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I want to say first that I love almost every book Severed Press has to offer, so it was only natural that I buy “Dead Bait 2”.

If you are expecting a thrilling anthology about aquatic mayhem, “Dead Bait 2” may not be the book for you.  I purchased it based on the strength of the first anthology, “Dead Bait”.  When I saw the cover, I was convinced the second anthology would be a gem.   Unfortunately, “Dead Bait 2” is seriously lacking in certain elements.

There is one single principle that killed the entire anthology for me.  “Dead Bait 2” strays from the guiding principle that made the first anthology a masterpiece.  When I think of the ocean, I think of a place so deep and dark that we humans will never know everything that hides there.  When I try to imagine the horrors, I think of gaping jaws, massive teeth, and a primitive will driven by indiscriminate hunger.  I think of merciless storms that come out of nowhere and rage without mercy, and of the souls stuck in the middle.  What fails to come to mind is people finding a way to predict the actions of the creatures they find.  I also don’t think of people learning to live in harmony with those creatures – no matter what.  I also don’t think of them being able to use those horrors to exact revenge on someone (all the time – once in awhile is statistically understandable, but not in every story.)

I was also disappointed that some of the stories were so confusing, I wasn’t able to figure out what happened in the end.  An ending that leaves the reader wondering what happens next is a great thing.  An ending that leaves the reader wondering what they just read and what they’re supposed to make of it, is not a good thing.  I found that many of the stories ended so weirdly that I had to go back and try to read them again to see if I missed something.  More often than not, I hadn’t missed anything, the story just didn’t make sense.

The first anthology also played with the idea of bait, including a variety of situations and monsters.  The stories in this book seem to revolve mostly around fishing trips.  Variety in an anthology is always a good thing, and this anthology relies to literally on the idea of fishing.  I don’t like fishing, and I don’t want to read a bunch of stories about it.  I want to read about dead fish and monsters eating people.  (Sorry, but it’s the truth!)  The stories of “Dead Bait” played with the reader’s emotions, whereas the predominate feeling in “Dead Bait 2” is confusion, and the conviction that the next story has to be better.

Now that I’ve torn apart the anthology, I’m going to highlight what was pleasing.  First and foremost, while I wasn’t a fan of the anthology’s story picks, many of the stories in and of themselves were good, I just wasn’t a fan of them appearing in that particular anthology.  If the stories had been in other  anthologies, I wouldn’t have had a problem.

Now for the standout stories:

I don’t usually give any attention to the introduction, but I believe that J Gilliam Martin deserves a mention.  His introduction revolves around his experience with the ocean and a very large barracuda.  He handles the story with finesse and humor.  I found myself laughing out loud at his description of the encounter.

I was apprehensive at first about the first story, “The Mer-Monkey”, by Paul A. Freeman.  Truth be told, I thought it was going to be lame (Sorry Mr. Freeman).  I couldn’t have been more wrong if I had tried!  A museum curator writes to an anthropologist offering him a chance to see a defunct museum artifact – the mummified body of a mer-monkey.  The anthropologist meets with the curator, and after some discussion procures the means to go and catch his own specimen in the wild.  Unfortunately for him, the trip does not go as planned, and the mer-monkeys are far from docile.  The surprise ending was fabulous – with a twist of dark humor.

Tim Curran offers a story of a haunted lake and an ice-fishing trip that ends in disaster in his story “Lonely After Dark”.  Two old men decide to stay out on the lake well after dark, despite the knowledge that during the dark winter months something stalks the lake.  Not long after sunset the men encounter another person on the lake, whose brother was just killed by the ghost.  A pleasant ice fishing trip becomes a terrifying gore-fest.  (An added plus is that Curran gives background information on the ghost and the haunting in general.)  If it ever crossed my mind to go ice fishing, I can fully assure you that I will not be considering it after this story.

Anthony Wedd’s “The Worst Thing Ever” is a gory depiction of a shark attack and the sensations a person goes through after the attack.  In the story, a young couple goes out on a boat, and the girl is viciously attacked while swimming.  Wedd does well in introducing the character and creating a calm atmosphere, only to have it all shattered pages later.

I would like to stress that although this anthology was not like the first, the stories were still interesting.  As always I recommend that you go and pick up the book for yourself.  Ok Severed Press – I’m ready for “Dead Bait 3”!