smuggler, with Jacen and Leia at his side.

On the Yuuzhan Vong front, we follow a shaper named Nen Yim, who was introduced in the last book. She is a heretic because she doesn’t simply follow religion, but conducts experiments that go against the Yuuzhan Vong beliefs.

There is so much going on here that it would be easy to let it get bogged down. Instead, Keyes keeps things moving at a breakneck pace and brings all the story threads together for an amazing climax. This is one book in the series that easily could have been 100 pages longer and still remained a great read. –Chris Sharpe

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bullets broads blackmail and bombsThis time out, as the headline suggests (and if you don’t get the reference, you should be ashamed), we have three books with a common theme: Nazis! They’re the ultimate bad guys, from books and comics to movies and, unfortunately, real life. Is there any more apt portrayal of evil incarnate? I don’t think so.

hawk seeds of evil reviewHAWK #6: THE SEEDS OF EVIL by Dan Streib – This 1981 book is part of the 14-book series featuring reporter/investigator Mike Hawk. Definitely one of the cooler covers is featured here; I just wish the book could have lived up to it. I know I harp on books being predictable, but this one was so obvious; the big “shock” was more “ho-hum” than “oooh, did not expect that.”

SEEDS opens with a 1945 prologue set in a certain bunker, from where a nurse is escorted with a package to a plane leaving Germany ASAP. Fast-forward to present-day Venice (or at least 1981 Venice), where a journalist is on a lake with a team of Italians. They’re searching the bottom of the lake – for what, we don’t know – when all of a sudden, another ship turns up and kills everyone there.

Enter Mike Hawk, reporter, called upon by an editor who wants the scoop on the death. This sets Hawk off to that region, where he meets a former Mafia princess, whom he will bed later on, this being just typical men’s adventure stuff. She’s staying in Venice with a man called Attila La Scala. Once they introduce him into the story, I knew exactly what was on the bottom of the lake and why people were killing over it. This book easily fits the mold of the PENETRATOR or Mack Bolan series, the latter of which Streib served as ghostwriter. SEEDS is just some mindless fun with no big surprises if you have half a brain.

horse under water reviewHORSE UNDER WATER by Len Deighton – Sometime the answer is staring at you the whole time. Case in point: the title to this 1963 book. No, it’s not about Seabiscuit swimming in a pool. It’s the other kind of horse; you know, the one that usually involves a needle. HORSE is part of Deighton’s no-named spy series (others of which will be covered in a future column).

We’re not really told what the spy’s mission is – just that he is being trained in scuba diving so he can travel to Portugal. So for about the first 100 pages or so, they are scouring the sea for a sunken German U-boat where a steel canister was recovered. Said canister must be really important, since someone blows up the spy’s car, then later sinks the boat they were using for scuba diving, killing one of his team.

It turns out the U-boat carried a huge cache of heroin, plus there is an ex-Nazi spy operating under an assumed name and blackmailing some Brits for their actions during the war. He is also under the belief he has come up with a way to melt ice and freeze ocean-sized amounts of water. Our protagonist also stumbles upon a drug trafficking ring, but he’s more interested about the blackmail operation. But once all is said and done, he’s just gathering info for his own government to use. See, folks, not all spy novels have huge body counts or exotic locales.

Deighton’s hero is a blue-collar spy more concerned with making sure the scuba gear is accounted for so he won’t be charged for it. And then bedding as many women as possible. HORSE is probably the weakest of all the Deighton I’ve read, and I’ve read plenty. Still, even weak Deighton is better then some of those other big-name storytellers.

secret mission bavarian connection reviewSECRET MISSION #20: THE BAVARIAN CONNECTION by Don Smith – For a book called SECRET MISSION, this 1978 offering is more private eye then spy. The first of this series I’ve ever read, the book opens with Gunther Vogel, a son of a former German who fled to Brazil after World War II. Gunther arrives at a Swiss Bank to cash in some bonds his father left him in a safety deposit box. It seems the bonds were stolen in the war from a Jewish man, whose son Werner wants to find out what really happened to his father. Being the neighbor of our spy, Phil Sherman, Werner asks Phil to go over there and find out anything he can. See, more detective story, then super-secret mission.

Once Phil makes it over to Europe, Werner’s father’s real past becomes more apparent, as Dad ran to Brazil after the war not for war crimes, but to hide from other Germans who wanted him dead. Gunther is killed, a crime made to look like a robbery. This sets Phil on the trail of a group of old-time Nazis who want to bring back the Fourth Reich. Phil runs into all sorts, including corrupt art dealers, two Swedish female backpackers, corrupt police and more Nazi-loving Germans.

I really did not know what to expect from BAVARIAN CONNECTION, but was amused for the whole afternoon it took to read it. It’s more in the vein of a Sam Durrell novel than the Nick Carter books they name-check on some of the covers.

Next time, spy vs. spy. –Bruce Grossman

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#18: Watching the Detectives
#17: Lights! Camera! Action!
#16: Go West
#15: Speedy Reading in the Summertime
#14: Direct from the Death Cloud Peril


Riders of the Purple Sage

riders purple sage reviewReleased in 1912 (as a serialization in Field & Stream!), Zane Grey’s RIDERS OF THE PURPLE SAGE enjoys a reputation today as being one of the finest Western novels ever written, often mentioned in the same breath as Jack Schaefer’s SHANE or Alan Le May’s THE SEARCHERS. Thanks to Leisure’s new “uncut, uncensored edition,” edited by Western expert Jon Tuska, it’s easy to see why.

