THE RIOT ACT

By Stephen Romano

Reviewed by Garry Charles

During the last twelve months I've done a hell of a lot of reading and--on the whole- it's been bloody good stuff. Most of it has come from the small press and I want to state here that this is where the original talent can be found.

I feel very lucky to have read some outstanding anthologies, novels, collections and novellas. I had even started to think it couldn't get any better when this--The Riot Act--dropped in to my lap from out of the blue.

I check the clock and see that I've got fifteen minutes to spare so I sit down and open the dark covered tome and read an intro by Joe R. Lansdale. He has a lot to say about Stephen Romano and it's all good.

“But can it really be that good?” I ask myself.

“YOU FUCKIN' BETCHA!!!!!!” screams The Riot Act.

Romano starts things out with an intro of his own that is--in effect--a short story in itself. Never before has the written word sent so many shivers down my spine and I begin to believe that what lays open in my hands is indeed something special.

I forget about the ticking clock on the mantle, quickly moving on to the first story proper– Four Dead Guys in Zilker Park – and the shivers become full on spasms as the quick fire narrative takes hold. Not only does this unique prose grab me by the throat it then proceeds to kick me in the groin and smash a knee in to my face. By the last line I'm left battered, bruised and out of breath.

Without a pause I turn yet another page and find myself entering Rock 'n' Roll Suicide with Robots. I am transported to a harsh future of super villains and those employed to chase them down.

I'm feeling as if I've been taken hostage in a sports car and the crazy driver is forcing me to read on as he points a gun at my temple.

Before I know where I am I discover that I've been reading for ages. The car screeches to a halt and the driver kicks me out onto the road.

“Fuck off,” he yells. “But you'll be back.”

I finally look up at the clock and see that its 1:00 am and I have to be up for work at 4:00.

DAMN YOU, ROMANO!!!

I close the book--noticing that another eight stories have passed before my eyes in one gluttonous reading session. The driver is right. I will be back for more punishment.

The next day I get up, drive to work, sleep walk the entire shift and then drive home. I walk in the door and The Riot Act is waiting for me on my office desk.

“READ MORE IF YOU DARE,” Romano taunts from the front cover.

I accept the challenge, only to be confronted by a Cool Teenager from Planet X. This is one of my favourites; a new twist on the classic ghost theory that hits home with the subtlety of a 14lbs sledgehammer.

I miss the children coming home from school as I'm enveloped in the twisted world of movies and murder that is Secret File Hollywood.

Next up I read what--was for me--the best story in the collection.

Why was it the best?

I'm not telling you.

All I can say is that Crazy Like Stacy is the angel tied to the chair, blindfolded and gagged in the room full of cavorting demons.

Read the book and you'll understand where I'm coming from.

I don't break from reading to go outside for a smoke. I take the book with me and end up smoking half a packet of menthols as Sister Sindi Kicks the Habit and Accepted Here lead me ever deeper in to the underbelly of Romano's seedy world of seedier characters. Hey, Stupid comes along and is a well told joke with a violent punch line and a hidden heart.

I suddenly notice that the chill, evening air has sent my fingers numb and I return to the warmth of the house. My reading for the night is still far from over. I walk past the children and my wife as I head towards the stairs on auto pilot. The Riot Act has my full attention. I make my way to the bedroom and flop down on the mattress, turning the page and finding out about The Agency's Boy.

Is it fiction? Is it conspiracy theory?

You decide.

Love Letter to Auntie Faye then lulls me in to a false sense of security before plunging a dagger in to my chest. I refuse to be beaten and move onwards.

The end is nigh.

Wabbit Season is the best superhero tale ever told. I read it as a graphic novel unfolds in my mind. I'm hooked.

So hooked that I miss out on the offer of sex before I sleep.

SLEEP! I CAN'T SLEEP! Only one tale left and I must read it.

But...........

Energy..............

Is.....................

Fading..............

Must............

Hold.............

On....

And so I finish with Ratboy and Dogbreath, my eyelids heavy, my breathing but a whisper.

The task is done.

At the end of this frenetic journey how can I summarise what I have experienced?

For a start I have to say that this collection is the dog's bollocks and I would be happy to lick them.

Romano has created a selection of tales that--even though separate--are linked together by characters and places. He has moulded a dark world that spans decades with the skill of a master professional.

Romano's writing is a force to be reckoned with. It has the delivery of a high powered, fully automatic weapon in the hands of an expert marksman.

He creates scenes and images that assault your eyeballs, burn through the retinas before boring in to your brain and exploding your skull with the ease of a hollow point round.

You may have already guessed, but I highly recommend this book. I dare you to take the risk and venture in to a world that is controlled by The Riot Act.

The Riot Act by Stephen Romano. Tpb, 260pp, £11.95. Published by Arcaderetro Ink and available in the UK from Amazon

Website: - www.arcaderetroink.com


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