The pairing is so obvious that it's remarkable someone hadn't thought to create a compilation of stories combining graphic sex with noir detective settings long ago. Isn't that what detective fiction is ultimately all about, anyway? Detective stories all seem to involve the seven deadly sins sooner or later. There's greed, envy, lust, lust, lust, lust and lust. I think I covered 'em all. However, not much else remains covered in FLESH & BLOOD: GUILTY AS SIN, the latest in the FLESH & BLOOD anthologies of original stories edited by Max Allan Collins and Jeff Gelb.
Collins needs no introduction to readers of detective fiction or to anyone else, really, since his graphic novel, THE ROAD TO PERDITION, was adapted to film. And Gelb? Horror aficionados have prized his HOT BLOOD series, edited with writer and writing instructor extraordinaire Michael Garrett, for some time now. FLESH & BLOOD is a logical outgrowth of the HOT BLOOD series and succeeds as thoroughly. The reasons for the success of both series are the uncanny ability of the editors to mix each anthology with well-known writers and those who are soon to be well known and to get their best out of all of them.
This is far more than a collection of "dirty stories." The sexual content is graphic but always fits appropriately within the context of the tale. Collins's own "Lie Beside Me," co-written with Matthew V. Clemens, is an excellent example of this. The story begins with John Sand, a retired secret agent who is finding that domestic bliss is boring. Mrs. Sand decides to re-awaken their marriage by reminding Sand of certain aspects of his exciting past, just as the past suddenly --- and dangerously --- threatens to intrude. This is the story that Ian Fleming, alas, never got to write.
Then there is O'Neil De Noux's contribution, "The Iberville Mistress." De Noux is a frequent contributor to Gelb's anthologies. No one can write an erotic tale set in New Orleans, that most erotic of cities, like De Noux. This tale of a private eye who becomes an unwitting, though not necessarily unwilling, instrument of the termination of a marriage is worth the price of admission all by itself.
Loren Estelman contributes a fine and humorous offering entitled "A Hatful of Ralph" about a department store detective who finds out more than he should about the extracurricular activities of a couple of coupling employees, while Gelb's "Perfection" is perhaps the ultimate cautionary tale about getting what you wish for. Garrett is represented as well in "Sex Crimes," which is the perfect title for a little band of thrill killers who, uh, really get into their work.
There are a couple of surprises as well. Clemens and Gelb score a coup with "Walking to Paris," a story by the much missed and remembered Rex Miller, who comes out of an illness-imposed retirement to present this story about a stewardess with a penchant for the ultimate payback. And then there's "Bank Job" by Thomas Roche. I was heretofore unfamiliar with Roche's work, a deficiency in my literary education that I plan to remedy soon. "Bank Job," gloriously set in San Francisco, chronicles what befalls a policeman who finds himself kidnapped during a bank robbery and who is almost too distracted by what befalls him to figure out an escape. This story is perhaps the most bizarre in the entire collection and is certainly one of the best.
FLESH & BLOOD: GUILTY AS SIN continues the tradition established by its predecessors of combining sex, violence and mystery into a steamy literary mix that both titillates and challenges the reader. Hopefully, we can look forward to seeing new volumes of this collection for many years to come.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on April 1, 2003