Angler in the Darkness by Edward M. Erdelac
CreateSpace (April 2017)
384 pages; $14 paperback; $3.99 e-book
Reviewed by Chris Hallock
Versatile scribe Edward M. Erdelac is a whiz at seamless genre-blending, exemplified by his popular Merkabah Rider series featuring a demon-fighting Hasidic gunfighter and his exploits in the Wild West. Erdelac occupies a special place in literature, honoring the tradition of high concept fantasy engineered by luminaries Robert E. Howard and Jules Verne, spliced with the gritty DNA of Elmore Leonard and Joe R. Lansdale. Like his forebears, Erdelac’s stories are populated by ragtag, wholly relatable ruffians who tangle with prehistoric creatures, monstrous demigods, and rowdy outlaws, these threats often overlapping in the same saga. Erdelac’s work is rich in thematic heft encompassing a bevy of issues—racism, colonialism, and other forms of oppression and exploitation—without resorting to heavy-handedness; a sense of gravitas pervades despite the phantasmagorical environments his anti-heroes are urged to navigate.
His latest venture, the terrific anthology Angler in Darkness, is an assortment of yarns spanning pulpy horror, repurposed fairy tales, and good old fashioned supernatural-tinged westerns, an eclectic collection certain to please discerning consumers of weird fiction. Each tale demonstrates Erdelac’s penchant for subverting tropes and his flare for unfettered storytelling featuring larger-than-life characters, razor-sharp wit, and hair-raising tension. The reader is confronted not only with fantastic creatures, but also the ruthless, morally-bankrupt, and very human monsters who plague society.
Each entry in this collection is sorted categorically into past, present, and future lore, a chronology that grows increasingly grim and claustrophobic with each passing era. The author is mindful of the historic and cultural details inherent in the time periods, landscapes, and populations he’s illustrating to the reader. His diligence in this regard lends authenticity to events whether revealed through the eyes of a southwestern Native American Tribe or a gang of teens in Chicago’s Cabrini-Green housing projects.
Erdelac kicks things off with “The Mound of the Night Panther,” a tale of greed with a nasty Lovecraftian twist. “Bigfoot Walsh” is a rollicking departure from rural folklore, the titular beast—part-man, part-Sasquatch—depicted as a rugged lawman akin to beasts who might team up with Mike Mignola’s “Hellboy.” The reader is confronted with the two-fold horror of pedophilia and disease of age in Erdelac’s contemporary retooling of “Red Riding Hood” in “The Better to See You.” In one of the heaviest hitters, a vengeful inner city teen taps into an innate supernatural ability to combat neighborhood thugs and his dire circumstances in “Conviction.” “Devil’s Cap Brawl” is a romp which funnels kung-fu and a sensational battle of giants into the context of treacherous conditions nineteenth century Chinese laborers faced in building the American railroad system. In these examples, Erdelac pulls no punches in depictions of grotesquerie, and in equal measure, shows no restraint in the language and actions of his unsavory characters.
If you’re new to Erdelac’s work, Angler in Darkness is a fabulous introduction, a bizarre medley of the perverse, sinister, and strange. Erdelac weaves a refreshingly unabashed tapestry, his blunt naturalistic dialogue hitting as hard as the visceral thrills splashing across the pages. Most importantly, his work gives voice to diverse points-of-view, his protagonists arriving from walks of life often overlooked in genre fiction. Angler in Darkness is a provocative, compelling, and deliciously devilish anthology from one of the most talented voices in fantasy fiction, and a must read for aficionados of the unusual.