Review of: Serial Killers: An Anthology 

reviewed by jayb on 09/09/2011
jayb
serial killers review

This is the best written and most entertaining of the anthologies I have read on TS. Is that because of the subject matter or the many talented writers who participated? Maybe both. Maybe the subject matter attracted talent. Some of the credit should go to the editor for putting these very different stories together in what is probably the optimal order. Excellent turn-around time as well. I feel fortunate to have been a part of it. Individual mini reviews below.

"Air"
A nice start to the anthology. The story is self-contained, with several plot turns unusual in a story this length. It feels like a complete work to me, although the ending was a bit unsatisfying because I was not sure how Jeanine died. Maybe she gave her mother life with her own dying breath. That has a very nice symmetry to it. I'm just not sure if this is actually the case. If so, you might want to make it a little more explicit.
The last shot of Otto opening his eyes works for the genre, but feels like a violation of the theme of this story, which seems to be about the giving of life as much as the taking. I might have liked it better if Otto was lying unconscious, but still breathing, with Iona holding the power of life or death over him.
The sequence of Jeanie's illness is a bit confusing. In a script this length one assumes that the scenes unfold in rapid chronology. When we first see Jeanie she appears in good health. Then we quickly learn that she has been in treatment, presumably for cancer, and has only weeks to live. Next we see her ravaged by the effects of treatment. This sequence did not add up for me.
Otto's "bitches" remark on page 4 diminishes this character in my eyes. It sounded really inane to me. Maybe you could come up with something more interesting for him to blurt out in his masturbatory frenzy or have him say nothing at all.

"The Killer in the Black Boots"
This story didn't work for me. Without knowing the motivation of the killer or why he picks this particular couple as his victims, there isn't much in the way of human interest to the story. Instead, it relies on the ambiguity around the black boots to create false tension, since a viewing audience would easily know which boots belong to the killer. My opinion only, but I believe the most effective twists revolve on character, not inanimate objects like an article of clothing.

"Agent Burgundy"
I'm not sure what to make of this story. Is James killing real aliens at the behest of a clandestine governmental agency or is he just plain crazy? Perhaps the intention is to leave the audience in doubt about this, but neither scenario is either plausible or emotionally satisfying to me. Sorry to be negative. Maybe I'm just missing the point.

"The Silence"
An amusing piece, well suited to the anthology format. I'm just not sure how an armed detective ends up being the victim of an overly sensitive writer type like Abel. That could use some explaining (or rather "showing"). Otherwise, a solid piece, with a coherent theme and storyline.

"The Summer of Blood"
This one is a lot of fun. Well written, amusing, and suitably macabre. Yes, it's full of clichés. But that's the point. I wouldn't want to watch a feature film based on this material. But as a six minute short, it succeeds at capturing the spirit of the genre at its most fun and campy. And it's got a great "hook" (get it?).

"Angel of Death"
Well written and original. Gripping, too. This is the first psychologically realistic piece in the anthology. Britney's character and situation deserve a more in depth treatment, but this piece can also succeed as a short with some work on the structure. My main complaint is with the story timeline. It seems unlikely that an "angel of death" killer would strike so quickly against Britney after killing the other patient. Is there a way to stretch out the interval between attacks? I realize this is hard to do in only six pages. You could save some space by beginning with Britney in the hospital (not a bad idea, since the helicopter scene would make this a very expensive short). The extra space could be used to build tension between attacks, perhaps by heightening Britney's suspicions about the spectacled nurse.

"The Matchbreaker"
Interesting premise with an amusing hook at the end. Works well as a short, but perhaps not as a feature. I don't understand why Annie would only kill the boyfriends of attractive women. Does this mean she spares the one who sleep with her after she discovers their girlfriends are dogs? This seems to undermine the moral premise of the story. Men who cheat on their girlfriends are scum regardless of what their girlfriends look like. And what about men who cheat on their wives? Does she spare them too? Also, a serial killer who picks up her victims in a public spot, then sleeps with them prior to killing them, would probably get caught very quickly. This is an amusing, well written piece. But does not hold up well under scrutiny.

