I’ve been acclimating to the darker side of fantasy. I still don’t want to give myself nightmares, so I tend to take that type of thing in small bites. Luckily for me, Dark Horse just released an anthology of short stories – edited by the one and only Ellen Datlow – called Supernatural Noir, and the entries are brief enough to fit my specifications. The combination of traditional film noir elements with the supernatural also made for interesting (and sometimes disturbing) reading.
A hit man who kills with coincidence... A detective caught in a war between two worlds... A man whose terrible appetites hide an even darker secret...
Dark Horse once again teams up with Hugo and Bram Stoker award-winning editor Ellen Datlow (Lovecraft Unbound) to bring you this masterful marriage of the darkness without and the darkness within. Supernatural Noir is an anthology of original tales of the dark fantastic from twenty modern masters of suspense, including Brian Evenson, Joe R. Lansdale, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Nick Mamatas, Gregory Frost, and Jeffrey Ford.
It would be very difficult to give a fair notion of how I felt about each of these stories and still keep the entire review to a reasonable length. I’m not up to the challenge, honestly. So I’ll give you a sense of the anthology with a couple of mini-reviews, and tell you that others, like Melanie Tem’s contribution, had me writing things like, “Disturbing as heck. I might have nightmares.” Good intro, right?
“The Dingus” by Gregory Frost
A gritty story featuring a former boxer who takes his chances and investigates a death in the seedy world of petty (and not so petty) criminals. All of this is interrupted by the unnatural, and the result is a well-told piece, if not an ultimately satisfying one.
“The Getaway” by Paul Tremblay
Tremblay weaves a tale of a disaffected getaway man in a robbery gone wrong. How exactly it goes wrong is the stuff of horror, and rather than being a deliciously dark story, it comes off as uneasy and angry.
“Mortal Bait” by Richard Bowes
This is true noir fiction – plus fairies! Set in the 1950s, with the typical washed-up personal investigator, it’s detective work inside a con, steeped in atmosphere and cold, harsh reality. Good crime writing and interesting alternate ‘history,’ along with a well fleshed-out protagonist made it a joy to read.
“Ditch Witch” by Lucius Shepard
This entry was all sorts of depressing/interesting/vengeful. A story about two VERY lost souls who drive into scary-movie suspense and out the other side (or DO they?). Not for the faint of heart.
“The Romance” by Elizabeth Bear
Delicious. Absolutely wonderful, this tale. Just the right touches of light and dark and mystery and macabre.
“The Absent Eye” by Brian Evanson
Weird little story that fit in well with the supernatural theme, and also with noir. There was definitely a barren feel to the protagonist that lent it a certain air.
“In Paris, In the Mouth of Kronos” by John Langan
Very interesting yarn that conflated abuses in Iraq in the present day with some very ancient traditions and mythology for a classic tale of double cross. A mystery inside of several threads of the same weft, and dark and dangerous for sure.
Ellen Datlow is an award-winning editor for a reason – she brings together disparate personalities and voices, and consistently brings forth their best. This collection explored the dark corners of crime, the art of the noir genre, and the instability, creativity and horror present in the supernatural. While I appreciated it, I cannot say I unreservedly enjoyed it – but I think a true horror fan would.
Recommended for: adults (no one else need apply), fans of dark fantasy and horror, short story aficionados, and anyone who has watched a Humphrey Bogart marathon on the classic movie channel but wished that something TRULY terrible would just happen, already.