Darker Hues with P.B. Kane’s The Rainbow Man

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Due to my personal life getting extremely busy of late, I’ve fallen far behind my typical reviewing pace — while the queue of titles to review has continued to grow.  In the hope of trying to do some catch-up, I’m going to try to write more concise reviews for at least the next couple months…hopefully without sacrificing too much in the way of opinion and analysis.  With that goal in mind… let’s get going…

I’ve reviewed a couple of Paul Kane’s titles in the past — Sleeper(s) and Pain Cages — and now he’s back with a YA thriller under the thinly-veiled pseudonym P.B. Kane, published by Rocket Ride Books.  At a high level, it’s a tale of an interloper who manages to keep his true nature hidden from all but a single, strangely perceptive teenager.

Fifteen-year-old Daniel Roush is that teenager, a kid at a tough spot in his life, with a deceased father, a mother who’s a little too fond of the bottle sometimes, a little brother who’s always trying to tag along, and a male friend (Greg) who shares with Daniel a crush on their mutual female friend, Jill.  Feeling somewhat trapped, and often bored to tears, on the secluded island of Shorepoint, Daniel’s world is turned upside when an amnesiac man apparently washes up on shore.  The stranger — who is given the temporary name of John Dee — is able to assert a subtle but powerful control over seemingly everyone on the island except Daniel. Unable to convince others of what he perceives about Dee, Daniel finds himself more alone than ever as the fate of the island hangs in the balance.

The Rainbow Man is a quick read at 162 pages, but even at that length, the story seems to drag a bit at times.  I’d attribute that primarily to the YA target demographic, which typically yields a tamer plot, as seems to be the case here.  The narrative and the language used seem quite basic, but not to the point of simplicity.  Kane’s initial foray into the YA field is a solid read for that age group, but perhaps not too engaging for adult readers.

Shades of Lovecraft in Weirder Shadows Over Innsmouth

WEIRDERCoverFront_-_Copy_largeThe story behind the anthology Weirder Shadows Over Innsmouth is almost more interesting than the stories in the book itself.  It’s the third in a series edited by Stephen Jones, all inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s 1931 tale “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” featuring the mutated denizens of Innsmouth and following in the damp, amphibious footprints of Shadows Over Innsmouth (1994) and Weird Shadows Over Innsmouth (2005).  Both of the prior volumes were published by Fedogan & Bremer, a press that specialized in handsome hardcovers in the vein of Arkham House until ceasing operations after the death of co-founder Phil Rahman.  After several years of dormancy, F&B was revived in 2012 by co-founder Dennis Weiler, with Weirder Shadows being the second volume issued since the press’ return from the dead.

As with the prior volumes, editor Jones has assembled an impressive list of contributors, with authors such as Caitlin Kiernan, Conrad Williams, and Ramsey Campbell headlining the line-up of seven original stories and ten reprints. So, to start… since I cherry-picked those three author names, let’s start by taking a look at their contributions.

Kiernan actually has three stories included here, all reprinted from her subscription-based online periodical, Sirenia Digest, and two are excellent.  “Fish Bride” is related via the post-coital bedroom conversation between one of the blasphemous fish-people and her human lover.  Between the dialog and the human’s internal monologue, the tale perfectly captures the tensions of the cross-species relationship. “The Transition of Elizabeth Haskings,” meanwhile, begins as a story of a lonely, repressed female librarian and her relationship with her gay male coworker, but is gradually revealed to be something much more.

Conrad Williams offers up “The Hag Stone,” a lengthy tale of a recent widower who decides to get away to a remote inn in the Channel Islands, but soon finds the locale less than idyllic, plagued as it is by invaders from the nighttime seas. I’m a huge fan of Williams’ work, and this unfortunately isn’t as good as he’s capable of, but it’s still an engaging piece. Finally, Ramsey Campbell’s “The Winner” is likewise set far from the original Innsmouth stomping grounds, but the chosen locale — a bizarre pub, where a man and his family find themselves stranded after their ferry to Dublin is canceled — is suitably damp and disturbing.

The danger with any tribute anthology like this — and especially with an anthology series that stretches to three volumes — is that the stories will start to seem too familiar, too rote, and that is occasionally an issue here, but for the most part, contributing authors manage to put an interesting twist on their events.

Take, for example, Reggie Olive’s “The Archbishop’s Well,” which successfully merges Lovecraftian horrors with an antiquarian ghost milieu of the sort that Oliver frequently employs.  Or Brian Hodge’s “The Same Deep Waters as You,” which marries the Innsmouth basics with recent political events, resulting in a fast-paced and intriguing story of Innsmouth residents forcibly relocated to a Gitmo-style prison, where they exert a strange influence on the female protagonist, who was recruited by the government based on the work she’d done on her Discovery Channel show, The Animal Whisperer.

Michael Marshall Smith’s “The Chain” is another tale that transports the Lovecraftian terrors far from their origin, to the unlikely destination of Carmel, California, a picturesque coastal town that’s strangely devoid of any homeless population. Simon Kurt Unsworth’s “Into the Water” is perhaps my favorite story here, a quiet chiller in which global warming and dramatically rising waters afford the Innsmouth amphibians the opportunity to expand their territory.

Of course, as is almost often the case with a sizable anthology, there were other tales that didn’t work so well for me, such as those by John Glasby, Kim Newman, and Adrian Cole, to name a few.  Nonetheless, Weirder Shadows is overall a strong gathering of admirably diverse stories, nicely buttressed by a wonderful Les Edwards dustjacket painting and interior B&W illustrations by Randy Broecker.  Fedogan & Bremer has another anthology, as well as a collection by Scott Nicolay, scheduled for the coming months, and I recommend you put this reemergent press back on your radar.