A Little Amber Book of Wicked Shots by Robert McCammon
Borderlands Press (Spring 2020)
146 pages; $30 limited edition signed & numbered hardcover (750 copies; sold out)
Reviewed by Blu Gilliand
Borderlands Press has a built an outstanding back catalog of titles with its Little Books Series, attracting an array of legendary-or-heading-there authors including Charles L. Grant, Jack Ketchum, Josh Malerman, Sarah Pinborough, Caitlin R. Kiernan, and a host of others. These tend to sell out quickly—including the entry we’re looking at today, A Little Amber Book of Wicked Shots by Robert McCammon. So, while today’s review may not serve as a call for you to rush out and buy this book—I mean, I ain’t sellin’ mine, and I doubt many others will, either—let it be a lesson for you to get on the Borderlands Press mailing list so you can start grabbing these titles when they are released.
For this book, McCammon not only penned three brand-new short stories, he also put together recipes for three original drinks: Bloody Lime, Hero’s Journey, and Moon Shot. Each drink makes a cameo in the story it precedes; while none are really integral to the stories, it’s a nice touch.
The stories themselves, particularly the first two, serve as reminders of the power and versatility McCammon wields in the short story format. Though best known these days for writing the thoroughly-researched, intricately plotted Matthew Corbett series, the stories in Wicked Shots show that he can still pack quite a punch in a fraction of the space.
Leading off is “Little Green Gown.” A shirt salesman on a swing through Birmingham, Alabama, encounters the ghost of a young girl at an elegant Southern hotel. According to hotel staff the ghost is usually benevolent, but she seems to harbor some animosity toward the salesman. As their encounters escalate, he begins to fear that the ghost has somehow seen behind the mask of civility he works so hard to maintain, and has caught a glimpse of secrets he is desperate to keep buried. This is “quiet horror” at its finest, filled with dread that builds from the first page, told in a spare style that leans heavy on atmosphere rather than jolts and shocks.
McCammon switches gears with the second story, “Message from the Overmind.” Jace Braun is an authentic New York hero, adored for his two seasons as a Rangers hockey player known as “The Swordsman,” admired for the terrifying run he made into a burning building to save a small child. Unfortunately, both his career and his heroic act are marred by violence. He was out of hockey after a vicious, one-punch attack ended another man’s career, and he’s infamous for severely injuring two officers who tried to keep him out of the burning building.
Braun chalks up both incidents to the legendary strength and violent impulses that he’s struggled to control his entire life. Add in the occasional strange vision, and he’s got a lot on his plate, but he mostly maintains a normal life…until the day that complete strangers begin to whisper to him that “Mozbaroch is coming.”
“Overmind” leans heavily on McCammon’s abilities to conjure strange imagery and write compelling action scenes. It’s the longest of the bunch, but fast-paced and thrilling enough that the pages fly by.
The final story, “DST, Inc.”, is a slight tale of a personal vendetta, a mysterious agency, and a heaping helping of “you get what you deserved.” I couldn’t help but think of “Quitters, Inc.”, the Stephen King story in which a company uses extreme methods to help a man quit smoking. In McCammon’s story, the agents are able to destroy a rival’s life with relative ease, but the path before the man who hires them is no less bumpy after they’re done.
Robert McCammon is one of the best, most consistently reliable writers working today. He takes simple concepts and uses pure skill, elegant writing, strong characterizations and deft turns of phrase to turn them into memorable pieces. If you can find a copy on the secondary market, A Little Amber Book of Wicked Shots is worth picking up.