This is a collection of mini-reviews for the X-Files short story anthology, Trust No One. In Part 1, I tackled the first five stories. Here in Part 2, I’ll be reviewing stories six through ten.
Like last time, summaries first, then mini-reviews to follow. We’ve got another Skinner-centric story this time around, an international adventure, and a team-up between Mulder and Arthur Dales. Let’s get started!
Stories 6 – 10
6. Non Gratum Anus Rodentum
Walter Skinner is reminded of a strange experience he had in Vietnam when a number of homeless people turn up dead in a series of violent attacks. But with the X-Files division closed after the end of Season 1, Skinner’s going to have to get to the bottom of this one on his own.
7. Back in El Paso My Life Will Be Worthless
When another FBI agent is forced to work alongside Mulder and Scully to search for a serial killer who was thought to be put behind bars, he’ll need to learn to trust in their methods or discover the truth the hard way…
8. Paranormal Quest
When a young woman’s heart literally explodes through her chest during the filming of a ghost-hunting reality show, Mulder and Scully are brought in to determine the cause of death and do their own take on the paranormal investigation.
9. King of the Watery Deep
Mulder and Scully are out of their element when they fly out to investigate the disappearance of two Americans who have gone missing during a diving trip off the coast of Saudi Arabia in what appears to have been a violent attack.
In 1990, Mulder must team up with Arthur Dales in the hopes of locating four missing children who may have been taken by something not quite human.
Now onto the reviews!
6. Non Gratum Anus Rodentum by Brian Keene
For the anthology’s sixth story, we see Skinner take the starring role once more. Mulder and Scully are mentioned, but don’t show up in person here. The X-Files are closed, and Skinner is torn between dealing with a frustrated Fox Mulder and that menacing figure who keeps smoking in his office, leading him to investigate a case with a potentially personal connection on his own time. We learn that Skinner’s paranormal encounters in Vietnam may not have been limited to near-death experiences and visions of elderly succubi. While the story itself takes place in mid-1994, we do get to flash back to a 19-year old Walter Skinner in Vietnam coming down from an acid trip, so that’s always a good time. Overall, it’s a solid story that helps to further explain how a hard-ass like Skinner can read through Mulder and Scully’s case reports on a regular basis without thinking they’re insane.
7. Back in El Paso My Life Will Be Worthless by Keith R.A. DeCandido
This one is interesting as, though Mulder and Scully are featured prominently, it’s from the perspective of another FBI agent, and one who doesn’t think very highly of them. Agent Colt is reluctantly partnered with Mulder and Scully against his wishes, and whether or not he can learn to trust their instincts will directly tie into his ability to either solve the case or fall victim to it. It’s an interesting change of pace, and it’s fun to see a case from the point of view of one of the other agents who’s been working on it. Mulder and Scully are in character, and the case has a nice mystery to it that keeps you wondering until the end. It did feel like it could have been an episode of the show. My only real nitpicks here are that Agent Colt’s past connection to a certain other former FBI agent didn’t really seem necessary here, other than as an excuse for why Colt prefers to work alone and to make Scully feel uncomfortable, and again, the dreaded timeframe conflicts. Once again we have a date conflict between the April 3rd, 1994 date presented to us at the beginning of the story, which would place it in late season 1, and the March, 31st 1995 date referenced in the story itself (which would put the actual story in early April 1995) as well as references to various characters and cases from Season 2. Most likely, the year was just wrong in that initial intro text, as the April 3rd date works out nicely (if not a tad bit early in the context of the story), but it’s not the first time we’ve seen these conflicting dates, further making me question if they were placed in by the editor after the fact without making sure to double check the actual story text.
