Giallo Fantastique [Amazon|B&N|Copperfield’s] is a high-concept anthology from Word Horde that’s built on the premise that two great tastes are going to taste great together. The authors whose stories Ross Lockhart assembled for this volume took that idea in very different directions, resulting in an anthology that’s truly varied in type. Some are fantasias with nods in the direction of giallo, some are giallos with a hint of the fantastic, and some few strike a middle path that seems to incorporate both influences equally. Anthologies that play it too safe in terms of topical adherence usually end up mediocre, and this is one case where that happily didn’t occur. This book has delights and surprises throughout, which led this usually slow reader to finish the book in a couple days.
“The Red Church,” by Orrin Grey, is a story that I was predisposed to like, because it’s Orrin, but it turned out to be even better than I would have hoped. As with a number of his stories elsewhere, the narrative focuses around an artist, and in this case the journalist investigating him. The details of giallo are deftly woven into an uneasy narrative that partakes equally of the unknown and the unknowable. I’m now looking forward even more to his second short story collection, Painted Monsters.
Anya Martin‘s “Sensoria” is a piece that I had the pleasure of hearing in part in person at World Fantasy last year. Because I’m more visual than auditory, I took in the plot better this go-round (the imagery is intense), and it was an interesting story, built around an intriguing concept. On the “fantastique” end of things more than giallo, it builds through hallucinatory prose that would make it stand out in any company.
John Langan‘s “The Communion of Saints” is a very John Langan story. Rich in character development and atmosphere, playing with genre as it carefully builds terror, this is a master class in writing. None of that was a surprise, but as happens occasionally when you encounter something you expect to be good, it exceeds even your own high expectations of it. As Orrin has said, this story alone would have been worth the price of admission.
I’d only planned to talk about three pieces from this book, but I have to mention Ennis Drake‘s “We Can Only Become Monsters.” This story shouldn’t work, and I actually groaned aloud when the penny dropped and I understood what was going on. From footnotes in a story that doesn’t clearly replicate a footnote-bearing genre, to the excruciating closeness to the facts of Manson, Polanski, Tate, Gailey, etc., this story’s premise is a recipe for disaster. In a less capable author’s hands, it would have fallen apart, but it’s actually excellent—among the strongest in the book. I found myself carried along by the tale and its prose, to the extent that I’ll be on the lookout for more from this author in future.
Having seen almost zero gialli, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book, though Ross’ introduction nicely set the stage. As it turned out, Giallo Fantastique is a fine anthology that features stories taking the imagery and plots of the genre(s) and looking at them from new and strange directions. Everything in here fits together to make a pleasing whole, and I recommend it to those who love horror, but who are looking for something off the beaten path. If you want to know more about the authors in this volume, check out the associated interviews over at My Bookish Ways.