cover image The Skeleton Melodies

The Skeleton Melodies

Clint Smith. Hippocampus, $20 trade paper (328p) ISBN 978-1-61498-286-9

Fully-realized characters and evocative prose distinguish the 13 horror tales in Smith’s outstanding second collection (after 2014’s Ghouljaw and Other Stories). Among the most haunting is “Details That Would Otherwise Be Lost to Shadow,” whose fourth wall–breaking opener is reminiscent of T.E.D. Klein’s classic “Black Man with a Horn”: “A rational reader would certainly prefer I begin at some accommodating sequence, but I’m afraid I must start here: standing at a second-story window in a room, in a house that is not my residence, looking through the glass at my own home across the street.” That tantalizing teaser leads into the narrator’s disconcerting sighting of a woman closely resembling herself exiting the family car with her husband and daughter. Smith invests a staple trope of B monster movies with substance in “Fingers Laced, as Though in Prayer,” in which a dark shape breaks through a school bus window to snatch a student, an attack only witnessed by one other person on the bus. Despite the clichéd setup, Smith makes the witness’s terror palpable and an unexpected twist a shocker. In “Lisa’s Pieces,” an impressive riff on Frankenstein, a doctor has discovered a way to create life from one of his own body parts, and enlists a friend at a class reunion in a gruesome effort to resurrect a corpse. This superior volume should garner Smith the wider audience he merits. (Aug.)