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Crimewave 7

Edited by Andy Cox

The Third Alternative Press

UK Trade Paperback original

ISBN 0-952-69478-6

Publication Date: 10-01-2003

178 Pages; $12.00

Date Reviewed: 02-03-04

Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2004



Mystery, Horror, General Fiction


Mystery fiction is so high profile that it's practically no longer a genre. Many, if not most of our bestselling novels are mystery, and those which are not explicitly mystery often sport plots and characters informed by mystery. Critics are falling over themselves to literarily lionize the authors and immortalize their back-catalogues. Andy Cox's handsomely mounted 'Crimewave' started out six issues ago as a normal magazine but has evolved into a regularly-issued anthology of top-notch stories covering a wide range with a very dark skew. But 'Crimewave 7' offers more than mysteries and more than solutions. This collection of short fiction is ready to go head-to-head against any of the oh-so-literary magazines in terms of depth, breadth and quality, and frankly dear, those darlings don't stand much of a chance against this combination of hot heads and cold hearts.

First and foremost, 'Crimewave 7' is an elegant magazine that you can readily read in your literary café while holding your head high. The stories are printed book-style with no columns. With the large no-column format and heavy, glossy paper, this is a delight to hold and read. There are no illustrations, editorials, reviews, interviews or articles. This is a fiction anthology, pure and simple.

What's neither pure nor simple are the stories within. Cox has gathered up a wide range of writers, gathering widely-known international bestsellers with a group of lesser-known but equally-skilled authors. 'Crimewave 7' -- and 'Crimewave' in general -- offers an ambience of dark suspense as opposed to sleuths and solutions. Sleuths and solutions do make an appearance, but in this issue at least, they're strictly confined to excerpts from novels. Now, novel excerpts can be troubling. One doesn't want to ruin a novel by reading the climax first, but on the other hand, one wants a story that seems like story and not like an excerpt. That's where the general inclinations of Cox and 'Crimewave' come in handy.

The true joy of the stories in 'Crimewave 7' is that they avoid cute endings and simple writing. And thus, the excerpts from novels fit perfectly into the feel of the rest of the fiction -- endings are studiously avoided. If you like your stories dark, dense, heavily atmospheric, compulsively readable but in general sans a pat ending, then 'Crimewave' is your beat. The stories are rife with unpleasant violence and unpleasant characters doing unpleasant things. Rarely does somebody get a comeuppance. If the appeal of mystery fiction for you is the sense of order restored, the sense of crime and punishment, then 'Crimewave' is not for you.

That said, the writing in 'Crimewave' is exciting and original. From the opening piece by Gary Couzens' 'The Missing Man', in which an accountant finds himself in the Amazon and well beyond his capacity for violence, to Tim Casson's closing story about a man in CPR training with good reason to be 'Squeamish', the reader will meet characters who shudder and judder about the physical and moral landscape without a rudder. They are directionless scum that you'd best hope not to meet. Amazingly, there are really no clinkers in this collection of fifteen stories, no stories that are less than gripping and original.

Of course, there are standouts. 'School Gate Mums', by Muriel Grey, is a wonderfully nasty piece of work about the most vicious women you could hope not to meet -- snooty British schoolmums who cackle and crow over the misfortunes of a woman who is less fortunate than they. Grey's prose is as crisp as a cold morning on a playground and the pain she inflicts as agonizing as your first scraped knee -- assuming you saw the shining white bones underneath. Steve Mohn's 'Foldouts' is a novella length work that contains a novel's worth of story. If you can imagine the scunge that sells drugs in the piss-stinking alley behind the worst bar in town, then you can start to imagine the characters that Mohn has in store for you. Given the relatively short length of the piece, it covers a lot of ground and has lots of details that you might hope to forget.

Ray Nayler goes a long way towards selling copies of his 'Crimewave Special: American Graveyards' in 'Catch', another short work with a wider scope set in the distressing dregs of poverty. Christopher Fowler is apparently working on a series of "unsung heroine" stories, and his contribution here, 'American Waitress' is so well written that the reader is content just to experience the simple, uncluttered life of, well, an American waitress. It's a life that does not remain happy for long in Fowler's inventive narrative. Anthony Mann's 'Esther Gordon Framlingham' is a hysterical, laugh-till-you-cry look at the business of writing mysteries. It's not going to encourage anyone to enter the business. John Grant's 'Tails' is a nasty little slice of small-town DJ fun, while James Sallis offers the briefest piece of advice on 'Your New Career'.

'Crimewave 7' does not contain any stories with supernatural or science fictional elements. This is straight-up unpleasant dark fiction, uncontaminated by magic realism or, in fact magic of any kind. For that, the reader will be thankful. There's nothing to dilute the power or the glory of what Cox brings to the table. Clean production and unclean humanity pair up to produce an entertainingly varied reading experience. Those who enjoy short fiction as a palate cleanser, so to speak, between novels, have a lot to look forward to -- except, alas, a clean palate.