Dead Heat with the Reaper by William E. Wallace

I picked up William E. Wallace’s Dead Heat with the Reaper (All Due Respect Books) because different writers and publishers whose work I liked noted Wallace’s recent passing. Unfamiliar with Wallace’s work, I wanted to rectify that as soon as possible. I didn’t want to repeat the same mistake I made a few months ago when Ed Gorman died. Yes, I need to read Gorman soon.

Dead Heat with the Reaper contains two novellas by Wallace, Legacy and The Creep. When I read Legacy and I found out about the money, I knew what was going to happen. What I didn’t realize until a few days after finishing reading both novellas was that Wallace’s work shined with the depth of his characters.

Legacy is the story of Frank Task who finds out near the start of the book that he is going to die like all of us, but he’s going to die a lot sooner. My assumptions about Trask were way off from Wallace’s development of the story and character. The idea the first impressions are often wrong is a theme in these two stories. In the second novella, The Creep, multiple characters relied on their first impressions of the eponymous character and had to break their prejudices or have their prejudices break them.

As she turned the blind corner on the fourth floor landing, a cockroach racing over the riser distracted her so much that she almost ran into the man who lived in the studio directly above hers. He loomed out of the shadows like a very substantial ghost.

“Oh my God,” she gasped. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t see you coming.”

It was the first time she had encountered her neighbor since he moved in three weeks earlier. Her neighbor Mrs. Riley had mentioned him, but Mrs. Riley mentioned a lot of things. Susan tended to ignore most of them.

[snip]

His footsteps were heavy on the bare wood, as if his bag contained more than a batch of bottles. The droop to his shoulders, his slow trudge, the creak of the steps under his weight— they made it seem like he was lugging a lifetime of regret. Susan half turned as he disappeared into the darkness above.

“Christ!” she whispered to herself, realizing she had been holding her breath during the encounter. The man’s scars— those she had seen, anyway— were frightening, like something from a horror movie.

She flew down the remaining three flights of stairs with her heart in her throat and was still trembling when she reached the Claymore’s front entry.

What I found, unsurprisingly considering the praise I was reading, is that Wallace was an excellent writer with plenty of work for me to enjoy over the next few years. I’ll leave you with some words about Wallace by Ron Earl Phillips, the publisher of Shotgun Honey:

William, or Bill as his friends called him, was the kind of guy who played the cards he was dealt, face up regardless. We knew he had terminal cancer, and he fought it, endured it with more courage and grace than most, but prepared or not we weren’t ready.

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