What they Hear in the Dark / Abolisher of Roses

PrintE-mail Sunday, 08 May 2011

Book Reviews

Authors: Gary McMahon / Gary Fry

Publisher: Spectral Press

Out Now, Limited Edition Chapbooks, £3.50 each or by subscription

The new Spectral Press Chapbook series is very welcome. In the poetry scene these little books, samplers almost, have been for years a hugely effective way to break new publishers, introduce new poets and allow established writers space to be experimental. It’s good to see this new increase in their number for the horror fiction genre.

Spectral produces really superb signed, limited editions, and since the press started up earlier this year, has brought out two. The specialty, as you might guess from the name of the imprint, are the supernatural and ghostly places of the genre, and they have picked two winners already in What They Hear In The Dark by Gary McMahon and Abolisher of Roses by Gary Fry. The series is bound to become highly collectible, but you can subscribe to the quarterly issues over at the Spectral website to make sure you don’t miss any.

Gary McMahon is a rising star in the horror genre, and well known for Pretty Dead Things, featuring his reluctant psychic, Thomas Usher, and this reputation will grow with the follow up Dead Bad Things in September. His short story ‘Diving Deep’ was one of the highlights of last year’s superb Solaris collection The End of the Line. He’s a writer unafraid to venture into the very darkest of places, and the fact I recently saw someone from his publishers describe his new book as “pretty dark stuff” on Twitter, should give you an idea where he’s coming from.

What They Hear In The Dark is an eerie, unsettling tale about a grieving couple renovating an old house as they try to deal with their grief at the death of their young son. The atmosphere from the very beginning is one of terrible sadness and grim foreboding. Their loss “writhed like snakes”. The grass outside their new house is like “pale thin fingers grasping for something unseen”. Bird nests are like “clumps of human hair”.

The house has one spookily compelling feature: a room with no windows, no furnishings, no sound. Nothing. It becomes a place for channeling the young couple’s grief and terror, and ultimately it seems, attacking their sanity. It’s a clever story, and things may not be as they seem at all, and the gap between reality and fantasy narrows as the plot progresses. There is something reminiscent of James Herbert in this tale of darkness spreading, and it is highly recommended.

Abolisher of Roses is another macabre trip into the shadows. Self-made man Peter accompanies his artist wife to her first exhibition, showing in the creeping woodlands of an old stately home. Initially pompous and self obsessed, Peter’s reservations about the world of modern art and his wife’s new role in it are soon challenged in quite unexpected ways. In fact, the deep, dark wood that houses the art show is not the only deep dark place Peter is going to get lost in. There is a psychological weight to the horror here, that sense that while the story is a genre piece, on one hand, it is also a grim metaphor for the treacherous path of choice, desire, mistake.

There’s something of the Tales of the Unexpected about this story, albeit with more of a horror feel, and Fry is a writer keenly aware of the pacing and structure of the form.  It’s no surprise to learn that he has a considerable track record in placing stories with a number of collections. His first published story, in fact, was chosen by Ramsey Campbell for Gathering The Bones, and it’s very likely we’re going to hear a lot more from him.

And that’s the beauty of chapbook publishing, especially by subscription. It’s a great way to introduce readers to very talented writers who might just pass us by. In the case of these two stories, it’s also an excellent means to focus the attention very particularly on how one single short story is handled – in a way that often doesn’t happen when lots of stories are collected together.

Congratulations to Simon Marshall-Jones, publisher at Spectral. Long may footsteps creep in the empty room upstairs for this bold new venture.

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