Kissing Carrion, by Gemma Files

Kissing Carrion, by Gemma Files coverGenre: Horror Anthology
Publisher: Prime
Published: 2003
Reviewer Rating: four stars
Book Review by Ray Wallace

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Let me open this review by saying that if you have a problem with first person narrative then you are probably not going to like Gemma Files’s new collection, Kissing Carrion, as most of the stories presented within are told from this point of view. If, however, you are not ridiculously obsessed with such trivialities (and, yes, to me it is a triviality as I am much more concerned with the tale rather than the teller) then purchase this volume of seventeen stories immediately and prepare for a journey through some of the most beautifully rendered visions of darkness and death to be published this past year.

After a brief but fitting introduction by Caitlin Kiernan we come to the collection’s opening tale, “Kissing Carrion”. The plot centers around a man with one seriously twisted sex drive, a woman who controls a machine that animates the dead in puppet-like fashion, and the corpse that is forced to participate in the aforementioned duo’s live necrophilia show.

Sounds bad enough, huh? We discover how things can always get worse, though, when the dead decide to have a say in the way they are treated. Up next is “Keepsake”, a dark and oddly touching look at the way one girl deals with her brother’s tragic un-death and the new addiction she must help him satiate. Jump to “Blood Makes Noise” where the reader gets up close and personal with the lightless claustrophobia of the deep sea and the terror of the ill-fated submarine crew that comes into contact with the entity that calls this black abyss home. And then we reach “Skeleton Bitch”, a story of a man on the verge of music stardom who casually tosses his newfound fame away in the pursuit of a groupie who, by comparison, makes the most hardcore Goth chick seem like your average girl-next-door. This story alone is all the reason any horror fan should need to get this collection. A classic.

A group of understandably maladjusted children invent a dark, detailed fantasy world in “Mouthful of Pins”. Now the children are all grown up and that other world has begun reaching out to its creators, intent on punishing them for their abandonment. “Job 37” gives the details of an interview with a woman working for a cleaning crew. No ordinary cleaning crew, of course. This one specializes in sanitizing scenes of brutal death. And on one particular clean-up something went horribly awry…

In “Hidebound” a female security guard working the graveyard shift at a building-in-progress encounters some unwanted and possibly inhuman tenants who are less than happy, to put it very mildly, to find that their squatting grounds have been discovered. Then a police officer commits an unthinkable crime against his own partner as he falls victim to a love cult’s terrible spell in “Torch Song”. Finally we come to “Dead Bodies Possessed by Furious Motion”, a sci-fi vampire story in which one particular bloodsucker sets off on a journey to a world that mere mortals could only reach in their dreams.

To put it quite bluntly, Gemma Files is the real deal. This woman can write. From the first paragraph of the first story in this collection of seventeen stories — yes, there are eight others which I did not mention here — it was obvious to me that I was in for something special. And I was. The language is lyrical, the subject matter dark and insightful, and the way old ideas are dusted off and retold in ways to make them seem wholly original is nothing short of impressive. Fans of Poppy Z. Brite, Charlee Jacob, and Clive Barker should enjoy this collection immensely. I know I did and can’t wait to see what this wonderfully talented author brings to the worlds of dark fantasy and horror in the future.

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