The hero of Grey’s sweeping tale is Lassiter. You know the archetype: a mysterious loner who rides in unannounced, dressed all in black, carrying only his guns, which he uses for “snuffing Mormons.” In a village that finds the Mormons and Gentiles constantly at war – thanks to the villainous Oldring’s cattle thieving – Lassiter takes an immediate shine to Jane Withersteen, a kindly, weathered soul who once had eyes for Venters, who is nearly hanged by the corrupt Bishop Tull until Lassiter’s fortuitous intervention as the novel opens.

SAGE is much a dual romance as it is an adventure: Though out to avenge his sister’s death, Lassiter pursues Jane (who doesn’t exactly put up a fight), while Venters shoots Oldring’s Masked Rider, discovers this peculiar figure is really (gasp!) a girl, nurses her to health and proposes marriage. Throw in gold, gunfights and the love of an orphan girl, and SAGE has “lasting influence” written all over it.

Grey’s language is not as staid as you would expect for something nearly a century old. In fact, it’s rather alive and bristles with the ambience of the skies and plains (PURPLE prose, perhaps?). Sometimes that proves too much of a good thing, as Grey goes on for lengthy paragraphs and numerous pages with overdone descriptions of the landscape. Dialogue was not the man’s forte, as some characters get veritable soliloquies, with each strained pause intact. Oddly, though, I found this quaint; after all, if you’re looking for a true old-fashioned Western, you might as well go straight to the source.

As for being “uncensored,” all this means is that it’s finally as Grey originally wrote it. If you’re looking for R-rated material, look elsewhere, although one female character is now less virtuous than earlier editions made her seem. –Rod Lott

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The Clan Corporate

clan corporate reviewCrafted as an aside to his harder-edged, singularity-driven science fiction and as a throwback and homage to Roger Zelazny’s Amber books, Charles Stross’ Merchant Princes cycle is simply great reading.

The setup is this: A modern-day woman named Miriam finds out one day that she has the ability to steps across dimensions and is considered royalty in one such reality. This family has amassed great riches and power by carefully breeding children with said dimension-shifting ability, and they use these shifters as mules, taking huge payments in our world to move drugs and other valuable cargo from place to place, undetected by Earth authorities.

In the third book in the series, THE CLAN CORPORATE, events first put into place in books one and two start coming together, and Miriam not only has to deal with family squabbles and royal etiquette, but a nefarious conspiracy and, unlikely as it seems, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.

You see, the fuzz have an extradimensional stool pigeon. He’s telling them the secrets of dimensional travel, and homeland security doesn’t stop at the borders of our dimension.

Stross is a great writer, and it’s a testament to his other work that the convoluted family ties and plot seems somewhat simple in comparison. But THE CLAN CORPORATE – one of the Sci-Fi Channel Essential picks – stands along with its predecessors as a fresh reimagination of a subgenre that had gone stale years ago. It’s one of those science fiction books that has much broader appeal than, say, IRON SUNRISE, but is in no way less satisfying. My only gripe is the cliffhanger: With one volume coming out every year or so, it’s going to be a long wait to find out what happens next. –Ryun Patterson

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OLD MAN’S WAR by John Scalzi

Mystery Writers of America Presents Death Do Us Part: New Stories about Love, Lust, and Murder

death do us part reviewHaving Harlan Coben’s name big and bold on the cover of this anthology is going to be the main reason it moves copies, which is a little ironic since his contribution is about one of maybe three stories that doesn’t quite click. But other than that, the Coben-edited MYSTERY WRITERS OF AMERICA PRESENTS DEATH DO US PART: NEW STORIES ABOUT LOVE, LUST, AND MURDER is a top-notch collection of crime tales centering around relationships gone sour. On second thought, make that “gone rancid.”

Proving he can do more than Jack Reacher novels, Lee Child provides the book’s first home run with “Safe Enough,” about a construction worker intervening in a woman’s abusive marriage, which he’ll regret. Halfway through, I was so engrossed, I totally forgot I was reading Child. Next is Hard Case Crime mastermind Charles Ardai with “The Home Front,” a WWII-era period piece in which a gas-ration enforcement officer ends up having to hide out with the family whose son’s death he caused, and gets involved with the boy’s mother.

The lesser-known authors prove their mettle, too. In “Heat Lightning,” William Kent Krueger tells a moving story about a doomed-from-all-sides love triangle, in which one of the points is a terminally ill wife. Similar in generating honest, aching sorrow is Rick McMahan’s small-town tragedy “The Cold, Hard Truth.” Just as absorbing – albeit for entirely different reasons – is Tim Wohlforth’s seuxally charged mystery, “The Masseuse.”

Tim Maleeny offers a bit of levity in the clever, cutthroat “Till Death Do Us Part,” a veritable buffet of black humor among two long-married (and long-suffering) scientists. Matching it in originality if not quite wit is Tom Savage’s “Cyberdate.com,” taking the form of transcripts of instant-messaging sessions. And Jay Brandon takes a cue from current headlines with “Pushed or Was Fell,” in which a couple’s cruise-ship honeymoon yields fatal results.

With Steve Hockensmith proving the highlight of the current FIFTY YEARS OF CRIME AND SUPSENSE anthology, I expected a repeat performance, but his “Blarney” marks one of DEATH’s few drab spots. And though his story isn’t quite amongst the cream, the surprise here is R.L. Stine. Knowing him only from GOOSEBUMPS and other greasy kid stuff, he shows gleeful flashes of the macabre in “Wifey,” about a guy who inherits his best friend’s dog.

P.J. Parrish, Ridley Pearson and Jeff Abbott also number among the 18 contributors, all of whom turn in never-before-published works, except – oddly enough – Coben, who lazily trots out a nine-year-old piece from the pages of Mary Higgins Clark’s Mystery Magazine. Shame on you, Harlan, but glory to you in the highest for assembling this ace treasury. –Rod Lott

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DEAL BREAKER by Harlan Coben
THE HARD WAY by Lee Child

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