by Ian Rogers
Burning Effigy Press (2012)
Felix Renn is a private detective in a world where monsters are real. Now, that little sentence doesn't really set Felix Renn apart from other characters in the urban fantasy genre, but the world Ian Rogers has created with his Black Lands mythology does.
I became aware of Ian Rogers' work a couple years ago, thanks to the Man Eating Bookworm, back when the first three stories in this collection only existed as chapbooks. It's heartening to see them brought together for convenience and a chance at a wider audience, because Felix Renn is a character everyone should meet at least once.
I've already reviewed the first three stories in the Black Land series, but if you haven't read those yet, then here is a little catch-me-up. In "Temporary Monsters," we're introduced to Felix Renn as he's called to investigate the same movie star he killed in self-defense when said actor had a supposed psychotic break and started behaving like his latest role: a vampire. This story pretty much set the ground rules for the series, showing monsters are real and the authorities have known about it for some time. "The Ash Angels" followed it up with a Christmas tale that has Felix trying to figure out what's causing the snow angels made of ash popping up around Toronto. Then there's "The Black-Eyed Kids" that brings the Black Lands into full view with a couple of the creepiest kids you'll ever want to meet, straight from the infernal dimension itself.
When I read those stories the first time around, I thoroughly enjoyed them, but the novella that follows in this collection really showed me that Felix Renn and his supporting cast really deserve a bigger stage. "The Brick" introduces us to Jerry Baldwin, a real-estate agent that specializes in haunted houses, and his ... well, his haunted brick. At face value, the premise sounds a little too quirky, but the humor of having a brick with a ghost in it helping out Felix solve a case is tempered with the utterly unsettling history of where the brick comes from. What starts out as a missing daughter mystery ramps up page by page until Felix finds himself tussling with ghosts, gangsters, and something even worse from the Black Lands.
For me, "The Brick" was the treat from this collection simply because I had read all of the other stories, but that didn't mean they weren't fun to revisit. That includes the first Felix Renn story that I remember reading in the Chilling Tales anthology (edited by Michael Kelly). It's not a Black Lands story perse, but the mood is pitch perfect with the other stories in the collection. It's a gumshoe tangling with the grotesque. If that's not enough to get you interested, I don't know what will. Ian Rogers has a deft hand at blending horror, humor, and whodunits, which helps his stories stand out in a crowded field. And to top it off, there is even a handy history guide into the world Ian has created. Kind of like a mini-concordance.
Back before these stories were collected in one book, I heartily recommended them. Now, with SuperNOIRtural Tales, there's no excuse not to jump on the Black Lands bandwagon.
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