01/01/2012. Contributed by Patrick Mahon
pub: Telos. 311 page illustrated small enlarged paperback. Price: GBP12.99 (UK), $24.99 (US). ISBN: 978-1-84581-055-7).
check out website: www.telos.co.uk
Sam Stone is a British author of horror and fantasy fiction. ‘Zombies In New York And Other Bloody Jottings’ is her first short story collection, bringing together thirteen short stories and six poems, most of which are previously unpublished.
The collection is split into three sections. The first contains seven short horror stories revolving around Stone’s re-imagining of the famous fifteenth century Italian noblewoman Lucrezia Borgia. In Stone’s second novel, ‘Futile Flame’, Borgia is portrayed as a vampire. The stories here explore episodes from her life during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as she finds ways to make a living in different societies and cultures, ranging from being the co-owner of the Moulin Rouge in 1890s Paris to working as a palaeontologist in modern-day America. The second section of the book contains six unlinked contemporary stories, ranging from horror to erotic fantasy. The final part of the collection includes six poems on various themes. I’ll highlight three of the stories that I liked and one that didn’t really work for me.
‘Tar’ concerns an encounter between Lucrezia and another supernatural creature. Lucrezia is working as a palaeontologist at the La Brea Museum in Los Angeles and is finalising a new display of fossilised wolf bones which she unearthed in a local tar pit. The night before the launch of the new exhibit, the bones are re-animated by a local witches’ coven, who sacrifice Lucrezia’s lab assistant in order to resurrect the ancient creature. It turns out to be a god of werewolves, dedicated to the hunt and when it proceeds to rip the coven members to pieces, Lucrezia has to use all her vampiric skills to avoid becoming another one of its victims. I found the story’s portrayal of Lucrezia as an academic scientist, followed by her reversion to a vicious vampire when threatened, original and enjoyable.
‘Blood Loss’ comes from the second part of the book. It is also the earliest piece in the collection, being the first story that Stone had published back in 2000. It concerns Michael, an assistant coroner who is faced with a sudden epidemic of young women turning up naked, dead and drained of blood, though with no obvious wounds. Examining the latest victim, his boss, the chief coroner, notices very small holes in her genitals. When he pulls the other victims out of storage, they’re the same. Unsure what this all means, Michael goes home for the night via his local pub, where he gets chatted up by a girl who looks a bit like that last autopsy victim. When he ends up sleeping with her, though, he gets the surprise of his life. This story provides an interesting alternative take on the vampire genre, turning most of the reader’s usual expectations upside down.
The final and longest story in the collection, ‘The Toymaker’s House’, concerns Caron, an assistant director in the movie business. The horror film she is working on is being shot at the house of the guy in charge of the special effects, Mark, because he’s got some really horrific props in his house. They are four life-sized dolls that appear to have been tortured by the Spanish inquisition or worse. Caron finds Mark extremely creepy and can’t wait to finish the film. However, on the last day of filming, she finds out something awful about the dolls and has to decide whether to simply walk away or to confront Mark with the truth. I really enjoyed this story. It is ambitious in scope, features a cast of well-drawn characters and explores some interesting ideas. The horror is visceral in places but is always integral to the plot. The story stayed with me for a long time after I finished reading it and you can’t say fairer than that.
Although I enjoyed most of the stories here, there were a couple that I didn’t get on with. My least favourite was ‘Clown Addict’, which tells the story of Dale, a gay man who works at MI5 and has a fetish for sleeping with clowns. After several of his clown lovers die the day after he’s slept with them, Dale realises that these are no accidents and asks work to help him find out what’s going on. The answer turns out to be something from his past which he was not expecting. My problem with this story, apart from its inherent implausibility, is that at the end, Dale acts totally out of character in his response to the final revelation. In consequence, I lost all faith, not only in Dale, but in the story itself.
There are many things to enjoy in this collection. The stories are a varied and interesting bunch. The vampire Lucrezia Borgia, as envisaged by Stone, is an impressive lead character who brings real zest to the stories in which she appears. Given that I am not a huge fan of gore for its own sake, I was also pleasantly surprised to find that Graham Masterton’s preface to the book, which made it sound like a splatter-fest, was not entirely accurate. While Stone doesn’t shy away from literal descriptions, whether of attacks by the undead or of the many sexual exploits of her characters, they are not generally gratuitous. Another point in the collection’s favour is the physical book itself, which is an attractive item in its own right, well-produced and featuring a great cover image and some interesting internal art, too.
On the other hand, there were two minor things that bothered me about the collection. The first was that a couple of the historical stories featured inauthentic dialogue. The second was that some of the stories either ended very abruptly or the conclusion was not very believable. In both cases, these problems damaged the aura of reality that the author was clearly trying to create.
‘Zombies In New York And Other Bloody Jottings’ is an enjoyable collection of short horror and fantasy stories. If you haven’t come across Sam Stone before, this could be a good place to start.
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