CORPUS DELICTI by William Cook (2014 James Ward Kirk Publishing / 210 pp / trade paperback)
Poetry can just be so cool … language in a more freeform, flowing arrangement … imagery and evocation … the sound and rhythm of the words, and even the look of them on the page, as much an element as their meaning.
It can also be challenging, maddening, baffling, incomprehensible, and weird. Does it have to rhyme? Is it like a song, or not? How does it work? What is it? What does it do? What does it MEAN? Or, for that matter, DOES it mean anything? And so on. Vincenzo Bilof’s introduction to this collection sums up all that better than I can.
And then you get to William Cook’s collection of poems. Rest assured, this is no slim poetry chapbook. This is a BOOK. Almost 300 pages, something like 140 poems, two decades’ worth of accumulated artistic craftsmanship.
Don’t go thinking that poetry equals sappy flowery greeting card stuff, either. These are dark jewels, bloodied and moonlit. These are raw nerves, the exposed heart and meat and emotion. These are heinous acts framed in beauty, and beauty wrapped in hideousness.
As to whether they’re romantic – isn’t that one of those big poetry things, after all? – well, it’d depend on who you were trying to romance. I know some people who might seriously go for being courted with such poems. How worrisome that may or may not be, I’ll leave up to your own discretion.
With so many poems, and blending together in the harmonious threads that they do, it’s pretty well impossible for me to single out any particular few by title. Some, I know I just didn’t ‘get,’ but I figure that’s more on me than on the poems or the poet.
I found myself uttering “oh wow” and “ooh that’s nice” and various wordless noises of appreciation several times at particularly stunning bits of phrasing, lines that made me just have to pause for a moment or two to reflect, to admire and think and mentally savor the resonance.
Admittedly, they may not have been the best thing to be reading during a stressful time surrounded by difficulties, depression and drama. Then again, maybe that’s the perfect time. Maybe that’s when they’re most needed.
This collection of 14 tales (7 presented here for the first time) takes Lovecraft's Mythos and goes in its own direction. At times personal, surreal, and terrifying, Krall's prose is sleek and literary, and his manner of suggestion makes each tale sing.
Among my favorites are 'Nightmares of a Pampiniform Mind,' in which we're introduced to Osman, an odd mystic ritual practicioner and his exploits in the early 80s, 'His Candescence,' a bizarre meditation on men dealing with their mothers, while 'A Repentant Hell' features a similar take on fathers.
'And You Should Believe in Solar Lodges' follows two friends as they visit their old college's unusual library, and 'Argon Seizure,' where the author exploits his fear of buildings in a most cerebral way.
Here are a host of horror tales that will make you think. The violence is not for shock value alone and as strange as things get, Krall manages to bring the chills along with the odd goings-on. Highly recommended even if you're not a big Lovecraftian fan: this one stands on its own.
BRAINEATER JONES by Stephen Kozeniewski (2013 Red Adept Publishing / 234 pp / trade paperback, eBook, & audiobook)
Offered the chance to read some hardboiled zombie noir, what else am I going to say but HECK YES? I love zombies, I love noir, let’s see some shambling gumshoes, deadly dames, and all that good stuff!
Within the first few lines of Braineater Jones, I knew I was going to get everything I hoped for and then some.
The opening is as classic as they come: a corpse floating in a rich man’s pool. Except, in this case, the corpse wakes up and is our protagonist. Stark naked, with a big hole in his chest and a bigger hole where his memories are supposed to be, the guy who comes to be known as Braineater Jones isn’t even sure whether or not he’s a detective before he’s got a case. The case being, of course, his own murder, not to mention his identity.
It turns out he’s not the only one with an undeath problem. There’s a whole community, just doing their best to get by in a city that isn’t exactly happy about them. Only booze can keep their more traditional brain-eating urges under control, but it isn’t easy to find places willing to cater to their trade.
Jones, not having many other immediate options, sets out to make a place for himself in this undead underworld consisting of characters such as the enigmatic Lazar, the uniquely creepy Old Man, the denizens of a seedy speakeasy and a house of ill repute, gangs, gravediggers, voudon practitioners, back alley body repair specialists, talking heads, and more.
Naturally, the more Jones investigates, the deeper he gets. Each question answered only leads, hydralike, to two more. People try to kill him so often he’s almost glad to be already dead, since it doesn’t hurt as much to be shot. The prospect of a dead-for-keeps wound, however, is still to be avoided.
Given the genre, I daren’t get too specific about the plot because nobody wants spoilers. But it’s got the flavor and style, it’s got fedoras back when they didn’t have a tarnished reputation, it’s got wisecracks and action and unexpected surprises. A very fun read from start to finish; here’s hoping there will be more!