Saturday, June 14, 2008

WHITE HOUSE HORRORS edited by Martin H. Greenberg

This is another review I wrote for an online magazine. It went live sometime in early 2005 and I still think about a few of the stories contained in White House Horrors; especially the Robert Randisi story "The President's Mind" and Graham Masterton's "Jack Be Quick." I need to dig my copy out and give it another peruse.

The modern horror anthology can be a fickle creature--it can represent the best of what the genre has to offer, but it can also represent the trite, and the not-quite-there of the horror field. White House Horrors is an example of both extremes. It has the best, as in the case of Graham Masterton's "Jack Be Quick" and it also has the worst with the worn-out, used-up, plot of "Creature Congress" by Terry Beatty and Wendi Lee.

It is a unique anthology that brings together an eclectic group of stories written by an array of horror and mystery writers. It features stories with horror elements based within the halls of the White House; in a few cases the action takes place beyond the house itself, but the plot revolves around the President, or, at the very least his administration.

A few of the more remarkable stories come from well known horror writers such as Edward Lee, Peter Crowther, Tom Piccirilli and Graham Masterton. In Edward Lee's "Night of the Vegetables" he creates a story that is silly to the extreme. It is a parody on the nuclear holocaust theme that has been used dozens, perhaps hundreds, of times in television, film and literature--it was used in at least several episodes of the classic The Twilight Zone series alone. Lee takes a serious plotline and makes it laugh-out-loud funny. A North Korean nuclear reactor suffers a disastrous meltdown; with one hitch, they used dirt infested with vegetables to cover the core. The events that follow will keep the reader both laughing and guessing. Lee's plotting is precise, his pacing is perfect, and the ending is hilarious.

Peter Crowther, in his story, "A Worse Place Than Hell" speculates quite successfully about the problems of cloning, when a group of government scientists decide to "bring back" Abraham Lincoln--when Lincoln escapes into the modern city of New York he is dazzled and frightened in the same breath. Tom Piccirilli brings to life a surreal and moody ghost story in his "Broken 'Neath the Weight of Wraiths," and Masterton with precise plotting shows us yet another possibility of conspiracy involving the assassination of John F. Kennedy--this story reminds us just how good Masterton is, and begs the question: Why isn't this guy a bestseller?

Another benefit of this anthology is that it introduces a mostly horror audience to several established mystery writers. To name a few: Max Allan Collins, Bill Crider, Jill M. Morgan and Robert J. Randisi. Randisi's story "The President's Mind" is a romp. It has all of the elements of good storytelling: violence, mystery, suspense, and even a few good old fashioned scares, not to mention a Voodoo curse. This story is so well plotted, written, and enjoyable I was disappointed to see the end--there just wasn't enough of it!

The majority of the stories are quite successful. Unfortunately there are a handful--let's say four of the sixteen, that are woefully terrible. One such story is Brian Hodge's less than successful "Healing the Body Politic." This was not only a poor selection for the anthology, but its position as the opening story will likely put-off many would-be readers from discovering the better stories that follow.

White House Horrors, with blemishes and all, is an excellent read. The style and range is broad, and overall the stories are well-written and entertaining. If you are looking for hardcore splatter-punk this collection will not satisfy, but if you want something quiet, thoughtful and a little spooky it's a good bet.

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