« Waiting For October / Edited by Bill Breedlove | Main | Voyeurs of Death / Shaun Jeffrey »

Five Strokes to Midnight / Edited by Gary A. Braunbeck and Hank Schwaeble

th5strokes_large.jpgHaunted Pelican Press / November 2007
Reviewed by: Blu Gilliand

It’s a great idea for an anthology: take four established genre authors plus one relative newcomer, let them pick whatever individual theme they would like to write about, give them a word count and turn them loose. One story, five stories – it’s up the author. Such are the ground rules for Five Strokes to Midnight, the first publication from Haunted Pelican Press, and while the individual results are mixed, the overall package is a success.

Tom Piccirilli opens the book with two stories on the subject of loss: “Loss” and “Bereavement.” The latter is a devastating meditation on coping with the grief of losing someone you love, and how the ways we cope affect those around us. As is usual with his work, Piccirilli leads you almost to the end of the path before you realize you are going somewhere completely different than where you first thought. It’s a touching and powerful tale, and the one my thoughts kept returning to after the book was done.

Equally powerful is the middle story of Gary Braunbeck’s trio on hauntings, “The Queen of Talley’s Corner.” This simple tale of a lonely woman haunted by her one great love sums up much about the power the past holds over us. Despite her current circumstances, the story’s “Queen,” Miss Hattie, lives each night as she did in her heyday – strolling the streets resplendent in her finest, a woman proud and in love with the man at her side. Braunbeck’s affecting prose puts you right there with them, right up through the inevitable end.

Deborah LeBlanc follows with two stories about curses. “White-Hot” and “Bottom Feeder” are both straightforward cautionary tales of voodoo, black magic, and the consequences of dabbling in such. However, while the plots may not be the most original, these stories are distinguished by LeBlanc’s captivating narrative style. The characters, language and scene-setting are so lively and natural that the pages practically sweat. These two stories were my first taste of the author’s work, but they certainly won’t be the last.

Hank Schwaeble, who co-edited the book with Braunbeck, is up next. Schwaeble is the new voice among the veterans, a fact that is unfortunately underlined after following such a magnificent trio. His stories, each of which follow the theme of demons, are not bad – they just don’t quite stack up to the company he’s keeping here. There are definite signs of promise, particularly with the bizarre “Bone Daddy,” but the other selections in the book simply overpower him.

The book gets back on track with Christopher Golden, who gives us three stories touching on the traditions of folklore. Golden captures the theme perfectly with his tales of legends and ghosts. His (and the book’s) final piece, “All Aboard,” serves as the perfect bookend, touching on the theme of loss that opens the collection. This story of parents dealing with the ultimate tragedy features a final line of dialogue that nearly brought me to tears with its power.

All in all, Five Strokes to Midnight is an excellent collection. With powerful stories by five extremely talented authors, and companion art pieces by Ashley Laurence (best known for her role in the film Hellraiser), this is a worthy addition to the shelves of anyone who appreciates good, thought-provoking writing.

Purchase Five Strokes to Midnight, edited by Gary A. Braunbeck and Hank Schwaeble

Posted on Monday, January 7, 2008 at 11:32AM by Registered CommenterDark Scribe Magazine in | Comments Off

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend