This is a nifty idea for an anthology, and one which has been executed with fair accomplishment. Take a dozen writers, lock them (metaphorically) in an insane asylum; get them to explain the reasons why they’re incarcerated inside. The result is 12 different and deeply dark interpretations on the notion of criminal insanity, cunningly stitched together by a linking narrative which provides a purpose to the whole collection.
The in-between bits are especially interesting, in fact; they serve to give the entire anthology a direction and some urgency to proceed. With each short story, the reader is effectively experiencing a stand-alone chapter in a bigger whole, and the overall arc is an added incentive to keep on reading, just one more, as the shadows lengthen and the night creeps in…
The tone and style of each ‘secret origin’ story is radically different. Some are almost playful (this is a relative term, given that the subject is the intimate secrets of serial killers and mass murderers). The guy who went postal (fitting for a mailman) after months of provocation by his wife’s whining lapdog wins a lot of sympathy. As does the fella who wreaked bloody revenge on his pig-ignorant neighbour from hell – entirely understandable given what the neighbour’s Rottweiler had just done (notice how spree murderers tend to be cat people? Must investigate). These types of tale are bloody and shocking but with a twist of guilty-pleasure to them.
Other stories in this collection are rather more unpleasant, both in terms of the language they use and the scenarios they explore. The story of a brutalised brother and sister who carry out an appalling revenge on their tormentors is both horrific and poignant; the main character is repellent but fascinating. And as for the guy with porcupines on his mind: well, he would be an interesting guest at a dinner party but don’t read his story if you’re at all delicate on sexual subjects.
This is not a collection for folks looking for mild titillation: some of these stories are genuinely nasty. Well. How can they not be? This anthology aims to explore the secret psychoses of murderers and lunatics; cannibals and crazies. It’s to the credit of the writers that while some are entertaining, with a nifty twist in them, others are unsettling in the extreme.
Of the twelve, there was only one which I actually didn’t enjoy. Oh, and I guessed the dénouement about halfway through… but that didn’t stop the final reveal being entirely satisfying.
Overall, an interesting way to approach a horror/noir collection. The theme, which feels a bit gimmicky at first, really pulls the book together so that it functions more as a novel than as a series of shorts.