But this is all academic: what's important is that Etchison's stories are crafted with a true writer's care and originality, although at times his penchant for experimentation and quiet intimation can lose even careful readers. Like me. Therefore I suppose you won't be surprised to learn that one Ramsey Campbell introduces The Dark Country...
A California son, Etchison often sets his fictions in the desert highways and late-night byways of his home state; he knows well this empty land and the darknesses therein. "The Late Shift," one of his more well-known works that was first published in the seminal Dark Forces (1980), reveals a sinister source for those poor souls working the graveyard shift in 7-11s and gas stations and diners throughout that region. I adored "Daughter of the Golden West," which begins as a Bradbury-esque fantasy of three college-age men (the collection is dedicated to Bradbury) and ends with a revelation of one of California's greatest tragedies. Reading the noir-ish "The Walking Man" put me in mind of the spectacular "modern" noir film Body Heat (1981) and once again shows how the horror and crime genres uneasily shadow one another.
O now the obscene sucking sound growing fainter even as my hearing dissolves, wet tissue pulling apart. They suction my blood, the incision clamped wide like another mouth a monstrous Caesarean and I hear the shiny scissors clipping tissues clipping fat, the automated scalpels striking tictactoe on my torso and i know they are taking me, the blood in my head tingles draining down down and I am almost gone, O what are they doing to me the monsters ME they must be it can't be that other... I have seen the altered specimen on the table the wrapped composite the sutured One Who Waits drifting in fluid for the new brain the shaved skin the transplanted claws the feral rictus the excised hump
Now, on to the award-winning title story. Nothing SF or noir or supernatural about this piece at all; it reads more like an autobiographical piece (the protagonist's name is Jack Martin, Etchison's pseudonym) of an inadvertently nightmarish vacation. His friends callously and drunkenly exploit locals at a Mexican beach resort, then he's forced to face a fate dealt at random. This is not the kind of story you expect to find in a book with the little "HORROR" label on its spine. Does that matter? I still don't know. Somewhere Martin/Etchison wait, probably not knowing either, hoping... but fearing, as always, the worst.