Wednesday, August 15, 2012

BOOK REVIEW : "Psychos: Serial Killers, Depraved Madmen, and the Criminally Insane" by various authors, edited by John Skipp

Get Psychos, edited by John Skipp, from Amazon HERE.

     I got an advanced e-copy of this book through NetGalley. This anthology is edited by John Skipp, and collects a very wide selection of stories involving murderous psychos from various perspectives, some humorous, some chilling. Authors include classics like Poe, Bradbury, Gaiman, Thomas Harris, Lansdale, Bentley Little, Elizabeth Massie, Robert Devereaux, Kathe Koja, and others. 
     To me the absolute chills-down-the-spine standout piece that made the whole anthology worth it was "All Through the House" by Christopher Coake, an author I was unfamiliar with. Skipp gives a brief intro to each story, and in numerous places "warns" the reader how freaky the upcoming story is going to be, but "All Through the House" was one of the only ones that really lived up to that for me. It focuses on a mass murder mainly from the viewpoint of the murderer's best friend, who suffers tremendous survivor's guilt. But the genius of the story is the way it creates a truly haunting (and haunted) sense of history about the location by slipping back in time before the murders, then moving forward to even after the house is burnt down, then backing up to before it was burnt down and a true crime writer was visiting to exploit the event for her own purposes. 
     Another stunningly horrid (in a good way, for a psycho anthology) story was John Gorumba's "Mommy Picks Me Up at Day Care," written very believably from the viewpoint of a little boy. The boy's mother "snaps" and the author is unflinching in the way he shows this young child's mind trying to process and cope with the situation in his limited way. Meanwhile, as the reader you're able to translate the child's perceptions, so you realize what's really happening. Very clever. 
     Included in the appendix is a very thorough and thoughtful afterword about psychos in popular culture by Cody Goodfellow, and then the actual letter sent from cannibal murderer Albert Fish to the mother of one of his victims. It's not for the squeamish. 
     I feel the book as a whole is pretty well done, the second half being more rewarding than the first. The "centerpiece" of the book is a novella by Adam-Troy Castro called "The Shallow End of the Pool," but unfortunately for me it was one of my least favorite in the book. That might just be because it wasn't what I was really hoping for, based on the theme. For other people it might be very worthy precisely because of that, since it's not what you would expect.

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