Magick and MiseryBy Lincoln Crisler (Black Bed Sheet; 2009)

A collection of eleven short pieces by a Non-commissioned U.S. Army Officer and Iraq War veteran. This explains the impact of these ostensibly escapist tales, which aren’t unusually graphic or excessive but have a kick missing from most of today’s horror.

Perhaps I’m wrong in contrasting Lincoln Crisler’s combat experiences with his fiction. None of the contents of MAGICK AND MISERY explicitly deal with war, yet its specter would definitely appear to be present in “Making the Grade,” about a schoolboy whose parents literally bet his life on his usefulness to a murderous government, and “Old Stooping Lugh,” a memorably violent tale of Irish mobsters and an age-old demon marked by copious gunplay and explosions.

The stories tend to differ thematically, but violent death is a common element. It’s present in one of my favorite tales of the collection, the perverse Isaac Asimov pastiche “Seymour’s Descent,” about a robot that learns to kill–and enjoys it! It recurs in “Devotion,” in which a man attempts to rescind his infidelity to his beloved wife in really sick fashion, and “The Seven O’clock Man,” co-written with Allex Spires and featuring a boogeyman who does terrible things to a young boy’s family.

Another stand-out is “Pete Does What Needs to be Done.” In this whacked-out tale a runaway boy who really hates his parents gets back at them by faking a kidnapping, enhanced by amputating his own hand and mailing it to ’em! “The Gambler,” by contrast, is a tender account of a severely traumatized man’s train-bound meeting with an ex-hobo who’s experienced his own share of trauma.

Of those stories that didn’t work for me, “Discarded Refuse” feels underdeveloped and cliched, while “Redemption,” another account of government-sanctioned murder, lacks a compelling finish. Yet they don’t lessen the overall impact of a collection that’s neither groundbreaking nor Earth-shattering, but packs a considerable punch nonetheless.