“Dirty”
This is very good. The writing is very skillful. Dan’s failed first attempt to pick up the Ditzy Blonde is the perfect set-up for the scene to follow. Giving the killer, Dan, a personality tic as a compulsive neat freak is a great idea. The discovery of the hair clip in his car and “Dirty, dirty girl” line is excellent. This simple line of dialogue tells the reader a lot about Dan and his unsavory habits. The only false note is when Jane accepts the flask of vodka and moments later says “I’m getting woozy.” When I read that I thought the drug can’t possibly take effect that quickly. It turns out that she was faking. Nonetheless, this is not a very effective method for Dan to subdue his victims, as most women would refuse the vodka.

“Insider”
This one has a surprising twist. So surprising, in fact, that I read it three times just to make sure I hadn’t missed something. Sorry, but I’m not buying that Tommy is the killer. A 12-year old serial killer is a pretty rare thing, especially one who acts on his own. But the mini-portrait of Tommy in the first few pages of this piece does just doesn’t match the behavior described on the final page. Tommy appears too normal to be a disturbed serial killer. His last line of dialogue was so cryptic that it left me wondering if I missed something. Is he playing a joke on Harlan? Is this some form of sick revenge on his father for pushing him into a career in detective work? Is Harlan really the killer and his son has found him out? This story left me with too many questions. I also don’t understand how killing four people by the same method and leaving the same note written on the same typewriter isn’t a pattern. The author has an obvious talent for writing dialogue and constructing scenes and pacing. But the turn this story took at the end made for a frustrating read.

"Rude"
A well written revenge fantasy, but I'm left wondering if it really had to end this way. This one puts its protagonist through the paces; I really started to feel for the guy. So I was kind of disappointed to see him turn around and kill everybody at the end. I know this is an anthology about serial killers. I just wish he'd figured out a different way to get back at everyone.

"A Dog Like Me"
Merwyn Pilates? What a ridiculous name for a serial killer. I really doubt a frail little thing like Roxy could take out a 275-pound butcher with only an ice pick. And what's with all the talking? How about some dead bodies? Oh, wait minute. I wrote this one… Never mind.

"Bodies"
Kind of unsatisfying in that it feels like a fragment of a longer work, but I suppose that's a good thing. This is the first killer in the anthology that I want to know more about. Well written and intriguing, though the graphic detail is a bit rough at points. Very clever the way the author gives the reader hope that Bonnie might survive by having her say that the gun jams sometimes.

"Hands"
This one reminds me of an EC horror comic from the 50's. It's got a nifty little twist ending. But the characters seem so improbable to me that I can't connect on any level. Film is much too literal a medium for a piece like this. Or maybe it's just me.

“Killers Anonymous”
Great premise and skillfully written. The characters are skillfully drawn for such a short and whimsical piece. My only complaint is that I didn’t get the “flame the flamers” remark. I also don’t know why a move to San Francisco would be a “fuck you” to the media. I must be missing something here.

"Interstate"
Good story, solid concept, but overwritten. It gets off to an unfortunate beginning with the cliché of a crow on road kill and some of the descriptions were overly detailed. "Svelte and supine in her silhouette" is just bad writing in my opinion. But the story is sound. I liked the part where they grasp their respective weapons -- kind of cute in a twisted way. One thing that doesn't make sense is why Christine would be hitchhiking back in the direction where she killed the three men in the car.

“The Photographer”
This could be a good story, but right now it reads like a first draft. James is described as a “naturally charming person”, but he doesn’t come across that way in the bar scene. He has some uncharming mannerisms of speech. For instance the line “Let’s just call it exotic art. You know, nudes and whatnot.” This is not how a handsome, charming, confident person speaks. And his response to her comment about crazy artists (“Don’t worry. I wouldn’t harm a fly”), in addition to making him sound like Norman Bates in “Mother” mode, is a non-sequitur. I didn’t buy the twist ending where James joins his happy family in the living room. That could work if he really were the charming man he’s described as. They say that Ted Bundy was a charmer. But James isn’t a Ted Bundy. More like a Peeping Tom (from the movie of that name). I really like the idea of a charming serial killer. It is psychologically realistic type that we rarely see in the movies. Maybe it would help if the role was re-written with an actor like George Clooney in mind. How would George handle the pick-up scene and photo session?

“Ricky and Chloe”
Very cinematic with a very strong voice. Not just a script, but a story. The perfect piece to end with.
NOTE: This review does not factor into the site rankings.

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