Wild Justice
Edited by Ellen Datlow

Ash Tree Press, $6.99 (Kindle)
February 15, 2012
Review by Darkeva

Formerly published in the UK under the title Lethal Kisses in 1996, the first edition of Wild Justice featured a decidedly more erotic cover than the amazing re-design, which is much truer to the stories of revenge included in this anthology edited by the reigning queen of horror anthologies, Ellen Datlow.

The introduction to this reprint is fantastic, and explains why Ellen chose the title wild justice, which is from a Francis Bacon quote. We’re all obsessed with revenge, how to get it, and how to make others suffer for what the wrongdoings they’ve caused us, but most of us know better than to pursue it, because we’re civilized. Well, at least some of us.

I will say that the stories of revenge contained in this volume are definitely unconventional to say the least. Nothing is black and white, concretely good and concretely evil. There are many shades of gray in each of the characters contained in the tales of Wicked Justice, and nothing plays out the way you think it will, so I would advise readers not to approach these macabre tales with the expectation that they’re going to be obvious, typical, or in any way fun. These tales are not for the faint of heart, as is often said when describing horror fiction, but in this case, it’s really true.

“Warmer” by A.R. Morlan kicks the anthology off with the story of a girl who is an extra in music videos (an ’80s hair metal band seemingly); a mogul record executive wants to use her in an upcoming video, and when she visits him, she finds three cacodemons, old spirits, in his office, and although I didn’t quite put two and two together in terms of why he wanted to get revenge on her, or what for, it was an entertaining tale.

Caitlin R. Kiernan provides a borderline stream of consciousness offering in “Anamorphosis,” which can be a bit hard to follow at times. The main character, Deacon, is in some kind of trouble with the law. He encounters the handiwork of a monster and fear it will come for him. It’s written in an almost experimental style, heavy on the hallucinations, but the afterword helped to provide Kiernan’s inspirations for this dark, twisted fairy tale.

“A Grub Street Tale” by Thomas Tessier shows two people discussing how overrated a certain writer, Patrick Hamm, is, something essential to the female character’s task, as she’s writing a biography of Patrick. This story was one of my favorites, inverting and turning the tables on who is the aggressor and who is the victim, as well as incorporating some neat back-story that comes full circle well.

Joyce Carol Oates treats us to the tale of a disturbed woman who goes off the rails in “Leave Me Alone, Goddamn You,” and the title, as you can imagine, is pretty self-explanatory. She suffers from loneliness, and has strange markings on her, but has to wait to show them to the men she elects to sleep with. She has a string of one night stands until she meets a guy that she really cares for, and gets an unexpected surprise.

One of the other standouts is “Rare and Most Exquisite” by one of my favourite horror writers, Douglas Clegg. The main character works in a retirement home and relishes working with the elderly, because he wants to feel needed. When he meets one particular old man who says he will give him a seventy year-old rose that he has carried around if he promises to take care of it, the tale becomes gripping and powerful. The old man says love is the darkest gift as it takes all that we are and destroys us, an impactful statement that resonated with me.

I loved the historical elements and the framing story structure – and it’s ultimately a tale of a grand deception, steering the reader in one direction and then doing a complete 180. The old man has a few surprises up his sleeve, which makes for a creepy ending.

“Martyr and Pesty” by Jonathan Lethem is also a great story about an embittered guy watching his ex-music partner on TV, plugging his newest project. How bitterness turns people into such slaves is a fascinating but disturbing descent-definitely read this story.

“Foreign Bodies” by Michael Marshal Smith has a funny tone, and is about two guys who are friends and one of them has to go on a double date with the other one to bail him out of something. Only the main character has met his best friend’s girl, Tamsin – but her real name isn’t Tamsin. He seems to have memory loss, and the downward spiral that he goes in until he remembers everything and sees the truth is gruesome and sad indeed. Definitely an ominous surprise ending.

In “Ships,” Michael Swanwick and Jack Dann introduce us to a main character who says he was dead and thus his third eye opened. He meets a guy, Starbuck, on a ship, and there’s also an odd creature on-board who starts out as a male, but then goes female. This particular tale contains two instances of revenge, both equally intriguing.

“A Flock of Lawn Flamingos” is also one of my favorites, from Pat Murphy, about a woman, Joan, who moves into a neighbourhood only to encounter its resident Oscar the Grouch, Mr. Hoffer, who is an absolute uptight atrocity of a human being. He’s so anal retentive that he makes Woody Allen seem relaxed. Joan puts up a series of flamingo ornaments, much to Hoffer’s ire, who calls a neighborhood meeting and amends the neighborhood lawn ornament code to force her to get rid of them. It soon escalates and turns into a war of seeing who can get back at whom first, who can turn the neighbors against the other person, etc, and the ending will definitely surprise you.

“The Screaming Man” by Richard Christian Matheson, not to be confused with his legendary father, relates the tale of a man inside the protagonist, Bob’s chest, but there’s also a woman’s voice, and they argue. The voices mount and multiply, and no matter what Bob does, or what kind of specialists he sees, he can’t shake the voices. When he has a good day, the voices are quiet, but when he has a bad day, they scream. It will make you question whether there really are monsters in this guy’s head.

“Rare Promise” by M.M. Driscoll shows Vincent, who is pretending to be dead in order to slow time with his friend, Bear – he hangs out with Bear despite his parents’ admonitions, but when his cousin comes to town, things get complicated. Although I enjoyed the first half of this story, the second part I became a bit confused as to what was going on, although the end capped things off nicely.

Overall, this is a great anthology that has good potential to be rediscovered by a new audience, particularly with its availability on the Kindle platform and with the re-packaging, which definitely suggests “horror” far more than the previous edition.

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