Edited by Thomas Pluck — Thomas Pluck writes hardboiled crime and has contributed to such anthologies as Shotgun Honey Presents: Both Barrels (Vol. 1), Off the Record – A Charity Anthology and Blood & Tacos #1, in addition to Spinetingler Magazine. He writes, in his words ‘unflinching fiction with heart’, so perhaps it’s no surprise that he headed up projects like The Lost Children and Protectors anthologies. All the proceeds go to PROTECT and the National Association to Protect Children and, in the words of contributor Andrew Vachss ‘the only holy war worthy of the name’, the protection of children.
Aside from Vachss, authors inside include Joe Lansdale, Tony Black, Steve Weddle, Dan O’Shea, George Pelecanos, Ken Bruen, Thomas Pluck himself, and many, many more. The sheer volume of talent here is staggering. Usually when I read an anthology I may put it down and pick it up multiple times, with other reading done in between, but with this one I kept wanting to read just one more.
The stories are varied, and a few didn’t quite work for me, but there’s something for just about all tastes, including stories by fantasy writers such as Charles de Lint. Not all the pieces involve children, but some do. However, most involve some form of victimisation and many feature characters who advocate for the victims any way they can, even if it involves the barrel of the gun or the business end of a baseball bat. Some are very straightforward, gritty little numbers and some read like poetry – in fact, there is poetry! While I recognised many of the names, it was the writers I hadn’t heard of that were most interesting because discovering a new author that blows me away and leaves me wanting more is the greatest pleasure of reading an anthology.
Last Orders by Tony Black features washed out investigator Gus Dury and his search for a missing pregnant girl. It’s gritty and quick – you won’t have time to blink. One of the darkest and most disturbing stories is The Kindness of Strangers by Ray Banks. A school portrait photographer strives to save the children that he deems most vulnerable and mistreated through the lens of his camera. This one managed – without any gore or violence whatsoever – to make me feel a little queasy after reading and has quite a twist to it.
Things I Know About Fairy Tales by Roxane Gray is an excellent tale of a woman’s kidnapping and ransom in Haiti and her determination not to let it break her. In a gator infested Louisiana bayou, a man called The Lawyer gets revenge on the man who watched his family die and did nothing to stop it, and when a Senator is garroted in a boarding house, US Deputy Marshall Cash Laramie is on the case in a story by Edward A Grainger.
Of course, fans of his popular Cash Laramie series will love that one, and it was a highlight for me. Master of the genre Joe R Lansdale takes us to the 1960s along the Sabine River with a story about the friendship between two boys – one of them a very young Hap Collins from his Hap Collins and Leonard Pine series – that begins to erode when poverty turns one boy into a pariah. An abused and ostracised child is driven to take the ultimate revenge and suffer a tragic fate. This one packs a punch, but then Lansdale’s work usually does.
Protectors is, ultimately, a wonderful collection. Like I said, there were a few misses, but my reading list has now become significantly longer with the addition of so much new-to-me talent. Crime fiction fans are not the only ones that will enjoy these stories. By turns chilling, tragic, and just downright entertaining, this collection will have you turning the pages into the wee hours of the morning.
Gumba Gumbo Press
CFL Rating: 5 Stars