291. Criminal Macabre: The Complete Cal McDonald Stories by Steve Niles

Criminal Macabre: The Complete Cal McDonald Stories by Steve Niles  (US) - (Canada) In print in Canada
Criminal Macabre, Novels 1-3

Pages:  419
Ages: 18+
Finished: Oct. 27, 2012
First Published: (2002-2003, 2005) 2007
Publisher: Dark Horse
Genre: novellas, short stories, horror, crime noire, paranormal
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:  "It was the night after Halloween."

Publisher's Summary:  "The world has two faces. The natural and the supernatural. The face we see every day, people filing past us in an almost zombie-like stupor, numb to the horrors of everyday life or driven to madness by the pain and agony of modern-day existence. And those are the people who aren't zombies or monsters!

Cal McDonald is a detective with one foot in the real world, and one in the world of magic. For Cal, the horrors we all dream about in the fevered darkness of the night are all-too real, kept at bay through an almost constant influx of drugs to numb the pain, but never erase it. Cut from the same mold as Sam Spade, Jake Gittes, and the famous detectives of Chandler, Hammett and Spillane, Cal McDonald, whether he likes it or not, is all that stands between us and the nightmare world just outside our vision.

* Collected for the first time in one book are the long-out-of-print prose adventures of the most unconventional detective of all time."

Acquired:  Borrowed a copy through Inter-Library Loan

Reason for Reading:  I read the latest graphic novel in the Cal Mcdonald series which was my first introduction to Steve Niles.  I was so impressed I just had to read more and see what this series was about so I decided to start with the text stories.  I am certifiably hooked and won't stop until I've read them all now.  Going to order the two omnibus collections of his earlier graphic novels next.  Those, I want to own!  Cal is a no holds barred gritty noire detective, even talks as if he's right from the pages of the 30s/40s classics in that genre.  But Cal does differ greatly, he sees the paranormal elements of life and his detective goals are to fight these otherworldly evils; Cal also has a very foul mouth, is addicted to every drug known to man (except the heavy street stuff), smokes and is an alcoholic.  He says he needs this to survive what he has to deal with every day.  And survive Cal does, though every now and then just within an inch of his life.  Somehow Cal's lack of societal niceties, his abrupt (call it rude) speech patterns and mostly not endearing personality actually appealed to me as  a character right from the start.  He's nothing if not genuine; you have to take him as you find him, warts and all, but on the inside he s fighting for the good side and will not let evil prevail no matter what. Recommend for the short story fan of noire, loneliness, crime and the paranormal.  I think this will sit well with fans of the TV Show "Angel".

1. Savage Membrane - originally published as an individual novel, this is in fact more accurately described as a novella.  The first Cal McDonald story is an intriguing, fast paced read and reminds me of the show "Angel' more than anything else.  Cal is human but he has the ability to see paranormal creatures; some of these, such as ghouls, are noticeable to the average human but except from seeming a bit creepy their true nature is not evident.  However Cal has lived with these creatures in his life ever since a young boy and cannot escape from their true reality.  Written in the old crime noire style, Cal is an ex-cop now working as a private investigator dealing in "unusual" cases.  He has a buddy left on the force: Blout, a muscular, got-it-together black man and non-believer in the supernatural but when he comes across a case that is inexplicable he will throw it Cal's way and that is what happens here.  Homeless men, dumpsters full of them, have turned up dead (some six months so) with their brains completely missing from their skulls with no evidence as to how they could have been removed.  This brings back an old case of Cal's, but that perpetrator is dead; Cal killed him with his own hands, or did he?  Cal, Blount, and Cal's sidekick, the ghoul Mo'Lock take the case and enter the sewers of DC to face zombies, FrankenTeens and the monstrous creature who feeds on brains.  A creepy story, well written but with a sense of humour and a good likeness of the dark old detective genre of Chandler and Spillane.  I'm hooked!  5/5

2. Guns, Drugs, and Monsters - This second novella was also published separately as a book, but it has no pretensions of being a novel.  There are no chapter breaks and it is slightly shorter than the first story at 125 pages.  Another excellent story of urban fantasy mixed with crime noire.  The scenario changes here but does keep some familiar aspects.  At first Cal. meets up with an escaped convict he put away in jail the first time who has come to exact revenge upon him.  We were told of this past case in "Savage Membrane".  Missing from the entire story is Cal's police friend, Blount, though he is referred to, who I enjoyed very much; but Cal's sidekick Mo'Lock is ever present even though his role is less than in the previous story.  I can't give too many details as a lot happens in this story since a rift in the dimensions has caused a great increase in the supernatural and Cal finds himself both involved in that and several concurrent cases at the same time.  I loved this just as much as the first story; maybe even a bit more since it was quite out there, this time dealing with traditional monsters such as vampires, werewolves and demons.  Making it more "realistic" LOL.  Cal has moved to California which creates its own nuances, meets up with an older detective in the same field and a reporter for a newspaper dealing with the supernatural. This story did seem to have much more vulgar language than the previous story, which I could have done without, but otherwise a well-written, humorous, entertaining paranormal story with the crime noir narrative twist. 4/5

