The Night Stalker Chronicles - Review

Author: Miscellaneous
Foreword: Frank Spotnitz
Publisher: Moonstone
ISBN #: 1-933076-04-6
Price: $18.95

General: This is it - the first Kolchak book in print since Mark Dawidziak's "Grave Secrets." Twenty-six stories, soft-cover, perfect-bound, larger then your average paperback. All are set in the "modern day" with Carl at the Hollywood Dispatch in Los Angeles after the events of the original episode "The Sentry" (and Mark Dawidziak's novel "Grave Secrets").

Artwork: Each story has its own piece of chapter-break art, proved by Dave Aikens, Andy Bennett, Chris Byurnham, Walter Figureoa, Ron Frenz, Bill Halliar, Don Hudson, Doug Klauba, Scott LeMien, Pat Oliffe, Dave Ulanski, and Keith Williams. Some of the art is recycled from the comics, but the majority are original. A few go with the stories but most are unrelated mood pieces. All are average or better and help set the tone for the book.

Editing: Unfortunately the editing and consistency is a bit of a mixed bag. Sometimes they use italics, sometimes they use italic-underlined, sometimes they use different things in the same story. For instance, "the Hollywood Dispatch" on page 11, "Dispatch" on page 14. Editing is a bit sloppy in spots, with the occasional dropped word and awkward sentence structure. There are a number of spelling errors of the "spell checker wouldn't notice but an editor should variety - "vile" for "vial," "polar back" for "polar bear," "manuel" for "manual." there are also a number of slips in formatting with paragraph breaks and indentation.

Generally there seems to be a lot of pieces having Carl becoming "recognized" for his monster-hunting. Time-wise the stories are an odd mix of stories set in the 70s ("What Every Coin Has," sort of) and modern day (Internet and all). A little editorial consistency would be good on setting the background - sometimes Carl uses a laptop, then sometimes he doesn't use computers and has to have someone else enter his material electronically.

The Stories

What Every Coin Has (C.J. Henderson) An amusing piece, the first of many, on Carl getting recognition. Seems to make some attempt at establishing how the TV show came about, with references to recreating a scene from "Bad Medicine" and all. Internally an odd mix of eras even for Dawidziak and Moonstone's "timeless" approach, as it specifically refers both to the 70s in the context of the 70s ("The Werewolf" having occurred a year ago) and also drops references to Stephen King, Oprah, etc. its first page it starts out with a 81-word run-on sentence mixing references to "My Mother the Car" and "Friends" - the latter being another odd time-setting reference for a story set in the 70s. Odd narrative style switches back and forth from Carl to Richards and back again and again, disrupting story flow and making for an awkward read. Carl refers to his Polish heritage but also calls himself a "Mick bastard." Awkward wording in spots, like "three men in a hundred thousand," and some very odd sentences - I'm still not sure what "it made a jellyfish look like Dorothy's Tin Woodman" means. The main antagonist briefly becomes "Peles" on page 16, which might have been preferable to the unfortunate name of "Penes." (Rating: 6)

Don't Even Blink (Fred Van Lente) A very "short" short story, appropriately titled as this one whizzes by. Returns Carl to New York and kicks him out post-haste. As the title says, don't blink or you'll miss the second murder and the clue tying it to the first. Basically a "Murder occurs, Carl finds monster, Carl kills monster" without any reporting/investigative work. (4)

The Way of the Matter (P.N. Elrod) Nice effective story, with a decent opening that sounds like a Kolchak narration and some good dialogue. The set-up with Carl being endangered and then saved is a bit awkward - he seems more stupid then usual - and the central ideas have been seen a time or two before, but it's all put together well and ends up enjoyable. (8)

The Last Temptation of Kolchak (Steven Grant) Hard to judge as it's a fairly surrealistic story and deliberately so. There are a few discrepancies like Carl's editor just being "the editor" and a vampire turning to ash when staked - they're not that obliging in the original movie or TV series - but since none of it's "real" it's hard to tell if they're intentional or not. (6)

The Ungrateful Dead (James Bates) The first story to actually do anything significant with Kolchak's supporting cast. This is a pretty straightforward story with a few Kolchak "moments." The villain just disappears and doesn't have any given motivation, making the ending a bit anti-climactic. An adequate story. (6)

The Source (Clay & Susan Griffith) Now this is a Kolchak story. There's some nice Kolchak/Vincenzo interplay with something other then yelling between them. We get a monster that isn't, and a Kolchak fan that is. We get a halfway interesting police captain for Carl to play off of. There's a bit of characterization for Kolchak. And there's some nice dialogue, in a story paced perfectly for the 13 pages allotted. (9)

