This is a physically impressive looking book, bordering on the downright imposing. Measuring just a tad over seven inches by nine inches and over an inch and a half think, not to mention probably weighing close to, if not over, two pounds, it’s a big honking book, folks. Like close to Yellow Pages phone book big. So if you believe in getting the most bang for your buck (and who doesn’t) then you’ll be hard pressed to find a more banging book than this new collection of psycho stories. At over 600 oversized pages, Psychos has a whole lot to offer, but is what it offers any good?
Well Psychos is like the other recent books in this series edited by John Skipp, which means it is part classic reprint anthology and part new fiction from some of today’s most talented terror tale tellers. It also means that at times it can be a mixed bag, but what collection isn’t? Yes there are a few stories here that just didn’t work for me but I’m not going to call them out for it. While I didn’t care for them, I didn’t think any of them were truly bad and I’m sure others may like them. However this book does do something that is always a personal irritation to me; it has an excerpt from Robert Harris’ novel, Red Dragon. Don’t get me wrong, I love Red Dragon, but I always hate it when short story collections include novel excerpts. It feels like padding to me, or a cheat, or worse; a sad attempt to boost the cred of the book with a marketable name, which looks to be the case here. After all, including this one small part of a 30+ year old novel allowed the publisher to put Thomas Harris’s name on the cover as part of the who’s who contributor list.
That personal bugaboo of mine aside, there are plenty of stories, both old and new, worthy of praise to be found here. From classics like “Hop-Frog” from Edgar Allan Poe to modern authors who are just starting to break out and I can’t get enough of, like Mercedes M. Yardley and her stunning story, “Murder for Beginners.” Cody Goodfellow once again continues to expand his ‘he has yet to disappoint me’ streak with “Life Coach” and one of my favorites from an undeniable master of the written word is reprinted here with what is probably the most unique psycho in the book, “The Small Assassin” by Ray Bradbury. Naturally in a book called Psychos, Robert Bloch has to be lurking in the shadows somewhere. Surprisingly it’s not the story I would have picked, nor even the most obvious choice, but the lesser known gem, “Lucy Comes to Stay.” Jack Ketchum, who has made his bones writing about incredibly icky human monsters, delivers the goods once again with “The Exit at Toledo Blade Boulevard” and the always awesome Joe R. Lansdale is well represented with a story of savage survival in “Incident on and Off a Mountain Road.” When I read the title of Christopher Coake’s “All Through the House” I immediately thought of the wonderful Tales from the Crypt story about the crazed killer in the Santa outfit that was so good that it was not only in the 1972 Tales from the Crypt movie, but it was one of the first four episodes for the seminal HBO horror series of the same name. So naturally when I stated Coake’s tale and quickly discovered it had nothing to do with that other story, I was a bit disappointment. That disappointment quickly turned to appreciation as Coake’s story of survival and guilt unfolded. Adam-Troy Castro gives us a tale of tragic twins with “The Shallow End of the Pool” that I thought was wonderful and Neil Gaiman once again shows why he gets top billing on the book’s cover with his, “Feminine Endings.” There are other great stories to be found here, but to list them all would make for one hell of a long review. I hope this selection here shows the range of stories that can be found in Psychos and just how broad a theme of crazy people can be.
Each story here comes with an introduction by Mr. Skipp on why he selected it for his book. John also pens an entertaining and informative intro and afterward. Skipp’s buddy and often writing partner, Cody Goodfellow pulls double duty here and provides an appendix called “A Devil in my View: Psychos in Popular Culture” that I found as enjoyable a read as Mr. Goodfellow’s short fiction piece I’ve already praised in this review. Now that’s saying something. Finally a bit of real life horror is presented at the end of the book with the reprint of a notorious letter from real life man-monster, Albert Fish.
Psychos is a top notch collection for fans of deranged and deadly deviants. Not every story is a sure fire winner but the vast majority of them are, which makes it easy for me to highly recommend this gigantic book to any and all horrorheads. Consider this one a must have.
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