Quick Review of Chizine’s Philip Nutman collection

As usual, it’s been far too long since I’ve posted. I’m currently working on a batch of reviews, including titles by Ramsey Campbell, Lawrence C. Connolly, Graham Masterton, Greg F. Gifune, and several others, but in the meantime, here’s a review of Philip Nutman’s Cites of Night, which will be part of my column in Cemetery Dance #65, but which I’ve neglected to post here until now.

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Philip Nutman achieved some degree of genre notoriety in the early 1990s for his short fiction and his sole novel, Wet Work, but largely disappeared from the fiction field after that (although he stayed active writing for comics and for Fangoria magazine). Chizine Publications has chosen to resurrect Nutman after all these years, with Cities of Night, a collection of eleven stories (four original, including two brief framing pieces). Nutman definitely has his admirers — as can be seen in the laudatory back-cover quotations from the likes of Clive Barker, Jack Ketchum, and Christopher Golden – but I found the collection to be a bit too uneven.

After the opening framing device, the collection launches with “Full Throttle,” focusing on two churlish young British brothers, neither up to any good on the particular night of the story’s setting. The tale is just as fast-paced as its title implies, but the characters are like leaves passing by in a strong wind, failing to elicit any lasting interest. The younger of the two brothers, Jamie, is a recurring character who also features in the framing pieces and the slightly-tedious “Blackpool Rock,” in which a hapless Elvis impersonator is kidnapped by a desperate father with a twisted plan. Fortunately, the framing stories are much better.

Among the stand-alone stories not featuring Jamie, there are both winners and losers. Chief among the latter is “Pavlov’s Wristwatch,” a flash fiction caliber idea stretched into a lengthy story. “Ponce de Leon Avenue” employs a great premise, as a struggling writer stumbles upon the manse of a disgraced former Hollywood starlet, who decides that he should help her write her book, but ends far too abruptly.
More impressive is “Churches of Desire,” concerning a down-on-his-luck writer visiting Rome for an interview that falls through, ending up in a porn theater whose denizens are sexual zombies of a sort. Also notable is “Memories of Lydia, Leaving,” wherein the terminally depressed Carpenter, still mourning his lover three years after her suicide, is led (possibly by her ghost) to discover the true reason she took her life. “Love Sells the Proud Heart’s Citadel to Fate” is a nicely-turned period piece that explains how the famed vampire hunter Van Helsing came to his profession.

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