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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

The Butterfly Man and Other Stories by Paul Kane

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The Butterfly Man and Other Stories
by Paul Kane

(PS Publishing, October 2011)

“One for the Road”
“Masques” 
“A Chaos Demon is for Life”
“Cold Call”
“Windchimes”
“Life-o-Matic”
“The Greatest Mystery”
“The Suicide Room”
“Nine Tenths”
“Lady”
“Humbuggered”
“It’s All Over”
“Speaking in Tongues” 
“The Butterfly Man”
“Baggage”
“Rag and Bone”
 “Keeper of the Light”
 “Cave of Lost Souls”

Reviewed by Colleen Chen

When I first received Butterfly Man for review, I planned to read just a few stories a day, as the collection has 18 stories and appears quite long. But once I started, I was transfixed. I ended up spending the entire day reading. And once I finished, I probably could have rattled off synopses of every story, without looking at the book again once—they’re that unforgettable.

I do have to add that I felt pretty depressed after I was done. If you are a happy ending junkie like me, you might not exactly “enjoy” the read, although you probably will still appreciate these stories for their cleverness, subtle humor, and powerful images. I just suggest you go do something that’s going to cheer you up right away, before you dwell too long on the murk and monsters Kane so vividly describes.

Five of the stories here are originals to the collection. “The Greatest Mystery” is the first. Narrated by Dr. Watson, this is a Sherlock Holmes tale with a particularly sinister twist. Holmes and Watson encounter a crime that appears straightforward—a man is found standing over his murdered fiancée with a bloody poker in his hand, and although he offers no defense, he insists he didn’t do it. But, as Holmes is wont to say, things are seldom as they appear. On the heels of the first crime come a string of other killings, unrelated except all are apparently carried out by people close to the victim, who all deny they did it.

Holmes finally sees that he is facing his greatest enemy, and in order to lure the murderer out in the open, he and Watson must set a dangerous and possibly deadly trap.

Although the amount of death and gore here is par for the course in this collection, it’s one of the few stories with a triumphant ending—of course it has to, if it’s to be consistent with Holmes’ character and continuing existence in tales beyond. As it’s written true to Dr. Watson’s voice and is a fitting addition to the Holmes legend, I believe that if you like Sherlock Holmes, you’ll like “The Greatest Mystery.”

“Lady” explores one of Kane’s common themes of this collection: an attractive, successful man betrays his woman, and she punishes him in some gruesome way.

Aidan, an up-and-coming journalist, gets an interview with an ex-celeb, Trace Edwards, for his article series on “Where are they now?” Going for what could be the biggest break of his career, he’s horrified to find Trace living in a decrepit part of town, poor and with his once-famous face horribly scarred and ruined. Trace tells a story of a woman he loved and left, who he only realized was the key to his success after she left him and his life began to go wrong. Attempts to find her dead end; it seems as if she never existed at all, never real save for the fortune and then tragedy she brought to Trace’s life.

The story has a sinister foreshadowing as Aidan sees parallels in Trace’s story with his own success and romantic partnership.

I didn’t think “Lady” was as effective as some of Kane’s other pieces. It seems to depend on a twist that I couldn’t quite buy—Trace’s reason for giving the interview doesn’t make sense to me, and the force of fortune that this woman embodied doesn’t seem like it would manifest as a clingy female loyal to one man. It’s an interesting story, but not among the best of this collection.

In the next original story, “It’s All Over,” successful writer Brian is haunted by his wife—by the affair he had, by his last words to her—“it’s all over”—and now, literally, by what appears to be her, standing outside his home every night and calling his name, six months after her death by suicide. As he truly regrets his mistakes, he wonders if he’s being given a second chance with her.

Once again, we see the theme of the successful man who treats a woman wrong, and gets punished by her in an appropriately bloodthirsty manner. Kane follows his formula predictably, although the particular way he fulfills it in the end is a surprise, and quite well done in my opinion.

I think that “The Butterfly Man,” another original, is the best of the stories in the entire collection. It tells the story of Daren Grant, the man who was born and died of old age all within 24 hours, and the nurse, Yvette, who cared for and loved him. He was nicknamed by the public under the misconception that butterflies live only 24 hours.

Daren, born prematurely but far heavier than a premature baby should be, teaches himself how to speak and read within hours, correlating to the physical acceleration of his aging. He is taken from his mother, and Yvette makes it her mission to reunite them. When the doctor wants to isolate Daren for study, Yvette manages to rescue him; with her, he teaches himself about life within hours through books and television, and then he learns about love with Yvette.

Although this story has a sad ending like most of Kane’s other stories, we’re told what it is right at the start, so there’s none of that hope being harbored throughout the story that this might be the one time Kane decides to give the characters a break. As it is, the ending feels complete and isn’t actually all that sad. The story is rich and thought-provoking, bringing up issues of aging, love, and motherhood, among other things. There is tension and emotional layers, and no horror; I found this a story to really savor.

“Rag and Bone,” on the other hand, is definitely a horror story, and is packed with gore and creepy legend from the first moment. Ted wakes up hanging with a bunch of corpses, soon identified as women he’d had flings with while engaged to his fiancée Audrey. He soon discovers Audrey’s involvement in his current situation and realizes she was far more aware of his misdeeds than he’d ever thought. Now she wants vengeance. He also realizes that the stories Audrey’s deceased father told about a Rag and Bone scrap-man, centuries old, have come to life in the most awful way imaginable.

This is a story I never, ever want to see made into a movie, as the images in it are visceral enough in my own head. I didn’t quite understand what was going on in it and the gore kind of overwhelmed everything. Kane does a very effective job of creating an atmosphere here. Very little violence is actually committed during the course of the story, but enough is implied, with glances here and there of piles of body parts, that we get a sense of long-drawn-out creepiness without any sharp spikes of horror.

The other thirteen stories in the collection range from the gory (“Masques” and “Nine Tenths”) to the funny (“A Chaos Demon is for Life” and “Humbuggered,” which is a particularly clever take on the Scrooge story), to the absurd and slightly funny but also gory (“Life-o-Matic” and “Speaking in Tongues”). My favorites are the funny, non-gory ones, where I felt I got to take a breath and laugh a bit (albeit nervously, not quite believing that no one was going to get disemboweled or chopped to bits in a particular story). In these, I feel we get to enjoy more of the wittiness and rhythm of these stories, not being overwhelmed with horror-movie imagery.

The collection also includes as a bonus story, Kane’s first sold story, “Cave of Lost Dreams,” which is an interesting read because it’s obvious how he’s grown as a writer—his more current work is darker, simpler, and more powerful, packing much more of a punch in images and words.

I don’t think there’s a single story in this collection that could be considered “filler.” It’s a strong and varied set of stories that will hold most readers spellbound all the way through.