Dead Men Can’t Complain and Other Stories by Peter Clines
I love Peter Clines’ weird ideas and a short story collection seems the perfect way to experience a bunch of them. I found Dead Men Can’t Complain and Other Stories (2017) at Audible. At this moment there is no print version of this collection, but the audio version, with narration by two of my favorite readers (Ray Porter and Ralph Lister) is excellent and well worth picking up. It’s only 5 hours long.
The stories, which cover 10 years of Clines’ writing career, are:
- “Mulligan” — The NSA has been called in to speak to a cop who has just interrogated a man in a lizard costume. As the cop tells his story, it gets weirder and weirder.
- “Bedtime story” — A young boy tells his parents that one of his teachers has been bad-mouthing the superhero who watches over their city.
- “The Long Deep Dream” — In this Cthulhu-inspired tale, a gumshoe investigates some eldritch goings-on in his city.
- “The End of the Experiment” — A physics grad student tries to convince his friends that he built a time machine in the basement.
- “Flesh Trade” — A busy mob boss meets with a one of his subordinates, but the meeting doesn’t go as he expects.
- “Redneckromancy” — When the cow dies, a couple of farmers break out the black magic books to try to bring it back to life. This story is funny already, but the audio narration makes it hilarious.
- “The Hatbox” — A 19th century medical student applies his meticulous research skills to the study of a zombie. Excellent narration, again. This story was Peter Clines’ first professional sale.
- “The Apocrypha of Gamma-202” — Some robots amusingly argue about their religious beliefs.
- “Dead Men Can’t Complain” — A dead man wakes up as a zombie and endures suspicion, profiling, prejudice and objectification.
- “Forged” —A man asks his fortune-teller lover to grant him immortality, but she is resistant.
- “Contraption” — Some detectives investigate a murder scene inside a Rube Goldberg machine.
Though there is repetitiveness of some elements in these stories (e.g., zombies are kind of Clines’ thing) and the surprise twist at the end becomes unsurprising by the time we start the third story, the tales are diverse and imaginative. Some use familiar tropes (e.g., the gumshoe, the 19th century scholar, the Cthulhu tale, the secret superhero tale), but each takes it in an unexpected direction.
I also like the diversity of styles and voices in this collection and Clines is spot-on with his characterization, even though many of his characters are clichés. The audio performances of Ray Porter and Ralph Lister brilliantly back up the author’s intentions.
I recommend Dead Men Can’t Complain and Other Stories to Audible members and, if you haven’t experienced the joy of Audible, this would be a good book to start with.