Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Samhane, (Stygian Press), by Daniel I. Russell

Samhane: the Gaelic festival celebrating the end of summer and the harvest, most often associated in modern times with Halloween. Or an unnoticed little burb that has been slowly descending into total batshitville for the past couple centuries.
We are gifted here with the twin tales of Donald, a fledgling writer whose new-used laptop holds a file that drags him off the grid into an underground organization specializing in torture for the amusement of paid subscribers, and Brian, a professional monster hunter who has found that the simple ghoul squishing he has been hired to do is a bit more…complicated. Now, Donald's wife and best friend have been brutally murdered and Brian's son, his only real reason for living, has been carried off by the world's filthiest clown.

Most people are satisfied with sticking to one type of monster, be it vampire, werewolf or centuries old mummified cucumber, but Daniel I. Russell is definitely not most people. Within the first quarter of the book, you see a serial killer, a forest ghoul, what may be a were-blob and a giant centipede, and that is before you get to meet the evils of a corporation, genetic engineering, biomechanics and a bad ass iridescent god of chaos. This variety works against the story as much as for it early on, with a first half that feels too fractured to be part of a coherent whole. But, if you stick it out, Danny boy brings it all together into a neatly sutured beast that satisfies quite nicely.

I'm particularly impressed with his ability and willingness to walk the line of acceptability. Without diving face first into full Hardcore mode, Russell does away with the usual expected sense of safety. No character, no matter how nice or seemingly important is completely safe, but the bleeding isn't egregious. Also, as much as he does love the ultraviolence and gore (my, oh my does it get wet within these pages, dear friends), he also shows a remarkable amount of restraint and willingness to allow implication to work on its own. It's a tricky balancing act that he pulls off with panache.

Speaking of implications, there is something in the ending that goes completely unspoken but carries marvelously chilling possibilities. I can't say it. Musn't say it. To speak such things would ruin…

I'll shut up right now before I do.

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Anton Cancre is one of those rotting, pus-filled thingies on the underside of humanity that your mother always warned you about. He has oozed symbolic word-farms onto the pages of Shroud, Sex and Murder and Horrorbound magazines as well as The Terror at Miskatonic Falls, an upcoming poetry anthology by Shroud Publishing and continues to vomit his oh-so-astute literary opinions, random thoughts and nonsense at No, he won't babysit you pet shoggoth this weekend. Stop asking.

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