Review: Supernatural Noir edited by Ellen Datlow

Supernatural Noir
Edited by Ellen Datlow

Dark Horse
336 pages
Short Stories / Supernatural / Mystery / Horror

Buy it from Amazon here

Upon seeing this new title on the iPad, Fernando immediately thought it was short stories involving the world of Supernatural, the television show, and laughed at me.  I don’t think a series of noir short stories set in the Supernatural universe would be something to laugh at.  I think it would probably be pretty cool, depending on the writers involved.  Instead, Supernatural Noir is a short story anthology comprised of 16 stories written by different authors, none of whom I’m familiar with, set in different worlds at different times in different places.  As with all short story anthologies, this of course means that the book as a whole is pretty hit or miss.  There are the stories I really enjoyed, there are the stories that gave me nightmares because I was stupid enough to read them right before bed, and then there were the ones that either bored me to tears or made me uncomfortable.

All the stories had elements of classic noir, whether it was the weathered detective, the hot broad that never signals good things ahead, or just the hopeless feeling that comes within a dark world.  A lot of the stories involved mobsters or criminals or prostitutes.  Sex, both hetero- and homosexual (though only of the female persuasion), was a key element in most of the stories to the point of causing me discomfort as a reader in certain instances (but that’s because I’m a prude and don’t like erotica, others might like it better).  Overall I would say it's a decent anthology, but I'm not exactly its target audience.

The Good

Dreamer of the Day by Nick Mamatas

The Absent Eye by Brian Evenson

The Last Triangle by Jeffrey Ford

Mortal Bait by Richard Bowes (which was probably my favorite of the entire book)

The Blisters on My Heart by Nate Southard

The Getaway by Paul G. Tremblay

The Dingus by Gregory Frost

There isn’t really any one thing or even handful of things that tie these stories together.  Something about the story drew me in, whether it was the mythology of the magic in “The Last Triangle” or the creepy ghosties of “The Absent Eye”.  The stories were well-contained, not suffering from too much detail that derailed the plot.  My favorite by far was “Mortal Bait”, a story involving the classic noir detective working on a case… and faeries.  And not just your ordinary every day Tinkerbell faeries either.  Warrior faeries caught up in a war with evil elves.  The plot alone would have hooked me, but Bowes also writes a compelling, if a little clichéd, main character, who is sympathetic without coming across as a complete loser.

Then there was the short and sweet trippiness of “Dreamer of the Day”, involving a potential assassination and a really weird old guy who may or may not be able to predict the future.  “The Getaway” was a modern day parable about why you should not commit crimes with realistic guys that had what I would imagine would be realistic reactions to crazy shit happening to you.

A lot of these stories had compelling plots that would make them really good ghost stories, such as “The Dingus” and “The Absent Eye”.  “The Blisters on My Heart” is probably the only story in the collection involving prostitutes that I liked and that’s because the characters were made sympathetic - the prostitute in question was one of those classic “hooker with the heart of gold” tropes.  It probably helped that a number of elements of the story felt like they were lifted straight from Supernatural, if it were an HBO series.

The Creepy

But for Scars by Tom Piccirilli

The Romance by Elizabeth Bear

Ditch Witch by Lucius Shepard

Comfortable in Her Skin by Lee Thomas

For the most part, being creepy is a good thing.  It teaches me not to read horror stories right before bed or I will have nightmares regarding creepy gnome statues that attempt to kill you when your back is turned.  Despite that, I think “Ditch Witch” was my second favorite story.  Statues are creepy.  Garden gnomes are even creepier.

“The Romance” had a similar supernatural element, though in this one it was a carousel that came to life and the ghosts tied to its tragic past.  I don’t think I’ll be attending any carnivals anytime soon.  And then there’s “Comfortable in Her Skin”.  It sorta sits on the line dividing “Creepy” from “Disturbing”.  We get more mobsters and another woman sleeping around for money, but this time we also get creepy witch craft and an ending that still makes me shudder to think about.

Of these four though, “But for Scars” is creepy in a more realistic way, involving a suicidal teenage girl whose parents were brutally murder and two men who want to help her but don’t know how.  Yes, there is a supernatural element, as there are with all these stories, but the pain the author is able to exhibit in a handful of pages is outstanding.  And devastating.


The Boring/Uncomfortable

In Paris, In the Mouth of Kronos by John Langan

The Maltese Unicorn by Caitl N R. Kiernan

The Carrion Gods in Their Heaven by Laird Barron

Little Shit by Melanie Tem

Dead Sister by Joe R. Lansdale

For the most part, these stories made me uncomfortable due to the graphic and/or plentiful sexual content.  Other readers that have a higher tolerance to explicit and often times morbidly weird sex acts would probably have a much different opinion.  For example, “Little Shit” revolves around a college girl who can easily pass herself off as a young child to help cops catch predators, but there’s something incredibly off about her too.  And then there’s “The Maltese Unicorn” that partly involves demonic whorehouses.

“In Paris, In the Mouth of Kronos”, “The Carrion Gods in Their Heaven”, and “Dead Sister” just bored me.  The former story seemed way too long, lingering on the doubts and fears of one of the main protagonists.  At first it helped set the character’s paranoia and doubts for the task at hand, but after page ten, I got it already, let’s move along.  It probably wasn’t helped by being the last story in an anthology that had far more eventful tales.  “The Carrion Gods…” and “Dead Sister” were just predictable from nearly the beginning and never surprised me or made me feel as though something interesting was actually going on. 


Overall I can see the value in most of these stories whether I enjoyed them or not.  At times stories blended together because a number of elements – mobs, detectives, drug addicts, loose women, social workers? – were used in multiple stories without any real distinction.  I think for a different reader this could be seen as a very strong anthology, but for the most part, it just wasn’t the dark sort of supernatural world I like to spend copious amounts of time in with a couple of exceptions. 

For Mortal Bait, Ditch Witch, The Last Triangle and The Absent Eye:



For the collection as a whole:



A dark and creepy collection with a lot of sex, drugs, and mobsters; not for the faint of heart or readers turned off by erotica; don’t read before bed if you get nightmares easily


Book provided by publisher for review via Netgalley