A new collection of short stories by Ed Gorman is definitely a reason to celebrate. Gorman knows his audience, and the contents in this Perfect Crime collection, SCREAM QUEEN AND OTHER TALES OF MENACE, truly fit the title. The 14 tales range from straight-up crime to peeks into a bizarre future. What will really shock some readers will delight others. Personally what I loved is how in some stories the leads seem so normal until Gorman takes that one little turn and we see the real truth in these characters.
While some might assume where a story goes, like in the opening “Angie,” Gorman throws a change up early on, only to throw another on later. “Angie” deals with a young boy who overhears his career-criminal father, while in the title tale, a video store clerk and his friends figure out one of his customers was a former scream queen, but can’t figure out why she is now living in a small town and keeping her former life a secret. It’s not the sweetest story, which is like saying that gunshot wound isn’t as bad as that other gunshot wound.
Two of the OTHER TALES OF MENACE are definite must-reads, but for varying reasons. “Cages” is a near-future work of a young boy who sells something, much to his mother’s disgust, while “Beauty” is officially one of the coldest and most brutal pieces I’ve ever read. All I can say without giving it away is that Gorman is truly one sick bastard, folks. And that’s a compliment.
“The Brasher Girl” is an homage to Stephen King; actually Gorman admits in the afterword that it might be considered theft. It deals with two young people and a special well. The well in question holds a secret: an alien living down below who has a control over these two, to the point of killing and other assorted activities. “En Famile” is told from the perspective of a boy who spends his youth with his father at the track and with his first love. “Out There in the Darkness” follows a weekly poker game; a neighborhood watch that goes really, really wrong; and the outcome of the events.
Again, some readers might be thrown by some of the brutality in these stories. While longtime crime readers will just clamor for more. With how prolific Gorman is at the short-story format, hopefully we can expect another collection sooner than later. —Bruce Grossman