Monday, February 1, 2016

American Nocturne
by Hank Schwaeble

Reviewed by Anthony Servante

Hank Schwaeble is a thriller writer and attorney in Houston, Texas. His debut novel, DAMNABLE (Berkley/Jove 2009) won the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel. 

A graduate of the University of Florida and Vanderbilt Law School, Hank is also a former Air Force officer and special agent for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. He was a distinguished graduate from the Air Force Special Investigations Academy, graduated first in his class from the Defense Language Institute's Japanese Language Course, and was an editor of the law review at Vanderbilt where he won four American Jurisprudence Awards.

Hank is an active member of the Horror Writers Association and the International Thriller Writers Association. In addition to reading and writing, Hank enjoys keeping in shape and playing guitar. He is currently working on his next novel.

American Nocturne is a tour de force of dark fantasy from two-time Bram Stoker Award-winning author Hank Schwaeble, a collection of original, first-time stories of horror and noir alongside a select number of his published short fiction combined in what Edgar Award-winner Robert Jackson Bennett describes as "a hardboiled journey into the spectral nightscape at the edges of Americana."
A merging of Sin City and LA Confidential, with a touch of Twilight Zone for added spice, American Nocturne includes what could be the LAST authorised Carl Kolchak/Night Stalker novella.
Featuring a rousing Introduction by NY Times best-selling author Jonathan Maberry, AMERICAN NOCTURNE is a feast for the imagination, a smorgasbord of stories for those who like their thrills dark and dangerous. 

American Nocturne (AN) is a masterpiece of the Grotesque with a capital G. Hank Schwaeble draws the Grotesque from his exploration of religion and the thin veil separating heaven from hell. Evil has its roots in demonic influences, while good manifests itself as the opponent which staves this influence. Here are the roots for Hank's Jake Hatcher series (DAMNABLE, DIABOLICAL, et al), the beginnings of his creativity with hellish creatures and earthly evils that we see more fully realized in his novels. Which makes the short stories all the more fascinating to read.

Note: Beauty and Horror combined as such formulate the Grotesque in Romantic Period works of Gothic, Supernatural, and Horror fiction. 

In the tradition of E.T.A Hoffmann (the fatalism of THE SANDMAN), Ludwig Tieck (the "unresolved ambiguities" of DER BLONDE ECKBERT), and Samuel Taylor Coleridege (the narrative structure of RIME OF THE ANCIENT MARINER), Romantic Era writers of Horror, Hank Schwaeble "suspends a disbelief" of horror, that is, he invites the reader to enter his dark world of horrors and terrors with a friendly nod to the conventions of classic literature. He does this by using a narrative that is sympathetic for the reader. In other words, the reader accepts the fantastic elements that Hank provides in his wicked stories without question or doubt. He combines fatalism, ambiguity, and narrative drive to propel the storylines. Whether it's a "bogey" (a demon) or a monster slouching eastward, AN's veritas can be found in the unification of the beauty and horror (or good and evil) forming each story. 

Without treading "spoiler" territory, I'll simply say that these unified conflicts provide the impetus for many of the stories, if not all (depending on your interpretation of "evil"). For our argument here, evil can be viewed as the corruption of good intentions, for our stories do not always allow for a clear definition of goodness. It is this very ambiguity, especially with the O'Henryian endings, that seals the union of good and evil as one, thus creating that Grotesque element born of the two in conflict. The reader internalizes the conflict, thus forming the "sympathetic correlative", the pleasure of rooting for the bad guy, in a sense. Each story provides a narrator or protagonist who is more anti-hero than hero, thus making the "victim" the victor, the character or creature we root for ultimately. Therein lies the fatalism of the "hero" that advances the tales. That's half the fun of these stories. They play us and our expectations of the foreshadows that are merely tricks of the eye.   

Impressive, too, is how Schwaeble utilizes a diction that is built for such supernatural thrillers. In each story, he controls the pace of each narrative with rapid-fire images that drive the story in unexpected directions. That union of good and evil is drawn out in twists and turns in the stories. The reader cannot predict just where the story is leading. The tales are pleasingly structured for maximum surprises like O'Henry's tales on steroids. Each story contains layers of action and conflict that are peeled away with mounting suspense. The readers are constantly having their breath taken away.

AMERICAN NOCTURNE meets the requisites for a short story collection of Grotesque Romanticism in the tradition of the German and English writers of Horror and Supernatural classics. They incorporate fatalistic tendencies of the hero, ambiguity between good and evil, and a narrative structure hell-bent on leading you astray. Whether you're a Jake Hatcher fan or a new arrival to the Bram Stoker Award writer's works, this collection is an excellent place to acquaint yourself with the nocturnal beginnings of the Hank Schwaeble Grotesque. You will be glad you suspended your disbelief for a visit to the dark side of literature and entered the pages of a whole new world of Noir Horror. 

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