by Astrid Amara, Nicole Kimberling, and Ginn Hale; fantasy (2008)
Loose Id, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-59632-812-9
Hell Cop has three stories set in the same urban fantasy setting. In Parmas City, humans, ghosts, disenfranchised demons, and various other spooks have to co-exist, sometimes uneasily, in the same confines and we also have our enforcers called the Hell Cops to watch over them and make sure that the threat of misbehaving demons in the city is minimized if not eradicated altogether. Three Hell Cops are going to fall in love in this anthology.
Astrid Amara starts the show with Next Of Kin. Brian, a 21-year old temp in the Parmas City Hospital, is helping the staff deal with a major emergency (demons are starting to munch on kids in the city for who knows what purpose so badly injured and even dead kids are showing up) when he comes across a hot guy who is on fire. Really, that man is covered in flames, not that he is in pain or anything. Jay Yervant, that man, is a Hell Cop who can set things ablaze just by touching those things with his bare skin. When he's experiencing strong emotions, he can also turn into the Human Torch. Someone is summoning demons to Parmas City and telling them to target children. Jay is determined to find out who these villains are and stomp them to pieces.
Given that this is a Loose Id product, sexually explicit scenes are of course to be expected. However, in this story, the sex scenes cause the momentum of the story to come to a screeching halt. Likewise, I wish Brian is not in this story. He is the stereotypical wide-eyed and generally useless boyfriend that is more often than not a liability than an asset. I like the paranormal mystery elements of the story and I want to know more about the demons and what they are up to with those kids. Alas, whenever Ms Amara decides to focus on Jay and Brian, the story takes a turn for the more familiar manly-man-and-twink affair that makes me wish I can do some kind of fast forward on the story. This is one story where the romance and the associated tedious and even clichéd sexual dynamics slow down and even work against the interesting paranormal suspense storyline.
Nicole Kimberling's Red Sands sees our half-demon hero Michael Gold returning from his research travels in the demonic world to find himself embroiled in a twisted and no doubt dangerous mystery involving a dead cousin and other intrigues that may or may not be related to the skeletons in the closets of his various family members. Fortunately for him, Detective Argent seems to be on his side.
This one is good, much better than the previous story. Perhaps Ms Amara drew the short straw and had to pad her story with sex scenes to meet the quota as a result, I don't know, but Red Sands has the advantage of not having gratuitous sex scenes to disrupt the momentum of the story. Also, Michael and Argent are very involved in the mystery and Michael is not some helpless twink needing constant babysitting. As a result, this is a tightly-paced and entertaining urban fantasy romantic suspense tale. Ms Kimberling gets many things right with her short story because it feels complete, the characters are well drawn, and the story is most satisfying to read.
Ginn Hale closes the anthology with Touching Sparks. The "sparks" in question is our hero, James Sparks. He is Det Ben Moran's informant. He provides Ben with details related to a series of underground activities that include drug trafficking, banned blood sports and associated gambling activities, and even more illegal magical activities. Not that Sparky, as Ben calls him, is involved in those things. He's helping Ben by getting close to the bad guys and taking photographic evidence of all the illegal going-on because James was the one who initially stumbled upon those activities while hanging out with his friends.
Not that the relationship is a strictly professional one, though. Sparky and Ben go way back, from the time Ben knew Sparky as a gangly teen who lived close to the apartment that Ben rented once upon a time. It isn't long before Ben and Sparky end up as lovers.
This one is interesting because Ms Hale switches up things when it comes to the dynamics between Ben and James. James, being the younger kid with the creative job, starts out predictably as the designated weaker person in the relationship, but as the story progresses, I find that he's actually the more strong-willed individual in the relationship and I'd even argue that he holds more power in the relationship over Ben than vice versa by the last page of this story. Ben has all the external trapping of the action man who will top and make decisions, but he's actually less competent in his job and more emotionally vulnerable than he would seem to be at first. The relationship between these two and the dynamics of it are very interesting, I must say. The two characters are well-written enough to make this story an intriguing study of their personalities and interactions with each other.
The paranormal mystery elements are pretty interesting too. This one is easily the most violent story of the three, but I'm not complaining because Ms Hale integrates the violence as well as some not-so-pretty sex scenes into the story without having those elements coming off as gratuitous or disruptive to the flow of the story. I really like this story as well.
To sum things up, I'd say that Astrid Amara's story resembles a romance story the most out of the three. It's the most conventional one, in other words, and one that many readers may consider the most romantic as well. But I personally prefer the gritty violent noir overtones of Ginn Hale's story and the less dark but still compelling urban fantasy story from Nicole Kimberling. I find the characters in those stories far more compelling as well as less formulaic and also, I feel that the plots develop and flow more naturally in those two stories.
A strong two out of three makes Hell Cop a pretty good anthology, all things considered, even with its $7.99 price tag.
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