Inhuman Acts: A Collection of Noir – Book Review by Fred Patten

by Pup Matthias

Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.

51i6Fzbl+wL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Inhuman Acts; A Collection of Noir, edited by Ocean Tigrox.
Dallas, TX, FurPlanet Productions, September 2015, trade paperback $19.95 (316 pages), Kindle $9.95.

According to the publisher, this is a horror anthology. “Explore thirteen anthropomorphic noir stories about betrayal, corruption and deceit from award-winning authors and up-and-coming writers. Pour your favourite whiskey and light up a cigarette as Stanley Rivets, PI shares with you his collection of case files from dim to dark to downright ugly.” (blurb)

Stanley Rivets, the stereotypical sable P.I. who tells these stories — “A sable in a long beige trench coat sits behind the desk, dark ears perking at the entrance of the newcomer. The wide brim of his fedora raises to see what visitor would stop by this late at night.” –p. vii. He wears his trench coat and fedora while sitting in his office? Well, maybe he’s just returned, exhausted, from a case — appears only in the very brief Foreword and Afterword. Too bad. It would have been nice to get a full story with him.

Rivets tells 13 stories; not cases of his own, but 13 that he’s heard of. Ocean Tigrox has started out with one of the best here; “Muskrat Blues” by Ianus Wolf. It’s specifically a pastiche of The Maltese Falcon, with Mike Harrison, a pig P.I., investigating the murder of his best friend, another P.I. – a muskrat; two prey animals in a grim & gritty city where the prey animals are usually at the bottom of the anthro-animal social pole. But Alex Richards didn’t take any guff, and neither does Harrison. Wolf packs a neat summary of Hammett’s novel (or Warner Bros.’s movie; take your pick) into a taut 25 pages of noir, with enough originality that even if you’re a fan of The Maltese Falcon, you’re not likely to guess whodunit. And enough presence of predator & prey animal traits to make this a satisfying furry story, too.

The “Fixer” (by Watts Martin) is a 43-year-old squirrel who has been “cleaning up” after criminals so the police won’t suspect anything, for the last twenty years. She’s ready to retire, but Jimmy Espinoza, a wolf minor drug lord, insists on hiring her for one last job. His cacomistle wife Marie had been at a wild party the previous night; the mink hostess, drunk, had gone for a nighttime swim and drowned; and Jimmy doesn’t want anyone to know that Marie had been there when it happened. Miss Fixer takes the job only because she and Marie used to be lesbian lovers. Of course, there’s a dark underside to the story involving doublecrosses, murders, and suicide. Martin’s writing is just right for a noir anthology and the plot is clever, although the talking-animal cast could have been humans just as well.

“Danger in the Lumo-Bay” by Mary E. Lowd is a clever futuristic s-f murder mystery, set in what would be a holodeck if this was Star Trek fiction. The defective lumo-bay in a Tri-Galactic Navy ship is being repaired. Captain Pierre Jacques (hairless sphinx cat), Dr. Waverly Keller (Irish setter), and chief engineer Jordan LeGuin (orange tabby cat) test it with a “Murder in the Morning” scenario that casts the male captain and the female doctor as two P.I.s investigating a Maltese Falcon case with lots of dead bodies. Then something goes wrong with the lumo-bay’s program. Who is the killer in “Murder in the Morning”? Are the captain and the doctor really safe? This is a mystery on two levels.

“River City Nights” by Tana Simensis is narrated by Dick – make that Richard; he doesn’t like to be called Dick – Calloway, a tiger cabbie who picks up the wrong fare. The writing is smooth, but the scenario just isn’t convincing. Sorry.

“Every Breath Closer” by Slip Wolf starts off with a grabber of a paragraph:

“I won’t lie and say the ten thousand I’d lost didn’t cross my mind when the police started to process the scene. Mostly, I was just numb as I watched the dead otter’s limbs twisted around themselves on the wet pavement, rain driving at the tarp that kept blowing off her, all the evidence at the scene finding a drain to go down. There was broken glass around Susan Britches’ body and a gaping, jagged grimace in the condo’s glass side, five stories up. I suspected the broken music award by the curb was used to break the window. In that condo, where Susan had paid me my retainer just days ago and begged me to quietly and discreetly find her missing daughter, was an explanation for Susan’s demise.” (p. 95)

Owen Spenhardy, the squirrel stereotypical hard-drinking, trenchcoat-wearing P.I., expects that he’s lost his client. Instead, he is hired by the daughter’s former teacher to continue the search for her. This story has a real reason for the cast to be anthropomorphic animals: you can stuff and mount animals after their deaths, which you can’t do with humans (unless you’re a mad taxidermist as in House of Wax). Doctor Aiden Engelhände, a fox artistic taxidermist, wants to have Bethany found in order to honor his best student by preserving her after her eventual natural death – he says. This is another well-written story that’s not too believable, but with an imaginative plot that’s undoubtedly furry.

“Ghosts” by Solus Lupus, featuring Helen, a cat, and Rosa, a coyote, is very short, very sad, and very memorable. I like it very much.

