August 15, 2016 (Starred Review)

“These short stories are dappled in Americana, but something not-quite-right lies just beneath the surface, threatening the appearance of calm. Each of the 35 stories turns on a twist ending, none of which will be spoiled here. The title novella sends a family into turmoil when their friend and neighbor James Wilkinson is suspected of being a serial killer. That it turns out to be true is not the big reveal; the horror stems from why the killer chose this particular neighborhood and these neighbors. ‘The Man with X-Ray Eyes’ is narrated by a man whose gift is not seeing bones but humanity; those who come up short don’t fare well under his gaze, and if he occasionally misjudges? More’s the pity. In ‘The Box,’ a mother makes a gruesome find and traces it to one of her children; it’s a deft bit of writing, as Chizmar feints toward one suspect only to make the reader’s original suspicion a surprising revelation. Some of these tales clock in at under 10 pages, yet each creates a credible world, and often a beautiful one; a beloved fishing hole or the details of a work shed or pickup truck ring true…right up until the tentacles appear. ‘Ditch Treasures’ conjures up a list of great finds made by workmen along the shoulder of I-95 in Maryland: ‘A framed velvet Elvis. / A George Foreman grill still in the box…. / A loaded handgun.’ The narrator goes on to describe his ultimate find, one that lights him up with visions of tabloid fame and working-class fortune, until he gets close enough to wish he’d never seen it at all. Once again the commonplace setting makes the otherworldly that much more credible and frightening. With the whiff of classic pulp fiction about them, these chilling tales pack a giddy wallop and make staying up late to read just one more mandatory.”

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