Kolchak and the Cult Murders (Mike W. Barr) This story is a bit of an odd man out as it's a detective story rather then a straight "Kolchak" piece. Barr captures Kolchak the character pretty well, and there's a few interesting moments, but the story feels more like a Mike Hammer piece than a Carl Kolchak story. (6)

The Night Talker (Stuart Kaminsky) Ignoring the pun title (please!), this is an okay story although the author seems more interested in hitmen Wes & Chet then Kolchak. Unfortunately this story is hit with some very sloppy edits and formatting - lots of missing commas before a separated name ("Facts Carl, not monsters" rather than "Facts, Carl, not monsters") and some bad paragraph breaks starting on page 100 that make the story rather hard to follow. (6)

Shadows From the Screen (Richard Valley) Valley takes advantage of his generous 18 pages to tell a fairly detailed story incorporating most of the show's main characters (no Gordy the Ghoul), as well as Los Angeles characters Faye Krueger and Lt. Matteo from "The Vampire." There's even date/time references and a running gag/subplot with Carl trying to pacify Vincenzo for health reasons. Everything is pretty well done although establishing Ron Updyke as gay seems a bit...obvious. I don't recall Carl being such a big silver screen fanatic (he needed help in "The Werewolf") and one gets the impression Valley let his love of old movies transfer over a bit to Kolchak in his story. The ending is a little anti-climactic, since Carl "faces off" with the monster several pages previously. Nor does he seem too concerned that his mistake basically got an admirer (if not a friend) murdered and Faye Kruger almost killed as well. Overall a story that captures the entire feel of the show - not just the monsters and the Kolchak dialogue, but the "family" feel of the office staff. (9)

Barrens (Chuck Dixon) Somewhat of a letdown, this is only marginally a Kolchak story. Past the beginning and ending with a few Kolchak bits, it's more of a "monster attacks people on the road" story throughout, with a somewhat confusing ending. There's no real rhyme or reason to it and one gets the impression that people are being attacked along New Jersey highways every night. For some reason Carl drives from Hollywood to New Jersey to report on a breaking hurricane story (??). And while it's okay through to the last part, in the end the whole things turns out to be a hallucination or dream or something. Not sure what to make of this, but the ending really brings it down. Even what appears to be A Christmas Story in-joke on page 127 doesn't help. (2)

Frost-Bitten (Mark Leiren-Young) Not surprisingly, Canadian author Leiren-Young brings us a tale of Kolchak in Canada. There are several stabs at the concept of travel junkets and some good Kolchakisms. There's a nice twist at the end (hurt only by the fact there are really only two suspects), and overall it's an entertaining piece. The mysterious paragraph non-breaking springs up again, though, with paragraphs with no tab indents, but this time they're short-lived. (7)

Man or Monster (James Anthony Kuhoric) Another short story hampered by a low page count - at just over six pages it barely gets started before it's over. It's a bit odd that Carl is obsessed with a nightmare of Catherine Rawlins doing something he never saw, given all the horrifying things he did see her do. And they misspell Ron's last name as "Updike." Okay, but just isn't long enough to make an impression. (5)

Interview With a Vampire (Mark Dawidziak) This story gets the longest page count, and author Dawidziak brings us up to speed on the post-Rice "official" backstory, placing this story in the period between the TV series and the author's own Grave Secrets novel. The author's Kolchak writing is as effective as always, but...since I'm not a Dark Shadows fan, I'd have to echo the sentiments Kolchak himself expresses about the various characters, "as if I know who the hell" some of the characters are. And Dawidziak does seem to be "enjoying some kind of private joke." Other then being somewhat at a loss for all the in-jokes and continuity references to DS, the meeting of Dan Curtis' two characters is interesting enough. Although Barnabas Collins seems so determined to come across as a vampire that you have to wonder if he's doing it just to bedevil poor Carl. (7)

It Came From Monkey Skull Creek (Dave Ulanski) If Dawidziak's piece ties in to the Kolchak continuity he helped create for Rice and Moonstone, then Ulanski takes his story and places it firmly in the standard-format comics (just before the two-part Egyptian mummy story), with Carl taking a vacation to tend to some personal business. It's a nice little character piece for Kolchak, gives us one good Kolchak/Vincenzo scene, and has a bit of background. The twist ending isn't really too surprising, but it's still touching. (8)

What Monsters Do (Peter David A perspective from the other side, as it were, and although it really doesn't come across as a twist as the surprise is telegraphed a bit too early and obviously (with the "Culshack"). It has David's typical blend of humor and pathos, although in this instance due to the short nature of the story the humor kind of works against the tone. It also portrays Kolchak as maybe a bit too clueless. (7)

