turndownthelightsssTurn Down the Lights

Edited by Richard Chizmar

Cemetery Dance Publications, Trade Hardcover,

$35.00, 2013, 174pp

Review by Wayne C. Rogers

In celebration of Cemetery Dance Magazine’s 25th Anniversary this past fall, its founder and owner, Richard Chizmar, published a new anthology with short stories by many of the authors who have contributed to the famous horror magazine over the years.  These authors are all “heavy hitters” in their own right and at the beginning, they offered their short fiction to a new and struggling magazine to help boost sales and to make the magazine a true success in the horror genre.

The authors include new fiction by such greats as Stephen King, Norman Partridge, Jack Ketchum, Bentley Little, Clive Barker, Ed Gorman, Steve Rasnic Tem, Ronald Kelly, Peter Straub, and the always excellent Brian James Freeman.  The Foreword is by Richard Chizmar and the Afterword by Thomas F. Monteleone.

Before I get to the short stories, allow me to say how much I enjoyed the Foreword and Afterword.  These were two excellent pieces of prose about a magazine that has changed the way we think about horror.  I know I subscribed to Cemetery Dance back at the turn of the century and purchased many of its published novels at that time.  I also remember buying copies of the magazine at the local
Barnes & Noble bookstore, which was just down the street from where I used to live.  It was a treat to pick up a copy of Cemetery Dance because you never knew what was going to be inside of it, and I always loved reading Bev Vincent’s articles on Stephen King (News from the Dead Zone).   It helped me to keep up with what was going on in the world of King.

Two things about the Foreword that hit me hard, but in the right place, was Richard Chizmar’s heart-felt thankful to the late Dave Silva, who set the example for a one-man magazine, The Horror Show.  David Silva also created Hellnotes.  In the Foreword, Mr. Chizmar discusses how he was able to accomplish the impossible by believing in himself, hard work, long hours, and persistence.  Richard Chizmar never gave up, and Cemetery Dance Magazine grew into the worlds #1 horror magazine, as well as a fantastic publishing house for the novels by many of the magazine’s authors—beautiful, breathing-taking, signed & illustrated limited editions and gift editions.  My gift edition of It by Stephen King is still one of the most lovely, handcrafted books I’ve ever owned.

All the short stories by these famous authors are written with the skill of a master craftsman and deliver their tales of woe and the supernatural in the way short stories were meant to be told.  Get right to the core of the story and start running with it as if a demon from Hell is chasing your ass!

But, like any collection or anthology, I have my favorites in it.

They are “An Instant Eternity” by Brian James Freeman and “Flying Solo” by Ed Gorman.  These two stories captured my heart and soul because I was able to live them as I read each sentence that led me on a journey of self-discovery, filled with excitement and surprises.

“An Instant Eternity” deals with a photographer who enters a war zone with a larger group to take pictures of the mass-destruction that’s taken place.  As the group heads back to the waiting helicopters, the photographer notices a little girl standing in the rubble.  Out of curiosity he goes to her and discovers that she has stepped on a Bouncing Betty, triggering the bomb and now not being able to move without it being set off.  Realizing that the group has now left him behind, the photographer knows he is the only chance the little girl has of living through this ordeal and puts his life on the line to save her.

What happens is for the reader to discover.

As with all the short stories and novellas I’ve read by the great Brian James Freeman, “An Instant Eternity”, is both written with a sense of sheer eloquence and total precision with not a single word wasted in the process.  Mr. Freeman knows how to get straight to the heart of a story with a few choice sentences and words, luring the reader in with the promise of truly exciting things to come.  That he successfully nails the finally of each of his stories at every outing is a testament to his profound skills as a writer.  This is certainly an author who needs to jump to the next level of writing and to create a novel that’s every bit as good as his short stories.  I realize that writing a novel is difficult and time consuming, but if anybody can do it, it’s Brian James Freeman.  This is a writer on the rise!

“Flying Solo” is about two elderly men who are dying of cancer.  One is an ex-cop who likes Clint Eastwood and the other a retired school teacher who watches James Garner on television in The Rockford Files.  They both meet for chemotherapy and form an unusual alliance, becoming fast friends even if they are totally different from one another.

The one thing they do have in common is that they’re both flying solo.  In other words, they’re widowers.  This does gives them a common bond.  In time, when running the chemo board, they hear about a nurse whose ex-husband cleaned her out financially and ran off with a secretary.  The nurse lives in a run-down apartment with her little boy, and the landlord won’t fix the broken things in it, ignoring her telephone calls of complaint.  The two cancer patients think about it and decide to do something to help her.  They go after the landlord and use some physical intimidation to get him to see their point of view and to fix up the nurse’s apartment.  After doing that, the other nurses start hear about them through the grapevine and start coming to the guys for help.  The two old fogies can’t say no and end up looking into their problems, figuring out how to solve them, and going for the gold.  These two men hate to see injustice and are more than willing to put what few months they have left to live on the line to help others.

Ed Gorman is a consummate author who has written some great novels over the years including The Poker Club, Shadow Games, What the Dead Men Say, The Midnight Room, and the “Jack Dwyer” series, along with a score of fabulous short stories and novellas.  Gorman knows how to write fiction that’s mean and clean.  It’s like getting a sucker punch to the stomach.  The author definitely delivers in full spades with “Flying Solo”, giving the reader two old farts who still want to help those in need, putting their illness behind and delivering on their promises.

Being an old fart myself, I really identified with these guys.  It makes me want to my best Clint Eastwood imitation and say to the assholes, “Get off my lawn!”  Too often in real life you see the bad guys getting away with all kinds of crap.  You want to do something, but the fear of being too old, getting physically hurt, and having a run-in with the law stops you from taking any action.  What the two guys in the story do, however, gave me a chance to stand up and cheer.  That’s the way Ed Gorman writes.  He makes you believe that good actions will far outshine the bad ones.  He makes you feel glad to be a human being and to automatically counter punch when someone takes a swing at you.  There’s nothing wrong with being old.  If you live long enough, you’ll get old.  But, you don’t have to go out easy.  Make them take you down the hard way.  Take out the bad guys and leave a mark on the wall (like Zorro) that you were once here.

These two short stories, along with the Foreword and Afterword, are certainly worth the price of admission.  Of course, since everyone has different tastes, you might find yourself rooting for other authors and their pieces of short fiction.  All of it is good.  Some of the stories, however, grab you by the neck and shake the living daylights out of you until they have your undivided attention.

Needless to say, Turn Down the Lights is highly recommended.

Note: This is the second review of this book by a Hellnotes reviewer.  Sometimes we like to give you a different perspective on the same work.

About Russ Thompson

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