Dangerous Red, by Mehitobel Wilson
Necro Publications 2003
$14.95 Trade Paperback
$45.00 Signed/Limited Edition hardcover


One of the uncomfortable realizations I've made as a reader in recent years is that there is now an entire generation of up-and-coming horror writers who cut their literary teeth on the fiction published during the horror tsunami of the 1980's, a majority of which was a supreme embarrassment to the craft of storytelling that we're still trying to make up for; so is it possible for this new generation of writers build a literary foundation on the influence of that which the field is trying to overcome?

If Mehitobel Wilson's redoubtable debut as a fiction writer, Dangerous Red, is any indication, the answer is a resounding yes, and I have nothing to worry about.

Starting with the illustrations by Erik Wilson (no relation to the author), Dangerous Red effortlessly catches you off-guard; eschewing traditional central-image depiction, artist Wilson prefaces each story with a Rorschach-like icon that deliberately leaves its meaning up to the individual reader's interpretation-and this is more than a sly stylistic choice on his part: it is a way of informing the reader that the stories they are about to encounter are much more than they appear to be at first glance.

Not to imply that the stories in this collection are in any way nebulous in either structure or execution, because they aren't; in fact, writer Wilson consistently displays a solid -- and at times, enviable -- grasp of narrative control that is doubly admirable when one considers the subject matter some of her stories grapple with: self-mutilation, spiritual and physical disintegration, a number of fetishes, social outcasts living on the fringes of society, and metaphysical revenge, to name a small handful. It would have been easy-and arguably understandable -- for Wilson to fall victim to stylistic self-indulgence, but she never does.

Not once.

Never even comes close.

"Tools Of The Trade", the brilliant opening story, depicts the slow, agonizing, and total psychological deterioration of Kane, a man who makes his living cleaning up the detritus of murder and suicide scenes; interspersed with a coldly clinical listing of the "tools" he will need for each job is a brief glimpse into the personal hells that marked the last moments of those whose deaths Kane confronts with his chemicals, gloves, and mops. With each new job, part of Kane is tossed out along with the evidence, until --.

Until. You'll find out soon enough.

What makes "Tools" one this collection's most stunning achievements is Wilson's skill at conveying in deft and subtle strokes the entirety of each victim's life. In less certain hands, "Tools" could have easily been three times its 6-page length; in Wilson's hands, it's a short, sharp, heartbreaking glimpse of how one person's hell can too easily become our own.

"Jacks"-perhaps the collection's most extreme story-defies easy description or categorization: suffice to say that it might very well be the first Cyberpunk-Erotic-Horror-S&M-Romantic Comedy. It is, by turns, brutal, funny, genuinely erotic, and ultimately -- kind of sweet.

"Strays" is the closest any story in this collection comes to being enigmatic; a snapshot of life on the streets where the homeless may or may not be victims of an uncaring society's human sacrifice ritual, this story's emotional violence packs an angry wallop, culminating in a killer of a closing line.

No one is ever going to accuse Wilson of being sentimental-"Growing Out Of It" alone proves that-but there are nonetheless moments of luminous tenderness throughout these stories, displaying a writer whose stories may come off on the surface as bigger than life, but that are, on closer examination, deeply in touch with it.

Dangerous Red is a skilled, dazzling, and often deeply affecting collection of stories from a writer who's only getting warmed up; if you're like me, then you'll realize early on that once Mehitobel Wilson kicks it into high gear, it'll be duck-and-cover time.

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