The second collection published by Sarob Press in 2000
Cover art by Iain Maynard
MOTHS, AN OFFICE IN THE GRAYS INN ROAD and AN ENGLISH COUNTRY GARDEN gained Honourable Mentions in Years Best Fantasy & Horror 12 1999 from Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling
"Assured and current." David Howe, Shivers, UK.
"Echoes Of Darkness is a terrific book which I strongly recommend you purchase." Terror Tales newsletter, UK.
"The stories in the book possess that rare, but essential, gift that every reader searches for in a good ghost or horror story: namely, the ability to leave behind a persistent feeling (an echo, as the title says) of uneasiness." Mario Guslandi, All Hallows, Canada.
"The Echoes of Darkness will linger long after you have closed the covers..." Derek M Fox, author, UK.
"With the lingering persistence of shadow, or the stealthy vibration of echo, the stories of this brave, diversely satisfying collection linger long after the book snaps shut. A pleasure to read, the suspicions and threats aroused by its subtle (and not so subtle) frights may find you staring into corners of home and mind long after dark, each carefully sculpted tale a reflective echo of your own night-tide fears and doubts. Without reservation, I recommend lovers of ghost fiction (and dark Literature in general) take this ride into the darkness." William P Simmons, USA.
"Regrettably, editors LH Maynard and MPN Sims have put their own business,
Enigmatic Press, on hiatus. But as co-authors of fiction, they have an
admirable collection out from Sarob Press, Echoes Of Darkness (hardcover
$39.95, 178 pages, ISBN 1-902309-09-X) Maynard and Sims write much the
kind of classic ghost tale and weird fiction they once chose to publish,
stories positioned squarely along the Aickman-James axis. These nine well
crafted shockers traverse the globe for various venues of horror, from
tropical islands to suburban Britain. I was much taken with 'An Office In
The Grays Inn Road' where a husband's death brings ghostly revelations."
Filippo Asimov's Magazine May 2001
Len Maynard and Mick Sims are doing a great job as editors/publishers of the renowned Enigmatic Press, while Robert Morgan's excellent Sarob Press has rapidly become one of the finest imprints in the U.K. small press field. Thus it was perhaps only natural that the second collection of stories by Maynard and Sims should, in the end, be published by Sarob. Their previous volume, Shadows at Midnight, was actually a revised edition of an earlier collection of ghost stories, revised by the authors some twenty years later. Enjoyable as they were, the tales betrayed, here and there, an amateurish, although talented, origin. Echoes of Darkness is a much more mature work, the product of two fine writers perfectly in control of their characters and their plots.
More importantly, the stories in the book possess that rare, but essential, gift that every reader searches for in a good ghost or horror story: namely, the ability to leave behind a persistent feeling (an echo, as the title says) of uneasiness. Nowadays we read too much dark fiction, which, however entertaining, disappears from the mind as soon as the book is closed and the reader gets on with life.
Maynard and Sims's new tales produce shivers which linger for quite a while on the spine. Their style is one of quiet horror lurking behind the common events of ordinary life: business, divorces, political disappointments, family picnics, and so on. A typical example is `Mallory's Farm', where a controversy about the family business gradually turns into the unexpected discovery of a forgotten horror.
In `At the End of the Pier' a young playwright and a disenchanted theatre producer find their fates linked in a well-balanced tale of melancholy and horror. The gloomy atmosphere of a summer resort at the end of the season is vividly described with remarkable skill. `An Office in the Grays Inn Road' is also an excellent story, in which a husband's sudden death leads his shocked widow to discover secrets of which she was totally unaware.
In `Picnic' a family's outing turns into a nightmarish experience triggered by the finding of an innocent-looking, mysterious whistle. `An English Country Garden' is a real gem, one of the authors' best creations. The story has an Aickmanesque charm, and is quite unforgettable. Travellers will learn to refrain from making detours to admire a beautiful garden glimpsed in the distance. In `Mattie', tension builds up throughout the entire narrative. Actual horror, or a pregnant woman's fancies? Wait until the denouement . . .
`Moths' is a reprint of the critically praised long story which appeared last year as an Enigmatic Novella [see review in All Hallows 21]. The readers who still don't know it will be chilled to the bone, while those already familiar with it will be glad to plunge once again into a story which reminds me of those black-and-white horror movies that make you hold your breath for much of the time.
