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Thursday, January 21, 2010

"Hell is an Awfully Big City" a Collection of D. L. Russell Stories (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Order "Hell is an Awfully Big City" HERE (Read Excerpt available)
Official DL Russell Website

AUTHOR INFORMATION: D. L. RUSSELL is the author of various published short stories and novellas. He is a gulf war veteran who promised to himself to realize his writing dreams after his return from the war. Hell is an Awfully Big City is a collection of his previously published short stories and novellas along with new ones. He's also the founder of the Strange, Weird, and Wonderful Magazine, which he now Co-Edits with Sharon Black.

PLOT SUMMARY: Hell is an Awfully Big City...

Yes it is! And it's filled with modern incantations of classic Horror, Dark Fantasy, and Science Fiction figures from tired Vampires to Ghouls, from a Sexy Ghost to the local neighborhood Witch, along with dealings with the Devil, and Aliens bent on taking over the Earth. Hell is an Awfully Big City...

The nine stories in this collection were created with the idea that every writer of Horror, should create his/her take on the classic horror themes; the Vampire, the Werewolf, the invading Alien, the Monster. There will always be a place for these iconic horror themes in books, movies, and television shows. These stories have helped the author become a more confident writer, primarily by allowing him to accept the fact this is just beginning as each tale began with nothing more than a generic idea in a note pad.

CLASSIFICATION: All the stories in "Hell is an Awfully Big City" are a mix of dark fantasy with horror and with a bit of humor thrown in as well. They reminded me a lot of the Twilight zone tales as they have quite a bit of "Lovecraftian weird" in them.

FORMAT/INFO: "Hell is an Awfully Big City" is 196 pages long divided into nine different stories and an Introduction. Narration is in the third-person in all the tales and each has its own POV characters. Each story is self-contained and may or may not be set in the same world. October 19th, 2009 marked the American Trade paperback publication of "Hell is an Awfully Big City" via Wild Cat Books.

ANALYSIS: I received a pdf review copy of the book after we got a query regarding it. The book description was alluring even though I'm not much of a short story reader as I usually find them ending too early for my liking. This however doesn't stop me from enjoying them every once in a while.

For this collection I'll be reviewing each short story in the order given in the collection. Here is the order as given in the book along with a single line description:

1] Raymond Doesn't Remember - And you wouldn't want to either. Neighborhood Witches can be that way sometimes.

2] Waas - For Rubin Marcello Waas, it's the fight in the meal, not the taste.

3] That Ain't No Chicken - A flock of hens will often refuse to lay eggs as a group, when stressed.

4] Hell is an Awfully Big City - All Rufus Quincy really wanted was one more ride.

5] Maxwell - Even if you were tired of living, would you fight for your life against the Werewolves?

6] Dreams Still On You - Sometimes, the Unloved, get a second chance.

7] Out of the Water - Frogs aren't the only creatures to ever fall from the sky during a storm.

8] Raalo, Becoming - There are some stinks just not meant to be washed off.

9] The Old Men of McDonald's - We've all seen them in there, sipping coffee all day.

The first story "Raymond Doesn't Remember" is a tale which is split into two time periods August 24th, 1985 & Jul y 20th, 2008. This story is quite the opener as we see the main protagonist in those 2 days and how the events of the former have affected the latter. While I kind of had an idea how the story would end, the author has quite a twist inserted in the end to outthink the reader. This story set the pace for the rest and is highly efficient.

The second story "Waas" tells us about Rubin Marcello Waas and his strange affliction. The story is also interspersed with 2 Mafiosi and one woman who have rather eventful encounter with Rubin. This story was good but not as enthralling as its predecessor. The story ended with an ironic twist!

The third story "That Ain't No Chicken" is one of the longer stories
and is in ways a great tale which mixes horror, SF & LC-weird in many ways to give the readers a tale which will constantly keep them on their toes. Just to give you a hint, the POVs in this tale includes humans as well as other animals and the way the plot kept turning on its head was very exciting for me as a reader. The ending is fast and brutal & doesn't disappoint either.

The next tale is the titular tale of this collection and is the shortest one. However it is quite the funny one amongst all and has a rather "Nice" ending with nice depending on how you view it!

The next tale "Maxwell" is another long one and is a vampire tale and is one of the best in this collection as it showcases Maxwell the vampire and his search for his fellow vampires. The vampires described in it are the darker versions more akin to earlier legends rather than the TV versions nowadays. The story had an ending which I expected a bit but the execution is what makes it so engrossing.

The 6th story "Dreams Still On You" is the best story in this entire collection as it has a haunting storyline and has ending which will invoke the strongest response from the reader. I absolutely loved this story and its conclusion was one which surprised me the most.

The 7th story "Out of the Water" is a tale of "Man versus the elements" as it tells us about a Rap star, his wife and the island on which they are on. With the weather turning worse, events do take a rather unnatural turn and they find out that the surviving the night will take much more out of them than just huddling in their house. This story started nicely and ends rather abruptly but still is very atmospheric and chilling in some ways.

The penultimate story "Raalo, Becoming" is a sort of sequel to the tale about Maxwell as it focuses on Raalo and his predicament; which he has no clue and is rather taken aback when he meets someone who might be able to help him. However the catch is will he be able to accept it? This story was another engaging piece and though disturbing on some level, the dialogue makes the pages fly and has the happiest ending amongst all the stories featured.

The last tale called "The Old Men of McDonald 's" was the book ender and again a big one. It features a retiring old man who recently meets compatriots of a similar age however there is more to the eye than just eating at McDonalds. This tale was the only disappointment for me as I couldn't really understand what was happening in this story. Some explanations are provided however they aren't deep enough for me.

The collection is a nice mix of Horror combined with Weird and dark Urban fantasy as well. D.L. Russell's writing is competent enough to highlight the various characters and their situations [This was really evident in the third story when it comes to POV characters this one took the cake for its sheer ingenuity]. The dialogue was also good enough and each story had its own nuances to differentiate the characters. All in all I went with an open mind for this book and I really enjoyed it, especially I absolutely relished 5 0f the 9 stories, 3 were rather gruesome with their narratives however the characterization was done neatly to uphold the stories. The last tale wasn't up to the mark for me in regards to the standards set by its predecessors and that doesn't mean it was a bad story. I'm sure some readers might like it more than I did.

The story arrangement is done very aptly, offering difference in plot themes and enough variation to keep the reader hooked. The author has taken various tropes and given them his own twist to make the stories dark and weirdly readable.

CONCLUSION: I very much enjoyed these stories and I'm definitely looking forward to what D.L. Russell has to offer in the longer story format especially if he decides to write more about the characters set in "Maxwell" & "Raalo, Becoming". This short story collection is definitely something which will surprise readers with its eclectic tales. Thoroughly recommended for readers who loved the Twilight zone tales and for those who like their stories on the darker side of the literary genre and with twisted plot lines.


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