All Things Dark & Dastardly
Mary Ann Loesch, Kaye George & Steven Metze
Dragonfire Press (2011)
Short Stories / Urban Fantasy / Horror
I find short story collections difficult to review, especially when it’s a collection of many different authors’ works. All Things Dark & Dastardly is an anthology of horror, mystery and urban fantasy tales by three local Austin authors, including Mary Ann Loesch, whose Nephilim I reviewed in October. The collection lives up to its subtitle, though it could have also included that these are just generally stories of weird.
These are definitely short stories. Despite including 13 stories, it’s a mere 155 pages long. All the stories, even the ones that didn’t appeal to me, flew by. It was a very quick read and, for the most part, enjoyable. If you like weird little horror and mystery stories, All Things Dark & Dastardly is an interesting collection that spans many different subjects and shows off the distinct voices of the three authors.
Stories by Mary Ann Loesch
I don’t know if it’s because I was already familiar with her writing style, but I found that I enjoyed Loesch’s stories the most. Two of them, “Feed Your Soul” and “The Little Monkey That Shushed”, are set in the same world as Nephilim, telling the tales of two of Nathan Ink’s tattoo customers. The idea of tattoos that personify your greatest sins in an attempt to get you to stop really interests me. And it’s always nice to read of bad people getting their comeuppance.
Her other stories in the collection, “The Dragon’s Teeth”, “Finger in My Soup” and “Bayou Scars”, are all stand alones. “The Dragon’s Teeth” takes place both in the past and the current with the current timeline told from the point of view of an autistic boy wishing revenge on his bully. “Finger in My Soup” is only three pages long and one of the tales that fits primarily in the “weird” category. As the title suggests, it involves body parts in food, which always gives me the heebie jeebies.
“Bayou Scars” feels very much like the start of another novel series. In it, a police officer, a descendent of the infamous voodoo priestess Marie Laveau, uses her special gifts to fight a possessed woman holding children hostage and the spirit that could possibly come to kill them all. It has a very atmospheric vibe to it, feeling securely placed in the Louisiana bayou.
Stores by Kaye George
I think George’s stories were the ones that made the least impression on me for the most part. “Color Me Baby Blue” involves a sad sack getting revenge after his advice isn’t taken and he’s right for once. Even though the story wasn’t really sitting with me right – I have no real interest in fashion and the use of all the color names seemed a little too cutesy for me – when the protagonist confessed to his crimes in a lackadaisical manner, the story lost me. I can’t deal with stupid protagonists and nothing this character did made a lot of sense.
I do have to give her recognition for writing a story, “You Can Do the Math”, completely in the second person without it ever really feeling gimmicky. It’s a revenge story, a theme that pops up in most of George’s stories, this time regarding an unhappy marriage. “Balls” is no different – it’s a much longer version of the abusive relationship revenge story. Too long, I found. Explanations of the husband’s evil deeds seemed to carry on for much longer than they actually did before we reached the short payoff.
“West Texas Waitin’” is a previously published story told in a thick southern accent about a poor pregnant girl and her attempt to rope the baby’s father into marriage (he did promise after all). I’m starting to see a pattern – most of George’s stories involved revenge in the middle of unhappy relationships, whether romantic or familial. It’s not exactly a very exciting subject for me, so it makes sense that I was mostly blah on her stories.
“Retransformation”, however, is about werewolves and dead people and mysteries. A former werewolf, who now works for the organization that transformed her back into a human, is trying to track down a werewolf who has been leaving dead bodies in the wake of a children’s author who happens to write cute stories about... yep, werewolves. This felt like a small piece that could turn into a larger work. It was fun, mysterious and twisty without all the baggage carried in the other stories.
Stories by Steven Metze
When I said they should have included “weird” in the subtitle, it was in reference to the stories of Steven Metze. He is strange. It starts with a story called “Aliens v. Fat Bastard”, where a game of football between giant murderous aliens and mere humans will define the fate of planet Earth. It’s a bizarre story involving lots of bloodshed and the redemption of a hopeless man. It’s incredibly bizarre, but in a fun way that involves murderous aliens. Metze creates a world and an atmosphere in a very short time, which I found impressive.
“Brad and Lisa” left me wanting more. It felt incomplete, though I can understand that was probably what Metze was going for. It’s a very vague story about a girl who meets a boy on the bus. Anything more would be a spoiler as it’s only four pages long. Then there’s “Swamp Baby”, based on a story he wrote at the age of 12 (the original is included at the very end of the collection). It has a very Lovecraftian vibe, involving monsters and creepy old ladies that live in the middle of swampy forests. It’s one of the longer stories, so it’s a little slow moving, but it feels like one of those creepy stories people would tell around a camp fire.
I received a copy of this anthology from one of the authors in return for an honest review. Since they’re local, I hope they don’t feel inclined to hunt me down after reading my review.