I hope that at least one of the stories in this collection will be reprinted in some `best of anthologies. It's time for Maynard and Sims to be known as authors in the so-called mass market, and not just in the small world of limited editions.
A flawless collection, then? Almost, but not quite. The opening novella, `Ashushma', falls short of my expectations. The story, set in the exotic environment of the Indian Ocean, seems to be a tribute to the genre called pulp fiction. It's really entertaining, but somehow not fully convincing, and the characters are a bit too conventional. Although the inclusion of the novella in this volume has inspired a great cover design by Iain Maynard, I would gladly have exchanged `Ashushma' for a couple more short stories.
Fortunately, however, I won't have to wait too long. In their introduction, Maynard and Sims reveal that a third collection is already complete, and a fourth one is under way. I'm already looking forward to those new stories.
David Howe - SHIVERS 81 September 2000
Echoes of Darkness is a second collection of tales from L H Maynard and M P N Sims, and, unlike their first book Shadows of Midnight (also available from Sarob) this volume concentrates less on the M R James ghostly vein and more on the more physical ghoulies and goblins.
The most enjoyable stories here are the short ones, with Mattie being my favourite. A pregnant woman finds that a strange old lady takes over her house, her life and her husband, and there is little she can do to stop her. Mallory's Farm has a good build-up but the ending is weak, but Coming Home is another gem: told through letters and papers it's the story of a politician who meets his match when he 'escapes' to Dorset with his new girlfriend. I also liked An Office in the Grays Inn Road, one of the few purely ghostly stories here. It's got a nice build up, and a neat ending.
Of the longer pieces, the best is Moths, although the ending doesn't make a lot of sense, and Ashusma has its moments as well. This is a little like Jurassic Park (or at least it seemed to me) and the ending is perhaps too telegraphed and a little rushed.
Maynard and Sims have obviously
developed in style and ability since the earlier collection, and this book
is more assured and current. It blends together mythologies and ghosts and
mostly succeeds as being enjoyable and diverting. Overall another
enjoyable, if a little patchy, collection from Sarob Press, Maynard and
Sims. Worth a look.
The fiction of Maynard and Sims is mostly a quality product and this hardback collection is certainly no exception. These two authors have given perhaps more than anyone else has to the small press world in recent years, working not only as authors but also as editors and publishers. Their Enigmatic Press publishing house has set the standard for other publishers to aim at, and they have provided an invaluable outlet for established and new authors alike. Just in case you're wondering, I'm not buttering them up or after them publishing anything of mine, I'm just giving them the credit and recognition they truly deserve.
Echoes Of Darkness is a splendid collection of stories and shows how the collaborative fiction of the two men is progressing. No longer can they be accused of overdosing on the M.R. James influence -- these stories touch on a variety of styles with greatest expertise, and in an ideal world these authors would surely be earning their living from entertaining us.
The book begins with Ashushma, a tale set on a tropical island. Sacred stones have been moved to another part of the island to make way for the building of a holiday complex, and suddenly sinister events begin to take place. Frightening sounds are heard in the jungle area and a black smoke-like form is seen roaming. The interplay of characters in this story is first class and is a clear sign of the authors' progression.
At The End Of The Pier is a gripping story which concerns a variety theatre which is situated (would you believe!) on a pier, back in the 1960's. The production manager is sent a play by a peculiar young man, who is very insistent that it should be accepted and the cast should perform it. Frightening things begin happening even prior to the young man's arrival, but when the play is rejected... well, it turns in to a corker of a story.
Picnic is a third person story which tells of a family out to enjoy a quiet day in the countryside. While their mother and father are more interested in one another, two little girls excitedly follow the progress of a squirrel into the dense regions of a wood. Eventually they find a whistle upon the ground next to a tree. This story has an ending which I personally loved for its sinister quality, but which will send myriad shivers down the spine of every devoted parent.
An Office In The Grays Inn Road tells of a mourning woman's shocking discovery that her recently deceased husband had been having an affair, and that everyone in the theatre office where he worked had known about it. The best part of the story comes when the woman visits the 'secret' love-nest the couple had at their disposal -- it may turn your hair grey.
Other stories in this book include a reprint of the excellent novella entitled Moths, a tale which has already received an Honourable Mention from Ellen Datlow back in 1998.Echoes Of Darkness is a terrific book which I strongly recommend you purchase.
