Sarah Palin is good for something after all. Her fearmongering over the health care mess coined a phrase that inadvertently gave Comet Press a terrific title for a crime-based anthology, in THE DEATH PANEL: MURDER, MAYHEM, AND MADNESS, edited by Cheryl Mullenax.
The loose theme yielded some tight writing. Thirteen stories are included, many from young upstarts rather than established vets, and this is a rare case where there's nary a dud among them. However, that assumes you have a strong stomach and a mind that's not easily offended. And if that sentence causes an eyebrow or two to twitch, are you in for a treat.
The fatal fun begins with Randy Chandler's "Lipstick Swastika," in which impotent hotel detective Trench investigates a fourth-floor guest of Twilight Towers: a buxom German woman who is rumored to be a N@zi war criminal. What happens when e'er the two shall meet was a wild, welcome surprise, setting the reader up for an expectation-shattering 200 pages to follow. As I read this first story, I thought Trench had franchise potential written all over him, and sure enough, the "About the Authors" section at the end confirms that Chandler beat me to the punch.
"The Neighbor" is next, and it's your first indication that the book doesn't flinch in the gore department. Brandon Ford tells the tale of two trailer park denizens, one of whom has a taste -- both physically and sexually -- for dead girls. Its gruesomeness is one-upped -- or three-upped, or whatever -- later with John Everson's "The Mouth," about a kink-seeking deviant who meets a mentally handicapped woman whose vagina is where her mouth is supposed to be, and vice versa. True love! The term "outrageous" doesn't even begin to cover this one.
After that punch to the gut, it's nice to have Simon Wood onboard with the playful "Parental Guidance," a jet-black comedy about a loving father who spills his secrets to a neighbor about making his son behave. It's too bad ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS isn't around anymore, because this clever number would be a shoo-in for an adaptation.
With sharp writing and a crisp design to match, the anthology makes a strong case for 2009's best. It's only Comet Press' third release, but already, the small-press label has distinguished itself as a reliable name brand. Pick it up, if you've got the balls. --Rod Lott -- Bookgasm, December 24, 2009