Narrator: Fred Wolinsky
Publisher: Dale T. Phillips (2014)
Length: 10 hours 52 minutes
This is a big book of stories, no question about that. Here, Dale T. Phillips has put together 30 tales ranging from horror to fantasy, from scifi to mystery. I quite enjoyed this collection (as you will see by the summaries below). Most of the tales had a little surprise or three for me, which was a delight. With a collection this big, all by 1 author, I always worry that the stories will become predictable. That was not the case with this collection.
My one criticism lies in the lack of female characters. The female characters come in a few flavors: simply referenced but no appearance (dead wives is a common theme) – 3; physical appearance but they have no speaking lines – 2; the ladies (or just one lady) do have a few lines, but they aren’t particularly important to the plot – 12; the ladies (or just 1 lady) make a difference and are integral to the plot – 7 speaking roles, 2 nonspeaking roles. 4 tales lacked women of any sort (unless you count a female moose, which would still leave 3 tales lacking women). It is obvious that the author knows how to write female character (basically, just write them like real people) and I wonder why he doesn’t do so more often.
Over all, an excellent collection of entertainment. Yes, I can totally love a book even if it lacks equality – kind of like real life and The Hobbit. Briefly, I want to gush a little about my favorite stories in this collection. Two of them are fantasy tales – Our New Queen and Froggy Went a Courting. I loved both of these because of the darker natures to the tales. And each is told from a single narrator explaining the situation, so it was very easy to follow. Oddly, each lacked proper names for the characters, which worked just perfectly for short stories. The Tree of Sorrows was also a favorite. It dealt with a heavy topic – suicide. In the end, the choice is still left up to the main character, but he is given knowledge that allows him to weigh his choice wisely. This tale, more than the others, shows the author’s insight into human nature.
I highly recommend this collection if you are into short story collections. The range of genres promises to keep you entertained and the collection as a whole is far from boring!
The Easiest Man to Kill – The narrator was in in WWI, Korean war, and then worked for the government. His daughter died and that starts the downhill decline for our narrator. He blames one man for the losses in his life and his experience in chemical labs lets him take his vengeance. I was surprised who he decided to blame! 4/5 stars
Bootleggers – Prohibition Era – Billy the Bootlegger is recruiting more muscle. He chooses Davie Donaldson, who knows how to work a boat. His first job is moving whiskey for a rich guy, Cane. But things get complicated when one of the rum runners starts an affair with cane’s wife. I found the ending a bit predictable and the dialogue was like something out of an old black and white gangster movie. 3/5 stars
Rooms For Tourists – Private Investigator Parker found body in parking lot by his car. Unfortunately, he had an altercation with the man earlier in the day (Sox fan versus Yankies fan). Parker looks like the main suspect, so he takes it upon himself to solve this mystery. I really enjoyed this character Parker and I have a secret hope that the author will write more stories starring him. 5/5 stars
Nighthawks – The story opens with a painting, Nighthawks, which features a diner with a few people including the narrator. The narrator then takes us back in time and explains how those folks came to be in the diner. What follows is a tale of gangs and city government and a love affair. 4/5 stars.
The Mousetrap – Rory has been doing jobs for many years. He’s never been caught. In this tale, he picks the narrator (a safe cracker) for the latest job. Laurie gets them in to the place and then she tortures the house owner. This story had a lot of potential but the ending felt rushed and the dialogue was, once again, taken from a black and white gangster flick. 3/5 stars
Our New Queen – Told in a letter pleading for assistance, this tale is a Snow White fractured fairy tale. The twist to this tale was great and I liked the mix of fairy tale setting with a touch of the gruesome. This was one of my favorite stories in the collection! 6/5 stars
Blades and Butchery – In the Land of Krankmor, at the Pigsnout Inn, the portly giant Fat Bird and his skinny buddy Legay Louser are needing work. They are offered a job – recover the princess kidnapped by Count Lindberger. Princess had Jewish NY accent & fainted a lot. There was plenty of humor mixed in. 4/5 stars
Froggy Went a Courting – Told by the narrator (a mute sister). Her older sister is to be wed to the High Count ( nicknamed Froggie because of his appearance), but she is not happy and desires a third son from a family beneath their own. Little sis does her best to spoil the courting. This tale had a twisted ending that some might call happy and others tragic. 6/5 stars
The Little Guy – This is a retelling of the Rumpelstiltskin story. Our narrator is ‘the little guy’ who was born to a witch. He came out short and with a handful of magical abilities. The King locks a talented spinner in a tower full of straw and orders her to spin it into gold. She can’t do it, but the Little Guy can. If you are familiar with the story, then you can guess where the story goes from here. This is a more adult version (which I liked) but I kept wondering how the tale would be told from the woman’ point of view. 3/5 stars