Derek M. Fox: Author of: Recluse; Demon & Treading on the Past and the forthcoming book Heart of Shadows - Byron & the Supernatural (Blackie Publishers - England)
What scares us?
It's easy to cite the obvious things like fast roads, heights, insects, and many other phobias, but my guess is that what really scares us lurks inside, in the very core of our being. And it lurks between the covers of certain books.
Echoes of Darkness is such a book. It is a worthy follow-up to Shadows at Midnight, published in 1979. That long ago? We've grown since then, matured, but...have we become any less scared?
Stories written when the world was younger, and published across the years, all now subsequently re-written and reissued in this handsome volume from Sarob Press with stark, startling black and white cover art from Iain Maynard that acts hypnotically on the mind.
Mick Sims and Len Maynard are well known as publishers of their string of small press anthologies and chapbooks through Enigmatic Press. Such volumes have offered openings to many upcoming, promising authors. To publish such work one must have a love for it, and they have. By pulling back that other string to their talented bow they let fly with a taut, gripping selection of supernatural tales for us to read on dark, lonely nights.
This is a tour de force, and in a sense, geographically orientated. From a tropical island in the pacific, a dark, hurried walk through the streets of London, we then are treated (?) to the sublime pastoral of an English country garden. After escaping an early grave, we find ourselves at a grim country house with a soupcon of the Orient thrown in, we, as readers unwittingly enmeshed in the worlds of Sims and Maynard, and whosoever else lurks there.
They let us into the secrets of people, their trials, tribulations and yes, phobias, the often misinterpreted aspects of real fear. Something unseen and deadly lurks in the trees on Ashusma island, it seeks retribution. A woman, a former lover of a dead publishing agent, terrifies his wife in a creepy 'Office in the Grays Inn Road'. But certainly not before we've had an insight into the obsessed mind of a hack actor/theatre producer and a would-be scriptwriter who desires to see his play produced on the stage of a sad little theatre 'At The End of the Pier' situated in the grey-lit, end-of-season seaside town of Brighton.
Picnics and farms figure in this trip on the edge, where shadows linger even when the sun doesn't shine. Nothing more unsettling than a child going missing, or a councillor maligned so much for an extra-marital affair he seeks sanctuary in a cottage in Suffolk that isn't all it appears. And of course there's the poor little fellow who hops off the train, an unscheduled stop, to further his interest in a beautiful garden and wishes to God he hadn't. And who is Mattie? Who could suspect that this little old lady stopping by would have a harmful bone in her body? And whatever you do don't go down to Mallory's Farm. See, they have a well in the field, and children went missing years ago - so you don't wanna know what's really down there, do you?
All this and a reprint of Moths - the creepy, shape-changer tale with Oriental flavours far, far different from those you order from the Takeaway.
But, I strongly advise you to buy, and take away this book, with its exercises in mounting fear. Despite a few weaknesses - some tales I felt could have been even darker, and so invoke even more disturbed angst - the strength lies in its protagonists and powerful narrative. You are there. I know I was.
Read these tales to make you think and I promise, the Echoes of Darkness will linger long after you have closed the covers...Or pulled 'em over your he
William P. Simmons. USA.
There is darkness, and then, there is "darkness." The one is nothing more than a natural deepening of night. Skies cloud over, the sun drowns in it's own light. Shadows ripple and pool like memories.
But then, there is darkness. Long nights of soul, old memories, and far wider guilt. Shadows pool, faces stretch from twilight. Much is suggested in this dark, possibly threatened, but rarely revealed. If natural darkness is a confirmation of natural law, fostering in us the illusion that we know (and by knowing, control) all that we witness or believe, then that other darkness, oppressive entity of both internal doubt and external threat, reminds us of what we don't know, or what we fear we might derstand on a level surpassing logical rationalization.
This darkness carries the fears and suspicions, the subversive desires and threats of our entire species. It connects us to our animal cousins, reminds us of primal song beneath starlight, and hovers somewhere between the geography of threat and promise. In our banal, often drab existence of neon sign and forced domesticity, it becomes almost too easy to ignore the
dark, so long as sunlight licks the earth and all is well with our own lives. When the bills are paid, relationships stable, and death is something you only read about in the paper, we know all there is to know, believe we see all there is to be seen. But even then, the darkness we carry within lets slip glimpses and suggestions of events and suspected beings lurking along the cracks of the "good fabric" of rationality. The darkness within reflects a fabulous, formless darkness from without, and we're reminded of how much we don't know, how very easy it remains to be afraid - not of the dark- but what might be waiting in it.
