I live in Ohio. Over the last few months, I’ve been trained to not even pick up the phone if there’s not a caller ID number that I recognize, unless I wanted to hear a political party rant about the other candidate.
Now, though, we’re back to normal. And there’s something slightly exciting about an unknown caller. It’s a departure from the normal, the expected, from the everyday mundane existence of our overinformed lives. And unlike answering an unexpected knock at your door, answering a call without knowing who’s on the other end isn’t really risky.
Unless you listen.
In Caller Unknown, the new collection of stories from author and editor Jennifer Brozek, a 911 operator named Karen does listen. That unknown call is not merely an interruption in her mundane day, but a gateway to a whole side of her city that she never realized existed.
This urban fantasy (with a little bit of a dark edge) collection is a series of connected and related short stories, but each one is complete in itself. There are gaps of time between them. Characters allude to events that have taken place in those gaps, without actively spelling any of them out. This is actually a strength of the work – we get to skip to the "good bits" without having to sacrifice the sense that there’s a larger world out there where things actually take time to happen. While there’s a lot of worldbuilding and some really interesting twists on classic genre themes, it feels like there’s even more going on. It feels like there’s a world beyond the page.
The way the stories were originally written does expose the book’s single (sort of) weakness. Ms. Brozek wrote the stories over a period of time, and the stories get better as you get further into the book. I say this is a "sort of" weakness", though. The even the weakest story in the book is still pretty darn good, and they only get better from there.
Overall, I enjoyed reading this collection of stories and seeing the way the storyline (and author) developed through the book. This is a solid first collection of these stories, and judging by the strength by which it finishes, I’m really looking forward to the rest of the series.
[Full Disclosure: I got a review ARC of this book. I’ve worked with the author on other projects both as an author and a publisher. That said, I review all books as impartially as I can and I’ve even panned my friend’s books before.]