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Spotlight on: The Last Pentacle of the Sun: Writings in Support of the West Memphis 3
edited by M.W. Anderson and Brett Alexander Savory

To arrange to have products considered for review, send an email to craigsbookclub@yahoo.com.

The Last Pentacle of the Sun: Writings in Support of the West Memphis 3 by M.W. Anderson and Brett Alexander Savory M.W. Anderson and Brett Alexander Savory (editors),
The Last Pentacle of the Sun: Writings in Support of the West Memphis 3

"The Seventh and last Pentacle of the Sun from the Key of Solomon is for freeing those unjustly imprisoned:

If any be by chance imprisoned or detained in fetters of iron, at the presence of this Pentacle, which should be engraved in Gold on the day and hour of the Sun, he will be immediately delivered and set at liberty."

In 1993, three eight-year-olds were found dead in the Robin Hood Hills of West Memphis, Arkansas. For months, the police had no leads, until a local "expert" decided that the murders looked similar to a Satanic ritual. Instantly, the police began to seek out suspects fitting that description. Enter Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley, Jr., the teenagers who would come to be known as the West Memphis Three. Due to their preference for black clothing, and their interests in heavy metal music, horror novels, and the occult, they were branded as Satanists.

After an intense twelve-hour interrogation, Misskelley confessed to the killings and pointed the finger at Echols as the ringleader (he later recanted). No physical evidence of any kind was ever entered into evidence, or even sought, and what little physical evidence there was at the scene was destroyed. (Read Burk Sauls' "California to West Memphis in Ten Years" for full details; Sauls is a co-founder of Free the West Memphis Three.)

There, but for the grace of God, go I.... In fact, almost any writer could empathize. Writing is by its nature a "weird" profession. After all, why would someone want to be alone with their own thoughts -- on purpose! -- and then presume that someone else would find those thoughts interesting enough to pay money for them? It is undoubtedly this identification -- as well as (as Anderson and Savory put it in their afterword) "the fundamental wrongness of the situation" -- that brought this particular group of writers together in support of this cause. Clive Barker, Peter Straub, Poppy Z. Brite, James Hetfield of Metallica, comedian Margaret Cho, and at least a dozen others, some of the top names in the horror genre, have donated their time and their craft to this anthology, and all of its proceeds from The Last Pentacle of the Sun go to benefit the Damien Echols Legal Defense Fund (Echols is the only one condemned to Death Row).

The lyrics to the title track of Metallica's ...And Justice for All set the tone, and Barker's striking illustrations are peppered throughout, keeping that tone consistent. The introduction is by filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, who are probably the ones most repsonsible for keeping this case in the public eye with their series of documentaries (Paradise Lost: the Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, Paradise Lost 2: Revelations, and a third in the making). They are pretty straightforward and this piece is akin to a personal essay. Fiction and non-fiction are evenly distributed, with most of the non-fiction pieces being similar personal responses to the injustice of the situation. In fact, many of the contributors opted for this form, making a good portion of The Last Pentacle of the Sun feel a trifle redundant when read straight through without a break.

A few highlights shine through, though, one being Philip Jenkins' very persuasive "Weird Tales: The Story of a Delusion," which poses the idea that the modern perception of Satanic sults come not from actual records, but from the fiction of the 1920s, specifically that of Herbert Gorman and H.P. Lovecraft. Also, Devil's Knot author Mara Leveritt crafts an open letter to Damien Echols' favorite authors asking them for action instead of the silence that has accompanied these choices being used as "evidence" against him. Otherwise, it's the fiction that really saves the day here. Peter Straub's bookend pieces, "She Saw a Young Man" and "Then One Day She Saw Him Again" are so appropriate as to be downright creepy, given that they were collected in Houses with Doors years before any of this even occurred. Then again, prejudice against the different is not new.

Most of the authors were inspired by the subject matter. Several great stories came from this. Paul G. Tremblay offers up a tale of snap judgments with "All Sliding to One Side" and Elizabeth Massie's "Pisspot Bay" paints a portrait of assumed guilt, only with the happy ending that so far eludes Damien, Jason, and Jessie. Simon Logan's "You Have to Know This" continues with an observation of personal prejudice of the sort felt by the Three and Gerard Houarner shows how "The Three Strangers" dressed in black are responsible for a small-town killing spree. Additionally, Adam Roberts offers up a particular form of poetic justice in "The Afterlives of SweetDeath." Bentley Little's "We Find Things Old" takes a different road, however, with a completely uninspired tale. It has an excellent and engaging voice but is lacking when it comes to actual plot execution. (Perhaps I've just read too many "haunted object" tales, but I was surprised that it was chosen for Year's Best Fantasy and Horror 18.)

Given the theme and tone of most of The Last Pentacle of the Sun, it's surprising that it is not simply a dark and depressing read with no positive qualities to recommend it. There is, instead, sense of hope throughout that the tables will eventually turn and the Three will be vindicated. Still, this is not a book that should be devoured in one sitting. I would recommend, instead, grazing a few pieces at a time. This will give the reader a chance to savor each piece on its own merits, and will help to avoid injustice overload.

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