The ghost story helps us peer into darkness of soul and mind that we possess neither the courage nor natural facilities to face in our daylight world. From the moment birth snaps open our eyes, we're taken in cold hand by Death and led through a nursery of ever worsening pain, dread, and confusion. What do we have to cling to when both the darkness within and the threat (or promise) of things waiting in the physical darkness slip through crevices, throw open the blinds, and demand we recognize them in nightmare or shift of perception? What else, but the supernatural tale, daring maps of twilight thought and experience leading us through border lands.
Whereas realistic fiction operates on the assumption that there is a fixed definition of logic, focusing on characters and happenings within a fixed context, supernatural fiction possesses both the courage and foresight to question the very nature of experience. Using drab nuances of everyday setting and occurrence, the supernaturalist employs realistic characters and events of a decidedly unspectacular nature, layering such with increasing suggestions of the paranormal. When the screw is finally turned, the intrusion of the paranormal appears as believable and "natural" as a side walk or store front. Such authors as Algernon Blackwood, M.R.James, and Arthur Machen all emphasized dictates of logic and illusions of normalcy to make their deviations from the norm appear more credible.
Malignant ghost, nature demon, and Fay are no longer separate or distinguishable from normal experience, but emphasized as natural components of both human and natural world. On one hand, the ghost story is an investigation into the incredible, the fantastic or un-ordinary- something distinct and amazing because it is depicted as a dark miracle or deviation of what should be. In the other extreme, ghost fictions strive to depict occult manifestation and characters as just another natural thread of being, no different than sun rise, tree leaf, or the passing from youth into old age. That the human mind and sensory glands cannot always perceive this "other" phenomena is often blamed on our all-too-human lack of emotional, mental, and physical power.
The best supernatural fictions combine elements of both traditions. The supernatural threat is convincing enough to appear natural (and believable), but still resonates with the mystery and fantasy of unknown spheres. Although graveyard spirit or emotional ghost is convincing as component of the natural world, there follows with its presence a threat of unnatural, unwholesome danger. The "good fabric" is split, barriers are broken, and because the reader understands the unexpected is broke loose, he experiences thrill and awe. When the seemingly impossible is made threateningly possible, when innocent appearing characters, settings and events are suddenly transformed into haunting experiences of spiritual and physical threat; the ghost story reaches for both our minds and souls. Threatening beings of external, otherworldly darkness join the internal menaces of our individual fears, guilt, and suspicions, each reflecting and making more ominous the other.
Echoes Of Darkness, by Maynard and Sims, offers us such a deceptive collection of darkness, creating through subtle prose and grande imagination a variety of shadows. There lurks beneath the finely crafted eloquence of their words an energy - a joyfully perceptive rush of power- that combines universal themes with intimate struggles, making the tales both general enough to appeal to the masses while immediate enough to touch the individual reader. Through the sureness of their style and believability of their characters, we're reminded of ourselves. It becomes we who are suffering, reacting to unholy dangers tip-toeing or recklessly charging from demon- infested island complex, haunted well, and past life.
Although the writing is formal in execution, reminding one of the stylistic conciseness of M.R. James, never for a moment is the language outdated or archaic. Maynard and Sims manage to be both stylists and experimental craftsman in their manipulation of language, twisting phrases and descriptions with a freshness that many critics lament in the work of Victorian and Edwardian authors of the macabre. When reading the tales in this collection, you get the impression that the authors didn't set down and plan their fictions so much as they lovingly summoned, honed, and shaped raw essence into art. Layers of meaning and possibility pulsate beneath the words. So rich and drenched in meaning is the collection, that each new reading revealed descriptions, suggestions, and word play missed the first time around. It's easy to miss something of the delicate structure, for so engaging and immediately arresting are the plots, themes, and characters that the first reading is greedily completed for the sheer pleasure (and dread) of discovering how people we're made to care about fare against both physical manifestations of terror and the lingering menace of their own personalities.
