By Aaron J. French
Publisher: Crowded Quarantine Publications
Pub. Date: September 29, 2014
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
The stories in this collection seem to hark back to an older tradition. They are not Lovecraftian as much as they are Blackwoodian, if such a term exists. Like Algernon Blackwood, and to a lesser extent William Hope Hodgson, French seems not so much terrorized of the unexplained as in awe. All of the stories have a theme regarding alternative realities and universes overlapping into our own reality usually with devastating consequences. Most of the tales involve dreams as a important part of the plot and as a clue to understanding different realities. The first story titled "Doubting Thomas" is a fitting one as it involves a hedonistic seeker whose idol, a Alister Crowley clone named Phillip P. Vernon (uncomfortably close to another name I am familiar with, don't ya think?), who "gets religion" so to speak. It has a nice open-ended climax that keeps you wondering after you turn the page. The next story. "Dweller in the Cracks" despite its Lovecraftian title is a bit more conventional involving cats and neighbors that may not be what they appear to be. Perhaps the best and scariest story is "Whirling Machine Man" a gruesome tale involving a private investigator seeking answers to the disappearance and subsequent amputation of a young boy. I was also pleasantly spooked by "When Clown Face Speaks" mainly because clowns have always made me uncomfortable to begin with. "Golden Doors to a Golden Age" is one of those stories that reveal an admiration of the mystical as well as a fear of the unknown, as does "Tree of Life". Most of these tales uses religious symbols quite well and many of them are brave enough not to disguise the spiritual aspects of their plot. Overall, French's collection is quite strong and if there are some stories that do not work as well as you would hope, a stronger one will soon be found. I would recommend this to any lover of short fiction and equally, to any aficionado of intelligent horror and fantasy.