My heart leaps when I obtain a new anthology of terrifying tales, each long enough--but only long enough--to make me welcome sleep when finally it comes. And then, of course, I dream--fantastic stuff, ogres and ghosts and skeletons come dancing through my brain. Can any man ask more than that--or more, and to the point, than Shadows 8, edited by Charles L. Grant (Doubleday Science Fiction: $12.95)? What do you get in it? Oh, 17 excruciating tales, all new, by such as Bill Pronzini, Alan Ryan, Jack Dann, Quinn Yarbro and their horrifying ilk.
How better can you purge your brain of actual horrors such as Ethiopia, South Africa, Lebanon and--damn it, now I've really got the shakes again!
The fate of the West, including the United States, seems irretrievably linked to those oil-rich acres of hell on Earth--the Middle East. That's the basic concept of December Ultimatum by Michael Nicholson (Parkwest: $14.95). Add an exquisite lady terrorist, an abrasive U.S. President (not named), plus a foreign correspondent who desperately needs a scoop. So goes the planet Earth these days, insane as usual, and loaded with atomic stuff that could well blow it twice around the sun--but probably not back again.
You don't expect Tolstoy in these novels of suspense. Maybe a Dostoevski atmosphere--a bit demented and psychiatrically unhinged. And that, sort of, is what you'll get in Odessa Beach by Bob Leuci (Freundlich Books, distributed by Scribner's: $15.95). Russian charm and Russo-American criminality are combined in this--a fascinating yarn told vulgarly, yet compellingly. I'll rate it as among the most exciting that I've read this year.
For utter terror, diluted solely by your pity for its protagonist--the victim of a U.S. war-game maneuver that ended tragically--you might, if you've got guts enough to take it, try The Fifth Angel by David Wiltse (Macmillan: $14.95). Almost paralyzing in its detailed horrors, yet all too possible, it left me numbed, mumbling bitter curses at the fate of man--the hunter when he's not the hunted, the victim when he's not the victimizer. Ask not, again, for whom the bell is tolling, buddy-boy. It could damned well be you.
Mind if I rave a little over Family Business by Vincent Patrick (Poseiden: $16.95)? Reading these thrillers is your method of escaping boredom, right? In this, you don't just escape--you are ejected from it, wildly, like a pilot shot out of a falling and doomed plane. Manic, if not criminally insane, it makes you question whether human evolution from the ape was not nature's most calamitous mistake. Yes, there are laughs--for even apes do that, in their own quite peculiar way.
Did you ever run across a literary work that knocked you out? In this instance, it's Murder in Cowboy Bronze by Claire McCormick (Walker: $14.95), exotic, laughable at times, and constantly suspenseful. Imagine a thriller that hinges on finding a woman named Lily Nanygoats, which is essential for amateur sleuth John Walz. Is this supposed to be a mystery or a manic version of the way the West was won? Both, I suppose, but fun. And I mean ha-ha fun.
The last time I saw Hong Kong
Its streets were full of sin--
And if I'm ever there again
I know where I'll begin--
Any author who has been a journalist and a mortician--no wisecracks, please--has to be a little on the morbid side. Roadshow by William Marshall (Holt, Rinehart & Winston: $14.95), which unfolds in Hong Kong, combines expert police procedure with ludicrous insanities. That's understandable--giggle while you shudder to the boom-boom-boom of bombs. The clock's running out for the British there, and when they do go--ah, well.
Nice people in a nice neighborhood, like Bar Harbor in Maine, don't often go around bumping off their neighbors--possibly only in the mystery novels of B. J. Morrison. Now B. J.'s back with Beer and Skittles (Thorndike: $15.95)--and darn it, it's fun. I mean not really sordid--we all gotta go, I guess, so why not go in style, in a nice neighborhood, with a touch of class? It also gives the local gendarmes something interesting to do, takes their minds off how they're going to pay their income taxes and all that. And wouldn't you know, the author, B. J., was once a model for Bonwit Teller?