“So here we have seventeen stories,” Lawrence Block writes in the Foreward to At Home in the Dark, “and what they all have in common, besides their unquestionable excellence, is where they stand on that gray scale. They are, in a word, dark.”
Darkness is the one true unifying characteristic of the tales in this collection. The stories, which range from straight-up crime to period western to near-future dystopia to borderline fantasy, are otherwise far too diverse to comfortably classify this as a crime collection. What we have are seventeen distinct voices taking seventeen distinct approaches that come together as one of the strongest collections of dark fiction I’ve read in a great while.
It should come as no surprise that a book featuring stories by Joe Hill and Joe R. Lansdale would count said stories among its standouts. Lansdale’s “The Senior Girls Bayonet Drill Team” is about the struggle for leadership of an athletic team. It contains Lansdale’s trademark dialogue, sharply written and authentic. It also contains vague hints about the world in which the story unfolds that will leave you wanting more.
Hill is far more direct about the world(s) in which his “Faun” takes place. A man finds an entryway into a bucolic setting that even the most casual reader of fantasy will recognize. Unfortunately, he chooses to exploit it for personal gain. Anyone who’s scrolled angrily past a Facebook photo of someone poised, rifle in hand, over the corpse of some majestic creature will feel that same anger over this man’s callous decision. But hang on, because even when things get darkest, there’s always a little light ahead.
Warren Moore’s “Rough Mix” is a short, sweet tale of rock ‘n roll revenge. Wallace Stroby’s “Nightbound” depicts a thief’s harrowing escape attempt when a heist goes sideways. Duane Swierczynski’s “Giant’s Despair” tells the story of several successive escape attempts, as a man’s attempts to cover up one action lead to one difficult situation after another.
At Home in the Dark both exemplifies and defies labels like dark fiction, or crime, or noir. Suffice to say it’s a book stuffed with good stories about bad people. Highly recommended.