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The Best of Cold Blood by Peter Sellers
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The Best of Cold Blood

by Peter Sellers (Editor), John North (Editor)

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A few years ago Pam and I were in Toronto for a few days on business and discovered that, in a park almost across the road from our "hotel" (the quotation marks are another story), there was a book festival. Across we went, met up with a bunch of skiffy authors (Rob Sawyer, Jim Gardner and others, plus very nearly Robert Charles Wilson except that while we were there he was being monopolized by people wanting their books signed) at the booth they'd hired); that evening, obviously, some carousing went on.

It was at this festival that I discovered a dealer had a mountain of copies of the US edition of my Masters of Animation to clear at something like Cdn$4 apiece; I bought the lot, Rob Sawyer kindly lent me his wheely-cart to get them back to the hotel, and I've been selling them at full price at cons ever since. It's the signature as adds the value, you see.

Also at this festival we picked up a bunch of Canadian-published books -- books that, for cultural-imperialist reasons, one has virtually zero chance of every finding for sale just a few hundred miles to the south. Some of the books concerned were being given away for free, and that made the acquisition process even easier.

One of these latter was the book I've just read. Cold Blood was an anthology series edited for the most part by Peter Sellers (with the assistance in the latter stages of John North) and published by Mosaic Press (also the publisher of the well known horror series Northern Frights). This is the Sellers/North pick of the series' five volumes.

At the outset it should be said that this book is riddled with all the characteristics that give the small press a bad name. It seems that neither Sellers/North nor Mosaic Press have much truck for delicacies like copyediting and proofreading. As far as I can guess, the authors' original dignital files were simply slung together into a single file, from which the typesetting was done without further human intervention. Thus all the authors' typos, formatting fuckups and other peccadilloes are preserved intact for the world to see. I mean, it's in a curious way pleasing that crimewriting great Peter Robinson has the same habit as me of represent dashes by spaced double-hyphens, but this was not something I'd ever expected to discover within the pages of a supposedly professionally published book.

Leaving this sloppiness aside -- and it's in practice a pretty big set-aside, because sometimes the irritation makes the reading difficult -- this anthology is better than about 80% of those you're likely to come across from publishers with vast amounts more money and practical expertise. One or two of the stories are pretty nondescript -- including, sadly, the opener, William Bankier's very contrived "The Best of Birtles" -- but others are a joy. James Powell's "The Tamerlane Crutch" merrily conflates A Christmas Carol and The Maltese Falcon. Charlotte MacLeod's "Tale of a Tub" is both very funny and very poignant: a fundie preacher in a small town that makes the Backwoods seem metropolitan solves the mystery of who stabbed a miser. Jas R. Petrin's "Man on the Roof" is a white-knuckle human drama for anyone with latent vertigo; I guessed the twist ending before the end, but not very much before, so count it as a successful surprise. Peter Robinson's "Fan Mail", apparently his first published story, is a well written, wicked piece of dark humour. I don't think Mary Jane Maffini's "Naked Truths" -- about a murder in a nudist colony -- is an especially distinguished story, but in its clever little observations it succeeds in being in places surprisingly sexy (I did definitely sigh when our young female narrator told us, "I was busy trying to get used to the feel of the vinyl seats"). Vivienne Gornall's "Current Events" has one cheering the murderer on -- probably a bad thing but, since the victims are spousal abusers . . .

Others are . . . not so good. Ted Wood's "Murder in the Green" pissed me off quite a lot because it's raison d'etre seemed to be to take stupid potshots at environmentalists. Eric Wright's "Hephaestus" struck me as not only a mediocre tale but an amateurishly told one; to its credit, it did leave me with a chilling envoi. Sellers's own "Somewhere They Can't Find Me" was well enough told but is really a not particularly interesting urban legend recast as a story. And so on. Yet almost all of the stories here have a sort of vigour that comes from a lack of world-weary complacency: they seem to expect to engage with their readers rather than just present the printed equivalent of episode #436 of some template tv cop show.

What's astounding, overall, is how good this anthology is bearing in mind that the Sellers/Mosaic budget was presumably minuscule. Cold Blood was evidently a very considerable achievement for small-press publishing; the bigger presses might learn a lot from this book. I almost wish I'd paid for it . . . ( )
  JohnGrant1 | Aug 11, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Sellers, PeterEditorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
North, JohnEditormain authorall editionsconfirmed
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