“A Blacker Dog” by Huskyteer is creepily eerie. Everyone in the world has an invisible companion, a black dog with glowing red eyes; a sort of canine guardian angel – for anime fans, make that a shinigami. Dobermans. Pomeranians. Chows. Chihuahuas. Poodles. Newfoundlands. Nobody can see them, except Jon Mazza, P.I. His black dog is Hunter, “a portly black Labrador in a trench coat and dark glasses”. Mazza is investigating someone who apparently can not only also see the black dogs, but can use his own to kill. Huskyteer enhances the eeriness by keeping it vague and contradictory as to whether either the people or the black dogs are anthropomorphic or not.

“Crimson on Copper” by Tony Greyfox could be an Isaac Asimov story with anthro animal characters. Detective Faraday, a laughing hyena cop (who isn’t laughing), is called to a sales room where three people have been extremely messily slaughtered, apparently by one of the automatons for sale – but automatons are made so they can’t kill. Faraday has to find either why the machine acted murderously against its programming, or who the real killer is – or both. Greyfox enhances the anthro aspect nicely: “I stepped over the blood cautiously, thankful that hyenas don’t have long tails like the fox who was busily trying to blot blood from his tail tip.” (p. 152)

“Vermin’s Vice” by T. S. McNally is interesting in switching back & forth between the two adversarial main characters, a mouse and a rat, for the narration. Unfortunately, both are stilted and not believable:

“I sat down behind the desk and placed my claws before me. ‘We provide a service here, and if I did not provide it, would society’s demand for it vanish? No. They’d go elsewhere to find their drink, their eye-candy, their thrills.’ I picked up one of the glasses of bourbon I had poured and slid my claw around the rim. ‘You see, my quaint little mouse, all creatures have their vices. That is why I founded the Vermin’s Vice.’

After a moment of silence I moved my paw away from the glass. ‘So, I suppose I must ask what vice brings you to the Vice?’

His somber face was unmoved by my pitch as he returned, ‘I don’t have a vice, I’m just here for work.’” (p. 184)

“Scorned” by K. C. Alpinus also has exaggerated and unconvincing writing, but a more interesting situation: Ivory T. Shadows, a super-sexy snow leopard, has been murdered. Preston, a crooked wolf, wants Maltese, a drunken tigress P.I., to find the real killer before the police frame him as an obvious suspect:

“‘Maltese, you’ve got to lay off the hooch, doesn’t sit well with the dames to see you so bent.’

The tigress grunted deep in her throat and turned her head to the side, dismissing Preston without opening her eyes. ‘Fade, shade. You’re making me lose my edge.’

Preston nodded to a scantily dressed waitress and asked for a glass of water. Once placed in his paws, the wolf hurled the icy liquid, thoroughly soaking Maltese.

‘I’m gonna chin ya!’ She yowled, jumping up and furiously shaking the water off her face.

‘Don’t go getting all evil on me.’ He smirked, passing her a napkin to dry herself with.” (p. 199)

“Bullet Tooth Claw” by Marshall L. Moseley, by contrast has a witty and believable style:

“I was at Tavern Law on 12th, the bar at which I spend so much money I get thank-you cards from the bartender’s Mom. It was three in the afternoon, too early for drinking, which is why I’d started at noon. Basset hounds have an advantage that way – we look droopy and have naturally red-rimmed eyes, so we can get away with being in the bag when most dogs can’t.” (p. 223)

Archie Bellclan, an Uplifted basset P.I., investigates when Simon Tanner, his friend, is murdered. “When your human dies, you’re supposed to do something about it.” The investigation is suitably noirish, and the Uplifted animals’ natural abilities are used intelligently. A winner.

“Guardian Angels” by Nicholas Hardin takes place in a funny-animal society controlled by its worst elements. The cops and political leaders are corrupt. The gangs kidnap the children of anyone who stands up to them and forcibly addict them to drugs. Only the Angels combat them; anonymous animals who have escaped them, banded together, and adopted pseudonyms like Sariel (male mink), Raphael (male cobra), Azriel (female wolf), and several others (unidentified) – all Biblical Angels of Destruction. But due to their gang brainwashing, they do not remember their past identities, and they seem to have more than mortal abilities. Have they become super-vigilantes? No matter; in this story, the Angels have become a serious enough menace to the gangs that they unite in hunting them down. The violence escalates explosively, and for once the Angels are on the defensive.

“Brooklyn Blackie and the Unappetizing Menu” by Bill Kieffer is another animal-P.I.-investigates-a-friend’s-death. And 34 other deaths. Everyone in the turtle’s Harlem apartment building is dead. Blackie, a wolf/dog hybrid P.I., is sure that the police are on a false trail and conducts his own investigation. This is another story that makes clever use of the animal natures of its cast. It has my candidate for the best line in the book: “My soul craved justice, but it would take bloodshed instead.”

13 stories. My favorites are “Muskrat Blues”, “Crimson on Copper”, “Bullet Tooth Claw”, and “Brooklyn Blackie”. Many are well-written but depressing; one has a surprise happy ending. A couple are very good; most are reasonably good; I’d only rate a couple as clunkers. The cover by Seylyn is appealing. Overall, Inhuman Acts is worth the cover price for fans of dark detective fiction.

Fred Patten