Tuesday, 10 July 2012

The Barricade

The Barricade by Nina Allan
Reviewed by Jenny Barber

Found in the Dark Currents anthology, The Barricade is a peculiar tale, running slow as it carefully builds up to the faltering of a marriage due to apathy and the discoveries of escaping wife Christine during a visit to the coastal town of her birth.

The catalyst for eveything is the painting Christine finds in a gallery while holidaying with her stolid husband.  Her growing fascination with it, and the memories triggered by locals who keep claiming to know her lead her to certain realisations about the state of her marriage while also reawakening things about herself she'd thought she'd forgotten.

The soon-to-be ex-husband is a thoroughly unlikeable chap, and one wonders why Christine took so long to ditch him, or at the very least, let him get away with so much without argument, and it's in such in-depth characterisation that Allan excels. Each carefully constructed layer builds until you're left with a fully encompassing story that wraps you up in the mundane details and makes the dénouement satisfying with the hints of things to come.  The elements of the fantastic are subtle to the point of barely noticeable, and can be seen from a mile off but Allan has crafted a beautiful tale that, while not a new twist on selkie mythology, is a solid addition to the genre.

More about Nina Allan can be found here, and more on Dark Currents (edited by Ian Whates) can be found on the Newcon website here.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Frightfully Cosy and Mild Stories for Nervous Types

Frightfully Cosy and Mild Stories for Nervous Types by Johnny Mains
Reviewed by Mario Guslandi

In addition to his unrelenting  activity as an editor and promoter  of horror fiction, Johnny Mains  also writes dark stories, a first cluster of which has  been  collected  in “ With Deepest Sympathy”, published in 2010 by Obverse Books.

The present volume assembles a further  dozen of  tales, none of which can be defined as outstanding, none as a misfire. Mains provides consistently good material, enjoyable and entertaining, which won’t spellbind  nor disappoint horror readers. This is probably what Mains means to say when he calls himself “a minor writer”, that he’s the king of  fictional aurea mediocritas ( but aurea,after all, means golden, not a minor achievement).

The topics addressed by the stories featured  in the volume are rather diverse.

In The Cure a cancer patient follows un unusual, unorthodox treatment, while in Head a horror fan finally meets in person, but only fleetingly,  his favourite writer.

Dead Forest Air is a well conceived story taking place in Dachau, in which the horrors of the past blend with those of the present time.

The Jacket revolves around a bomber jacket endowed with peculiar properties , while Aldeburgh featuring the great MR James, discloses the source of inspiration for one of the author’s most famous tales.

Prim Suspect is a delightful noir where two murders (one fictional, one occurring in real life) nicely intertwine.

My favourite  story is The Were-Dwarf, an original piece with a good characterization, hilarious and horrific at the same time, a fine example of Mains’ potential as an author. Hopefully he will provide many more stories like that in the near future.

Published by Shadow Publishing - more information and ordering details can be found on their website here.