Mysteries & Mayhem. A very fitting title for such an ambitious little collection of short horror stories. Luckily, the book lives up to its name, and delivers on both the noir-ish feeling of some of the yarns, to the outright insanity and action that accompany the rest. Gagliani, as you well know, is a master wordsmith capable of bending words to his will. Benton, a newcomer to this reader, is obviously on par, holding his own and then some. The direction that these two take with these tales is not easily defined, as they jump from Dark and Sinister, to Erotic, over to a black-tinged humor, on to straight-up procedural, and then back again.
Gagliani and Benton are a writing team made in horror heaven.
This collection of six stories kicks things off with the delightfully erotic, yet equally dangerous Mood Elevator – a story that will excite even the more seasoned erotica readers in all the right ways, yet still provide enough thrills to keep one on the edge of their seat. In this story, Manhattanites learn the dangers of the “Mood Elevator” in their new building – an elevator that literally enhances the moods of those who ride it.
The premise is promising, and the delivery is completely solid. Every little description laid out here seems to be designed to entice the reader into a heightened state of arousal, causing not only one’s cheeks to flush with an overpowering sense of lust, but also from the sheer audacity of the authors and their willingness to take the story to “another level”.
Chicken Dance follows up with a more tongue in cheek play on the police procedural, placing a larger emphasis on comic relief than scares. The story focuses on two clueless detectives who face a comic’s revenge from beyond the grave – taking every opportunity to amp up the quick one liners, but still forcing a gruesome moment out here and there.
The characters are all played against each other wonderfully in this story. The tell-tale seriousness of the detectives in present, as is in most police procedural novels, but is tempered with quick one-liners, background stories about the offending (and deceased) comic, and a truly original murder weapon. One can only imagine Benton and Gagliani having a lot of fun with this one. Any reader that picks this one up will, as well.
The pace slows down for All The Gifts Of Life, but doesn’t grind to a halt. Instead, this story takes the collection back down a more erotic themed path, and amps up the blood and the guts a little bit more. The story is basically this: a hospital’s night janitor receives “All the Gifts of Life” (but at what price?)
While the above question is somewhat downplayed for the sake of brevity, it’s the story’s graphic description of sex and violence that set this apart from the others. Unlike Mood Elevator, All the Gifts of Life isn’t so much intentionally an erotic tale, but instead does so unwittingly. The idea of a naughty nun taking advantage f a young man is just too much to let go. I loved it. And the descriptions found within the climax are absolutely astounding. Benton and Gagliani have messed around with mother nature in this story, and the result is terrifying and, at some points, disgusting. A great story to head into the middle of the collection.
At The Back Of The Blue Bus is, by far, the most violent story in this collection. A killer plays a grisly game on an overnight Greyhound bus ride, and basically leaves nothing in his wake. The authors really push the limits with this one, showing of their lyrical ability to play with some more gruesome subject matter.
The main character in this story is absolutely reprehensible, and has absolutely no redeeming qualities at all. This story itself, is just mean and nasty. The strange thing about it, though, is that Benton and Gagliani write so damned well together that you can’t help but be rooting for the killer, in the end. This is the type of story that makes the reader want to shower after finishing. It’s fast paced, adrenaline fueled, blood soaked, and just pain incredible.
The authors take a slight detour into Benton’s territory for A Solid Time Of Change, a story that deals primarily with music as the main subject matter. Benton has a history in music, and brings his expertise into heavy play with this piece. The poetic stylings of the story are absolutely brilliant, making it damn near impossible not to try to figure out the tunes roaming around within each page.
Deeply philosophical, A Solid Time Of Change deals with an underlying current of music therapy, love, loss, and paranormal activity within the psyche of a tortured soul. This is one of the slower stories in the collection, but doesn’t weigh anything down. Think about the thrash and kill riffs of Metallica’s Master of Puppets album, for instance. The listener is slammed by 6 expertly crafted metal songs at breakneck speeds, only to find themselves lost in the instrumental stylings of Orion, right before being thrown back into the circle pit for more. his story is Benton and Gagliani’s Orion.
MoonShadow ends of the collection in more familiar territory for Gagliani fans. This story has a certain bite to it that just grabs ahold of the reader, and refuses to let go. Part Police Procdural, part noir/supernatural suspense/action/thriller; this the story that proves that Benton and Gagliani are on top of their game. A cop investigate mysterious killings arising from a bizarre smuggling operation, resulting in some startling finds, and beautifully timed and choreographed action sequences.
The main character of the story reminded me a lot of Gagliani’s Character – Brant – from Savage Nights. This was a welcome sight, as I completely love that tough-as-nails go get ‘e, cop in books. This story jumps right in on the action, and refuses to let up right through to the end. Gagliani sets the stage in his literary home turf, and any of his recurring readers will know exactly what that means. Yes folks, the fur flies all over the place.
Brilliantly relentless, sometimes nasty, and completely worth it, Mysteries & Mayhem is not only a highly recommended by from Dreadful Tales, but also a must have for anyone needing a W.D. Gagliani fix at a low price.
Bonus Material in this collection includes Icewall by WD. Gagliani, Corrupting the Monkeys by David Benton, and After The Fifth Step by John Everson – all of which are stunning in their own right, and a wonderful addition to an already stellar collection of shorts. To see an Everson story in this collection was a great surprise and, as he’s one of my favorite authors, completely welcomed.