A review by Joey Madia
Anthologies are a lifeblood of the publishing industry. At any given time, I’m usually reading at least one. They are a great way to explore a certain genre (in this case, Thrillers) or to learn about new authors whose works you might enjoy.
Author–editor Jeffery Deaver has assembled a notable group of writers whose accolades as far as bestseller lists, awards, number of different languages in print, and sheer productivity most likely equal any current anthology’s on the market, and there’s plenty to highlight among the dozen stories in this brand-new collection, so let’s dive in.
Editor Deaver eases the reader into an eclectic mix of stories with one that treads along a tried and true trope of this genre: serial killers. [Subsequent stories also use this and other tropes: teen pranks turned bad; murderous rampages in snow storms, ala The Shining (notice the title of the anthology echoes King’s Four Past Midnight); and grizzled PIs with a heart.] The cleverly named Stephen Raye Vaughn (“no relation to the famed musician”) is readying to be executed as midnight fast approaches—having ensured his legacy in the annals of agents of big body count through his son. The author, Alan Jacobson, “spent over twenty-five years working with the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, the DEA, the US Marshals Service, SWAT, the NYPD, Scotland Yard, local law enforcement, and the US military,” which shows in the details of his tale.
Tale number two, “Cell Phone Intolerant,” by Kevin O’Brien, is a fun “if only I could exact my revenge…” romp through a cantankerous inventor’s seeking of justice for all of us who have suffered the sights and sounds of a rude cell phone user as we go about our day—in grocery stores, public restrooms, on buses, and in traffic. A line from this engaging cautionary tale provides the title for the collection.
“All Aboard,” by Hank Phillippi Ryan, leans on the trope of “Strangers on a Train” with a hi-tech twist that’s a fitting companion to O’Brien’s revenge-fantasy-complete-with-consequences. And remember: worse than overhearing someone is them overhearing you.
Violence in a church has a profound effect on the human psyche, whether it be the Civil Rights–era Birmingham bombing that took the lives of four little girls, to the massacre in a Charleston, South Carolina church enacted by white supremacist Dylann Roof, to random acts of God, like tornados. Add in a family targeted for tragedy through economic hardship, disease, and war and you have the kind of horrific inevitabilities explored in Joseph Badal’s “Gone Forever.” What is the breaking point for an individual at the center of such a storm, and how do we stop them from reaching it? Badal leaves it to the reader, and answers are hard to find.
Though hints will soon arrive.
“Night Shift,” a story about storytellers, is a well-woven tale of the city desk at a local newspaper that again serves as the second half of a pair of stories. What if a killer-in-the-making called your paper, inspired and emboldened by a recent mass shooting and desperate to tell his story of a lifetime of abuse? How would you use the time to try to change the outcome? Linwood Barclay uses parallel storytelling (the would-be shooter and newsman and another newsman and a detective) to unfold a high-stakes narrative with a twist ending worthy of O. Henry. According to his bio, no less than Stephen King is counted among his fans, and it’s easy to reckon why.
By this point in the anthology, you might be wondering if it’s worth EVER answering the phone, trusting anyone, or going out in public, where you might encounter someone who changes your life in profoundly unhappy ways.
What would a Thriller anthology be without a cemetery? Heather Graham’s “Midnight in the Garden of Death” delivers, employing the ever-popular trope of high-school kids out for a night of fun getting in well over their heads as they encounter local New Orleans vampire lore, a serial killer, and many other frights. Graham’s evocative writing sets an eerie scene and keeps the tension high.
After an old-fashioned detective story from Paul Kemprecos featuring a veteran character of eight novels, Aristotle “Soc” Socarides, the reader’s treated to a compelling tale of the dark side of art in a contribution from editor Jeffery Deaver titled “A Creative Defense.” Fans of the 2016 Netflix mockumentary Fury of the Demon, about a supposed film by Georges Méliès that drove viewers to violence and insanity, will appreciate this engaging tale about a piece of music that does the same. Deaver’s well-crafted backstory and presentation of faux scholarship about an Italian composer is detailed and plausible, giving the story credibility and heft, including a clever cipher based on musical notes.
Following a then-and-now take on Cinderella with two vastly different outcomes by Rhys Bowen, we return to high-school kids hip-deep in horror via John Lescroart’s “Easy Peasy.” Cool kids and outcasts. Betrayal and revenge. And an ending designed to make you question how playing by the rules and turning the other cheek could be holding you back from achieving your heart’s desire.
If there’s a common thread (beyond midnight) to the stories (or roughly half of them) in this collection, it’s the twist ending. In some cases, it’s a big reveal or unexpected event, while for others it’s a “flipping of the bones” or subverting of tropes that truly makes you think—about society, choices, and the startling fluency of morality when you get beyond appearances. A primary function of story in many cultures, especially older ones, is to reinforce expected community behaviors.
But, as I have already mentioned, it can also subvert them.
Take “Tonic,” by D. P. Lyle. On the surface and through most of its arc, it’s a classic “mad scientist” scenario with shades of Burke and Hare and a small-town sheriff right out of Stephen King. Lyle’s narrator voice suits the syntax and vernacular of the geography and its people, while names like Pine Creek, Pine Valley, Harper’s Crossroads, and Lee County are wonderfully evocative. Let it all whisk you away, forgetting my hints and settling in for a very cool surprise.
The most challenging piece, in terms of complexity and pushing the limits of credulity, is Shannon Kirk’s “Tonight is the Night.” Some stories require us to put aside the analytical mind, ignoring the plot holes and plot conveniences/coincidences and just enjoy the ride—especially if it’s in a Snowcat on the side of a Vermont mountain in the dead of winter. If that sounds familiar (especially since I mentioned a certain bestselling horror author’s name not too long ago), that’s alright as well. Because this one, despite its icy horror exterior is, at its core, a heartwarming love story, for the living and the dead.
The collection ends with a tale of redemption through technology penned by Jon Land. “ATM” serves as the counterpoint to the stories that precede it—an excellent device for an anthology that truly tests our faith in humankind, especially when it comes to the New Technic of gadgets and gizmos and all that we surrender of ourselves to engage with them.
I’ve already mentioned the accolades of the contributors; I highly recommend taking the time to read “About the Authors.” Deaver has succeeded in putting together a stunning group of successful, talented writers who have taken a well-worn theme and done something collectively memorable with it.
TITLE: Nothing Good Happens After Midnight
AUTHOR/EDITOR: Jeffery Deaver
PUBLISHER: Suspense Publishing
PAPERBACK ISBN: 9780578724362
Hardcover ISBN: 9780578750576