Like a Chinese Tattoo

Edited by Bill Breedlove and John Everson;

Dark Arts Books, 2008;

226 pages; Trade Paperback $17.95

 Like a Chinese Tattoo is the fourth four-author collection of short stories offered by Dark Arts Books and is the second anthology in the series published this year. This book features well-known and relatively new authors Cullen Bunn, Rick R. Reed, David Thomas Lord, and K. A. Konrath. Each author contributes three stories each. The cover page states that the stories are twisted, and I wasn’t disappointed upon reading the collection. The stories ranged from elegant to gross, but all were entertaining.

     The anthology starts out with stories by Cullen Bunn, who is my favorite author in the collection, followed closely by Konrath. First off is “Tomorrow, When the Demons Come”, which is about a young man’s relationship with a wealthy man named Marco. Everything is fine between them until the secret of Marco’s locked room is discovered. The story is well-crafted, the descriptions highlighting the depravity of a relationship doomed from the start, and the ending is unexpected.

     “Remains” is a haunting tale about a hired man who arrives at a farm with a terrible secret. The story is told by a young boy named Seth, the eldest child of a farmer, who senses something is wrong with the man his father hires, but can’t do anything about it. The horror builds gradually, with an unexpected twist that is well-done, even if the ending is rushed.

     “Granny Kisses” is an example of why Bunn won the Gross-Out contest at the World Horror Convention. It is the grossest thing I’ve ever read and I know gross – I used to work at a sewer plant. The story’s about a yeast infection that doesn’t die. I laughed and gagged at the same time.

     The next author in the book is Rick R. Reed, known for his gay horror. However, that doesn’t appear in this book. His first story is “Purfleet”, a fictional name of an insane asylum where a woman seeks refuge from her husband. This tale is hard to follow and the characters are wooden, in my opinion. The twist at the end is good, however.

     “Moving Toward the Light” is reprinted from The Crow: Shattered Lives and Broken Dreams and is a tale of depravity that starts with a teenager named Miranda, whose nightmare turns out to be true. To ease her pain, she tries to get drunk, but what happens to her next is worse than her nightmare. She almost dies, but a former friend from beyond the grave helps her return to Earth and get even with her tormenters. This story reminds me a lot of the Crow movies, which is its only flaw. Reed showcases his expertise as a topnotch horror writer, as the story chilled me hours after reading it.

     “Stung” is a hilarious story about a middle-aged woman’s day at her boss’ lake house. She’s stung, by both a wasp and her mother, whom she brings as her guest. This tale is very inventive and entertaining, so gross it’s funny.

     The third author featured is David Thomas Lord, known for his highly-acclaimed vampire novels. None of his stories in the anthology are about vampires, however. His first tale is “The White Room”, which was previously published in the short-lived horror webzine, Feral Fiction. This is a cerebral story about a man in a white room where everything is white, including the man. The writing is crisp and the ending unexpected.

     “The Great White Ape” is set in Victorian England where a colonel and his newly-hired assistant meet for a trip to the African jungle. The story is richly detailed and the ending is a complete shock. Lord’s writing style here reminds me of that of Edgar Allan Poe.

     “Da’s Boy” is about a boy and his relationship with his grandfather. The dialect is good, but the subject matter is tired and clichéd. This is the weakest of his three stories.

     The final author featured is K. A. Konrath, who writes the Lt. Jacqueline “Jack” Daniels novels, each named for a mixed drink. His first story is “The Confession”, written entirely as a conversation between a man and a woman. The tale is fast-paced and the confession is shocking.

     “The Necro Files” is based on Konrath’s Jack Daniels novels. Instead of Daniels, the main character of the novella is Harry McGlade, a private investigator. Harry’s client is an ugly woman who thinks her husband is a necromancer. Harry takes the case, which turns out to be more bizarre and twisted than he expected. This story is gross, in a good way, and is laugh-out-loud funny. The dialogue is crisp and the plot a mixture of chain-of-consciousness and action, which puts the reader inside the PI’s head, thus enhancing the overall horror of the story.

     “Punishment” is about a young boy named Dominick who, through minor infractions, is sent to the Punishment Room for discipline gone wild. It harkens back to the days of corporal punishment in the school system, where boys were paddled as hard as possible by the male principal outside the classroom door of his classmates; at least that’s what happened where I attended elementary school in the seventies. Only here there are no paddles, but tools of torture you’d find in a medieval dungeon. The story does have a feel-good ending, albeit haunting.

     Like a Chinese Tattoo is well worth the money. I was familiar with Konrath’s work before, but even if you’re not already a fan of one of the authors, you soon will be.   

– Reviewed by Karen L. Newman

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~ by darkdiscoveries on May 20, 2009.

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