cover image The Barrens and Others

The Barrens and Others

F. Paul Wilson. Forge, $24.95 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-312-86416-3

""This was the stuff of Twilight Zone,"" frets a bewitched character in the first story in this worthwhile collection, setting the tone for the remaining selections. Though its contents range from dark suspense to light fantasy, the 12 stories and two stage and television scripts that make up Wilson's first full-length compilation since Soft and Others (1989) all have a macabre edge honed on the hard experiences of their characters. In ""Slasher,"" the bereaved father of a murdered girl confronts the self-destructive potential of his rage when he accepts the help of an enigmatic FBI agent with clues to the killer's whereabouts. In ""Faces,"" a serial killer's penchant for mutilating faces is a key to her identity. While Wilson's insights into the psychology of victim and villain are intriguingly complex, his prose is lean and flexible. It wends the narratives of the biter-bit tales ""Definitive Therapy"" and ""A Day in the Life"" (an all-too-rare short adventure of urban mercenary hero Repairman Jack) through complicated cloverleaves of plot and subplot, and it lays a groundwork of solid credibility for the title story, a dark gem that levers Lovecraftian horrors out of the wilds of the New Jersey Pine Barrens. Wilson's fearless willingness to engage reader sympathies can sometimes turn preachy, as in the ghoulish anti-fur tale ""Pelts."" Overall, though, these stories are a welcome riposte to the nihilism and gratuitous violence of much contemporary crime and horror fiction. (Dec.)