By Michael Boatman

Reviewed by Sarah Jackson

It's been a long time since I read a collection of truly nasty little tales with enough blood spatter to make Eli Roth proud. I've never read one that fits that description and also manages to leave me with a grin on my face, but Michael Boatman's debut anthology God Laughs When You Die did just that. In the introduction, David J. Schow writes “Most of you think you know this man Boatman.” Well, after having seen what the man's imagination can produce, I'm not sure I want to.

The first story of the anthology opens with the sentence “He was five years old and he was fat.” This line perfectly sets the scene for the rest of the tale. Blunt, funny and grotesque, Folds is a story about an obese five year old with the power of mind control who is hell-bent on world domination through the medium of daytime TV. At times, it makes you laugh out loud, and at others, it makes you cringe, but what is really great about this story is that it feels completely fresh and original. It is definitely a strong story to open with, but sets the bar high for the rest of the collection.

The next offering doesn't disappoint. Told from the point of view of a retired superhero, The Tarantula Memoirs is a first person account of a meeting between our protagonist, Jackson Greer (aka The Tarantula) and the legendary Prometheus. Boatman plays with the familiar conventions and ideas of superheroes and villains in this story to make it both thought provoking and horrifying.

The Drop is the age old story about love and betrayal. A man's best friend has been cheating with his wife, and now, alone together on a boat, only one of them will walk away. The terrific thing about Boatman is that things are never quite that simple. In this tale, matters are complicated by the 'coloured mermaid' who lives in the lake. Admittedly, this story is a little over-long, and at times the action is practically non-existent, but even as one of the weaker offering of the collection, it is still an enjoyable read.

Next up is Katchina. This is a story about a serial killer told from the point of view of the abused wife. There's nothing here you won't have seen before, but Boatman manages to entwine horror and emotion in this bitter little tale in a way that lets you forgive the lack of originality.

If the previous two stories were a slight let down after the fantastic start, the dazzling and extremely nasty Bloodbath at Landsdale Towers more than makes up for it. When two vigilantes wreak bloody havoc on a gang of local drug dealers, things get very messy. This tale oozes a thick and toxic atmosphere that taints you as you read; before you're finished you'll feel like you need a long hot shower.

Dormant is the shortest of the nine stories at just over two pages. This is a quick little narrative about alien invasion through body snatching with space worms bursting out of anuses in the street. Entertaining stuff, but again, not the most original of concepts.

In The Ugly Truth Boatman shows his softer side, because even though it is filled with zombies, revenge and decapitation, it is essentially a love story. The ugly peasant boy finds out that it is possible to be loved despite the way he looks in this uplifting little tale. With moments of humour, a great fight scene, and plenty of blood, Boatman proves romance doesn't have to be soppy.

Next up is The Long Lost Life of Rufus Bleak. Here, we meet a man who died one hundred years ago, only to be reincarnated daily by a deity known as the Night Mother. A black Minister murdered by the Klan, Rufus Bleak has been preserved by the Night Mother to do her bidding, and now she sends him out to kill those she chooses - people with special abilities to control others, known as Carriers or Magin. Bleak's moral struggle, conflicting with his survival instincts give the story emotional depth and make it more than just an anecdote about vigilantism. This excellent portrayal of very real and believable characters is something that is consistent throughout the collection.

If the anthology opens well, it closes brilliantly. The Last American President is a work of pure genius, combining political insight, acerbic wit, and just the right amount of violence and gore to create a perfect little apocalyptic tale. The Vox Mortis have invaded Earth from a parallel universe and are wreaking havoc. Religious and political leaders from around the world cower in a room in the White House. The events are documented in the diary entry of a president whose intelligence is barely higher than that of a toad on marijuana. Sound familiar? And if all that isn't enough, the title of best story could be awarded for this sentence alone: “I mean, by 1989 the air and water were so bad that anyone without nose, lung and rectal filters stood about as much chance of escaping a life threatening disease as a crack whore working an AIDS camp at Chernobyl.”

This collection is a consistent delight from start to finish. Each story offers up new surprises to shock, horrify, and ultimately entertain. Michael Boatman writes with a style and flourish that the majority of writers spend their entire careers aspiring to achieve.

God Laughs When You Die by Michael Boatman. Published by Dybbuk Press, tpb, 147pp, $12.75/£7.99. Available from various online outlets, including Amazon UK and Amazon US

Website: - www.dybbuk-press.com

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