In a haunted world where darkness of soul combines with supernatural night, magnifying and feeding upon the other, Maynard and Sims, travellers on the night-side of experience, use the recognizable conflicts and flaws of characters to emphasize and compliment occult threat. Half-breed bastard mutants, vengeful spirits, and cursed whistles share the spot light with abusive relationships, modern estrangement, self doubt, and the day-time terrors of both financial and social anxieties. By interweaving every-day fears with fantastical terrors, the authors create an aesthetic, emotional bridge between normalcy and supernatural. Characters who unknowingly slip between borderlands of soul, mind, or flesh are treated as distinct personalities- not the cardboard symbols so often used by modern authors to simply instigate plot. The collection continually reveals the relationship between internal conflict and supernatural threat. Characters insecurities, pasts, and personalities mirror the malignant forces gathering against them.
Like us, businessmen, politicians, housewives, widowers, and travellers call for something in the darkness, albeit often unknowingly. Evoking true dread and mortal terror, it's suggested again and again in these tales that attempting to be a "good" person, minding one's business, or surrounding yourself with material illusions of safety is poor protection against evil, often tragic possibilities. Managing to be both traditional and innovative in theme and presentation, Echoes of Darkness bravely explores the grounds of ambiguity. Often, traditional tales of ghostly horror depicted unsavory things happening to morally bankrupt, largely unsavory people. Such morally fixed allegories (disguised as ghost fiction) whispered to readers "hey, say your prayers, live a good life, and keep your nose clean." More often than not, only "those who deserved it"- characters that had harmed someone or transgressed some spiritual taboo- had need to fear attacks from beyond. Although Maynard and Sims brilliantly offer their share of nasty, self-centered people whose guilt and crimes make them targets for inventive unpleasantries, more disturbing and satisfying are the instances where moral expectations and constructs are obliterated. It's when more or less wholesome, likeable characters find themselves prey to ghostly and human malice that we fear (and believe) in their fictions most.
Such tales as "Ashushma," "At The End Of The Pier," and "Coming Home," whisper with unpleasant sureness the unfair and un-predictable nature of both natural life and supernatural possibility. The reader is left wondering if we're not all calling out to a deadly, formless darkness. Yes, victims of jealous ghostly lovers and mythic demons tell us, we call out to the dark. We throw into undefined night our fears and hopes and pain. We call to the dark. And Sometimes, the darkness answers.
The fears, insecurities, lusts, ignorance, and possessiveness of characters always answer back in this stunning collection of pain and beauty. In seemingly innocent, perfectly normal landscapes and descriptions hide dark miracles waiting to spill over. Like those dark Echoes from the collections title, characters and settings, atmosphere and themes, vibrate off one another. The author's ability of suggestion and quiet layering makes the experience both unsettling and credible. What struck me most about these stories, aside from the ability of the authors to make the supernatural appear so natural (if disturbing) an extension of a characters experience, was the ever-present use of suggestion that intensified the tension and dramatic flow of every single tale.
Shadows creep. Characters feel breaths against skin, spot glimpses of shape where none should logically be seen. Minute details of seemingly unthreatening coincidences slowly but relentlessly blossom into waking nightmares. Never do we feel cheated by trite or convenient scares. Never do the authors resort to use of artificial revelations or stock shocks. Warnings of supernatural presences and disaster are cleverly, quietly given to us before hand. Yet so subtle are such warnings, and so very engaging remain the characters, that our minds co-conspire with the authors, making us pay such attention to the complexities of human interaction and transformation that when the Echoes of fantasy materialize into physical, undeniable threat, we're surprised and titillated despite the fact that we were given hints in advance.
Maynard and Sims capture the delicious thrill of fireside story telling, investing dark wonder into decidedly contemporary conflicts, people, and settings. Like the teasing, tormenting power of shadows, their malignant shades and mythical dangers are neither wholly real nor imaginary. Indeed, it is to their credit and power that they hover between both extremes, constantly threatening us with their presence, but never wholly revealing them until characters are doomed.
In "An Office In The Grays Inn Road," a wonderfully chilling tale of hatred and attempted redemption beyond the grave, the authors make satisfying a much used theme that would have flopped in less capable hands. In Joanna Philips is reflected the grief, doubt, and lethargy that accompanies the death of a loved one. A recent widow, Joanna is assaulted by an increasingly venomous spirit, as well as by the terrible knowledge of her husband's betrayal. Like many of the other stories, the supernatural danger is sensed at a distance, hinted at by smell and sound and touch. The final confrontation ensues with terrible finality. At the end, we see Joanna still haunted, not by traditional ghost, but by memories. Transformed by the painful emotional scar of her husbands infidelity, Joanna has become something of a ghost herself.
