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Thou Shalt Not...
editor: Lee Allen Howard
Dark Cloud paperback $17

review by Mario Guslandi

Thou Shalt Not... is a massive volume of 410 pages from Pennsylvania-based Dark Cloud Press, featuring horror and crime stories about people who break one of the ten commandments and, generally, get their punishment for that. The risk of being repetitive is always around the corner in a theme anthology like this, but, since we are all sinners, reading about other people's weaknesses, infidelities and petty crimes is always a lot of fun. The book includes 37 stories by a bunch of authors who, mostly, are either relatively newcomers or writers published so far only in second-line magazines. No big names, then, and thanks God for small favours (oops, am I breaking a commandment by misusing God's name?).

Obviously it is impossible to comment on each tale and to mention all the authors, but it is important to say that there are not bad stories in the book, while, on the other hand, a few are just fair and some are simply sketchy vignettes. So I will focus on the ten best pieces, each for every commandment.

Worshipping false gods is a sin effectively depicted in Barbara Malenky's Old Ways, where a famous preacher makes a young wife find again the joy of living and presents her with a precious gift. William Jones, in one of his Rudolph Pearson's crime stories (Through The Eye Of A Needle) addresses the issue of idolatry drawing a vivid portrait of a leaden New York where the dreadful sect of sin-eaters lurks in the underground. In the delightful Blasphemebus by Michael Arnzen a man guilty of blasphemous tricks has to pay his dues, but not to God...

Taking issue against violating the day of rest Jacqueline West's Curtain Call conveys a feeling of uneasiness by describing a Sunday performance in a small town theatre, taking place in a creepy, unreal atmosphere. B.M. Freman contributes Close Of Play, a bizarre, disconcerting piece, with echoes of Ionesco, portraying the evening activities of a strange family with a bunch of clever kids. (The commandment is 'Thou shall not dishonour your parents').

In Barry Hollander's Lord Torquiere a gentleman newly admitted to a club of murderers becomes the main suspect in a series of killings where death is turned into art. It's an old fashioned but enjoyable tale written in an elegant, sophisticated style. Editor Lee Allen Howard tells about adultery in Savoir-Faire, the stylish description of a love triangle where things are not what they seem to be, as revealed in the unexpected ending.

Mark Tullius provides good, solid fiction with Marked, a crime story about an easy robbery turning into a horror tale in the final twist of the tail. Lying has dire consequences in Christopher Fisher's Tattletale a very entertaining piece where, due to a man's fabrication a neighbour becomes a kind of bogeyman scaring the hell out of his children. Leslie Brown's quite enjoyable Mr Rutherford's Journal is the diary of a man whose sexual impulses are taking a wrong turn while coveting his neighbours.

As you may have guessed by those examples the book is worth reading and will dispense many hours of pleasant amusement. Furthermore you'll have the chance of becoming acquainted with a number of interesting new voices in the field of horror fiction.
Thou Shalt Not...

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