Giallo Fantastique is Dark, Lush, and Irresistable

Cover of Giallo Fantastique One of my favorite film genres is, without a doubt, the giallo. The giants in this area – Argento, Bava, Lucio – provide such an interesting mix of mystery, murder, noir, and always just a touch of something a little more. Usually it’s something twisted or paranormal or just outright frightening. So, when I saw that Word Horde was going to be putting out Giallo Fantastique, a collection of stories in the giallo genre, I was definitely excited!

Ross E. Lockhart has edited directed a collection of twelve stories by some of the best names around. In his introduction he discusses his choice for the title, as well as the use of the color yellow, which he explains became connected to the idea of decadence in the early 19th century. Decadence, weird crime, and fantastic horror weave through each of the stories, and there is something here for everyone.

I found “Minerva” by Michael Kazepis and “In the Flat Light” by Adam Cesare to be the most closely related to the feel of giallo that I am used to seeing on the screen. Twisted murders and protagonists who are faced with nightmare-like circumstances play a part in both of these stories, and leave the reader with a sense that the world has been moved bit by bit out of the norm until it careens disturbingly out of control.

Orrin Grey’s “The Red Church” was also one of my favorites. There is a nice mixture of horror elements in this story. Grey’s protagonist is a reporter on a quest to interview an elusive artist, and several of the stories in this collection involve individuals who are interviewing or writing biographies, a plot device that works well and differently in each situation. I enjoyed seeing how each of the authors using this technique went about creating their story.

Possibly the most original take on the genre was “Hello, Handsome” by Garrett Cook, which introduces us to both an unusual protagonist and killer. I also enjoyed Anya Martin’s “Sensoria”, which brought in a bit of the gothic and used fantasy and suspense to weave a darkly beautiful tale that will haunt me for some time to come.

John Langan’s “The Communion of Saints” works from the point of view of a detective who is plagued with a series of murders by some extremely interesting criminals, a case which ends up taking him somewhere completely unexpected. I loved the various elements that he brought into this story – horror, weird, giallo, mystery – they are all combined and melded together in a really ingenious way.

I don’t want to say too much about these stories and give all the goodness away. I will say that there are also stories that pull in some science fiction, move more into the dusky recesses of the erotic, dip their toes into true-crime, and test the borders of a variety of different genres and worlds. In short, Giallo Fantastique is special, original, and impossible to put down. You’re going to want to curl up on a rainy evening with your glass of bourbon, turn the lights down low, throw something from Goblin on repeat, and just dive right in.

Nightfall: Solve the Mystery, Save Your Soul

Cover of NightfallI love it when I come across a great surprise. Stephen Leather’s Nightfall is one of those surprises. In the first book of his Nightingale series, Leather creates his own take on the traditional noir style detective story and introduces us to his protagonist, Jack Nightingale.

Nightingale is a former police negotiator who turned detective after losing a most unusual suicide jumper and being implicated- but not actually charged – in a subsequent unfortunate death connected with the incident. Things are going as well as can be expected until he finds out that everything he thought he knew about himself was wrong. In a few short days, Jack learns that he was adopted at birth, and his real father was a rich, crazy man obsessed with the occult who sold Jack’s soul to a devil. Oh, and payment will be due on his 33rd birthday – which is just three weeks away. As if that isn’t bad enough, as time runs short and he keeps looking for answers, people keep dying around him. What follows is a great detective story laced with murder, the occult, and some very interesting characters.

Jack Nightingale is a great hard-boiled type. A tortured soul who continues to question himself after the last, worst, experience in his former career. Leather uses this inner turmoil and self-doubt well throughout the book as Jack frequently encounters situations where he is informed that he is “going to hell” (other characters mutter it during conversations, he finds it written in blood on a mirror, etc.) – only to immediately be unable to determine if what he has just heard or seen is real. His sanity is continually in question by those around him, and by Jack, himself. His secretary, Jenny, is rich enough to not have to work and joins him in his sometimes dangerous and illegal exploits. Her character functions both as a support for him and a touchstone for the saner, more normal world. But, she never reveals exactly why she’s working for him. It could be that she’s secretly in love with him, but as she refuses to ever directly answer his question and the plot thickens, the reader begins to wonder about her motivation. A variety of other characters are encountered in the book from former colleagues and informants, to millionaire occult book collectors, to the demon that is behind the scenes, manipulating Jack’s fate.

In addition to liking the character and format, there are a lot of visual images that the book provides, which I found extremely well done. I really like the house he inherited – a crumbling, empty mansion, with a hidden basement containing some of the most rare occult books in the world. And, some of the conjuring sessions – with the ouija board and within the chalked out circle – were really good, too.

Overall, there is a nice combination of familiarity and novelty throughout the book as Leather takes a genre that seems familiar at first and works it into his own dark vision. I am looking forward to reading more in this series!