Thursday, 18 April 2013

House, Death and JLP specials!

I have been an admirer of John Llewellyn Probert for quite some time. When I had come across his unique brand of macabre-gruesome humour, spine-chilling horror, highly polished narratives, and situations that result in shudder & cackle simultaneously, I had found my jaw dropping. R Chetwynd-Hayes used to combine these elements in his stories, but somehow, I always found them rather dissatisfying. But JLP had achieved very-very satisfactory results with his efforts, and I went after his books in a big way thereafter. His award-winning collections reminiscent of Hammer & Amicus anthology-films were followed by two solid collections of short stories. In-between, he had brought out a collection involving adventures of a pair of occult detectives, or paranormal investigators, as they portray themselves. Mr Henderson and Ms Samantha had proved to be not only extremely capable fighters of evil and all its manifestations, but had provided us with some exquisitely memorable moments & words which had increased the attraction of these stories manifold. Therefore, when Atomic Fez (they bring out extremely interesting and offbeat-yet-enjoyable books in beautiful forms which deserve greater attention) announced that these pair would be returning in JLP's first-ever novel, I didn't even think twice before ordering. Many moons & suns hence, I am here, with my memories of the book quite fresh, despite the pathetic day at office that now seems to come to an end.

"The House That Death Built" is ostensibly about the investigations that our dynamic duo undertake, regarding 'The Most haunted House in Britain'. They receive assistance & hindrance from others, all of whom eventually die rather painfully & unjustly (a norm for "Pan Book of Horror"-styled stuff). The story is not very complex, neither very long. But at the end, neither the horror-inducing elements, nor the explanations stayed with me. The only reason behind me finding the book to be immensely enjoyable was charatcerisation & dialogues. Really great stuff that you need to read to appreciate, but my humble opinion is that: we need more of the brief and action-packed adventures from our duo, than such longish tales involving so many pages. Recommended!

Saturday, 13 April 2013

The Sea Change and Other Stories: a review

As a more-or-less regular reader of genre magazines like “All Hallows”, “Supernatural Tales” and “Ghosts & Scholars” (in its latest incarnation), I have had the pleasure of getting acquainted with Helen Grant’s storytelling abilities. Surprisingly, books written by her which had been available before this collection came out, were Young Adult novels. Those novels had their strange mix of gentle humour, subtle menace, and an overpowering feeling of darkness, that had shocked me when I had read them (because in my naïve mind, I had never associated such darkness with YA novels). However, in her short stories that style had a chilling effect that was rendered more effective because of the brevity of the stories, and certain ambiguities which short stories revel in leaving. From this perspective, this collection is a feast indeed!

I would be literally spoiling the pleasure of reading if I summarise the stories while mentioning them. Yet, I feel like writing about them! Let me try to strike a balance, as under:

  1.  Grauer Hans: this one was new for me, and I found the compact & smooth story to be positively menacing, esp. with the open ending! 
  2. The Sea Change: an old friend, and one that invokes such scary thoughts in the readers’ mind that would make any Lovecraft-wannabes go green in envy. 
  3. The Game of Bear: another old friend, and a positively fright-inducing completion of an unfinished draft left by MRJ. 
  4. Self-Catering: a new story (for me) which I found to be absolutely brilliant in its narration, the characters (just read their names!), the deliberate infusion of humour into macabre, and its conclusion. Wonderful stuff! 
  5. Nathair Dhubh: read it long ago, and yet remembered every event of the climb with a tingling sensation along the spine. Authentic stuff that brings some of the very best stories written by stalwarts like Benson & Wakefield to mind. 
  6. Alberic de Mauleon: a delicious prequel to one of the most famous MRJ stories, and one which I had read recently in the “Ghosts & Scholars: Book of Shadows”. 
  7. The Calvary at Banska Bystrica: the topper, undoubtedly! A grim story full of nuances and a darkness that intensified as we undertook the physical & spiritual journey with the narrator.

Swan River Press continues its journey in providing us with some of the finest (& amongst the best-looking as well) books of stories of supernatural. And I pray to the overlords of literary heaven that they keep providing Helen Grant with flashes which might provoke her into taking breaks from YA novels, and unleash stories like these! Recommended in the highest possible terms.