by Brendan ConnellMein Kampf. The Book of Concord. The Communist Manifesto. The Burberry catalogue. Social movements have always been drawn to texts that define them, to help them shape their vision and instruct their followers. Here at last, masquerading as a collection of short fiction tucked away in the horror or weird fiction section of bookshops, is the definitive manifesto of The Insane Evil Geniuses Association*.
The journey to endarkenment begins with The Maker of Fine Instruments, a story about musical obsession taken to its logical extreme. This parable parable instructs initiates in the proper behaviour for an insane evil genius, with attention to fine details and an unswerving willingness to pursue greatness in the face of common sense.
Yet musical aptitude isn't the only path to ultimate darkness. An interest in decay, tattoos, plants, food, surgery or even origami can be transformed into something awe-inspiringly sick with the right preparation and sufficient dedication. Any all-consuming passion will do. The hero of The Putrimaniac, Alfonso, states that "when ugliness is taken to its limits, it turns to beauty." It's a precept that epitomises the whole collection.
No deranged cult would be complete without giving its followers detailed instructions on how to live during every second of every day, and on this score Unpleasant Tales doesn't disappoint. There are recipes in The Flatterer and A Dish of Spouse, to help you entertain with verve, style and a twist of disgusting excess. Various stories deal with the proper care of unusual collections, and how to manage a hidden lair or torture chamber, whilst the importance of proper ritual and ceremonial dress is outlined in The Nasty Truth About Dentists. Who needs demons when you can misuse science to such horrific effect?
However while I'm on the subject of the supernatural, a few of the tales are based on fantasy. Such things as lecherous old vampires, homicidal possessions, mermaids, and body parts with minds of their own do come up. But the real star of the show is human nature, shown in its worst possible light. Acolytes who want to cultivate the unmitigated misanthropy of the truly evil will be inspired by stories such as The Flatterer and The Nanny Goat.
The Last Mermaid is based on Carlos II of Spain, whilst The Last of the Burroways is also inspired by history. Meanwhile Mesh of Veins is very reminiscent of a true case of the body modifications of Dennis Avner. So although this is fiction, there's a side to these stories that rings true.
With its parade of freaks and horrors there's a car-crash appeal to Unpleasant Tales that's hard to look away from. It's shocking, but that's not all there is to it. Brendan Connell has plundered history and ranged far and wide to create characters who can be as refined and erudite as they are wicked. There are decadent Europeans, ancient Numidians, professors, paupers, pirates and princes. This collection is vice for the connoisseur, its gluttons, sensualists and lunatics as perverse a collection as anything the characters in its pages have put together.
Colourful, disgusting and very, very weird, this depraved tome is not for the eyes of your common-or-garden villains. Do not handle this book without first donning your lab coat, gloves and a foot-wide manic grin. Use surgery as necessary.
5th October 2010
Review © Ros Jackson
* It exists. There's a Facebook page.