Nefariam – The Element of Crime
Edited by Connie Di Pietro. Pages: 347. Price: $14.00 (CDN).
One of Canada’s most entertaining writers and most prolific anthology editors is Connie Di Pietro. Her collection of horror stories, Purgatorium, is a must-read as we approach Hallowe’en, but we are going to review another one of her Latin-language titled anthologies here. Published through her own ID Press Publishing company, she gives voice to many talented short story writers who may never have been published previously. These collections make for some truly imaginative and enlightening storytelling from new and emerging names in the genre.
Nefariam – The Element of Crime, edited by Connie Di Pietro. Oshawa: ID Press Publishing, 2020. Print.
In her salute to the crime story, Connie Di Pietro supplies the reader with an expansive diversity in tone, theme, and style through the 21 short stories in this villainous volume.
In a nod to André Bazin’s seminal work on the philosophy of photography, she begins her story “Shutter” with the epigraph: “Photos are the witnesses of the past. They remember who we were, even when we forget who we are.” This profound observation sets the tone for a story of a young nature photographer who seems to have taken pictures of something other than birds.
As the mystery unfolds the reader will be surprised by the turn of events, so surprised, in fact, that you may actually get chills as I did – a condition many have claimed when reading a scary story or watching a scary film, but one I had not experienced myself until now. Lulled into a feeling of comfort caused by the nostalgia of darkroom photography developing (something I used to do in my early days of print journalism), I raised an eyebrow as the protagonist discovers unusual images in her pictures, but nothing prepared me for what came after that.
Another engaging story about murder with a twist is the medieval-set “Bone Deep” written masterfully by G.I. Morgan. We follow a heralded harpist from an ancient king’s court as he tries to bring justice to the assailant of his betrothed. The atmospheric tone is reinforced by the language used and one can almost see the Game of Thrones sets surrounding the characters. I can’t help but think that after reading this clever story of crime-solving a better title might have been “The Tell-Tale Harp”.
Phil Dwyer’s “Grace of the Blade” feels like a throwback to the pre-Covid times of gathering at pick-up bars to meet that special someone for the night. Our heroine doesn’t seem to belong to this crowd, yet she is there nevertheless. She is strategic, methodical, and calculating as she surveys the room quietly observing the behaviour of the drunken patrons as she zones in on her prey. When we learn that she was a PhD student who abandoned her studies and moved to another continent, we soon begin to suspect our confidant has a shady past and that her motives might not be entirely romantic after all. It’s the kind of story you would like to see turned into a film.
And this can be said for most of the stories in this wonderful anthology. Di Pietro even goes so far as to divide the tales into thematic descriptions of archetypal characters from crime stories: The Righteous, The Wronged, The Rogues, and appropriately ending with a single contribution to the section entitled The End. In the spirit of binge-watching, you are likely to burn through this book in a weekend and be left wanting for the Netflix versions of these stories or, more likely, the next anthology from Connie Di Pietro.