(BeWrite, $14.10, 224 pages, trade paperback; March 2002)
Chill is a horror anthology featuring the works of Terri Pine,
Peter Lee and Andrew
Muller. Hugh McCracken, Paul Clayton and Yasemin provide the connective
tissue for the main authors and the book concludes with the classic
"Tam o' Shanter" by Robert Burns.
Terri Pine contributes "Nightrise", her standout story, plus "Ask No
Questions" and "Let the Dance Begin", which rely heavily on old horror
staples. "Questions" is the tale of a hired gun who made a point of
keeping his head in the sand when it came to the people he was hired
to kill. After a particularly difficult hit he crashes his car and is
pulled onto a bus filled with his victims. There he learns the stories
behind the bloodshed and suffers justice at their hands. "Dance" is
the story of a man haunted by a failed marriage and a vengeful wraith.
The spirit is that of a woman he sought solace with and with whom he
made a suicide pact. She is determined to make him live up to his end
of the bargain. In "Nightrise", the tale of a serial killer's delusions
becoming reality, Pine's narrative is particularly sharp. She brings
you into the mind of a serial killer as he "courts" his victims and
builds the delusions he uses to rationalize his crimes. Her use of asides
gives us a second view into the killer's mind.
Peter Lee, the author of hundreds of short stories and several novels,
provides the bulk of the stories and the only piece that haunted me,
"Final Demand". Lee creates such vivid characters that I actually cared
for the protagonists and, when the inevitable ax fell, I mourned for
them. This story bounced around my head like a .22 bullet: I couldn't
dislodge it for about two days. He also has a way of bringing the reader
into the characters' heads and showing us the world through their deranged
eyes, as in "Afraid" and "Losing It". In "Afraid", our hero fights a
losing battle with his fears; with every battle he loses he withdraws
deeper and deeper until he seals himself in his own tomb. "Losing It"
is much shorter and faster-paced. What starts as stress spirals into
insanity. The only story here of Lee's that could have been shorter
is "Splinter". A man discovers a troubling black spot on his hand; what
disturbs him more is that the spot is moving steadily up his arm. What
could have had a (literally!) skin-crawling finale winds up suffering
from too much exposition.
Andrew Muller's story "Road Rage" is fresh and entertaining, and more
humorous than horrifying. Much like the creature in the story, Muller
engulfs the reader in the setting to the point where we can feel the
sun, smell the wild grass and taste the tarmac. Similarly, in "Stanislaw
and the Salt God" Muller paints a vivid setting for a humble man's brush
with a deity. My only complaint is that the story ended too soon. "Tribe
of Bones" and "The Blood of Thiepval" are very well written even if
they are predictable. "Bones" telegraphs from the beginning that our
explorers are heading for a bad end at the hands of their native hosts.
The two protagonists are led through a village by people dressed in
suspiciously bone-coloured material, housed in a hut constructed of
human bones, and fed soup out of skulls. Regardless, they stick around
to see what makes these strange people tick. "Blood" is a "poetic justice"
story about a coward striking a deal with a vampire, only to become
a victim of the undead himself.
Of the connecting stories, only "Confession" and "Reflex", both uncredited,
stand out. "Reflex" is a smart little skit featuring a fellow whose
reflection is quicker on the draw than he is. "Confession" is a nice,
cynical tale of a man's infidelity catching up with him.
Through all of Chill's highs and lows, it will satisfy your
need for a good horror fix.
Review by Thomas Staab.