Jakob and the Witch – Jacob went to market to sell a hen. On way the home, dark & cold, he finds a woman in the stocks. He shows her kindness. They chat about magic versus metal, and nature versus iron. I wanted to see more of Jakob’s adventures, which would hopefully involve the unnamed witch. 4/5 stars
Yesterday and Today – In a future where human life span has been extended, Corbin wanders a ruined city. Nearly everyone suffers from Prescen – a condition where Alzheimers afflicts a person no matter how young the body (as bodies can be replenished and rejuvenated). In his muddleness, he hopes to find his wife, Linda, once again. He helps others as he can. This story made me think a little of The Road by Cormac McCarthy because of its bleakness. 4/5 stars
God Save the Queen – Told in a series of news broadcasts, the reader learns that the world is slowly coming to an end via giant lobsters who are forced out of their normal waters by pollution. Fred Wolinsky, the narrator, did a ton of accents for this one. It was a fun and horrifying story. Made me think of the original radio broadcast concerning Martian invaders. 5/5 stars
Ruination Beach – Wanda, Kissy, Smiley, Burk, Randall, and the dog Fetch (plus the narrator) are all living on Ruination Beach in The After. They have caches of alcohol and pills that someone has to fetch daily. The world has ended and they spend each day trying to forget all the good things that are now gone. Narrator comes across a woman who doesn’t speak while fetching the daily party drugs & alcohol. This was another well made short story that got the idea of ‘bleakness’ across well. 4/5
Night of the Annoying Dead – Zombies happen, but they aren’t interested in eating brains. No, they just want to return to their normal lives Humorous piece about zombies being the slowest on the golf course and not much use at the office (with fingers falling off, etc.). 3/5 stars
Killer Angel – Avery Waxman is a detective and is called in to chat with a lady picked up in the rough part of town. She has no ID and claims to have come from the sky Her name is Pariah and and she tells Waxman that if she is harmed, then she carries something that will wipe out all of humanity. It is her job to test humanity. 5/5 stars
Roadside Attraction – Guy is driving through the desert, fleeing from some past tragedy, and comes across Mr. Kay’s diner and Jerome’s monster snake attraction He has a meal at the diner. Everything is ultra-perfect. Plus there are odd pictures in the hall. The 2 twin girls with white frilly dresses and black hair seem odd as well. Will Guy stop running? Will he decide to go on with his life? 4/5 stars
The Great Snipe Hunt – Great kid’s tale. Kids playing in summer – races, swimming, tea parties. Peach Pie, Angel Eye, Harold, Rabbit, Willard the Wisp (their make believe friend) decide a snipe hunt will be grand.There is some rhyming in the narration which was well suited to the tale. 5/5 stars
The Tree of Sorrows – Mallory, who is in a funk, is walking along the Golden Gate Bridge. He wants to jump as he is missing his dead wife fiercely. A little man comes along and talks him out of jumping right away. He offers to let him trade his sorrow for another’s. Mallory goes along, only half believing. He believes that his pain can not be matched or out done by another’s. At the Tree of Sorrows he learns the truth, one way or another. This was such a beautiful and haunting story, one of my favorites in the collection. 6/5 stars
The Cats of Athens – Jim Bloom travels to Greece, which he has long admired, but finds it incomprehensible. He doesn’t like the wines or uzo, finds the military dress laughable, is constantly confused by the signs. Then one day, he saves a cat from being injured or killed by a group of kids. Later that day, he fall asleep in in a public forum (tourist attraction) and wakes well into the night to chanting. Then he sees cats turning into naked humans. The cat from before turns into a beautiful woman and tells him who they really are and what they have been up to. A charming story that could be a good opening to something bigger. 4/5 stars
The Watch of the Yellow Eyes – Talbout is in a funk, wrestling with his memories of Linnie, his dead wife. He’s contemplating suicide. Goes out to the woods with a camera and a shotgun. He sees a wolf and stairs deep into its eyes. Talbout has to face The Question and decide his answer. After The Tree of Sorrows, this tale seemed pale in comparison. 3/5 stars
Kamikaze Hipsters – The Artist (and our narrator) has a jaded view about the public. He has a show of his work at the Watkins Gallery in the run down section of town. There he meets her and she (who never gets a name) sees through all his crap. His masterpieces portray violence and blood. She offers to model. Very interesting, if twisted, tale. 5/5 stars
Rummy – 5 businessmen (perhaps one of them is a lady, but this is never made clear) go to lunch. Hayward is the boss and he is ticked he didn’t get his favorite table. He thinks the waitress is a bimbo and he doesn’t like the elderly busboy who has the shakes. He assumes the man is an alcoholic. Hayward calls over the manager and gets him to fire the busboy. Mike, and underling to Hayward, feels awful about the busboy getting fired. However, his comments land him unemployed as well. He starts drinking and his coworkers start dying. The ending is left up to the reader’s interpretation – a fun piece! 4/5 stars
