My collection DEAD SOULS is still available. It contains a number of stories which received honorable mention in YEAR'S BEST FANTASY & HORROR edited by Ellen Datlow.
Review by William Gagliani
David Barnett has built a strong reputation as a publisher and book designer. Over the years, his Necro Publications and Bedlam Press have promoted the work of Edward Lee, Gerard Houarner, Tom Piccirilli, Charlee Jacob, and other notables, consistently producing stylish, controversial, collectible books and chapbooks imbued with his take-no-prisoners philosophy of horror fiction. Necro has always been a source of “no quarter asked, none given” kind of material -- not for everyone, but not meant to be. It has carved itself a strong niche in the hardcore horror market, and that’s no small feat.
But Dave Barnett, it turns out, caught the writing bug (or always had it but chose suppression) and found himself slowly forced out of his shell by one, then two sales to Cemetery Dance anthologies (SHIVERS and SHIVERS 2). Those stories (“Spin-Cycle” and “A Better Man”) also appear in this collection, and they are arguably two of the finest. Indeed, though Barnett isn’t as accomplished (yet) as some of the whiplash-inducing talent he’s published over the years, he is able to wring out short stories every bit as emotionally hard-hitting as anyone you can name. Most of his protagonists are tainted or damaged by their environments, depressed or determined to break free of some imprisonment, sometimes self-imposed.
There’s an effective blending of noir and zombie film elements in “Kill Me Again,” and “Bully” will sure ring the bell of anyone who appreciates not-perfect, not-so-heroic protagonists (this reporter included). Many of his protagonists are children, and Barnett treats even the less admirable ones with a certain tenderness that borders on pathos even when they seem at first despicable. The twisted “Everything ... Will Be Just Fine” and the semi-autobiographical “Growth” deal with children striving to understand their situations. “And the Lake Shall Cry No More” (a heartfelt tribute to Ed Lee and his novel, Creekers) looks at the children of genetic “freaks” as both literal and surreal victims of a generational “arrangement” with a no-face corporate entity that deals in malformed offspring. Set partly in the Vietnam War, “The Hill” shifts gears by introducing a dash of science fiction, but remains firmly footed in the horror tradition. “Libra” is a harrowing exploration of justice, though too many point of view jumps make it choppier than it needs to be.
Barnett’s ten stories exhibit a film director’s strong sense of scene, many of those scenes tough but symbolic and certainly memorable. The transitions that hold them together seem a little rough around the edges at times, as do time shifts (and verb tenses), occasionally confusing a story’s timeline a bit, especially at the longer lengths, but these minor flaws will smoothen with time and handling. Indeed, Barnett seems poised to conquer the first-time jitters and produce work as powerful as that of his favorite authors, and this attractively simple package is convincing proof. DEAD SOULS is the first regular book-length publishing project of Shocklines Press, an outgrowth of Shocklines (on-line) Bookstore. (An art book by the very talented Caniglia and an original novel by Douglas Clegg round off the first three powerful Shocklines offerings.) Definitely worth picking up, especially if you’re already acquainted with Necro and want a glimpse at its creator and his own dark visions.