American Nocturne by Hank Schwaeble
Cohesion Press, 2016
Available: Paperback, Kindle edition
In 2009, the anthology Five Strokes to Midnight and the novel Damnable introduced the horror world to Hank Schwaeble. That year, Schwaeble co-edited Five Strokes to Midnight, which won the Stoker Award for Best Anthology. The anthology included three of his own stories in addition to stories by Gary Braunbeck, Tom Piccirilli, Deborah LeBlanc, and Christopher Golden. In the same year, his debut novel, Damnable, won a Stoker for Best First Novel. While Schwaeble has gone on to write a sequel to Damnable, titled Diabolical (and a third volume is expected shortly), American Nocturne is his first solo collection of short stories. The stories of his that were included in Five Strokes to Midnight showed a taste of his versatility in storytelling, and a few are included in this collection, but the majority of the tales are brand new.
Within the pages, Schwaeble gives the readers a deep, dark taste of noir in the title story, transporting the reader to an earlier time in a piece that that reminds of early Bloch or Matheson. The other stories range from westerns, to science fiction, to suspenseful thriller, to all-out horror. The highlights are many, so the focus here will be on the tales that this reviewer considers award-worthy. The pair of weird westerns, “Phanton Hill” and “To Judge The Quick” would likely make Joe Lansdale proud, the best compliment I can give to a story in this genre, which is difficult to pull off today without resorting to cliche. “Natural Selection”, a Lovecraftian tale, is included, followed by such left turns as “Gomorrah” and “Nurture.” both which may find themselves on the short list for awards next winter. The surprise here was the inclusion of a Kolchak story (yes, that Kolchak). Wow. It works so well here, and if the others don’t persuade readers that this author deserves to be mentioned in the conversation of one of the new elite, “A Murmur of Evil” just might.
Schwaeble offers the reader a variety of different entrees, each one high quality and with its own flavors, leaving a distinct taste that lingers long after the story has become a memory. While genres and characters change, the author’s voice is consistent, the secret ingredient that flavors every story. Sit back in a room full of shadows, grab hold of a solid drink, take a taste of American Nocturne, and fall away into the darkness with these stories of the night. Recommended.
Reviewed by Dave Simms