Tales of Jack the Ripper, edited by Ross E. Lockhart (Word Horde), brings together seventeen stories (and two poems) about the world’s first celebrity serial killer. With this collection Lockhart branches out from his work as a Lovecraftian anthologist to focus on a set of murders that even now looms large in the public consciousness due to its grisly details and unsolved status. Notable authors include Ramsey Campbell, Joe R. Lansdale, and Gary Braunbeck, but many of my favorites were by rising stars. Some of the stories do little more than retell the story of the Whitechapel murders in a florid Victorian style, but luckily those are outnumbered by the ones that take the source material and do something new with it. Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s “Abandon All Flesh” is one of these, a gender-flipped take on Jack that also references Aztec mythology to illustrate a teenage girl’s coming of age… in blood! “Once November” by E. Catherine Tobler, the sole contribution to tell the Ripper legend from the (ghost) women’s point of view, shines with beautiful prose and haunting images. “Truffle Pigs” by T.E. Grau is the anthology’s Lovecraftian selection, and an intriguing mash-up. But for me, the cornerstone of the collection is the stunning “Termination Dust” by Laird Barron, with its interweaving storylines concerning mystery and mayhem in an Alaskan village. An entire apartment complex is found butchered, with only the Final Girl alive to tell the tale. But what (or who) is she concealing? Tales of Jack the Ripper is a bit of a mixed bag, and many of the better stories are in the latter half. Yet, there’s enough variation of theme and style here to interest almost any crime or horror reader, especially if you’re a fan of the writers. —ES
During the horror boom of the 1980s, a subset of the genre emerged in the wake of the more graphic splatterpunk known as “quiet horror.” Writers like Charles Grant and those included in his acclaimed Shadows series employed tension and suspense as psychological levers of fear, horror, and the macabre as much as visceral elements of the fantastic. I was reminded of this while reading John Mantooth’s debut novel The Year of the Storm (Berkeley Books, 2013). Mantooth is best known for his collection Shoebox Train Wreck released last year, and while reading his novel I realized that while Mantooth shares a similar moody, somber tone as those authors, there is also a greater correlation with the gentle fantasy voice of Neil Gaiman and Joe Hill.
The Year of the Storm is a coming of age tale with a dark quest. Danny has had a shit year. His mother and autistic sister have vanished into the Alabama night in the wake of an awful storm, his dad isn’t much use or comfort, and he is soon plagued by visits from a derelict Vietnam war veteran named Walter who may be the key to finding them, and more. We see the twining of Walter’s own hardluck story, his friendship with his outcast homosexual cousin Seth, whose ability to travel between worlds becomes the anchor of this novel, bringing two coming of age tales into a fantasy story.
The Year of the Storm has both a gentle voice and pace, but is not shy in darkness. The two nostalgias (both Danny and Walter’s) are, oddly, not as well detailed as I might have liked. Granted, I had just finished reading Jeffrey Ford’s fantastic Shadow Year, which evokes a similar theme but different tone and, sadly, I could not help but compare them in my head. That said, if you need a dose of dark mystery and like a smidge of fantasy, enjoy the smooth voice of Mantooth’s The Year of the Storm. —JR