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BOOK REVIEWS: December 1998
By Paula Guran

THE CROW: SHATTERED LIVES AND BROKEN DREAMS
J. O'Barr and Ed Kramer, eds.
Del Rey/ 368 pp./$24/
ISBN 345-41711-9
(Now available in paperback)

book cover The Crow is a simple, yet resonant archetype: a synthesis of righteous revenge and redemptive love. Its primal simplicity provides imaginative writers latitude to create darkly entertaining (and occasionally thought provoking) variations on the theme in the anthology, THE CROW: SHATTERED LIVES AND BROKEN DREAMS. From mythic Greece to just as mythic medieval settings; into the future and back to more expected modern urban noir settings, authors like Alan Dean Foster, Jack Dann, Jane Yolen and Robert Harris, Andrew Vachss, Chet Williamson, and Janny Wurts offer distinctive interpretations of the myth. An interesting twist are stories from Nancy A. Collins, S.P. Somtow, Charles de Lint, Rick Reed, and Gene Wolfe, that work the idea into previously created fictional worlds -- Rex Miller's "Spike Team" is a "Chain Gang" story and Storm Constantine explains the origins of her Wraeththu trilogy in a Crow context in "Paragenesis." Ramsey Campbell pens a poignant a tale of revenge and redemption for a dead cop. Caitlin Kiernan reminds us that nothing is ever simple in Ireland, including history and vengence. A. A. Attanasio takes the Crow to a traditional hell and John Shirley soars with him into the very Presence of God in a superb story of surprising spiritual depth Stories are interspersed with poetry (including turns by Iggy Pop and Henry Rollins) and illustrated with evocative original artwork by top fantasy artists such as Rick Berry, Ron Walotsky, Rob Prior, Tom Canty, Tim Bradstreet, Don Maitz, and Bob Eggleton. Edited by Crow creator James O'Barr (who does quadruple duty adding illustrations, a story, and a poem to his editorial stint) and Ed Kramer, The Crow: Shattered Lives and Broken Dreams is a stand-out selection for any lover of dark fiction as well as those already fascinated with the Crow.

NOTE: A deluxe edition of this book -- truly one of the most beautiful books I've ever seen -- signed by over 20 authors and 17 artists is also now available. It includes art, a Harlan Ellison short story, and an Ed Bryant novella that were not in the trade edition. $225.00 plus $7.00 shipping & insurance per book from Donald M. Grant.

ARE YOU LOATHSOME TONIGHT?
Poppy Z. Brite
Gauntlet Publications/193 pp./$50 (limited edition)
ISBN 1-887368-16-7
(Now available in paperback)

book cover This slim second collection from Poppy Z. Brite displays considerable diversity in its twelve stories from a splendid writer who is, all too often, unfairly denigrated as some sort of Dark Mistress of Perversity. Although Brite lives delightfully up to her wicked reputation when writing, for instance, in first-person maggot with Baudelarian intensity ("In Vermis Veritas") or diving into decadent sex and bloody death with "Saved" (written with Christa Faust), she's often at her best when employing historical figures -- sixties British playwright Joe Orton in "Entertaining Mr. Orton," a New Orleans serial killer from the second decade of this century in "Mussolini and the Axeman's Jazz" -- to broaden her range for puissant effect. Several short pieces present familiar characters from previous works, are set-ups for wry jokes, or both. Brite is maturing into a deeper mastery of her craft, and it will be intersting to see if ARE YOU LOATHSOME TONIGHT? marks a transition for Brite. An unusual and oddly insightful collage of an introduction by Peter Straub, a personal afterword from Caitlin Kiernan, brief story notes by the author, and cover art and interiors (including graphically enhanced nudes of the author) aren't just padding for the obviously sparse word count, but truly enhance the book's appeal.

THE DOUBLE: AN INVESTIGATION
Don Webb
St. Martin's Press/242 pp./$21.95
ISBN 0-312-19144-8

book cover Noted short story writer Don Webb starts off his debut novel with its protagonist, John Reynman, finding himself murdered in his own living room. It gets weirder from there. Reynman, a freelance computer game writer/designer, starts seeking answers. His life quickly turns into a dangerous game with unwritten rules -- a mythical quest with metaphysical overtones in which everything is intricately connected and eventually transcends the time and space of the story's modern-day Texas setting. It's all offered up with whimsical supporting characters, jalapeno hot local flavor, doses of hilarity, and an occasional jab at the absurdity of modern life. THE DOUBLE, baffling enough as a mystery and certainly something more than the average dark thriller, has the first-novel-flaw of juvenile indulgence in graphic sex and a rather too-pat fantasy resolution of a three-way relationship between Reynman, his lusty lawyer Michele, and his mystical and machinating ex-wife Cassilda. Still, despite the sexual silliness, THE DOUBLE's reality warping plotline, modicum of speculative philosophy, and humorous intelligence make it a uniquely entertaining read and whet one's appetite for more weird writing from Webb.


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