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2015 Stories 238 - 244

This entry is a mixed bag of entries:

238. MIS-EN-SCENE, FEBRUARY 1928 by Steve Berman.  Available in stand-alone e-book on all the usual platforms, Berman's story is a wonderful mash-up of Gothic "young governess in a house full of secrets" with the Lovecraft Mythos via August Derleth. The tonal shift from pure Gothic suspense to Lovecraft is subtle, hidden in the dialogue and descriptions at first and then ultimately blatant as the true story develops from the apparent. Fans of Derleth's work especially will appreciate the setting and timing of this story's events. I enjoyed this so much I read it three times in a row, looking for the little hints and turns of phrase I might have missed the first couple of times.

239. A QUEER TRADE by KJ Charles, from the anthology Charrmed and Dangerous (edited by Jordan Castillo Price).  Crispin Tredaloe's mentor dies unexpectedly while the young man is out of London for a death in the family. Their landlords dispose of the loose paper clutter without consulting Crispin, who then has to track down "wasteman" (paper dealer) Ned Hall before the magically-inscribed paper can cause chaos and brings Crispin to the attention fo people he'd rather avoid. Complications abound, of course. This is a neat introduction to another world I can see Charles writing a series about. There is no shortage of romantic and sexual tension, all well-paced within the strong world-building.

240. BUTTERFLIES by KJ Charles. Available as a stand-alone ebook and in the anthology The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal.  Speaking of worlds Charles has created. The set-up for this series of stories is that Thomas Caldwell is tired of the world knowing him only as Simon Feximal's biographer/assistant, tired of downplaying the true nature of their relationship to satisfy Victorian mores. He decides to come clean, so to speak, about their romantic/sexual relationship. Because of this aspect, a story about a supernatural detective investigating a series of unusual "deaths by choking on hoards of butterflies" takes on a heartbreaking tone in some scenes. The mystery is well delineated, the clues are all there for what's really going on, everything is solved satisfactorily ... but it's Caldwell's voice, pained and proud at the same time, that really drew me in.

241. THE THIRTEENTH HEX by Jordan L. Hawk, from the anthology Charmed and Dangerous (edited by Jordan Castillo Price). Hawk uses her story in the anthology to also introduce a new setting and world: an alternate early 20th Century NYC where magic is the norm but not everyone can practice it, where the Witch Police Force is corrupt but being cleaned up. Hexman Dominic Kopecky cannot do magic, but has the sure hands and mathematical knowledge to inscribe hexes for the WPF to use. He's a strictly behind-the-scenes grunt until conscripted by handsome familiar Rook to help investigate a series of murders the main investigative team feels they have solved. Rook is an unbonded familiar and so is not beholden to the wishes of the witch he'd be teamed with.  Hawk layers the story with Kopecky's past disappointments (both magical and romantic), letting that push him to do things outside his own comfort zone. Another world I'd like to see the already-prolific Hawk develop.

242. THE VISIBLE FILTH by Nathan Ballingrud, stand-alone ebook.  I wrote a review of this dark, disturbing story for Strange Horizons back in August, and so will just direct you to that page.

243. FLIGHT FEATHERS by Kerry Cullen, from One Teen Story (Vol 3, issue 12).  Evie has a particular problem: puberty has brought not just the usual body changes, but the onset of growth of feathers. Fledgeling feathers at first, but progressing to the larger flight feathers all baby birds need to eventually leave the nest. As they grow, they get harder to pluck and conceal. At the same time, Evie's mother is dating an avid birdwatcher named Paul, who has a precocious 12 year old son named Kite.  Cullen's prose, as always, takes the mundane (puberty) and makes it fantastic. The story touches on the contentious nature of parent-child relationship, the getting-to-know-you phase of blended families, and the harsh reality that sometimes even those close to us see only what they want to see of us rather than the deeper truth. Really moving story.

244. DRUNKEN FIREWORKS by Stephen King, currently available as a stand-alone audiobook but also forthcoming in his next short story collection.  A fireworks battle between the main character, a local Maine alcholic, and his across-the-lake rich summer neighbors escalates over the course of several years. King, as usual, builds the tension from the mundanity of it all. And because the story is narrated mostly in first person (with the exception of the post-script) from after the events unfold, even the narrator clues the reader in that something bad has happened. But, as many storytellers will do, he insists on explaining the personal history of the feud before getting to the main event.  This ranks pretty high for me in the realm of King stories that are not horror.

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