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I've been a house painter, dishwasher, broiler cook, private detective, military intelligence analyst, and I spent nearly 40 years as a reporter covering crime, 26 of them for the San Francisco Chronicle. These days I write science fiction, fantasy, horror and crime fiction, and I blog about books, films and crimes that don't receive sufficient attention from the mainstream media. I would like to be Elmore Leonard, Raymond Chandler, Ross MacDonald, Dashiell Hammett or George V. Higgins, but all of them are dead so I'll just stick with what I am already doing. . .

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Industrial Strength Pulp So Muscular You Have to Strain It Before Consumption

Dark Corners Pulp, Volume 1, Number 4
Edited by Craig and Emily McNeely
Double Life Books
Spring, 2015

As readers of this blog are aware, I like my literature as dark and hard-boiled as campfire coffee. I also love a good short story, so hardboiled anthologies and fiction magazines are right in my wheelhouse. The pulpier they are, the better I like them.

I’m not hard to please: I consider a collection in which I enjoy at least five stories to be an unmitigated pleasure. I am delighted to tell you that so many good anthologies of first-rate hardboiled literature are available these days, my pleasure is almost never mitigated.

One of the anthologies I always look forward to is Craig and Emily McNeely’s thumpingly good Dark Corners Pulp, a quarterly that offers the kind of spine-chilling thrills that first attracted me to hard-boiled and horror. Volume One, Issue Four, released July 31, is the McNeely couple’s latest offering, and it offers the discerning pulp fan the usual panoply of delights.

Craig and Emily McNeely
Here you will find such treats as the smirking femme fatale who cold-bloodedly kills two birdbrains with one stone in Will Viharo’s “Cool Reception;” or Heath Lowrance’s “The Good Step-Dad,” a chilling story about a man who literally believes that the quickest way to spoil his step-child is by sparing the rod.

Will "The Thrill" Viharo
We meet two of the dumbest criminals who ever bungled an execution-style murder in Rhys Ware’s “The Lady in the Trunk.” A bonus damsel in distress – a young woman who escapes from one kidnapper solely to be grabbed by a second – is the central character in Warren Moore’s  fast moving “Tips.”

Heath Lowrance: A tale of
questionable parenting?
Like cannibalism? Two of the stories in this collection boast people who partake of human flesh. Want twisted lovers? Dark Corners has stories by James Queally, Patrick Cooper, David Rachels, Adam Glasier and Tyrone Long that feature some of the most bent you’ll ever meet.

There’s invaders from space, a witch who clashes with Russian gangsters -- even a bad tempered parking control officer who exacts revenge from a one percenter who gives him attitude. (Note to the meter minder: watch old episodes of the Red Green show for tips on using duck tape).

Perhaps my favorite tale in the entire volume is “Mayej” by Dark Corners co-editor Emily McNeely, who spins a dryly understated yarn about a pair of tourists in South America that blow a bus connection and take shelter for the night with indigenous tribespeople who insist on having them for dinner. It is one of the most perfect short stories I’ve ever read – and believe me, I’ve read my share.

This stuff is so pulpy you really need to buy the $8.99 paperback. The $2.99 version for the Kindle reader is fine, but an eBook screen just doesn’t have the raw crudeness that real hardboiled lit requires. Fortunately, bursting at the spine with 18 stories and three reviews, the more expensive paperback comes to less than 43 cents per piece – a bargain even a retiree like me can afford.

As a kid first navigating short form fiction, I cut my horror and crime teeth on the old EC Comics: Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror, Tales of Suspense and Haunt of Fear. They were my favorites – at least until they were forced out of business in a witch hunt engineered by Dr. Fredric Wertham, a quack psychiatrist who saw sexual perversity behind every bush and beneath every stone.

Wertham peddled his rabid comicophobia to parent’s councils, the simple-minded cretins in Congress and a Christian Taliban of right-wing religious fanatics. He believed comics caused delinquency, depravity and mental illness.
But if you looked past the lurid art, half-naked women, gruesome violence and dripping gore of the EC titles, each story published by the company was actually a twisted morality tale in which corrupted  innocence was avenged and evil was punished -- though often in an unconventional way.

Dark Corners specializes in the same sorts of tales. Each story is marked by transgression and revenge, a nightmarish cycle of grotesque mistakes that are only made worse by the protagonist’s attempts to correct them.

As I said before, right in my wheelhouse, folks. This magazine features my kind of literature! 

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