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Dark Duets: Musical Mayhem
Michael McCarty and others
Wildside paperback $15

review by Debbie Moon

This volume is a collection of 15 collaborations between Michael McCarty and various other American horror writers, almost every story a new pairing of creative minds. Despite kicking off in fine style (alongside Mark McLaughlin) with Sex, Drugs & Rot 'n' Roll, a splendid Spinal Tap-style history of a heavy metal band who bite off more than they can chew in the spirit world, the musical subtitle and cover artwork is misleading. The duets are literary rather than literal, and soon we're in familiar horror territory, with werewolves, demons, evil dolls and zombie families � and a bit of SF and comedy thrown in.

All the stories in the collection are well written, but some suffer from retreading familiar themes and images: Of Gargoyles And Sin (with Teri A. Jacobs) is a wallow in Gothic sensuality without anything new to say, and Skull Job, by the same authors, is a yawn-inducing tale of kinky sex with a �twist� you can see a mile off. Carnie-Vore (P.D. Cacek) also suffers from an obvious twist, but at least convinces with its portrayal of a bored teenage girl whose lecherous rich-kid boyfriend is slowly driving her nuts. The promise of a real live werewolf at the carnival offers some escape from her ennui � but once she's abandoned her veneer of civilisation, where will it all end?

However, there are some leaps of the imagination here. Military Mite (McLaughlin again) brings us a scientist struggling to bend his wild ideas to the service of the military in order to keep his funding. But when an impatient General decides to break into the lab and find out what's going on, he unleashes an enemy even the US army is no match for... In contrast, Hell's Bells (with Cindy Hulting) is a black comedy classic: lovelorn hick Arlo decides to commit suicide, but is too thick to realise you can't cut your wrists with an electric razor. Then the Grim Reaper turns up � and is too tired to bother reaping him. But maybe Arlo has a reason to live after all... Also in the comedy department, Sugar Daddy (R.L. Fox) welds the Frankenstein story with the power that chocolate seems to have over women in a brief but satisfying fable.

With so many styles and subjects, there's bound to be something for everyone here, and even if every story doesn't hit the spot for you, there are plenty that will. It's a wide-ranging sample of genre writing with more highs than lows, and well worth searching out if you're interested in the short story form.
Dark Duets: Musical Mayhem

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