LAWYERS IN HELL is the first installment of the “Heroes in Hell” shared world anthology series, co-created by Janet and Chris Morris, in twenty-five years. And as such, it’s both welcome and relevant, as there are plenty of new authors and characters who have yet to experience Hell and all its forms.
The best stories here are the “framing” stories by Chris and/or Janet Morris, which are, respectively, the introductory “Interview with the Devil” (credited to both), “Tribe of Hell” (credited to Janet) and “Erra and the Seven” (credited to Chris). These stories help explain what’s going on in Hell these days, which is extremely important as the Akkadian God Erra and his seven Sibitti are rampaging through Hell while conducting an audit. (I’d call the Sibitti “henchmen,” as they do whatever Erra asks without question, except that it’s shown in these stories that at least one of the Sibitti does have a mind of his own.) Because Erra is not exactly a user-friendly God (he makes Satan appear positively merciful by comparison), the Morrises are able to show how much worse the denizens of Hell could have it if Erra’s audit does not go well.
There are twenty-two different stories in this collection, which is why a review of every last one of them is impossible. Complicating matters is that two of the very best stories that aren’t from the Morrises are by Jason Cordova and Leo Champion, who both review books (Jason often, Leo sporadically) here at Shiny Book Review. That said, my best — and worst — stories follow, with the caveat that all of the stories in this collection are, bare minimum, competent stories that adhere faithfully to the “Heroes in Hell” mythology and milieu, so “worst” is a relative term.
Larry Atchley, Jr.’s, “Remember, Remember, Hell in November” is an excellent story about Guy Fawkes, “Church of Satan” founder Anton LaVey, and how neither one of them finds things exactly as they’d expect in Hell. (Fawkes, of course, believes he should be accounted a martyr and be in Heaven instead, while LaVey expected instantaneous rewards once he descended into Hell.) Atchley deftly incorporates the “Welcome Woman,” a common figure seen in this anthology and many of the others, into his story without a hitch, a nice touch.
Allen F. Gilbreath’s “The Adjudication of Henrietta (Hetty) Howland Robinson Green” discusses well-known businesswoman Hetty Green (called “the Witch of Wall Street” in her time) and her parsimonious ways. Hetty, you see, is up for tailor-made damnation as she has a number of difficult and complicated problems for adjudicator Eddie O’Hare to resolve; it’s up to Eddie to figure out where the best place to put her is, because if he doesn’t satisfactorily (and speedily) resolve the case, his own damnation could be made that much worse.
Leo Champion’s “Revolutionary Justice” brings together long-time foil Che Guevara and 19th century lawyer, adventurer and privateer William Walker. Champion’s story evokes the strongest sense of menace in the entire collection while breathing new life into Guevara’s hellish fate, and it’s a story that’s long on atmosphere without compromising or lessening the overarching plot, a neat trick.
Jason Cordova’s “And Injustice for All” is about Marie Antoinette and her problems with the advice she’s received from prophecy dolls, which necessitates a lawsuit. (Marie, you see, doesn’t either understand or care about Erra and his Seven; she wants what she perceives as justice, and that’s that.) This is the lightest story in the collection, which helps to relieve some of the tension built up thus far; that said, Marie Antoinette still gets what’s coming to her, while the sins of vapidity and stupidity are disposed of in short order.
David L. Burkhead’s story “With Enemies Like These” shows the problem of trying to form alliances in Hell. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (who goes by Wendell) tries to kidnap Lt. Colonel William Dunlap Simpson, late of the Fourteenth South Carolina Volunteers, and it doesn’t go well. Then as they travel, they encounter Fimbulwinter and must somehow bargain their way out. This is a delightfully twisted story that discusses the pluses — and minuses — of alliances in Hell.
Worst (or weakest) stories:
Kimberly Richardson’s “The Dark Arts” shows lawyer Clarence Darrow (still a pretty good guy, even in Hell) trying to help fallen angel Penemue, who is depraved enough to be a devil in disguise. Penemue’s defense against plagiarism is unique, a plus, but Penemue is so disgusting that it’s hard to sympathize with anyone in the story, including Darrow. This isn’t so much a bad story as one I just didn’t care for, but it still makes its point that Hell has many different variations.
Nancy Asire’s “Tale of a Tail” isn’t a bad story, either, being about the Duke of Wellington, Napoleon, and Napoleon’s long-time mistress, Countess Marie Walewska. There are pluses here in that Asire’s story weaves in many other aspects of Hell from this and previous books in the anthology, which is one of the reason I admire Asire’s skill. But I expected more from Asire than this tale of perpetual grass-growing and the hellish Home Owner’s Association and just didn’t get it.
Bruce Durham’s “Plains of Hell” accounts for a rematch between two Canadian historical figures, General James Wolfe (who died before he was able to account for overmuch) and Louis-Joseph de Montcalm; they are told to re-fight their battle on the plains of Hell, even though Erra and his Seven are on the way. This is a story that requires a long build-up and has an ending that can only be described as off-putting (even though it is entirely faithful to the “Heroes in Hell” mythos). Once again, while this isn’t a bad story, it’s not one I’d ever wish to re-read, either.
All of that said, the anthology LAWYERS IN HELL proves that Hell has many more stories left to explore, and succeeds in advancing the “Heroes in Hell” series.
– reviewed by Barb