The Pit – Coal miners, night shift. They take on a new member, Kovik. Go to work, there’s a cave in. Many members lost. Narrator has legs crushed. Kovik, Bitters, others remaining. One by one the miners die mysteriously. Food and water running out. There’s a creepy paranormal twist to this tale. Wolinksy did a good job with the accents on this one. 4/5 stars
Carnival of Pain – Billy wants to the go to the Carnival of Pan (and the artistic flyer makes it look like Carnival of Pain). He doesn’t have a job (too young) and his mom works full time, doesn’t have the money or the time to take him. He digs under the fence and thinks he will have a great time. But right away he notices people aren’t smiling and laughing. They have these brown lumps attached to their necks. He sees a show or two, but they are cruel and not fun. He finds Electro Girl (Audra Lee) in a cage, who fills him in on what is going on. This was a creepy kid’s adventure tale! 5/5 stars
Locust Time – Jenny and narrator are in their last year of high school. He is in love with her. She is just having a good time, figuring things out. She tells him about locusts (cicadas) and how they wait underground for 17 years and this is the year of the cicada. He freaks and starts hearing buzzing everywhere all the time. He takes to catching insects and drowning them in gasoline and then having little controlled fires with their little bodies. Things escalate from there. Before you know it, he has a secret buried in the back yard, one that will awaken come the next locust year. I loved the ending on this one! 5/5 stars
The Last Battle – Duvall and French soldiers in Vietnam fighting to maintain the French colony. Duvall is the only one among them to speak Vietnamese. As they march through the jungle, he starts experiencing visions and physical senses of other times – ringmail armor, swords, crossbows One other soldier confides he is seeing the same. As they continue heading towards a village, Duvall gets sinking feeling. Duvall just wants it all to end, for there to be one last battle. The ending was swift and muddled on this one. I liked the overall idea, but found it needed something more to get a clear idea across. 3/5 stars
Moose Tracks – 4 guys going out hunting. Lou the leader (and biggest lout), Chuck, and Harold are old friends. Bud is the new guy. Telling tales of hunting as they drive into the Allagash, drinking Pabst and littering. They are the dominant species and moose are terribly easy to hunt, or so they tell themselves. Haha! I really enjoyed this one. It made me think of the battle moose in The Hobbit movies. 5/5
Body English – Terri & Henry are married (he’s old and she is young) and Terri flirts and drinks too much. She ends up sleeping with Tom after he has a fight with his wife (whose name I think is Sharon). He’s a ashamed of it and when she returns days later for more attention, he tosses her out. She had been drinking and she dies in a car accident. Henry’s grief takes a cunning and malicious turn. I think this tale give a woman (Terri) the most lines out of all these short stories and she is not a very interesting character. Ending was a bit predictable. 3/5 stars
The Silver Web by Dale T. Phillips and Tom Channel – This kid Barry is out bicycling when a rain storm comes along. He finds an odd silvery bracelet out by the reservoir. He goes shivery and unconscious. His mom, Theresa, calls the sheriff’s office worried about her missing son in this storm. Sheriff Tom goes out looking, finds him, and gets him to the hospital. Doctors aren’t sure what his problem is. Barry starts talking in some glottal tongue while unconscious. The bracelet, with its odd symbols, and a voice recording are sent to language expert who has to call in other experts. A Dr. Harold calls in a frenzy and they race to the reservoir where they attempt to save the world….with a soldiering kit. I really liked the nod to the H. P. Lovecraft in this story. 4/5
King and Country – Set shortly after WWI & the Great Influenza. Lord Barclay is hanging out at a hospital for his mental instability. He served in the war and suffers from shell shock. While he is convalescing, he meets another inmate – Lewis. He draws these messed up pictures of people with heads of beasts, giant beetles, and other horrors. The two start talking. Lewis was hunting for Egyptian artifacts to impress Lord Cordovan when he heard stories about women, children, & men going missing. With a group of armed men, he went down into the tunnels and found horrible monsters doing horrible things to their human captives. Lewis eventually escaped, but he had aged by 40 years and no one believed him. He was sent to hospital. Lord Barclay is the first to believe him. Together, they make a pact to go destroy these monsters. Nitty-gritty and gruesome. I really liked the reality in this one, making the fantastical horrors all more terrifying! 5/5 stars
Narration: Fred Wolinsky really outdid himself with this collection. I have listened to several books he has narrated now and I believe this is his best work yet. He had to put forth a huge range of characters to make this book work. His accents were great and his male vs. female voices were distinct. He also had to do a range of ages from little kids to the elderly. Also, several of the stories were full of emotion and Fred’s performance really imbued the written word with those emotions. An excellence performance!
What I Liked: Quite a range of subjects/genres covered; always entertaining; they varied in seriousness and humor; great narration.
What I Disliked: Could have used a few more lead female characters.
What Others Think: