Read by Phil Gigante and Natalie Ross
Length: 10 Hrs 12 Min
Genre: Short Story Collection (Multiple Genres)
Quick Thoughts: A solid short story Anthology featuring the Vachss signature noir style, fascinating if unlikeable characters and an authenticity you rarely find in the pages of books. Fans of Joe Lansdale’s Hap and Leonard will be excited to see this duo show up for a great story, as well as a few other of Vachss characters. The anthology ended with a high concept screenplay that may not suit even hardcore Vachss fan’s tastes, but has moments of hidden gems.
There are two kinds of experts in our world. There are the kinds that study something, that break it down to its intricate details, who speculate, postulate and theorize. They use this knowledge to develop opinions, join think tanks, become talking heads on TV news programs and teach courses. Then there is the kind of expert who simply lives something. They may not know why something work, or develop their theories based on intangible concepts of instinct, and heart, but while the studios expert is working on the textbook, they are out applying their knowledge, living and dying by their expertise. Andrew Vachss often writes about that second type of experts. One of the reasons I enjoy single author short story collections is to see how an author takes the central themes of their writing, and explores them through different situations and even genres. Mortal Lock is no different. Vachss inhabits his stories with his signature characters. Vachss’ characters are truly what sets him apart. They are never loveable, and often lot even close to likeable, but they bring a perspective that it seems even the most research oriented author often misses. There is something authentic in their reality, even when they are in situations the push plausibility. In Mortal Lock, Vachss’ applies his themes and characters to 20 different stories, some quite short, while others more detailed, giving us a glimpse into worlds that us everyday tourist rarely ever see.
It is really hard to evaluate and recommend a short story anthology, without going into detail about every story. Like in most anthologies, there is a hit and miss quality. There were some stories that were simply quick slices of life, that seemed to serves as buffers between larger tales. This is something I haven’t seen as often in anthologies, and for the most part I liked it. While I didn’t LOVE every story, three of the larger tales truly make this anthology worth the time and money of any Andrew Vachss Fan. For me the highlight of this short story collection was Veil’s Visit, which Vachss cowrote with Joe Lansdale featuring one of my favorite literary dues Hap Collins and Leonard Pine. Add to this the fact that the story was a Courtroom tale where Leonard is on trial for burning down his neighborhood crackhouse, and the legal theory used by the Defense was priceless. The two other stories that I thought were exceptional were As The Crow Flies, which features the protagonists from his upcoming novel Aftershocks and Profile, which has another of Vachss characters, Cross, hunting an online predator. Yet, these stories were far from the only gems. Vachss starts it off with Ghostwriter, featuring a brilliant writer who was completely unlikeable and sociopathic and did whatever it took to see his works come to print. One of my other favorites was A Piece of the City where rival gangs come to blows over and incident that may be more that it seems. Along the way, Vachss gives his twisted take on Crime Fiction staples like spurned husbands and serial killers. Vachss even breaks away from his typical crime noir to expand into other genres, most notably a tale of a Hit Man searching for a cure for AIDS for his dying sister, who encounters monsters of legends. The only downside of the collection comes in the form of the long screenplay that is the finale. Not that it wasn’t interesting and full of some excellent themes and fascinating explorations. I have never been much of a screenplay reader, and experiencing one in audio was interesting. The tales is definitely high concept, extremely visual and very avante guard. It is more of a series of intertwined vignettes told in a Dystopian World were society is now underground. Vachss creates a disturbing system where the establishment allows many types of evils to flourish, the family structure to break down, and truths told through graffiti painted on walls. If such a movie was ever made, it would be more at home next to the subtitled foreign films at The Ritz than at your local Movie Hut. I think Underground is something I enjoyed more considering the aspects he explored later than during the actual exercise of listening. There were some moments where the story was truly fascinating, some hidden gems in the screenplay, but at times it was hard to stay focused on it.
I am typically not a fan of multi-narrator productions where the male narrator reads the male lines and the majority of the prose, than a female narrator pops in for the female dialogue lines. It just never seems to feel natural for me. This process was used often in Mortal Lock, and while effective, I often cringed when it happened. Luckily, the two narrators had an obvious rhythm down, and made it as natural as possible. That really isn’t a surprise, since the narrators were Phil Gigante and Natalie Ross. Phil handled the majority of the work, and was wonderful as usual. In fact, when Veil’s Visit began, I had a huge idiot grin on my face as the familiar voice of Hap Collins filled the cavern within my skull. Gigante has a knack for knowing when to go low key, and when a bit of over-the-top is appropriate. He is the perfect narrator for Vachss, able to capture the dark humor and noir stylings of Vachss writing, while giving his characters a realism that just feels right. This was my first time listening to Natalie Ross, and I enjoyed her work. Surprisingly, I think some of her best work was done during the screenplay, as well as one particularly creepy serial killer tale. She offered a nice counterbalance to Gigante. Overall, Mortal Lock is a must listen for fans of Andrew Vachss. For those interested in getting a taste of Vachss style, Mortal Lock gives a nice spectrum of indulge in.
Note: Thanks to Dreamscape Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.