3. The Dead Don't Die - With this story we start the third (and final) separately published book.  This is the first story from a collection of short stories entitled "Dial M for Monster."  We can presume the continuity follows with this story as Cal is settled into California permanently.  Cal gets "the call" and is told about a small rural town in California which has been infested with Zombies.  He's taken out for a aerial view, then dropped off.  Molock and his invited crew of ghouls have already arrived, and secured the perimetre.  The town is basically a hick town, in the middle of nowhere, in the shape of a circle and very much self-contained.  This is good as it means the infestation is localized.  Call gets to work in zombie killing, finds the source and ends up having an interesting discussion with a government man.  He finds out what their
opinion (and use) of him really is and they leave with an understanding.  Not that Cal benefits in anyway from it, except perhaps he'll waste less time being arrested.  3/5

4. Doll Face - This story is prefaced with a note that the events take place before the first published graphic novel.  This is a little enticing as it suggests something from this story might return in that GN.  This is a very creepy story  of a "freak" (Cal's general term for all unnatural creatures) who walks into a police station.  He looks like your stereotypical accountant only he's covered head to toe in blood, as if he'd been swimming in it.  He sits quietly in a cell for several hours and then starts talking at an incredibly fast speed, in a language no one can understand, except at one point the name Cal McDonald comes out.  Cal is called in to have a look and figures a few things out right away.  Off he and Mo'Lock go to the man's house where he finds one of the most disturbing sights he's ever seen and in his haste walks straight into a trap.  This story brings back mention of Cal's girlfriend from #2, though she doesn't show up as a character.  It is also quick-paced and an unsettling horror story.  A good read!  5/5

5. Soul Sucker - Another good story!  Two scientists come to hire Cal to watch over their experiment.  They supposedly have devised a way to remove the soul from the human body.  They've managed to obtain a comatose patient who was slated for being "unplugged" to be their first guinea pig.  Cal and Mo'Lock arrive, witness the experiment and leave in disgust.  Later that night they are alerted that not all has transpired well for the scientists and they return to deal with the situation.  This is rather a sad story as we see man interfering where he should not tread and the inevitable results are not pretty.  Mo'Lock's character is further developed and character continuity is kept in line with an explanation of why Cal is still living in his friend's house from story #2 and where said friend has been since then.  4/5

6. Stitch - This story takes place immediately after #5, with Cal in the hospital getting stitches removed from his injuries suffered in that encounter which he briefly describes in the opening paragraphs.  His recently acquired police contact calls him to come down to the morgue for a look. Cal sees five female bodies horribly disfigured which bring to mind the horrific work of Dr. Polynice, twice put behind bars in this collection already, but something is different.  Searching for who has killed these young women and sewn them back together with various body parts leads Cal into a case so disturbing he, for once,, is not that eager to even talk about.  The police will have enough evidence for a "regular" crime to have been committed... 5/5

7. Eater - Starts off with telling us that Cal is still in a relationship with Sabrina, not mentioned since story #4, though again she still doesn't show up as a character.  This was a fun story and a bit different than the others.  This time Mo'Lock brings to Cal a mysterious baby something.  Cal's immediate response to what to do with it is to kill it but Mo'Lock is having none of that.  After finding out that it eats meat, they have a real problem on their hands.  It starts to grow before their very eyes and its owner comes looking for it.  Unexpected ending, though by this point nothing is unexpected in Cal McDonald's world!  5/5

8. Big Fat Hairy Deal - So Sabrina is back as a character.  She tricks Cal into going camping with her and instead of bears they meet up with some other great big huge hairy humanoids.  I'll you guess what they are.  Mostly just a fun story, one that tries to show that Cal has a bit of human social awareness.  That he and Sabrina may not be your average couple but they care for each other and that Cal does have some sensitivities... sort of.  Fun story, but not as good as others.  3/5

9.  A Proper Monster - This is the last story in the collection of short stories entitled "Dial M for Monster." Cal receives a short note from a man introducing himself as a werewolf and telling Cal they must meet concerning a "grave matter that concerns the lives of many thousands."  The next night a very dapper man right out of the '40s arrives via limo at Cal's house and proceeds to tell him a chilling tale of Nazi torture, experiments and a plot to take over America.  Usually Cal kills werewolves on the spot but Paul Grimshaw is different and Cal is intrigued enough by the story to investigate.  I'm not a fan of werewolves but this is a unique take on the creature and I enjoyed this story. 4/5

10.  All My Bloody Things - The last story in this collection was previously published in an anthology.  This is the grossest story in the book and does not involve a paranormal monster but a human monster.  So this time the story is really pure crime.  Cal gets a phone call from someone he's helped and the guy is going on thanking him for saving his life when he happens to mention a friend is concerned that her brother, wife and son didn't arrive two nights ago.  The police did nothing and she's quite sure foul play is involved.  Cal takes the details.  He doesn't get involved in missing persons but he has a gut feeling (intuition) about cases and this one smells bad right from the beginning.  Whole families don't just disappear in the Californian desert.  What we get here is a bit of a "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" story but with no chainsaw.  Very freaky and gross with the apt ending line, "Some of the worst monsters out there are human." One of my favourites in the collection and a great note on which to end the book.  5/5


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