"Mallory's Farm," while not a ghost story proper, further exhibits the writer's diversity, showing how comfortable they are attacking a variety of subjects. Philip, an unassuming young man caught in the throes of a bitter power struggle between his divorced parents, arrives at the decrepit residence of his father and young lover to discover both the people he truly cares about reduced to husks of their former, vibrant selves. Omitting a grande-gothic feel, the action is fluid, sharp, and relentless, moving with an energy that makes the tension near the end nigh unbearable. To give away the secret of Mallory's farm would be a disservice to the craftsman who made it so truly frightening. In a scene of uncompromising tension, pale-pink clawed infant hands from "Bastard's Well" try and find access into the farmhouse. From this scene onward, one is reminded of the delicate timing that made W.W. Jacob's The Monkey's Paw so very horrifying.
From Fay-like dangers of cursed woods and sinister whistles to the secrets growing in English gardens, Echoes Of Darkness lovingly uses it's own fears to further instigate our own. Be the threat after thought from grave or an imposter come to steal your identity, never are we left to doubt the originality or compassion of these authors when working their narrative magic. Not content to simply revise ancient lore or occult traditions, Maynard and Sims prove themselves modern mythmakers in their own right, creating believable, larger than life embodiments of evil no less breath taking than the deities found in cross-cultural sacred texts. Perhaps no where is their singular ability of crafting new night terrors from universal elements of our condition more apparent than in "Moths," a novella deservedly recognized by the horror and fantasy community. Their conceptualization of "The Tashkai," a demon capable of draining the talents from those vulnerable human beings it infatuates with its presence, is as fascinating as it is evocative of people in our own world who do the same, using sheer force of personality to drain from admirers the very thing that makes them individuals.
In this novella, as well as in the story "Mattie," the danger of losing the internal traits that define us is emphasized. Psychic-like vampires of mind and talent, the "Tashkai" are at once exotically captivating and repulsive. Beneath the refined manners, unblemished skin, and appearance of grace lurks corruption, decay, and the absolute hunger of greed - if one has to foresight or ability to peel back surface illusion and stare. The creatures themselves stir within the reader mixed, conflicting emotions of lust and envy, fear and welcome, mirroring the appeal of the supernatural genre itself, and specifically pointing out Maynard and Sims talent of assaulting us with terror at the very same time that they titillate us with it. I wonder if something of the "Tashkai" doesn't lurk in them, cleverly using our own expectations, fears, and desires to give their fictions such immediacy and lustrous power.
With the lingering persistence of shadow, or the stealthy vibration of echo, the stories of this brave, diversely satisfying collection linger long after the book snaps shut. A pleasure to read, the suspicions and threats aroused by its subtle (and not so subtle) frights may find you staring into corners of home and mind long after dark, each carefully sculpted tale a reflective echo of your own night-tide fears and doubts.
Without reservation, I recommend lovers of ghost fiction (and dark Literature in general) take this ride into the darkness.
Jason Gould - INFINITY PLUS Website
As horror writing goes, Maynard and Sims attack from a traditional angle, employing a thoroughly traditional style. I know, having read their column on Mark Chadbourn's website, At the World's End, that this is the type of storytelling they favour. When you read M and S you can be sure each story will have a beginning, a middle and an end; that the prose in which the tale is couched will be smooth, but will never occlude the unfolding of that tale; and that the action will often centre around ghosts, monsters, demons etc. That's not to belittle their work by whittling it down to the formulaic, simply to say that their output is recognisably their own.
The idea of the perfect society unravelling is reminiscent of David Cronenberg's early film Shivers, in which Starline Towers, a tower block built as the perfect place to live, fails in its utopian mission when its inhabitants revert to their more primal instincts. In Ashushma, the self-titled opening story in Echoes of Darkness, the undoing is supernatural, not human, though it still put me mind of the 1970's Cronenberg classic.
Ashushma, an island owned by the Stronghold Corporation, lies adrift in the Indian Ocean, a kind of time-share settlement to which a number of couples are invited prior to purchasing. Gradually, over the course of 40 or so pages, the island reveals its true nature, much at the expense of those who have travelled there.
