Sarah Palin is good for something after all. Her fearmongering over the health care mess coined a phrase that inadvertently gave Comet Press a terrific title for a crime-based anthology, in THE DEATH PANEL: MURDER, MAYHEM, AND MADNESS, edited by Cheryl Mullenax.
The loose theme yielded some tight writing. Thirteen stories are included, many from young upstarts rather than established vets, and this is a rare case where there's nary a dud among them. However, that assumes you have a strong stomach and a mind that's not easily offended. And if that sentence causes an eyebrow or two to twitch, are you in for a treat.
The fatal fun begins with Randy Chandler's "Lipstick Swastika," in which impotent hotel detective Trench investigates a fourth-floor guest of Twilight Towers: a buxom German woman who is rumored to be a N@zi war criminal. What happens when e'er the two shall meet was a wild, welcome surprise, setting the reader up for an expectation-shattering 200 pages to follow. As I read this first story, I thought Trench had franchise potential written all over him, and sure enough, the "About the Authors" section at the end confirms that Chandler beat me to the punch.
"The Neighbor" is next, and it's your first indication that the book doesn't flinch in the gore department. Brandon Ford tells the tale of two trailer park denizens, one of whom has a taste -- both physically and sexually -- for dead girls. Its gruesomeness is one-upped -- or three-upped, or whatever -- later with John Everson's "The Mouth," about a kink-seeking deviant who meets a mentally handicapped woman whose vagina is where her mouth is supposed to be, and vice versa. True love! The term "outrageous" doesn't even begin to cover this one.
After that punch to the gut, it's nice to have Simon Wood onboard with the playful "Parental Guidance," a jet-black comedy about a loving father who spills his secrets to a neighbor about making his son behave. It's too bad ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS isn't around anymore, because this clever number would be a shoo-in for an adaptation.
With sharp writing and a crisp design to match, the anthology makes a strong case for 2009's best. It's only Comet Press' third release, but already, the small-press label has distinguished itself as a reliable name brand. Pick it up, if you've got the balls. --Rod Lott
--Bookgasm, December 24, 2009
Comet Press follows up its fantastic short story collection Vile Things: Extreme Deviations of Horror (review) with The Death Panel: Murder, Mayhem and Madness. Like Vile Things, The Death Panel is edited by Cheryl Mullenax and she definitely knows how to pick `em! The Death Panel is chock full of vicious, ultra-violent and hardboiled short stories from authors Randy Chandler, Tim Curran, John Everson, Brandon Ford, Kelly M. Hudson, David James Keaton, Scott Nicholson, Tom Piccirilli, Zach Sherwood, David Tallerman, Fred Venturini, Erik Williams and Simon Wood.
The collection starts with a bang with Randy Chandler's Lipstick Swastika, a story with a `40s noir feel about a hotel security guard that suspects a buxom German blonde to be an escaped Nazi war criminal. The story is full of smoky rooms, irresistible broads, hard men and steamy sex contrasted against explosive violence.
The violence continues with Blood Sacrifices & The Catatonic Kid by Tom Piccirilli. This is about an older gentleman in a mental institution and the "The Catatonic Kid," who one day snaps and escapes the institution, leaving a bloody wake behind him. Things aren't always what they appear though, and the story features a you-will-never-see-it-coming twist! ...
... There is not one bad story contained between the pages of The Death Panel: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness. I eagerly read the noir-tinged and hard-boiled stories of crime, violence and horror and eagerly await Comet Press' next release, because they and editor Cheryl Mullenax are really making a name for themselves in the horror community! --Fatally Yours, January 13, 2010
From Monster Librarian
Not all of the stories in The Death Panel are horror, but they are all good. This is more of a hard boiled crime anthology, with some hard boiled horror thrown in the mix. I happen to be a fan of both genres, so I enjoyed the mix of private eyes, dirty cops, gangsters and the occasional monster. With a mix of favorite authors and those who are new to me, the stories range from straight up noir to supernatural crime. Favorites include: "Blood Sacrifices & The Catatonic Kid" by Tom Piccirilli, in which two residents break out of a mental hospital, with violent results. "The Neighbor" by Brandon Ford, asks "What happens when a lonely "trailer" wife thinks her neighbor is a serial killer? Do you really want to know?" In Fred Venturini's story "Detail", an ex-cop runs a discreet auto detailing business, and keeps secret files on his customers. When he meets a beautiful woman in trouble, his life gets out of control. John Everson's "The Mouth" is the story of a sadistic sex freak, always looking for a new thrill, who is pointed towards a girl known only as "The Mouth". This one is not for the easily offended. "Nine Cops Killed For A Goldfish Cracker" by David James Keaton is difficult to describe. It's a bizarre story of a man who needs to pay the rent, a goldfish with a thousand dollars in it's stomach, and all the cops who get in the way. I could go on and on, talking about Tim Curran, Kelly M. Hudson, Simon Wood, and the rest, but you should read these gems for yourself. If you are a horror fan who wants to expand your horizons, I highly recommend picking up The Death Panel.
Contains: Sex, Violence, Strong Language and Gore --Monster Librarian, January 15, 2010