8. Paranormal Quest by Ray Garton
I found this one to be a little predictible, but it was still an entertaining ride. It did a pretty good job of feeling like an episode of the show, just maybe not one of the most memorable. The mystery of how a woman’s heart could explode through her chest and a cast full of suspicious characters in a potentially haunted house was enough to keep me interested, and the sense of danger for Scully and Mulder does get ramped up at the end. The investigation ultimately plays out pretty straight, though. On the nitpicky side, we’ve got another date conflict, which I have to say is getting a little old at this point. Honestly, this story could take place at pretty much any point in the series where Mulder and Scully’s partnership reflects the old status quo, so 1997 for the year is fine, but the date in the intro text is December 2nd, and in the story text, it’s specifically referred to as a “hot and humid August day.” So, yeah. Other than that, though, not a bad story, and one that certainly doesn’t shy away from the gore.
9. King of the Watery Deep by Tim Deal
In this story, Mulder and Scully leave the US to investigate the disappearance of a couple of Americans in Saudi Arabia, adding a layer of culture shock to the investigation, especially for Scully. I thought the monster element was pretty solid and memorable, and I didn’t quite see the twist at the end coming, making me appreciate the various charaters’ actions and motivations more on a second readthrough. We find at least one of our agents in some pretty legitimate peril at the end, which played out really well, though I’m not sure the ending post-climax was quite as strong as what was leading up to it. Overall, I enjoyed this one. My major nitpick is that I think there was one page where secondary characters’ names were getting a little mixed up, which caused some brief confusion (and this wasn’t the first instance of that in this book), but that wasn’t enough to detract from my enjoyment of the story. The late season 7 timeframe for this one doesn’t seem to influence the story much (i.e. no secret sex going on here), but nothing seems out of place about it, either. Mulder shows some serious concern for Scully at the end, though, and that’s always nice.
10. Sewers by Gini Koch
This was an interesting one. It’s our first story set entirely before the start of the show, and while there are a couple of flashbacks to Dales’ investigation in 1963, the main focus of the case is what’s going on in 1990, about a month after Mulder first met Arthur Dales in the episode Travelers. Here we have a still somewhat skeptical Mulder, now convinced of the existence of aliens, but not quite so sure about mutants and voodoo and the other things he is just now reading about while combing through these recently re-discovered X-Files cases. But when a missing persons case comes across his desk that bears a striking resemblance to an old X-File he’d stumbled upon, he goes to Dales for a consultation. The story serves as a nice gateway for how Mulder may have gone from being a little offbeat to being willing to believe in just about anything. Taking place in 1990, we do see some references to the flashback episodes Unusual Suspects and Travelers, such as Mulder’s smoking habit, and, of course, that infamous wedding ring. While I’m generally in the “ignore the wedding ring” camp, its two flashback appearances certainly make it fair game, and the author chooses to acknowledge it, but in a way that’s perhaps a little more shipper-friendly. (Spoiler: Mulder briefly married a friend to keep her from getting deported. They’re living together, but the references to her reminding him of his sister and developing a taste for sleeping on the couch seem to heavily imply that it’s non-sexual.)
The stakes get to be pretty high in this one, and while we know that Mulder and Dales obviously make it out alive, the case doesn’t necessarily have the happiest of endings. The story also involves the sexual mutilation of adolescent girls, so that may be upsetting to some readers. If this had been an episode of the TV show, I have a feeling that there were a few things in this one that wouldn’t have made it past the censors. Overall, the story mostly worked for me, though. I’m not sure if every element of Mulder’s life that was introduced was necessary to the story that was being told, but I generally enjoyed his pre-X-Files characterization. The only timestamp-related nitpick I have for this one is that the very first scene in the story is most likely supposed to be a flashback to 1963, but it starts off with the 1990 date stamp that applies to the majority of rest of the story, instead. Good for placing the story as a whole, but confusing for that initial scene.
And that’s another five stories down! I think my favorite from this batch may have been King of the Watery Deep since it made me want to read through it a second time after finding out what had been going on. I’m still leaning toward Dusk and Loving the Alien as my favorites overall, though. Just five more to go!
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