Steel yourself for sixteen stories from the dark side; sinister slivers of broken and bloodied lives which blur genre boundaries to form a distinctly unsettling compendium. Several are bite-size rapid reads, others explore human frailty at greater length. They’re all united by the author’s distinctive voice which is unconventional and often complex. Dino Parenti crafts prose poetry from queasily disquieting situations, describing ugly things in beautiful language.
As they zigzag between hardboiled crime, mystery, horror and speculative fiction, these stories progress through America’s recent past – starting in the 1970s – and extend into humanity’s possibly apocalyptic future. In the blistering heat of Death Valley, for instance, Parenti delivers a searing tale of corrupted virtue partnered with unjustifiable vengeance, employing a rogue police officer and a tormented priest as his reluctant protagonists.
There’s a satisfying science-gone-wrong story, in which anthropologists unleash an ancient plague from its icy stasis, and a bewildering yet seductive bohemian escapade aboard a mysterious pleasure cruiser. For me the latter tale evoked the mystique which saturated George RR Martin’s Fevre Dream, but it tells a twisted mystery that’s entirely its own.
War veterans, private eyes, gangsters and their prey bump shoulders in these stories of prejudice, bigotry and betrayal, each one offering secret insights into pivotal instances where pathways intersect. They contain vivid depictions of emotional and physical cruelty which can be quite macabre at times. Parenti inhabits that menacing no man’s land between noir and outright horror – using grisly details not simply to shock but instead to reveal the fragility of modern civilisation.
There’s a lot to absorb here, and if you try to tackle too much at once it can present a relentlessly ominous outlook. Better to read each piece as a stand-alone, and then to return to the collection a little later, when the unpleasant echoes have faded somewhat. That way each story can deliver its intended impact.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Dead Reckoning by Dino Parenti is available at Amazon
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