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Shivers V

Shivers V is not a themed anthology, and that's a good thing. Themed anthologies, for a couple of different reasons, often present uneven reads. I think that pigeonholing a writer into a story doesn't always lead to the best piece, for one. I also think that reading different takes on the same general idea, over and over, wears thin over time.

Shivers V doesn't offer anything other than a batch of fine stories (and two poems, incongruously collected here). Seriously, I liked them all, and that's been a pretty rare occurrence these days.

In terms of the stories that struck the strongest chord with me, I'll begin with Norman Prentiss's collection opening "The Albright Sextuplets." This one was unsettling and stylish. Prentiss knows his way around the tricks of the trade when it comes to doctoring photographs, and his creepy tale about parents capitalizing on their freakish progeny is disturbing (take note, Jon and Kate Whatever). Prentiss has a compelling voice, and I liked the narration in this one. The first-person narrator, driven by his suspicions, unravels a mystery that will put a chill into parents and fertility doctors alike...

Sarah Langan's "The Burn Victim" is a vicious little tale--not for its sideline conflict with the hitchhiker, but for her sharp depiction of a couple in free-fall. Seriously, the horror here is what adults do to one another in the battlefield of life...

Scott Nicholson's "Good Fences" is a pitch-perfect neighbor battle. Pitting an old-school conservative against a homicidal hippie leads to a delightful and, as we progress through the second act, anxious climax...

Graham Masterton's "Dog Days" is just a great yarn. You'll need to suspend disbelief for this one (that means all of you "that could never happen" types can skip this one), but it's well worth it. I just can't get into the plot, but I'll say that the betrayal is heart-breaking, the plot twist is sick, and the story is great. This is one of those stories that will compel me to buy a Masterton novel because of the accessible narrative tone and clean prose.

Steve Vernon's "The Forever Long Snake of Olan Walker" takes home coolest title award. It's a chilling tale of punishment and evil--we're talking Old Testament stuff here. Olan Walker is a walking thundercloud, and the narrator and Southern setting are delightful. One of the highlights of the bunch.

Nick Mamatas can write. If you need proof, take a look at his story "The Pitch." Mamatas's protagonist, foul-mouthed Hollywood producer Hiram "Call Me Manny" Bursky is a hoot--profane and vulgar and vile in a way that keeps you paging forward. His two o'clock appointment has a movie to sell--only this film might be the biggest in the history of humanity.

The anthology concludes with Kealan Patrick Burke's "The Acquaintance." A brutal story of revenge, imprudent homecomings and unchecked rage, this is a very fluid short story. Burke's characters leap off the page, and the depiction of the bar-room chat is really well drawn.

This is a fine collection, filled with excellent tales--many more than I recounted here. Do yourself a favor and take a look at Shivers V. It kept me up past bedtime a couple of nights in a row...

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