Ginger Nuts of Horror
Despite what the cover art would have you believe, Angler in Darkness, the first short story collection from Edward M. Erdelac (author of such novels as Andersonville, Monstrumführer, Terovolas, and the Merkabah Rider series), contains approximately zero razor-toothed mega-fish snacking on grizzled old sailors. The title of this collection, and the image on its face, instead refers to Erdelac’s philosophy of storytelling: That is, he fancies himself something of a mariner, trawling the briny murk of his imagination for whatever prizes he’s lucky enough to catch.
Sure enough, sometimes Erdelac lands a big meaty marlin. Others times it’s a dinky li’l minnow. Not everything in this collection is a five-star seafood dinner, but props to Erdelac for wading out there in the water time and time again, ever ready to cast his net. And fret not, Monster Kids; there may not be any jumbo-sized carnivorous sea creatures, but there’s still plenty of mountain-dwelling kaiju beasties, subterranean blood-sucking tendrils, sex-crazed ape-men, and even colon-slurping killer toilets!
Boasting a similar range of diversity are Erdelac’s settings. Angler in Darkness’ conflicts play out against backgrounds as varied as pre-Columbian America all the way on up to near-future Japan. Notably, at least half of the tales here could be classified as Weird Westerns. The decision to order them chronologically according to time period is an odd one, and, if the collection is read through from start to finish, it results in a feeling of redundancy as similar pieces begin to blur together (two different tales of Native-American vampirism back-to-back, really?). The resulting effect makes it so that Angler in Darkness is one of those rare collections where jumping around randomly from story to story is actually recommended.
Still, anchoring his tales with an immersive, meticulous attention to detail, as well as liberal splashes of tongue-in-cheek humor and thoughtful nods to real-world mythology and folklore, Erdelac displays great strength in the vivid evocation of time and place. Sure, more than a few stories drag—sometimes because they feel needlessly padded in the middle, other times because they don’t know when to end—but Erdelac is clearly having a blast indulging himself throughout this collection. That indulgence doesn’t always translate into a blast for his readers, though, so it’s a give and take: The leisurely, detail-oriented style enhances the sense of setting and mood, but it comes at the cost of immediacy and drive. Individual mileage may vary.
More broadly drawn than Erdelac’s settings are his characters, sometimes to a problematic degree. In fact, an unfortunate number feel like caricatures, complete with ill-advised dialogue which, at times, treads dangerously close to racial stereotyping.
At its best, Erdelac’s reliance on trope-driven characterization lends his stories a mythic resonance—witness the namesake Texas Ranger from “Bigfoot Walsh,” a taciturn mountain of a man tracking a clan of all-too-familiar missing-link monstrosities who’ve been massacring the locals, and who may have more in common with him than he’d like to admit. At its worst, devices which Erdelac probably assumes enhance verisimilitude just come across as cringe-worthy—witness the ebonics-spewing drug-dealers in the otherwise exceptional “Conviction,” a magical-realist revenge fable about a sensitive inner-city misfit cleaning up Chicago’s notorious Cabrini Green projects with reality-warping superpowers.
Despite this, there is an attitude of playful exuberance throughout Erdelac’s work which makes his misfires arguably forgivable; whenever he stumbles into a sore spot it never feels malicious. As with any fisherman’s haul, there are a few duds here that should probably get thrown back into the wine-dark sea from whence they came, and, granted, even the tastiest catches could benefit from a quick wash and a thorough deboning, but readers with an appetite for those specific delicacies which constitute Erdelac’s specialty (i.e. pulpy creature-features couched in well-realized historical settings) will find Angler in Darkness a satisfying feast indeed.
EDWARD M. ERDELAC, Author of Andersonville, Monstrumführer, The Van Helsing Papers, and The Merkabah Rider series presents his first collection of short fiction, spanning nearly a decade of fishing in the sunless depths of the imagination, some brought to light here for the first time. A frontiersman of bizarre pedigree is peculiarly suited to tracking down a group of creatures rampaging across the settlements of the Texas Hill Country….. A great white hunter is shaken to his core by a quarry he cannot conceive of…. A bullied inner city kid finds the power to strike back against his tormentors and finds he can’t stop using it…. Outraged plumbing plots its revenge…. Here Blackfoot Indians hunt the undead, the fate of nations is decided by colossal monsters, a salaryman learns the price of abandoning his own life, and even the Angel of Death tells his story. EIGHTEEN 'CATCHES' FROM AN ANGLER IN DARKNESS