Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Book Review: That Hoodoo, Voodoo That You Do: A Dark Rituals Anthology by Lincoln Crisler

About the editor:
Lincoln Crisler's body of work consists of over thirty short stories, two novellas and editorship of two anthologies, most recently Corrupts Absolutely?, an anthology of dark superhero fiction. His work has appeared in a variety of print and online publications, to include HUB Magazine, Shroud Publishing's Abominations anthology and IDW's Robots vs. Zombies anthology. His debut novel, first novel-length short story collection and third anthology as editor are all scheduled for publication in 2014. He is a member of the Horror Writers Association.

A United States Army combat veteran and non-commissioned officer, Lincoln lives in Augusta, Georgia with his wife and two of his three children. He enjoys music, cooking, web design and comic books. Lincoln and his wife own a virtual assistant business, Crisler Professional Services.

My rating:
Very good (8/10)

My review:

That Hoodoo, Voodoo That You Do is a horror anthology edited by author Lincoln Crisler and published by Ragnarok Publications’ new Angelic Knight Press Imprint. Its central theme is the concept of ritualism in the occult. It features twenty-two tales of supernatural horror and dark fantasy, with varying degrees of violence, blood and gore.

Rituals have always been a powerful part of human life, from the ancient Aztec nation’s human sacrifices to the simple act of brushing one’s teeth in the morning. They can impart a sense of history, comfort, community, stability and at other times, power, mystery and horror. Some are grounded in centuries of tradition or superstition, while others are unique, individual creations.

In this collection, the reader is treated to a variety of rituals - from the ancient and ceremonial to the simple and homegrown. Some have real power, while others simply exist in the convoluted recesses of someone’s mind. Some produce the desired effect, while others have an entirely different result. What binds them all together is the sense of dread, mystery and wonder that, inevitably, is part of any good ritual.

That Hoodoo, Voodoo That You Do opens with “Sa fè lontan / Long Time, No See” by Sarah Hans, which is one of my favourite stories in the collection. It’s a beautifully written and atmospheric tale of possession and sacrifice that would appeal to any fan of Voodoo-themed horror. The main protagonist, Erzulie Tio, is memorable and well-developed, kind of bringing to mind Angela Bassett’s brilliant performance as Marie Laveau on American Horror Story’s Coven season. Which, in my book, makes this story even more awesome than it already is. All in all, a solid and perfectly chosen opener for this collection of blood-chillers.

“Sa fè lontan / Long Time, No See” is followed by two stories that drastically differ from it in tone and theme. “Young Girls Are Coming to Ajo” by Ken Goldman and “Into the Mirror Black” by Tim Marquitz are what I usually refer to as blue-collar horror. Howard, Ken Goldman’s anti-hero, is a man looking for some cheap fun and excitement, while Tyson, Tim Marquitz’s resident psycho, is anything but someone you’d like to meet in a dark alley. Both stories feature strong language and some pretty graphic violence, which is definitely not for the faint-hearted.

I must confess that I have mixed feelings for these two. I must also point out that I'm not a fan of either Stephen King or Clive Barker, and I seldom read contemporary horror. With a few exceptions, I usually limit my horror fiction intake to H. P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith and Ann Radcliffe. Thus I don’t think I'm the target audience of either of the aforementioned tales.

That said, I have nothing but superlatives about the writing, atmosphere and characterisation. Tim Marquitz is a master of his craft and does a fantastic job of leading his readers deep into the sick and twisted mind of a psychopath. Ken Goldman’s “Young Girls Are Coming to Ajo” has one of my favourite endings in the whole anthology. If you've read Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected, you’ll know what I mean.

The next story in That Hoodoo, Voodoo That You Do, “Severed” by Brandon Ford, is a somewhat shorter but entertaining tale with a twist… And that’s as much as I dare say. You’ll have to read it for yourselves to find out more.

“Afflicted” by A.J. Brown is one of the highlights of the anthology and a definite favourite of mine. It introduces us to Pryor Lee – a man whose spirit has been broken after a car accident left him crippled. Everything changes, however, when he meets a mysterious elderly man in the hospital and grudgingly accepts a piece of paper from him. What’s written on the paper? A name and an address. And a promise of a miraculous cure…

A.J. Brown’s “Afflicted” is a story that has just enough of everything – a reluctant hero, some humorous and some genuinely scary moments, a sense of foreboding, haunting writing and memorable dialogue. One killer of an ending. I read it twice and will definitely do again in the near future.

“A Little Bit of Soul” by Craig Cook is another highlight for me. If I had to describe it in a sentence, I’d ask you to imagine the bastard child of Laurell K. Hamilton’s “The Laughing Corpse” (sans the vampires) and George du Maurier’s “Trilby”, but if written by Anne Rice and Neil Gaiman. What I'm trying to say here? It’s one hell of a good story and Craig Cook has done an amazing job.

All I’ll say about the next tale in That Hoodoo, Voodoo That You Do, “Coughs and Sneezes” by James K. Isaac, is that it’s my favourite. I loved every word in it. Everything from the atmosphere, through the plot, to the main protagonist, Ro Wine, is just perfect. In fact, Ro Wine is such a good character that after finishing the story I went online in hope of finding two-three novels chronicling his further adventures. No luck there, but I'm hopeful James K. Isaac may write another Ro story in the future. I, for one, would love to read it.

“Secret Suicide” by Amy Braun will definitely appeal to Anime fans, as well as to lovers of Japanese and Japanese-themed horror and fantasy. As one such fan, I’ll just say that after reading the story I got the sudden urge to re-watch one or two of my favourite Animes. A delightful gem of a tale.