Themed around man's spoiling footprint falling cataclysmically through paradise, Ashushma is very well narrated, edgy, and scenically cinematic. The tension in the first half piles up by the gutful, with sections ending on notes such as:
"As Grace stood from the bed and theatrically removed her robe, she was unaware of the three pairs of yellow eyes that reflected from the window before merging back into the shadows of the trees."
"Jack waited until the three men had caught up with them before he brushed a piece of broken fern aside with his sandal. On the grass, amidst a smear of glistening wet blood, was part of a human foot, clearly torn raggedly from the rest of the body."
I did, however, feel a little let down by a couple of points. Firstly, I would have liked the tale to have had a slightly grittier edge; to have witnessed an ounce more rawness in each character, rather than the polite Englishness with which they behaved, even at times of extreme stress. Secondly, the story would have benefited from closer editing. It's tightly written, but flawed by the odd grammatical or stylistic inconsistency, which if weeded out would have elevated the tale that little bit higher. A typical example is the opening paragraph halfway down page 16, which contains the words light and lighting four times inside three sentences, and is consequently clumsy to read.
Those reservations aside, though, Ashushma is a tense and scary novella.
The other stories, like the wonderfully titled "An Office in the Gray's Inn Road", and "Mallory's Farm", are from a similar stable, and equally entertaining. Moths, the novella with which the book concludes, and for which the authors received an Honourable Mention from Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling in 1998, rounds the proceedings off nicely.
This collection - and Maynard and Sim's work holistically - owes a lot to that flavour of horror writing which grew out of the Pan Books of Horror (though a lot less vicious), mingled with elements of M R James, Henry James, and perhaps even that British 1970's scary-as-hell TV programme, Armchair Thriller.
Buy it. Read it.
Garrett Peck - THE HELLNOTES BOOK REVIEW
Maynard and Sims are known as the publishers behind Enigmatic Press. Their recent announcement of the press’ closure due to loss of grant money was greeted with regret. But there is some good news from the duo—namely this new collection of supernatural fiction, featuring seven stories and two novellas.
The book opens up with the previously unpublished novella “Ashushma.” The Stronghold Corporation, hoping to sell time-shares at their newly constructed resort, flies five couples to a Hawaiian island. Unfortunately a configuration of rocks was moved during construction. Moving them has freed the Kumari, a race of carnivorous monsters once worshiped as gods by the native population. Soon guests and employees alike are under deadly siege. The helicopter pilot is the first to go, so the potential victims are trapped. This is the best rampaging creature story I’ve read since Tim Lebbon’s White. It’s not quite as satisfying, but it’s darn close.
“At the End of the Pier” details the haunting of a small theater company director by a playwright who committed suicide after his script was rejected for production. The widow of a theatrical agent endures ghostly proof of her late husband’s adultery in “An Office in the Gray’s Inn Road.” An evil tin whistle lures victims in “Picnic.” A Member of Parliament loses his re-election due to an adulterous sex scandal in “Coming Home,” but finds new life with a dead woman while on sabbatical. Past incestuous sins come to horrifying life when a specialty publisher moves to “Mallory’s Farm.” Old ladies discover the perfect fertilizer in “An English Country Garden.” Another old lady named “Mattie” usurps a pregnant woman’s life.
Book-ending the short stories is the other novella, “Moths.” It introduces a very different kind of psychic vampire from Japanese lore, called a Tashkai, which steals people’s talents. The creature’s victims are drawn to the beauty of the Tashkai like moths to a flame.
Maynard and Sims write with the sort of proper grammar and respect for language more prevalent in British than American authors. There’s no indulgence in fancy stylistic tricks. Their characterizations have as much depth as a decent novel. They’re particularly good at detailing their character’s professional lives. Either they’ve worked some of these jobs themselves or have researched them as thoroughly as Arthur Haley. The solid foundation of setting and character results in believable and absorbing tales. Although a few of them end more abruptly then I would have preferred, their no-nonsense approach of classic storytelling craft with a modern flair satisfied me in eight out of nine cases. (The one dud is “An English Country Garden,” which is a bit static for my taste.)
For more reviews follow the hyperlink below.
Copyright © 2015 L.H. Maynard & M.P.N. Sims