BOOK REVIEW: Devils, Death & Dark Wonders
– By Dave Dubrow
Despite the regrettable lack of an Oxford comma in the title, two things struck me when I finished the last of the story notes on Randy Chandler’s short fiction anthology Devils, Death & Dark Wonders: why isn’t Randy Chandler as much a household horror name as that King person everyone seems to like so much, and how can I help other readers get their hands on this?
Yes, it’s that good. It misses greatness by a hair, but in a collection like this, encompassing such a broad swath of genres, tones, and characters, it would be virtually impossible to hit every note perfectly. Who cares? For only $2.99 (or free on Kindle Unlimited), it’s a steal for such a huge, quality tome. There’s no way you won’t find at least something in here that sticks with you. Intelligently written, gripping, imaginative, and fearless in its use of both imagery and language, it’s a disturbing look at the dark side of literature, often taking a fresh perspective on well-trodden themes.
Where it fell down was in stories like Manchine and Mortal, which sacrificed narrative for style; and River Rats and Flesh and Word, which suffered from weak endings, and hence lacked that narrative punch. I only mention these so you don’t think I’m being paid to write this review (check better be in the mail this time, Randy –ed).
The Draven stories, dealing with a terrible dystopia (and how it started), stood out as awesome, as did the Trench detective tales. More of those please, and soon. Manhunter read like the pilot episode of a dark TV Western that you’d want to binge-watch once it came out on Netflix. Splitfinger was hysterical and bizarre; perhaps my favorite out of the whole collection (which probably says something horrible about me). A Witch in Faerie and At the Edge of the World eschew typical fantasy/science fiction tropes, elevating them to Dunsanian fairy tale status. (Pseudo-intellectuals like myself have to drop terms like “Dunsanian” around so you’ll take us more seriously, BTW.)
Chandler’s been around and his life experience is clearly reflected in the characters, who speak like real people do. Particularly the military veterans. Some are decent, some are jerks, some are crazy, and some are just desperately trying to survive appalling circumstances, but they all jump off the page.
No need to go on about it anymore. Stop reading this, do a few hits of Smokestack Lightnin’, and start reading Devils, Death & Dark Wonders, already. What are you, chicken? You’re here for the horror, after all.