“Wounds” by Greg Chapman is the story of Robert Fraser – a former FBI agent who gets called back to the Bureau to help solve a string of murders that bare an uncanny resemblance to his most notorious case. This is a dark, grim and gritty procedural-horror tale that kind of reads like a mixture of Dexter, Supernatural and John Connolly’s excellent Charlie Parker novels. Greg Chapman does a remarkable job of weaving a lot of history and plot into just a few pages. The down side? By the end of the story, you’re left wanting more. What happens next? was the first thing to pop up in my head after reading it, so consider yourselves warned. This one will haunt you…

“Sturm und Drang” by Jeff C. Carter and “Shades of Hades” by E.J. Alexander are as different as two stories could possibly be. “Sturm und Drang” is an excellent piece of historical horror fiction, where as “Shades of Hades” is a contemporary piece set in an asylum. I thought it was brilliant to have them one after the other as it made the contrast even more striking. Funnily enough, my only complaint regarding these two is that I felt the former could have been a little longer, while the latter – a tad shorter. 

“For Love” by DJ Tyrer. Lovecraftian horror. Highly recommended for fans of Brian Lumley’s Cthulhu Mythos stories (which I am). Old tombs, family secrets, dark rituals and grimoires. A delightfully creepy tale. I loved it. Enough said.

Next up, “Gingerbread Man” by Rose Strickman. My second most favourite story in the anthology after “Coughs and Sneezes” by James K. Isaac. From the very first sentence to the last one, “Gingerbread Man” will hold you enthralled. The characters feel real and alive, the story flows gracefully but purposefully, and the ritual in question is both surprising and mesmeric. In four words, Rose Strickman is awesome. And so is the chant that runs throughout the story and that I still can’t get out of my head: Run, run, run, as fast as you can. I’m gonna catch you, Gingerbread Man.

“Thy Just Punishments” by Edward M. Erdelac features one of the coolest rituals in That Hoodoo, Voodoo That You Do. It also has a great anti-hero in the face of Father Tim O’Herlihey who somehow managed to both win me over and make me want to punch him. Good stuff. The author brilliantly captures small town life and atmosphere, and all the colourful personae you’d find in a church service. The good, the bad and the ugly, so to speak.

“Johnny Two Places” by Mark Mellon is a Voodoo-themed gangster story set in the 1940’s. The title character, Johnny, is charming in an Italian mobster kind of way, which is a compliment since I am not, and have never been, a fan of gangster movies and novels. Mark Mellon has done a great job of capturing the mood and atmosphere of the period. Admittedly, the climax felt a little rushed to me, but that alone wasn't enough to spoil my enjoyment of the story.

“The Seed” by N.X. Sharps is another favourite of mine. It’s a very atmospheric tale, fast-paced and gritty, with a lot of heart and a couple of genuinely funny moments, if you like Mark Lawrence’s dark humour. It also features my favourite villain in the anthology. I don’t know, maybe I'm a bit old-fashioned, but I like my bad guys classy, sarcastic, and somewhat academic. Like half of my university professors… But never mind that. If you read carefully, you’ll notice there are subtle elements of world-building detectable throughout the story, which add to the general feel and atmosphere. Bottom line, a great piece of fiction for fans of Urban Fantasy.

“Late Payment” by Jake Elliot and I got off to a rocky start. Despite the engaging writing and the author’s subtle sense of humour, I simply didn't care about any of the main characters. Until Lucifer showed up. Now, him I loved. Every sentence, every gesture, every sharp comment, he was just perfect. Once Lucifer was on the stage, figuratively speaking, I was completely captivated by the story. And that last scene. Those last lines. My hat’s off to Jake Elliot. I was not a fan of “Late Payment” initially, but loved it in the end.

The next two stories in That Hoodoo, Voodoo That You Do, “Masquerade” by C.A. Rowland and “Lessons from a Victory Garden” by Jason Andrew, despite being very different, had the same flaw for me. They both felt a tad anticlimactic, i.e. I figured out the respective endings relatively early on and turned out right. Now, don’t misunderstand me, this doesn't mean I didn't enjoy reading either of these tales. Au contraire. I loved the atmosphere and authenticity of “Masquerade”, and actually ended up re-reading “Lessons from a Victory Garden”, just so I can savour the details. (I’d love to elaborate, but it would be a major spoiler, so…)

“The Projectionist” by Timothy Baker and “The Right Hand Man” by J.S. Reinhardt both weren't my cup of tea. Again, it has nothing to do with the quality of the writing (excellent), the atmosphere (appropriately creepy and disturbing), or even the plot or characters. The stories simply didn't appeal to me as a reader, the same way “The Shining” by Stephen King doesn't. I have no doubt, though, that these tales will be many others’ favourites. They are, objectively speaking, really good. Alas, subjectively, I'm more of a “Gingerbread Man” kind of guy.

The final story in That Hoodoo, Voodoo That You Do, “Paper Craft” by Leigh Saunders, was another favourite of mine and a perfect way to round up the anthology. I loved the way the story was structured, alternating between the past and present, and thought the ritualistic element was fascinating. I also couldn't help but instantly like the main heroine, Tracy. She’s not a witch, or a sorceress, or a Voodoo Queen. No, she’s a woman using her extraordinary gift to help those around her. The final image of the story was beautiful and magnificently described, and will no doubt stay with you for a long, long time…

In conclusion, That Hoodoo, Voodoo That You Do is a great dark rituals anthology. Editor Lincoln Crisler has compiled a diverse collection of stories that would appeal to readers of speculative fiction, in general, and dark fantasy and supernatural horror enthusiasts, in particular. There are no bad tales here and the rituals on offer are just as diverse as the twenty-two stories themselves. The one thing they all have in common? None are forgettable, and that says it all. 

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