Review Summer — Week 6

This week, taking a look at Long December by Richard Chizmar, and the Sirens anthology from World Weaver Press!

Title: Long December
Author: Richard Chizmar
Publisher: Subterranean Press
Website: http://www.subterraneanpress.com

34 stories and the titular novella pack this collection, a stunning hard-hitter spanning twenty-five years, and I am woefully ashamed of myself that I hadn’t read most of them before now. It’s sometimes easy to forget that a lot of THE top editors in the genre (and this is Richard Chizmar; Cemetery Dance is legendary and rightfully so) are also writers, and writers who really know their stuff.

And dang, does this guy know his stuff! A running theme throughout is the masterfully-done twist or surprise, so that even when you’ve read a few stories and think you’re ready, it’s still this deft, wicked shocker. I won’t spoil by saying which ones particularly left-fielded me, but I will say it kept happening, again and again, wowing me, keeping it fresh, dark, and sharp.

Other recurring themes are those sure to resonate with most of us – familial relationship dynamics, whether it’s between siblings, or parents and children, or legacies passed down through generations … there’s coming of age, and growing old alone … people struggling to do right, people struggling to stop others from doing wrong … love, loss, fear, madness, temptation, obsession … all the things that make us tick.

I did find it a little amusing to notice how certain names kept popping up, not as much in a deliberate connection way but almost feeling like a default go-to way … there are quite a few Annies and Bens in this book, and many members of what must be an extensive Cavanaugh clan. Given the abovementioned quarter-century span, it’s not something that might’ve stood out so much at the time, but reading the stories all in a couple of sittings, they jumped out.

“The Long December” itself, finishing off the book, is a probing and uncomfortable look not at serial killers, but into the lives of neighbors and friends who had no idea, until the awful truth is suddenly splashed all over the news. How could anyone know? How could anyone NOT know? What DID they know? SHOULD they have known?

Basically, as you read this book, be ready to second-guess yourself every step of the way and still be surprised, chilled, and knocked for more than a few loops. But it’s not out until this fall, so you might have to wait!

**

Title: Sirens
Editor: Rhonda Parrish
Publisher: World Weaver Press
Website: http://www.worldweaverpress.com

Many cultures have their legends of beautiful woman-like creatures who lure men to their doom, but the siren is best known. The siren, with her song. Sometimes depicted as a mermaid with a sleek-scaled fish tail, combing her luxuriant tresses as she sits on the rocks and serenades sailors … sometimes more akin to a harpy, feathered and with wings, with avian melody.

The main story everybody tends to know is that of Ulysses (aka Odysseus) stoppering the ears of his crew with wax and having them bind him to the mast so he can listen without giving in to the maddening desire. And yes, in this book, several of the sixteen stories present their own twists and takes on that classic tale, or give nods to it in various clever ways.

As a mythology nut with a longtime love of Greek myths in particular, you better believe I ate that right up. I particularly enjoyed Tabitha Lord’s “Homecoming,” the final piece to close things out very satisfactorily with a look at Odysseus’ return from his wife Penelope’s point of view.

But don’t worry if historical fiction/fantasy isn’t your thing; the more modern era and even the sci-fi future are nicely represented as well. From the dating-site travails in Kelly Sandoval’s “Siren Seeking” to a conflict of old gods in a new kind of war in “Moth to an Old Flame” by Pat Flewwelling, to the space-faring voyages of V.F. LeSann’s “Nautilus” …

Other personal picks include: “Experience,” by Sandra Wickham, in which a cruise ship performer helps a passenger seek unusual revenge; the ultimate aquatic vacation destination in Simon Kewin’s “Safe Waters;” and the unsettling Lord of the Flies vibe in “The Dolphin Riders” by Randall G. Arnold.

Oh, and I want to read an entire novel or series thereof featuring Mira, Eliza Chan’s siren private investigator from “One More Song,” plying her trade in a semi-submerged world where regular humans and all manner of folklore water-beings try to live side-by-side. Delightful stuff, well-imagined and lots of fun.

**

Coming up next week, reviews of Every Kingdom Divided and Puppet Skin!

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