Mary SanGiovanni, Under Cover of Night (Flesh & Blood Press, 2002)

This promising collection by Mary SanGiovanni offers stories ranging in genre from hard-boiled detective to science fiction, each one having an element of chilling horror.

In the excellent “Who Wants to Be a Survivor,” for example, television show castaways are left on a remote, deserted island. They will win a cash prize if they survive three months alone. When the time has passed, the television network’s people return to find the island empty. Only the weekly videotapes made by the cast to chronicle their adventures still remain....

In “Dust Shadows of the Dead,” rock star Jared Darke and girlfriend Lilith come to record an album in a dilapidated old mansion, but they discover that the house plans to use them for its own sinister purposes. The story builds logically, step by step, until we are caught in a nightmarish ritual both utterly believable and yet completely unexplained. It goes to show that leaving things unsaid always works well in horror fiction.

But SanGiovanni sometimes doesn't leave things unsaid. Take "The Amazing Morpheus," for example, which is pleasantly reminiscent of Thomas Ligotti's "Drink to Me Only with Labyrinthine Eyes" until it descends into graphic teenage drive-in gore. Snipping the last few paragraphs would have been wise. In “The Skincatchers,” police detective Nick Harrigan tracks down a strange group killing and mutilating homeless people. SanGiovanni creates some great Lovecraftian scenes in this one — and the ultimate “transformation” of the character Meshuru is genuinely creepy — but she feels compelled to tell the reader what happens to her characters after their story is over. A quicker ending would have allowed this strong story to finish on a high note.

But that’s a minor flaw in a new writer who shows great promise. Even the least of her stories has fine moments, and readers would be well advised to keep an eye on SanGiovanni. When she is at her best, she turns out superior fiction.

[Thomas Wiloch]