Accidental Invasion (Elaine Bergstrom) This story does a somewhat better job of presenting a "monster" in a sympathetic light. In fact, the real "monster" here is not the supernatural or supranatural beasties at all. The story is just long enough to sustain its length and it ends on a philosophical point of sorts, although the "Kolchak forgets his contact" thing at the end seems a bit of a copout - "The Way of the Matter" works on a similar concept of Kolchak having a supernatural ally and works better for having Carl remembering everything. Unfortunately you have to strain slightly to find Bergstrom in the Author Bios - the editors left her name off her bio. (6)

Genius Loci (Robert Weinberg) Obviously Weinberg knows the writing business, and adds a bit of background to Carl as a writer of men's action novels when he's taking a break from reporting. At eight pages the story moves directly from A to B to C, although Carl doesn't really do much. Solid effort. (6)

The Abominable Ice Man (Martin Powell) Kolchak goes on another cross-country trip (see "Barrens") although only to Minnesota this time. It's another Kolchak story with an Amerindian basis and a fairly creepy monster-spirit at large. The monster's motive for going after Carl is a bit unclear and I'm a little unclear how Carl has an inkling of who the two guys at the tent (on page 228) are, unless he follows outdoorsmen TV shows. That, along with Carl happening to meet the granddaughter of the one person who can help him, are a bit too convenient. Still, Powell deftly conveys the chilling aspect of the creature and provides a nice story overall. (7)

The Pretty Dead Girl (Brent Matthews) A personality piece with no monsters, and basically a love story. Still, it's definitely a Kolchak story in the sense that it's about...well, Carl Kolchak and utilizes both his background and his personality to tell the tale. (7)

Wet Dog of Galveston (Jason Henderson) A ghost story of sorts, with some resemblance to Dawidziak's Grave Secrets with the idea of a dog and a guardian spirit, and Kolchak partnering up with an elderly local expert. As noted, Henderson comes from Texas and incorporates his knowledge into the story which moves Carl briefly to Texas to help out an old friend. This plot device actually works better then the "Send Carl across the country on a story" approach taken in some of the earlier works. The author isn't very successful at capturing the "Kolchak voice," but there's enough little bits of background and characterization to work in the end. (7)

Kali's Final Cut (Adisakdi Tantimedh) There's a fine line between black comedy and slapstick...and Kolchak tossing the body parts of Kali cultists definitely goes into the latter category. This doesn't even hit the "Murder occurs, Carl finds monster, Carl kills monster" formula. At six pages basically Carl goes somewhere, unexpectedly gets involved in a cult sacrifice, watches two worshippers square off, and tosses a corpse's head at the right moment to win the day. There are a few jokes at Bollywood and the acting industry in general, but this one borders on a Kolchak parody. (4)

The Shadow That Shapes the Light (Ed Gorman & Richard Dean Starr) Another Amerindian story with Carl on a vacation. At nine pages it basically gets Carl out of the office and into the case pretty quick. It does make good use of Carl's reputation to involve him in the story, and the authors put in some scene-setting "traditional" Kolchak narration at the breaks, although it's a bit wordier and doesn't quite capture the feel. It's also not entirely clear why a god needed Carl involved at the end. (7)

The Mirror Cracked (Lou Aguilar) And another story about a Hollywood ghost. This one has a good Kolchak opening and captures the character's dialogue pretty well. It's a straightforward piece that sets it up and knocks it home - solid work. (6)

The Shrug of Atlas (Joe Gentile) And yet another story with Carl meeting up with an ancient being with a vast destiny. This one neatly combines the guest cop of the week/story with the "Carl's girlfriend" and gives us an interesting character in Sergeant Weber - it'd be nice to see her show up in some future Moonstone project and given Joe Gentile is the moving force for Kolchak there... This is a fairly interesting story although a mix-up in font changes on page 298 muddies things up a bit, and Carl receiving a "gift" seems a bit unnecessary and unclear as to what he receives. (7)

Searching for Cisa (Gary Phillips) A more detailed voodoo tale compared to "The Ungrateful Dead," and also takes the step of giving Carl a new co-worker, a Kolchak-in-training as it were. This is a fun little tale that has Carl doing actual investigation work, and hits pretty close to home on capturing the Kolchak voice. (7)

Open House (Max Allen Collins) No media fiction book would be complete without a Max Allen Collins story. This is another one that sort of establishes Carl as more of a paranormal investigator/debunker then as a reporter, as he gets roped into checking out a haunted house. One for the ladies, I suppose, if they like a story feature Carl Kolchak discussing his proclivities toward PPV porn, then getting naked and having sex. An okay story that uses its 13 pages wisely to build up the suspense and the background of the horse, then throw in a twist ending. (6)

Overall: A nice collecton of stories - generally above average in quality but nothing that really leaped out aand grabbed me. Certainly I look forward to future projects, and I'm hoping they trim it down a bit and clean up the editorial gaffes with the next anthology.

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