Here With The Shadows by Steve Tasnic Tem – review by Mario Guslandi

mid_shadows1Here With The Shadows

by Steve Rasnic Tem

Swan River Press 2014

First Edition Hardcover, 165 pages

A review by Mario Guslandi

Here’s a short story collection by an American writer, published by a small British imprint, reviewed by an Italian reviewer and posted on an Australian website. Globalization has reached the world of dark fiction and this is a good thing because the present volume deserves to be enjoyed by as many readers as possible.

Steve Tem is a very prolific author of  “quiet” horror in its various shades, probing the secrets hidden in the human heart, which is the very source of any real horror. In his work you’ll hardly find monsters, gore and violence; you’ll find the sad, disquieting side of the horrors that affect our daily  life.

This particular collection is devoted to ghost stories, but, again, you won’t find here howling spectres lurking in old castles, but disturbing shadows lingering at the corners of our towns and cities. And most of those shadows are images of a past that still haunt our souls.

Among the fifteen tales assembled in the book, most are really outstanding examples of how good Tem is at his best.

The title story “Here with the Shadows” is a delicate, insightful piece where an old man lives his last days surrounded by a crowd of shadows, the shadows of the dead, while “A House by the Ocean” is a mesmerizing ghost story full of sorrow and despair, featuring two sisters separated for too long.

In the gentle  “G is for Ghost”, the main character is the ghost of a child, while in the subtly unnerving “Telling” the hidden secrets of a haunted house are finally disclosed.

“Back Among the Shy Trees” is an enigmatic, disturbing tale where a man returning to his now abandoned family house discovers some sinister facts about his long forgotten childhood.

“Seeing the Woods”, a story of intense lyricism, portrays an old semi-blind lady living in a cabin in the woods. Here the ghosts are those of her beloved trees burned down during a fire.

The nostalgic, melancholy “Smoke in a Bottle” depicts how the past is a ghost haunting our present and “Est Enim Magnum Chaos” is yet another great story about life and death, loneliness and old age, where people, as in the lyrics of the famous song “Ol’ Man River” are “tired of living but scared of dying”.

All great stuff.

-Review by Mario Guslandi

Shivers VII edited by Richard Chizmar – Reviewed by Mario Guslandi

shivers7Shivers VII edited by Richard Chizmar –
Reviewed by Mario Guslandi

Publisher: Cemetery Dance 2013
Trade Paperback, 512 pages

The eagerly awaited seventh installment in the highly regarded, award-winning anthology series from Cemetery Dance is now finally here and well worth the wait.

Bookended by two prestigious reprints by Clive Barker (a fantasy tale previously published as “Hermione and the Moon”, now re-titled “The Departed”) and by Stephen King ( “Weeds”, firstly appeared in Cavalier and Nugget magazines in the ‘70s), the hefty volume collects twenty-four other stories, mostly original and mostly of excellent quality. Some are indeed outstanding and I will start by mentioning those.

“Red Rover, Red Rover” by Norman Partridge is a superb piece of supernatural horror revolving around a drowned little girl’s dog and raising the question whether live persons can be scarier than ghosts.

The astonishing, surrealistic ”Born Dead” by Lisa Tuttle reveals the incredible secret in a successful businesswoman’s life, while the riveting , dark “The Baby Store” by Ed Gorman ( a cross between SF and crime) addresses the accidental death of a little kid.

In the strong and gripping “Memory Lake” by Robert Morrish , small town old , dirty secrets and crimes are literally unearthed, and in the nasty, graphic “Beholder” by Graham Masterton, the statement that Beauty is in the eye of the beholder is pushed to the extreme consequences.

Having presented my own favorite tales, I must proceed by pointing out a group of remarkably good stories which contribute to make Shivers VII possibly even better than the previous, terrific six volumes.

Bill Pronzini’s “Breakbone” is the disquieting report of the nightmarish meeting with a loser who will finally reveal his true nature, while Bev Vincent’s “Severance Package” is an ingenuous mix of horror and crime, only slightly spoiled by a rather moralistic ending.

Time-honored subjects are effectively revisited with accomplished, original takes: zombies (Tim Waggoner’s “Zombie Dreams”), doppelgangers (Don D’Ammassa’s “Echoes”), on the road “car duels” (Rick Hautala’s “GPS”).

Brian James Freeman contributes “As She Lay There Dying”, the perceptive portrait of a college professor struck by “runner’s block” after two close encounters with sudden death, and Kaaron Warren offers “Sleeping with the Bower Birds”, a dreamlike, atmospheric story where strange birds fly around, new clothes shine and an odd family goes on with life.

In addition, the book features stories by Norman Prentiss, Al Sarrantonio, Darren Speegle, Scott Nicholson, Travis Heermann, Greg F Gifune, Kevin Quigley, Del James, Joel Arnold, Roberta Lannes, Rio Youers.

Many, many reasons for securing immediately a copy….

 – Reviewed by Mario Guslandi


A Pad in the Straw by Christopher Woodforde – review by Mario Guslandi

A Pad in the Straw by Christopher Woodforde

Publisher:  The Sundial Press 2012

ISBN 978-1-908274-09-0 (Hardcover)

First published in 1952 , “A Pad in the Straw” collects twenty ghost and supernatural tales originally told by Christopher Woodforde (1907-1962)  as bedtimes stories  to a group of boys at New College Choir School in Oxford. Thus, strictly speaking, this should be a YA collection , where, indeed, young boys are the main characters in most of the stories. Actually, this volume by Woodworde (a cleric and antiquarian mainly known for his non-fiction books about ecclesiastical stained glass)  has been compared , in terms of plots and atmospheres, to the work of the great MR James. The distinct antiquarian flavor and the frequent use of East Anglia as the setting for his eerie tales certainly may suggest such a comparison, although, of course, the quality of Woodforde’s  fiction is  inferior. On the other hand, to label his stories as an anemic version of James’ work would be simply unfair.

On average, Woodforde’s tales are elegant, enjoyable examples of supernatural  fiction, albeit sometimes a bit weak.  “Malcom” revolves around a cursed tree exerting its evil power long after it has been destroyed; “The Old Tithe Barn” and “Michael” are delightful traditional ghost stories; “The Mirror of Man’s Damnation” is a moral fable in the tradition of the deal with the Devil;  “Cushi” a classical yarn where a sexton takes his revenge from beyond the grave; “Lost and Found” a real tale of antiquarian horror.

Some tales, however, do stand up as fine, skillfully crafted pieces of dark fiction.

The title story, “A Pad in the Straw” is a gentle, Jamesian story where the events surrounding the unpleasant encounter of two boys with the  supernatural are painstakingly retraced by a group of scholars.

In the creepy “The Chalk Pit” inhuman, evil creatures haunt a country road, while in the sinister  “Colin, Peter and Philip” the uncanny reason for a young boy’s disappearance becomes clear only twenty years later.

“The Doom Window at Brechkam” is an excellent specimen of “antiquarian” story revolving around a glass window of an English church.

The enticing “Ex libris” describes the finding of an old book ,the unusual binding of which belongs to a rather vindictive subject.

Reprinted in a limited edition by Sundial Press for the joy of  any lover of classy, gracefully told supernatural fiction, the volume will provide many, pleasantly frightful hours of  good reading.

- review by Mario Guslandi