Sunday, January 10, 2016

Sinister Tales of Dread 2015
by Billie Sue Mossiman

Reviewed by Anthony Servante

The Author:

Author of more than 60 books on Amazon, Mosiman is a thriller, suspense, and horror novelist, a short fiction writer, and a lover of words. In a diary when she was thirteen years old she wrote, "I want to grow up to be a writer." Her books have been published since 1984 and two of them received an Edgar Award Nomination for best novel and a Bram Stoker Award Nomination for most superior novel. In 2014 THE GREY MATTER received a Nomination for the Kindle Book Award. She has been a regular contributor to a myriad of anthologies and magazines, with more than 200 short stories published. Her work has been in such diverse publications as Horror Show Magazine and Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. She taught writing for Writer's Digest and for AOL online, and gave writing workshops locally in Texas. She was an assistant editor at a Houston literary magazine and co-edited several trade paperback anthologies with Martin Greenberg. Her latest work in paperback and Kindle digital is SINISTER-Tales of Dread 2013, a compilation of fourteen new short stories. In December 2014 SINISTER-Tales of Dread 2014 debuted, with 13 new stories.

Recently she sold short fiction to JAMAIS VU, the premier magazine, and the anthologies BETTER WEIRD edited by Paul F. Olson from Cemetery Dance, ALLEGORIES OF THE TAROT edited by Annetta Ribken, FRESH FEAR edited by William Cook, WRAPPED IN RED edited by Jennifer Greene, and SOMEONE WICKED and INSIDIOUS ASSASSINS edited by Weldon Burge. Her latest suspense novel, THE GREY MATTER, was published by Post Mortem Press in April 2014.

Mosiman was born in Alabama and lives now in Texas on a small ranch.

Her work has been predominately suspense thrillers, with her short fiction being more speculative.
                                                                                                            (Amazon Biography)

The Summary:
This year's stories by an award-nominated author of horror and suspense. Two of the stories are novellas. The collection is 50,000 words in length and available in trade paperback. Dark tales of terror and intrigue from an alien child left on an earth overrun by zombie cannibals to the first killer in all the world, Cain the murderer of Abel, his brother. A worthy addition to the ongoing yearly series of Sinister, these eight tales will make your dreams restless.

The Review:
Well, where to begin? Let's see, I've read Billie Sue Mosiman's novels, even incorporated one into my nonfiction work, KILLERS AND HORROR: INK BLACK, BLOOD RED, "Widow" (2011), a tale of murder with one of the most memorable anti-heroines in recent memory. So that's just the long way of saying I'm familiar with Mosiman's writing. Or so I thought. That is until Billie Sue sent me a review copy of SINISTER Tales of Dread 2015. I was both surprised and taken aback.

This is a mix of Science Fiction and Horror. I've read her works of Horror and Suspense (BANISHED with the demonic Angelique is one of my favorites), but I was caught off-guard by the opening story SAIL GHOSTS, which I thought was horror related. I don't know why I was caught unawares--right there in her biography, it says her "short fiction is speculative".

So, anyway... Now that that's out of the way. Let's get to it. Sinister Tales of Dread 2015 opens with "speculative" fiction (the other science fiction) and closes with supernatural horror.

As I started to say, SAIL GHOSTS is about a couple of colonists "abandoned" (we don't know for sure) on an ice planet. These sailing vessels, the common mode of travel, glide hauntingly across the ice, carrying dead aliens on-board. Out of sheer boredom, the couple (actually, more the male) bring one of the aliens back to life. Key word here is "haunting". Even after reading the entire book, SG still stood with me like a well, like a sail ghost.

THE ONLY ONE, our second tale, tells the story of an alien landing on Earth during the pinnacle of a zombie apocalypse. The askewed "point of view" of the narrative creates the tension between reader and narrator. It's more a one-act story than a complete arc and deliberately so as it expands of the "dread" Billie Sue has in mind for us.

