Janet Hill Tundra

The ARC (advance reader’s copy) for Canadian author Janet Hill’s debut novel Lucy Crisp and the Vanishing House may just be the nicest one I’ve ever received, replete with fancy paper stock and full-colour interior images. I can only imagine how striking the finished version will be. However, just like its ARC, Vanishing House is a bit of an enigma, both in its con- tents – a supernatural mystery story of sorts – and its intended audience. The art- work, for instance, while undeniably beautiful in its soft painted style (pictured above) is almost never unsettling or creepy, while many of the moments in this story about a young woman and her father who buy a house with a very unusual history most certainly are. The “happenings” in the home are well done, with furniture and gross food (and a cat!) that mysteriously disappear and reappear, and spectres who stomp in and demand dinner, but it never builds to anything truly frightening, though the moment the whole house vanishes definitely delivers. Perhaps it can best be described, to borrow a term from another genre, as a cozy horror mystery. To wit: the townsfolk of Esther Wren all carry secrets: some dark, but others more out in the open than one might suspect. There’s witchery here – both the “Good-

ie” and “Baddie” kind – and a house that isn’t so much haunted as it is “enchanted,” which makes for the story’s single greatest conceit and brings a wonderful twist to the otherwise overdone subgenre.

Undeniably horror lite with a retro feel, just as its cover artwork suggests, a trip to The Vanishing House will most appeal to those who enjoy gothic yarns, classic ghost stories, and things that go bump in the night but don’t leave too many scratches and stains on the walls and floors.


Jim Magus Self-published

Q: How do you tell a self-published book from a traditionally published one? A: There are two spaces after the periods.

That’s a blithe way to start a review, but the pitfalls and perils of being an indie au- thor are many and the tells obvious. Take, for instance, Jim Magus’ Monster Jukebox: A History of Spooky Music (from the Beginning of Time), an 8.5 x 11-inch, 412-page, black-and-white monstrosity with giant walls of page-wide text and occasional small

Michael Kelly, ed. Undertow Publications

Shadows & Tall Trees, a series of all-original fiction an- thologies from a small press based near Toronto, has long established itself as a surefire source of titles for year’s best selections and major genre awards. Once again, the contents are pretty even, with some of the more memorable stories listed below.

Brian Evenson opens the book with “The Glassy, Burning Floor of Hell,” a nightmarish tale of a young woman who ends up, by chance, in a secluded commune – and in a room with a special past, which haunts her. “The Somnambulists” by Simon Strantzas is another piece of oneiric strangeness, this one about a dream hotel; that is, a place entirely (and imperfectly) constructed by several cooperating dreamers. Old-school frights come by way of C.M. Muller’s “Camera Obscura,” dealing with a photographer who uses an old-fash- ioned camera for a project docu- menting the abandoned farmsteads of Minnesota; of course, he gets more than he bargained for in a ruin unknown to local historians. Kurt Fawver brings a bit of contempo- rary corporate horror in “Workday,”

a suggestive tale comprised entirely of memos and emails regarding an upcoming party, sent to employees from the in- creasingly threatening Corivdan Incorporated. Some of the book’s best tales take place near the sea, such as James Everington’s “The Sound of the Sea, Too Close” with its dying town and a sea slowly devouring the land, or “A Coastal Quest” by Charles Wilkinson, about a woman who tries to move away from her husband and kids, but ends up in a weird coastal town akin to those from Robert Aickman’s stories.

The likeliest candidate for reprints and awards seems to be V.H. Leslie and her “Lacunae,” a beautifully written, at- mospheric, layered, quietly disturbing story about a Scottish composer, way past his prime, who comes back from Amer- ica with his second wife and returns to the island where he composed his greatest opus. It turns out his first wife and a resounding cave nearby were largely responsible for it... Under Michael Kelly’s unswerving editorship, the eighth volume of Shadows & Tall Trees does not disappoint with its choices of quiet, literary horror. An anthology well worth your time.


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