Written by Steve Rasnic Tem — Having been compared to great authors such as Franz Kafka, Ray Bradbury and Raymond Carver, Steve Rasnic Tem is a prize-winning writer mainly known for his short fiction. Working mostly in horror and dark fantasy, this is his first collection of crime short stories, and has been blurbed by such genre luminaries as Joe R Lansdale, Otto Penzler, and Vicki Hendricks. The book collects together 19 pieces, many of which have previously appeared elsewhere, as well as some new material.
Stones tells the story of a serial killer whose psychosis compels him to kill in order to connect with the earth. Then there’s Ugly Behavior itself, the darkly funny story of a transgressive punk rock singer – perhaps inspired by GG Allin – and what happens when a female fan takes his song ‘Ice pick in the head’ as inspiration.
In Saguaro Night, the disturbed Tommy follows his ex-girlfriend to her artist father’s desert home with the intention of robbery and murder, only to find his match in the reclusive painter. Vultures and coyotes, the sound of her father’s rifle in the middle of the night, and the appearance of a red man in his paintings – all these things hint at the reasons behind Tommy’s disappearance.
Cough is the dazzling story of how a man begins to remember the reasons behind his wife’s disappearance with each wretch, while Stench reveals how madness leads to murder. In the latter, Riley has a pathological fear of dirt and contamination, and begins to kill the homeless, hiding them in dumpsters around the city. As his insanity worsens, he himself stops bathing and is undone when the police arrive at his flat to investigate the stench.
In The Carving, a self-absorbed sculptor hacks off his hand because of the guilt he feels after his young son’s death. Meanwhile, You Dreamed It is the story of a child’s revenge against her abusive father.
These stories range from a single paragraph to more than 20 pages in length. What they have in common, it seems to me, is a kind of atmosphere, a feeling which they induce. They are not without humour, but all are disquieting. Sometimes it’s because of the subject matter; I get the feeling no topic is off limits for the author. But mostly it’s because so much happens off the page. Deaths, crimes, are often only hinted at, and nearly every story is open to interpretation. Rasnic Tem is a writer who embraces the power of a reader’s imagination, and has the skill and the nerve to leave so much unwritten.
It’s a long time since I’ve read a book like this – in fact I’m not sure I ever have. Ugly Behavior isn’t a book to be devoured in one sitting, but readers who work up the nerve for noir a little more opaque and creepy than they’re used to will be richly rewarded.
The best thing is, it’s free to download for Kindle right now – just click the Amazon link below the rating.
New Pulp Press
CFL Rating: 5 Stars