SuperNOIRtural Tales Paperback – 2012
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Felix Renn is a private investigator in a supernatural world, an alternate reality where a dark dimension called The Black Lands co-exists alongside our own. Travelling to and from The Black Lands is dangerous – and illegal – but that doesn’t stop some of the creatures that reside there from crossing over into our world from time to time. In this collection of stories, Felix encounters a variety of terrifying entities, including ghosts, vampires, werewolves, and the dreaded Black-Eyed Kids. In a world where paranormal has become the norm, each new case may be his last. SuperNOIRtural Tales collects all of the Felix Renn stories published to date, as well as a brand-new 50,000-word novel, The Brick. Featuring an introduction by Mike Carey, author of the Felix Castor novels and writer for the DC/Vertigo comic book series Lucifer, Hellblazer and The Unwritten.
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I became aware of Ian Rogers' work a couple years ago, thanks to the Man Eating Bookworm, back when the first three stories in this collection only existed as chapbooks. It's heartening to see them brought together for convenience and a chance at a wider audience, because Felix Renn is a character everyone should meet at least once.
I've already reviewed the first three stories in the Black Land series, but if you haven't read those yet, then here is a little catch-me-up. In "Temporary Monsters," we're introduced to Felix Renn as he's called to investigate the same movie star he killed in self-defense when said actor had a supposed psychotic break and started behaving like his latest role: a vampire. This story pretty much set the ground rules for the series, showing monsters are real and the authorities have known about it for some time. "The Ash Angels" followed it up with a Christmas tale that has Felix trying to figure out what's causing the snow angels made of ash popping up around Toronto. Then there's "The Black-Eyed Kids" that brings the Black Lands into full view with a couple of the creepiest kids you'll ever want to meet, straight from the infernal dimension itself.
When I read those stories the first time around, I thoroughly enjoyed them, but the novella that follows in this collection really showed me that Felix Renn and his supporting cast really deserve a bigger stage. "The Brick" introduces us to Jerry Baldwin, a real-estate agent that specializes in haunted houses, and his ... well, his haunted brick. At face value, the premise sounds a little too quirky, but the humor of having a brick with a ghost in it helping out Felix solve a case is tempered with the utterly unsettling history of where the brick comes from. What starts out as a missing daughter mystery ramps up page by page until Felix finds himself tussling with ghosts, gangsters, and something even worse from the Black Lands.
For me, "The Brick" was the treat from this collection simply because I had read all of the other stories, but that didn't mean they weren't fun to revisit. That includes the first Felix Renn story that I remember reading in the Chilling Tales anthology (edited by Michael Kelly). It's not a Black Lands story perse, but the mood is pitch perfect with the other stories in the collection. It's a gumshoe tangling with the grotesque. If that's not enough to get you interested, I don't know what will. Ian Rogers has a deft hand at blending horror, humor, and whodunits, which helps his stories stand out in a crowded field. And to top it off, there is even a handy history guide into the world Ian has created. Kind of like a mini-concordance.
Back before these stories were collected in one book, I heartily recommended them. Now, with SuperNOIRtural Tales, there's no excuse not to jump on the Black Lands bandwagon.
As for the latter, I mean, why not? Noir often (mostly?) centers on investigations of something unexplained, something dark and deadly. These are the exact same concepts which anchor Supernatural Fiction. As such, "Paranormal Investigators" have proliferated for years in various media, from television, film, to dozens and dozens of books. What sets Ian Rogers' collection SuperNOIRtural Tales (Burning Effigy Press) apart isn't the genre, but it's what he does with it, how deftly he handles it, and most importantly, where he takes it, which is to the Black Lands.
Many writers of dark fiction will entertain, but the writers who become important are the ones who CREATE, carving out that new real estate from the jungle that ends up one the permanent map. Lovecraft did it with his limitless cosmology of amoral Elder Gods. Jeffrey Thomas has done it with Punktown. Ian Rogers does it with the Black Lands, which is a major development in Horror Fiction, ripe with endless possibility as a dimension of werewolves and vampires and creepy children and killer trees (yes, you read that right - and it works). This dimension that exists parallel to our own, accessible by portals that are opening up with increasing frequency all over the world, is a surface that is just barely scratched at this point in SuperNOIRtural Tales - a title which seems a bit clumsy at first, until you read the stories, and then it starts to grow on you, as it totally fits.
The book is somewhat of a "concept collection" (think concept albums, with less four chord harmonies and a lot more blood) made up of four interconnected, consecutive tales (and a fifth that is related but stand-alone) centering on Felix Renn, a wise-cracking, world weary private investigator who falls backwards into becoming the go-to PI for any and all supernatural occurrences. And in Rogers' contemporary Toronto, there are many, and none of them are tame.
After a glowing introduction by Mike Carey (author of the Felix Castor novels and writer for the DC/Vertigo comic book series Lucifer, Hellblazer and The Unwritten), "Temporary Monsters" starts the collection, introducing the reader to Felix, his ex-wife/failed actress/now secretary Sandra, and the monsters that have leaked out of the Black Lands and are running amok in our world, and - in this case - have infiltrated the film and television industry in Toronto. This is the weakest piece in the book, but also serves as the baseline for each story that comes after it, which incrementally increase in scope - and quality of writing - as if Rogers warmed to the tales as we do. The overall effect is a raising of all stakes, a gradual elevation of tension and horror through "The Ash Angels" and "Black Eyed Kids" that comes to a head with the arrival of "The Brick," which is a major, meaty piece of writing - a beautiful, tragic, and legitimately scary story that marks the high point of the book, and a major contribution to contemporary Supernatural Fiction.
Rogers' style is a perfect fit for this sort of fiction, as his writing is clean and straight ahead, without a lot of jazz hands, while also dashing the stew with a necessary amount of sarcasm and bone dry, black humor. But there is also a depth of character, and a firm respect for what makes both good Horror and good Crime Fiction. Like a mellow scotch, Rogers' writing is the ideal blend of the spooky and the restrained, the shocking and the procedural, striking a balance that serves this sort of mash-up perfectly.
In the end, both Noir and the Supernatural are celebrated in SuperNOIRtural Tales, and will hopefully continue in new Felix Renn stories and novels to come. As a fanboy of both, who loves his Reeses, I'll be waiting.