Author’s note: Midnight Duets is a collection of three novellas, each co-written by a different pair of thriller writers. I bought it some time ago, but it’s no longer available; at this point, you have to buy each of the three novellas separately. As a result, I decided that it would be better to write each of the novellas as a separate review…and that was before I found out that the third novella was F. Paul Wilson and Sarah Pinborough’s A Necessary End, which I had already read and reviewed earlier this year. (I wasn’t a giant fan.) So what’s below are some short, more capsule-style reviews for the other two novellas. Short answer: even as a collection of three novellas for a cheap price, I don’t know that I’d recommend the collection, and that might go less for buying them individually.
Robert Swartwood and David B Silva’s Walk the Sky, is, at first glance, a Western. We open with two men on the run after the questionable death of a mayor’s son, only to have their flight interrupted by the appearance of a very strange boy, followed by a crew of armed men who tie them up. A good start, and one that grips the reader’s interest quickly, right? And Walk the Sky unfolds nicely for a bit, plunging the reader into a strange Western town said to be under persecution from the Devil himself – a fact that our “heroes” realize all too well.
It’s not too much of a spoiler to say that Walk the Sky is a zombie story in some ways, but one that’s more focused on humanity and its evil tendencies towards each other than in the hordes of undead (although that’s not quite what you get here). And the first half of Walk the Sky is enjoyable and solid, unfolding at a great pace and constantly changing in front of you. It’s when the broad Native American shaman stereotypes enter the story that things fall apart, as characters are given knowledge and techniques in a deus ex machina style that only gets worse when action sequences start unfolding, followed by an ending that feels overlong and scattered. It’s fun enough in the early going, but there’s definitely a sense that it all falls apart in the second half. Rating: ***
It wouldn’t be unfair to say, as some have, that Christopher Golden and James A. Moore’s Bloodstained Oz sometimes devolves into an “edgy” take on the tropes everyone knows and loves from The Wizard of Oz. We start on a similar note – tornadoes in Kansas during the dust bowl years – and while the story this time has Oz coming to Kansas, rather than vice versa, there’s still a scarecrow, and a lion, and a tin man – they’re just mostly nightmarish and twisted, with vampiric tendencies and horrifying incarnations.
And yet, as a purely pulpy, nightmarish tale, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that Bloodstained Oz works pretty well. You’re not going to get great character depth here; these are archetypes, and the plotting is thin, at best. (Even now, I’m still confused as to certain elements of the story and what they were doing there.) But what you get, in exchange for letting those things go, is some genuinely great scares along the way, and a display of horrific imagination that definitely worked for me. From malevolent porcelain dolls to silver vampiric entities, from a nightmarish take on the Tin Man to some surprising takes on Oz staples, Golden and Moore approach their story with ghoulish, twisted glee. Bloodstained Oz isn’t a great story – I’m not even sure that it’s all that good. But as a piece of nasty, violent pulp horror, it’s got imagination and style to spare, and sometimes, that’s exactly what a good piece of horror needs. Rating: *** ½