Tales that move to a darker drumbeat

January 16, 1994|By Gregory N. Krolczyk

Title: "Monsters in Our Midst"

Editor: Robert Bloch

Publisher: Tor

Length, price: 303 pages, $20.95

Although Robert Bloch has written, in his career of nearly 60 years, dozens of novels and even more short stories, he is best known for bringing to literary life one of the world's most famous psychotics, Norman Bates. Yet Norman is just one of several psychos Mr. Bloch has, through his fiction, loosed upon this innocent world of ours.

Now, with "Monsters in Our Midst," Mr. Bloch puts to excellent use his experience with these psychotic individuals to deliver an anthology filled with people who may well look just like you and me, but who walk to the beat of a decidedly darker drummer.

An all-original anthology, "Monsters in Our Midst" contains the work of 17 writers who range from long-time veterans to relative newcomers. Yet while the writers' experience levels vary greatly, the quality of their stories doesn't. There simply isn't a bad story in the collection, though, of course, some are just a bit better than others.

Perhaps the best is a story by S. P. Somtow (the pen name of Somtow Sucharitkul), "Fish Are Jumpin', and the Cotton Is High," a Biblically blasphemous little tale about a father-and-son team who are doing their part for God. It seems that their fishing trips would often turn out to be less than innocent, as evident from this passage:

"We always took Grandma with us on them trips. Not that she had much to contribute, but it felt good to have the whole family together. My favorite part of our times together was in the early evening, with the stars just fixing to come out, with the dzzt-dzzt of the chigger-buster and its weird blue glow, putting the tent up next to some winding creek, frying up a big old batch of bacon and flapjacks, hauling Grandma out of the suitcase and setting her up so the sunset'd shine right through her and stain them bleached old bones of hern the color of fresh-gushing blood."

Other top stories include Steve Rasnic Tem's twisted tale about a killer who meets his match, "The Child Killer"; "How Would You Like It?", Lawrence Block's story about a man who stands up for things that can't stand up for themselves; Lisa W. Cantrell's tale of brotherly love titled "Taking Care of George"; and "For You to Judge," Ramsey Campbell's chiller about a man who lets a murder trial get under his skin.

In the above-average category we have Jonathan Carroll's story about an answering machine with an attitude, "The Lick of Time"; "Fee Fie Foe Fum," a very Bradbury-ish tale by (appropriately enough) Ray Bradbury; Ed Gorman's "Judgment," about a priest who doles out some permanent penance; and "Reality Function," J. N. Williamson's overly long but ultimately satisfying story about a teacher who inspires students in a deadly way.

Both Robert Bloch's contribution -- "It Takes One to Know One" -- and Kathy Buckley's "Sacrifice" suffer from being just a bit too predictable. The efforts from John Coyne (fair), Robert E. Vardeman (fair), and Chet Williamson (good) just don't seem to fit in with the theme.

Rounding out the anthology are stories by Richard Christian Matheson (son of famed horror writer Richard Matheson), Charles L. Grant and Billie Sue Mosiman, which, though not quite as entertaining as the others, still get the job done.

Each story in "Monsters in Our Midst" was commissioned for the anthology by a man who, history indicates, should certainly know how to pick 'em. While some are more successful than others in entertaining, each is certainly worth reading. And isn't that what it's all about?

Mr. Krolczyk is a writer who lives in Baltimore.

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