Short Fiction Friday: The Button Man and the Murder Tree

Short Fiction Friday: The Button Man and the Murder Tree, A Wild Cards story

George R.R. Martin's Wild Cards multi-author shared-world universe has been thrilling readers for over 25 years. Now, in addition to overseeing the ongoing publication of new Wild Cards books (like 2011's Fort Freak), Martin is also commissioning and editing new Wild Cards stories for publication on Tor.com. In Cherie Priest's The Button Man and the Murder Tree, it's Chicago in 1971, and Raul is a button man – a professional ender of lives that the Mob needs ended. But something's odd about his most recent assignments. And then there are those mushrooms growing out of his skin...

Another Friday, another Short Fiction review. This time The Button Man and the Murder Tree

Cherie Priest is an author that I have gotten familiar with by her The Clockwork Century series a steampunk / alternate history zombie mash-up, I still have to read the last book though. With this series, Cherie Priest has marked herself to be an author to watch out for; she knows how to write her characters and has a creative imagination. It's only natural that she was given a spot amongst the ranks of the Wild Card Trust. Her first appearance was in Fort Freak, also the first book in the Wild Card Universe that set with the focus on the Jokers. The Button Man and the Murder Tree is linked to some events of Fort Freak. 

The story of The Button Man and the Murder Tree takes the reader back to the Chicago of 1971, when it is still ruled by mobsters wearing fedora styled hats. Here we are introduced to Raul, a button man which is better to be known as an assassin - hitman on call. He is on a current assignment of getting rid of Sammy who thought to be smarter than Moe Shapiro, the Mobster who send Raul to do the dirty work. When Raul is laying the final touches, odd things once again start to happen to him, things start to grow on him, on his chest and on his wrist. Raul doesn't really know what to do with them and just gets out his blade and gently cuts them off his skin... With his job to off Sammy finished, Raul finds himself back at the base of the Murder Tree or as he calls it the Deadman's Tree ready for another assignment. The new target Harriet O'Dwyer, raises some questions for Raul, why is she on the list? He asks his friends and later when he has a face-to-face with Moe there is a debriefing on Sammy and a briefing on the new target Harriet. But for Raul a job is still a job and he sets out to look for Harriet. This is the part where the story takes a turn for the interesting. Harriet is found dead in a tub and when Raul comes closer to inspection... he finds out that Harriet has "pulled" a card as well an she didn't become an ace. Now reflecting on the previous events, Raul starts to add two and two together... and not for the better for Raul.

In the light of all the Wild Cards stories featuring aces with very cool powers, this joker themed story added a great new perspective. The Button Man and the Murder Tree is a short story with only 32 pages in ebook format, but it is quite a ride. As I mentioned above there are two things that Cherie Priest does well building characters and building the setting. Within these few pages, Cherie Priest managed to flesh out Raul's character in quite the detail, he isn't only a button man but he has to deal with the turning of his own card as well and when several things come to surface it doesn't make handling it any easier. 

The world of Chicago in the 1970's feel dark and gritty, just as you would have wanted to see a Mobster filled world, it's has this classic noir feeling. Even though the story is contained to only a few locations, just as with the characters, Cherie Priest does a great job with embodiying just the right feeling to raise some goosebumps on your arms. But the question does remain, is this a worthy addition to the Wild Cards series, YES it is, especially when you read the story of Fort Freak! Cherie Priest, in my opinion, may write plenty of more Wild Cards stories, this is just how they should be.

Read the original story on Tor.com here 

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