Crucified Dreams by Joe R. Lansdale, Editior; Tachyon Press; 2011; 384 pgs; $$15.95 US

Every anthology worth its salt these days has a gimmick, yet many editors overlook what makes the book sing: the stories.

It’s not the names between the pages; nor is it the theme he or she chooses.  Too many falter due to following the latest trends without including the meat and lifeblood of the stories themselves. Other than the requisite “Best Of”s, such as by Ellen Datlow and Paula Guran, a reader has to search long and hard to spend a quality buck.

One thing Joe Lansdale knows is how to tell a story. Here, he recognizes 18 other writers who get it right.

Crucified Dreams aims to be an anthology of Urban Horror. While it misses somewhat on the horror sometimes, or the urban once in a while, it doesn’t short the reader on good stories.  For that, I doubt anyone will care about the “theme.”

With a knife to the senses, Harlan Ellison starts the fire in “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs.” Those old enough will recall the gruesome tale of human inaction when Kitty Genovese was butchered while many in her apartment building simply watched from their windows with no one bothering to call the police or lend a hand.  Ellison presents a karmic ending to that sour bit of American history which will hit hard for those who wonder how they would really treat a stranger in peril.

The tone lightens a bit with the next two highlights. Norman Partridge delivers “The Mojave Two Step” which is very much akin to a Lansdale-type tale in its tongue in cheek horror and desert setting. A pair of wacky gamblers aim to make a fortune in a near future where global warming came true.  Their solution? Steal an ice cream truck and realize that its contents could be worth as much as gold to those with cash.  Of course, the nemesis of any gambler, Lady Luck, steps in to defy their plans in a manner that will leave many shaking their heads. Urban? Nope, but it’s a damn good story.  David Morrell lends his talents next with “The Front Man,” a story of Hollywood and how youth can kill, both literally and figuratively.  A screenwriter finds himself too old for the hip networks and finds himself a protégé who can stand in for him (sounds like a popular suspense novelist we all know).  Of course, Morrell takes the reader on a fun ride through some twists.  The man doesn’t seem capable of writing a boring story.

Getting back to the nastiness are Charlie Huston and Michael Shea’s entries. Both do fit the theme – and well. Huston’s “Interrogation B” is brutal in its simplicity and tone.  “Copping Squid” is, yes, of course, about Cthulhu in the most urban setting that started to seem like a cliché but takes a decidedly interesting turn.

The most interesting tale in the collection is by Octavia Butler.  Her “The Evening and the Morning and the Night” tackles a new disease, one based on reality but how society as a whole would treat it if it became endemic. Her treatment of the main characters as they wrestle with their fate is both touching and frightening. Of course,  the Stephen King entry must be discussed but since this is a reprint only anthology, there’s nothing new.  “Quitters, Inc.” is one most fans are familiar with, especially those who have seen “Cat’s Eye.” A lesser known story would have worked better here. Finally, Tom Piccirilli closes out the collection.  Enough said.  The man’s name is synonymous with quality writing.

All in all, an anthology worth buying in a time where that’s pretty rare. Recommended.

Mar 21, 2011

**Please note. You may not reproduce any reviews in whole or in part without the express permission of Horror World and the respective author. Please contact the webmaster with any requests. Thank you.**