Psychos: Serial Killers, Depraved Madmen, and the Criminally Insane, edited by John Skipp, is a crime anthology featuring stories by master storytellers including Neil Gaiman, Lawrence Block, and Ray Bradbury (available September 25, 2012).
As we read in John Skipp’s cheerful introduction:
This just in: SOME PEOPLE KILL PEOPLE! It’s the hideous headline heard daily, around the world.
As it turns out we do it quite a bit: every sixty seconds, in the USA alone, according to the latest statistics. The global guesstimates must be even more impressive.
Which means that, in the time it takes me to write this sentence, at least one somebody is killing somebody else, somewhere on Earth. Probably a hell of a lot more.
Serial killers, psychos, fundamentalists of sorts, and other deranged souls are the heroes, or rather the villains and some of the victims, in these stories; stories that take us back and forth in time and detail witch hunts, possessed bodies and souls, ruthless killers, pedophiles, and the workings of some of the most twisted brains literature, or the real world even, have ever seen.
It’s not easy to pick a favorite story here. What you can do is just steal moments from here and there, enjoy one turn of phrase or another, and stop to think about what it is that makes the minds of the villains turn. Do they seek pleasure, or redemption? Do they fully comprehend the consequences of their actions? What would their lives be like if they’d grown up under different circumstances?
There are no easy answers to these questions, but reading through these stories we do get to know better how a criminal mind works. To borrow the words of John Skipp again, this is:
A staggering thirty-eight-course banquet of literary mania and mayhem, served up by some of the most amazingly astute, deeply disturbing, immensely entertaining chronicles of crazy ever to grace the printed page.
We have Edgar Allan Poe telling us the story of the Hop-Frog, a king’s fool or jester, who:
. . . was so inventive in the way of getting up pageants, suggesting novel characters, and arranging costumes, for masked balls, that nothing could be done, it seems, without his assistance.
Of course that is to change dramatically in the future, since that’s how things work in literature, and the jester will turn avenger, spreading mayhem and terror all over the land.
The people in these stories are simple souls or adventurers, men with honor or without, fearless sometimes, but mostly scared of everyone and everything, especially their surroundings.
“This place has an evil name among seafaring men, sir.” Then he said to me, very gravely, “Don’t you feel anything?”—as if the air about us was actually poisonous. Now, you mustn’t laugh when I tell you this—I did feel something like a sudden chill.
That happens in “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell, while Laura Lee Bahr narrates the story of “Ruby, The Liar.” Instead of telling you something about her story I’ll let her do the honors:
I know there is a darkness in people who pretend to be light. I know there is blood behind the smiles. I know there is evil cloaked in good. I know people think I am bad, and perhaps I am. But perhaps they prefer to think me bad and to call me that, than to see that I am a mirror of their hypocrisy. They call me a liar, but they are the liars . . . I want them to hurt.
Ruby really knows what she wants, doesn’t she? And she does sound scary as hell. “Murder for Beginners” by Mercedes M. Yardley has some unconventional heroes too, and with a weird sense of humor.
“Aw, Jaye, you never let me have any fun.”
“Hey, I let you go at it for a while, didn’t I? You can’t say I’m not gracious.” [This spoken by a woman holding a bloody shovel over a dead man.]
“True,” Dawn agreed, “Very gracious.”
They grinned at each other.
And the journey continues. Next stop: Lawrence Block and “In for a Penny,” the story of Paul who:
. . . was like an acrophobe edging along a precipitous path, scared to look down, afraid of losing his balance and falling accidentally, afraid too of the impulse that might lead him to plunge purposefully into the void.
Neil Gaiman, one of the great storytellers of our time, has something to say about “Feminine Endings.” This story, of a man obsessed with a woman, is in the form of a letter.
Shall I write about you? About me?
I love your hair, long and red. The first time I saw you I believed you to be a dancer and I still believe you have a dancer’s body. The legs, and the posture, head up and back. It was your smile that told me you were a foreigner, before ever I heard you speak . . . I see you as a code to be broken, or as a puzzle to be cracked . . . I love you, and it is my love for you that drives me to know all about you . . . Soon, I hope, you will know this for yourself.
There are so many good stories in here that it would take ten articles this size to mention or quote them all. So, I’ll just close this piece by saying that if you are going to buy a short story collection this year let it be this. It’s definitely worth the money and it promises to give you many hours of pleasurable reads and plenty of thrills.
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Lakis Fourouklas has published four novels and three short-story collections in Greek. He’s currently translating his work into English and blogs at Fiction & More. He also keeps a few blogs in Greek regarding general fiction, Japanese literature, and crime fiction. Follow him on Twitter: @lakisf. He lives in the wilderness of Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Read all posts by Lakis Fourouklas for Criminal Element.