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09 April 2013 @ 12:04 pm
Book Review - Uncommon Assassins  
Last year I gave an enthusiastic - yet conditional - review of Smart Rhino’s first major anthology,
ZIPPERED FLESH. I liked it, especially its diversity of styles, but I found many of the stories heavy on the gore and light on content. I also thought the obvious plotline of a “body enhancements gone wrong” theme – mad scientist/amoral villain tricks foolish protagonist into an ugly and painful situation – got recycled a bit too often.

So I wasn’t sure how I was going to take to UNCOMMON ASSASSINS, Smart Rhino’s second production.

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I knew that Weldon is as passionate about suspense as he is about horror, and that he has an eye for talent and good story-telling. I’d been privileged to read and critique his contribution to the anthology, “Welcome to the Food Chain”. But would UNCOMMON ASSASSINS give me bang for my buck (figuratively speaking - counting publisher/editors among your friends has its perks).

The first story – “Nightshade”, a military action suspense-thingy by Stephen England, didn’t give me much hope. It was fine, but unsurprising in an anthology about assassins, and not at all something I would have read on its own. I pushed through it to the next story, preparing myself for more of the same.

NOPE. What follows in UNCOMMON ASSASSINS is as eclectic a mix of genres as I praised in ZIPPERED FLESH – with a delightful variety in storytelling to sweeten the deal. Sure, there’s some of what you’d expect – normal people driven to avenge a loved one, hired thugs who find that they’re now the one in the cross-hairs. But overall, the authors of UC were creative. Our assassins run the gamut, from a depressed, middle-aged woman to a Viking story-teller, a time-travelling hit-man to a blind sushi chef. Some are genius, some are fools. Sometimes you root for the killer, sometimes the mark.

I won’t say that every story won me over. “Killer” has a creative format but kind of plummets off the edge into - what did I just read? “Madame” was rather flamboyant. The titular character of “Bloodshed Fred” was so shallow and abrasive I couldn’t wait for the story to be over.

But the gems of UC still resonate, even though it’s been many weeks since I put the book away. “For the Love of Boys” by Rob M. Miller, “Slasher” by F. Paul Wilson, “Fire & Ice” by Joseph Badal and “Marcy Killing” by Laura Disilverio are all stories in which the psychology of the characters matters. They’re written with sensitivity and depth, and I truly enjoyed them. “The Man Who Shot Hitler” by Elliot Capon is a very strong and interesting “what-if” historical piece. “Katakiuchi”, I admit, took me by surprise (plus I don’t usually like first-person narratives that address the reader, but this one was cute, so kudos on that).

“Scrub” by Michael Bailey and “The Wellmaster’s Daughter” by James S. Dorr were my favorites, though in both cases I had to ask the editor if what I thought had happened in the stories was what the writers intended. A little ambiguity there, but damned good writing.

Overall, an impressive sophomore collection, definitely worth checking out. For fiction lovers and writers alike, Smart Rhino is one to watch.
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