Then bam! We have THE DEVOURING, an allegorical fable that breaks the rhythm established by the first two stories. Neither SF, Horror, or Suspense, this story seems to be a nod to the old TALES OF THE CRYPT comic book where an O'Henryian ending capped each story. I think this story would have worked better after the novella PRISON PLANET because this political dystopian story has the same narrative sadness of SAIL GHOSTS and THE ONLY ONE. After three haunting tales, THE DEVOURING would have been a welcome break before plunging back into the dread and emotional obliqueness.

PRISON PLANET echoes the grim state of immigration hardships today, even though it was written in 2012. By reversing the roles of U.S. citizen and Latin-American immigrant, we witness the plight of U.S. immigrants in a future very similar to the one proposed by Donald Trump in his presidential campaign. In PP, Canada, the USA, Mexico, Central and South American become one country with one "president". As they say, Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Our president here, who coincidentally reminds one of George W. Bush, seizes power and imprisons any citizen who does not meet the requisites of wealth to participate in this new country. As does much Science Fiction, PP reflects the current state of our country's political foibles. However, as familiar as I am (having worked with Immigration and Naturalization Services [INS] for nearly twenty years), I can attest to the reality behind the tragedies of this powerful tale.

HARPER'S DARKNESS is about a hitman with a pet monster. The story plays out between psychological horror and straightforward horror. It's mimetic for the monster inside each of us and would fit perfectly in my study of real killers and authors who imagine killing for a living. But that's about as far as I can take you into this story. We are left to wonder when we become the monster or have we been the monster all along? Or is the monster evil personified? Read and see for yourself.

E.R.R. returns us to speculative fiction once more. I can see how HD may have been placed after PP to break from the suspense and tragedy of the novella, but I still think THE DEVOURING and HD could have been switched in order to better effect. But enough Monday-morning-quarterbacking. E.R.R. picks up in narrative tone where SAIL GHOSTS left off. The tale combines the isolation of SG with the politics of PP. With any tale where a male and female couple crash land on a uninhabited world, there's always the possibility of straying too close to biblical allegory, but that is not the case here, so jump into this tale ready to be surprised by the ending. Twice, as a matter of fact.

PEOPLE OF THE TOWER is back to straightforward Horror, save for the GPS, which is science fiction to me. Married couple Ketty and Max are lost in their vehicle in the back country of Atlanta. White couples finding horrors in the strange little towns that don't appear on our road maps (yes, they use a road map) is a genre onto itself (Hills Have Eyes, for instance). After a run-in with the locals, our couple is imprisoned in a tower. When we finally get to met the people of the tower, we understand how this story fits into that genre I mentioned earlier.

IN THE BEGINNING: The First Killer begins with a thief having his hands cut off by a storekeeper. We are then introduced to Cain, the biblical first killer. But Mosiman's Cain plays out more like a villain in a Western novel or a apocalypse setting, for he is the go-to man in this town full of thieves, and as we've seen, thieves who are caught lose their hands. And Cain is thinking of taking heads as well. In flashback we see that this is the biblical story of Cain and Abel, but with a twist enough to keep us pinned to the storyline of this second novella. Adam and Eve, father and mother to the brothers, are introduced in the second act of the tale of murder. The story reminded me of SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE by Kurt Vonnegut, and that's as close to the finale as I can get without spoiling the very satisfying conclusion.

On the whole, Sinister Tales of Dread 2015 is a good mix of genres. Although the book begins with Science Fiction, it ends with Supernatural Horror, where Billie Sue Mosiman, I feel, works her best magic. Save for THE DEVOURING which did not seem to fit the order of the stories, the rest were spot-on entertaining. PRISON PLANET and SAIL GHOSTS stood out for me as quite remarkable and memorable. There was more focus on dread than sinister, but that gives Mosiman more elbow room to play with other genres. With one haunting image after another, this collection of stories is an eclectic selection that borders horror and astonishment.

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