Amy Grech’s latest short story collection smushes five tales together into a pulpy mass of noirish sex and death, with a side helping of cruelty. While the title promises salvation for its unfortunate cast of deviants and down-and-outs, most of them seem doomed to suffer, whether they deserve it or not.
The title story, which is also the longest, shifts easily from colourful bar-room flirting to inevitable, almost casual murder. You could almost mistake the story for erotica until the knives (well, scalpels…) come out, but it’s the kind of erotica that never quite delivers – which might explain the cocktails called Blue Balls which one character enjoys. More satisfying was Grech’s use of the people of Alphabet City – they’re almost Lynchian, with oddballs drifting in the background or bouncing off one another, delivering perverse melodrama and violence in equal measure. She paints a vivid world for her characters to live in, then darkens it through their actions. By the end, you’ll either feel sorry for or ashamed of almost everyone in this weird corner of NYC.
From there, the stories get shorter but no less dark. .38 Special blasts its initial bout of eroticism away with sudden, shocking violence. Sadly, the story then runs out of steam, taking us through a slow game of Russian roulette with no clear winner in the end.
Cold Comfort plays out the other way around, with another bar-room encounter quickly leading to some torrid, kinky sex. While the sex falls flat, it takes a backseat to themes of obsession and revenge. It’s a snappier mix of the first two stories, with way more drive and a gleefully dark ending.
Prevention was the stand-out of the bunch; a sordid tale of a downtrodden man and his demanding mother, and what happens when sibling rivalry goes too far. After the first three stories, which all trod quite similar ground, it was good to see the author use a different take on the revenge formula. It seems more like Grech had fun with this story, which made it all the more enjoyable.
Rounding out the quintet is the most unique offering, Hoi Palloi Cannoli. Essentially, it’s a bizarre dystopian version of Willy Wonka, with a cheeky final twist. While it takes a bit too long to get to the one-two punch of its final scene, this story is different enough to the others to make you want to reach the end.
It’d be nice to see a wider range of stories in any future collections, along with some better editing, but there was enough variety here to make me curious about Grech’s other short fiction, which has been featured in plenty of anthologies & magazines. You can visit her author page at http://www.amazon.com/Amy-Grech/e/B00389UW5S for more, or her website at http://www.crimsonscreams.com
Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0692535500
Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/dp/0692535500