"Supernatural Noir" Book Review
Edited by Ellen Datlow
2011, 397 Pages, Fiction
Released on June 22nd, 2011
Tales of the supernatural and those of noir share many of the same traits. Both often feature a down-on-his-luck protagonist with many things working against him. Both showcase the darker side of the world. And both often leave the main character in a situation that's often worse than where he started. So with all these similarities, why not put the two genres together? That's just what Dark Horse set out to do with this collection of short stories. Although they're primarily a comic book publisher, this book consists solely of the written word with no art aside from the creepy bird on the cover.
The tales included here range from your typical noir story of a detective that gets sucked into a case by a hot blonde to a battle between fairies and elves with humankind dangling in the balance. Most of the stories don't have equal parts supernatural and noir. They lean one way or the other.
Unfortunately, I found the bulk of them rather bland and without much substance. Many of them have pieces that border on erotica as well. I'm no prude, but some of these stories seemed to toss in a little sex just to try and make things interesting. However they fail to back it up with much in the interesting department.
There are two notable exceptions, though, with the first from legendary author Joe R. Lansdale. He's no stranger to the supernatural or noir, so his story entitled Dead Sister is a perfect fit for this collection. Lansdale's writing is the kind that makes you stop and say "Goddamn." Here's just a taste from the first page: "She was the kind of dame if she walked real fast, she might set the walls on fire." In just one sentence he perfectly describes the type of woman that just strolled into his office, and he did it in such a cool way that I wish people still talked like that just so I could drop that line into conversation somehow. Hell, I might try to do that anyway because that's such a good line. Dead Sister takes the average private eye noir story and has our hero Taylor duking it out with a grave-robbing ghoul. This one leans heavily on the old pulp novel type of case, but doesn't alienate the supernatural elements when they're brought in.
As much as I loved Lansdale's story, it was just barely surpassed by Nate Southard's The Blisters on my Heart. This is another tale that has a foot firmly planted in the world of Dashiell Hammett and Mickey Spillane but when the out-of-this-world comes down, it knocks you flat on your face. The Blisters on my Heart follows an unnamed guy who falls hard for Shelly, a stripper at a local club. The feeling is mutual and the pair really hit if off until this creep Michael walks in and everyone gets quiet. It seems this guy is a big-shot, but no one knows why. He's trouble and he wants Shelley. The main character sits and watches while Michael manhandles his girl. You can feel the rage bubble through the text as he stares daggers at this guy. He decides to do the only logical thing; which is to kill Michael. But he finds out that Michael is actually the only person holding the forces of Hell at bay. This presents such an amazing conundrum. You always read stories about these white knights who sacrifice everything to protect mankind. Southard flips that idea on its ear by making the protector a total asshole who gets to satisfy his deviant cravings because people are afraid of him.
I have to question one piece of editing on this book. Obviously all of the authors involved didn't collaborate on their stories, but when putting all of these together as a collection, one would consider terms that are used in different tales. The first story featured in Supernatural Noir is called The Dingus, by Gregory Frost. The title character is a mystical creature made up of weird oil and assorted garbage that goes on a killing rampage. Much later in the book is The Maltese Unicorn, by Caitlin R. Kiernan, where the term "Dingus" is used repeatedly, but it means something very different. In Kiernan's story a dingus refers to a dildo. The one featured rather prominently is an enchanted phallus made out of the horn of a unicorn. You can see how this can be a little confusing at first.
While I didn't enjoy all of the stories here, they were mostly entertaining. This is a book that you can pick up at your leisure and read a story here or there. I highly recommend the works from Lansdale and Southard. Those two tales are worth the price of admission alone. I'm not sure if this is a new initiative for Dark Horse Comics or what, but if this is their first step into the world of books-sans-pictures then they could do a lot worse.