Library of the Dead
Edited by Michael Bailey
Written Backwards Press / Dark Regions Press
Winner of the Bram Stoker Award® for Superior Achievement in an Anthology (2015)
*** Review Copy Purchased Online ***
The Chapel of the Chimes is a crematory and columbarium in Oakland, California in the United States. It is also the focus of all the stories collected in the anthology called Library of the Dead, edited by Michael Bailey. As I mentioned in my review of Chiral Mad 3, the illustrations in this tome are exquisite and did much to enhance the stories.
To start things off we have a piece called “Special Collections” by Norman Partridge. The protagonist is an unsavoury character who we learn has an obsession with his psychiatrist, Rebecca. He gets a job at a university library after some jail time (we’re not sure for what) and while there, makes a Japanese puzzle box for Rebecca (who definitely does not reciprocate his feelings). Some weird projections catch his attention one night and a student tells him he saw a man in a top hat watching him.
This piece was more like a novella and it contained many intersecting and fascinating elements. There’s some striking imagery in this piece, and by the time the protagonist makes his way to the Chapel of the Chimes, the mystery has completely taken over his life. With plenty to unsettle the reader, this piece was a vivid way to start things off as things came full circle for the protagonist.
Throughout the anthology, there are interludes that divide sections of stories and while I think it can be a neat narrative technique to tie stories together, I could have done without them, but they were written very well.
“Those Who Shall Never Be Named” by Yvonne Navarro takes place in the late ’40s and centers around Tommy, who has done some dastardly deeds in his time and finds that although he can avoid earthly punishments, otherworldly ones are a different story.
Next up is a joint piece by Brian Keene and Mary SanGiovanni called “The Last Things To Go,” which revolves around Sharon, who is going through the loss of her significant other, Cameron, who never came home from the Iraq War. To say that she misses him is an understatement. This story had a creepy and unsettling premise that left me chilled by the end.
“I’m Not There” by Kealan Patrick Burke is about a guy, Joe, who is convinced he’s going insane because he can’t see his own reflection. He gets in touch with his ex, Lacy, who he still loves and although she helps him, he’s in need of a much different kind of help. When he finally figures out how to make himself visible again, the reader will make a very startling and saddening revelation along with him.
Chris Marrs takes us into a seedy bar with “A Chimera’s Tale” as we follow Josh, who is convinced his wife wants to murder him so he is planning to murder her before she can get to him. He shares a point of view in this story with a chimera known as The Immortal, who disguises itself as a bartender, Annalise (a play on Josh’s wife, Lisa-Anne’s, name). Things don’t go quite the way the chimera plans them to and Josh succumbs further to his delusions. This story highlighted the theme of balance very well.
“I’m Getting Closer” is one of the last pieces that the late J.F. Gonzalez wrote, and it concerns two teenage girls, Sarah and Jessica, who are walking home. People in town are concerned about a copycat stalker and murderer who is repeating the patterns of a guy who went to the same school as these girls ten years ago. This story was a good example of the modern urban legends that today’s teens are obsessed with.
Weston Ochse takes us into a tale of teenage boys who get up to no good (with a supernatural twist) in “Reliving Through Better Chemistry.” A group of guys mix drugs into the ashes of the Chapel of the Chimes deceased that they get their hands on and in this way, they re-live some of the moments of people’s lives.
One of their former members went a bit too far with terrible consequences. The boys shared a lot of similar traits, so it was difficult at times to distinguish between who was who, but the story of what one of them, Ricky, has suffered, will be enough to make readers understand why he was so desperate to escape into other people’s lives and memories. This tale had an interesting ending, as well.
“Cthylla” by Lucy A. Snyder focuses on Kamerynne, who is the young daughter of Grayce, an actress nominated for an Oscar for her role in a cult favourite called Cthylla. Although Grayce’s sister, Cherity, was a better guardian, she passed away after a short time. It wasn’t difficult to see why such a child would grow up to have abject self-loathing.
One day, the housekeeper brings over her daughter, Natalya, who is a huge fan of the film. She and Kamerynne start a relationship and it quickly becomes clear that something isn’t right with Natalya. It doesn’t take long for Kamerynne to discover that her whole life has been shrouded by a web of lies and that there is far more to Cthylla than just being a cheesy sci-fi film. It’s a very unnerving and unsettling read and one of the highlights of the anthology.
Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon’s collaboration, “Fault Lines,” is an interesting piece that centers around Jane, who is an archaeologist. She and her team members have gone to great lengths to find a rare artifact that has a lot of power. Jane discovers her daughter, Franca, has fallen gravely ill so much of the piece is about how Jane can get back to her daughter in time.
Trouble arises and hostilities ensue among all involved and this story is a stark reminder that nothing comes without a price. If you like stories with an “Indiana Jones” vibe, you’ll dig this one.
“Jaded Winds” by Rena Mason brings some diversity into the fold. With one of the creepiest openers in the anthology, we discover that Ming Li murdered his wife. She hasn’t gone quietly, but Ming is more focused on shady business deals and finding a new wife. His business partner, Lew Hong, is more honourable but faces his own challenges.
This story features many strong visuals and transports readers to San Francisco’s Chinatown in the early 1900s. I felt the author did a wonderful job incorporating unique mythological aspects and features to make this story stand out.
Erinn L. Kemper takes us to British Columbia in the early 1990s with her story of a hockey player, Brent Sharp, trying not to let his demons consume him. To cap things off, Gary A. Braunbeck presents “Tales the Ashes Tell,” which re-iterates the themes reflected in all the stories of this anthology.
It functions as a kind of an afterword before the actual Afterword, written by Mary SanGiovanni, as a tribute to the dearly departed J.F. Gonzalez. “Like souls,” she writes, “our stories are immortal.”
As with all anthologies, not every story is a winner, but every story here was of an exceptionally high calibre and I would highly recommend horror readers to add Library of the Dead to their shelves.