Wednesday, 20 April 2011

The Power of Three - 22nd Installment

So, having failed to deliver a ‘Power of Three’ last week, I’m now delivering this week’s a day early. Sorry about that, but with this Friday being Good Friday I thought it only proper to send this latest missive out on a day when most of you will still be in your place of employment and thus will have plenty time to mess aronud on the internet.

It seems we have a trio of relatively recently-written selections this week, but as always that’s happened completely by accident. For this reason, they’ll probably be more familiar to you than many I've promoted recently. But if I’ve done nothing more than put grim memories into your head just as you were sitting back to enjoy your first coffee break of the morning, then I’ll consider that my work here is done.

Apologies again for my lapse last Friday. It’s the first time I’ve missed ‘Power of Three’, but I was simply overwhelmed by work. Amazingly enough, that does happen to us authors from time to time. I shall obviously endeavour to ensure that it doesn’t happen again, but of course I can’t promise anything. In the meantime, enjoy this nerve-wracking threesome. I know I did.

The Curse Of Kali by Cherry Wilder

A bereaved lady author takes a room with a bullish middle class family, but is disquieted by the underhand tactics they use to take possession of the house next door after its owner, a lady with connections to India, suddenly dies.

A gently paced and ultra-skilful variation on the theme of vengeance from beyond the grave. There is no violence here, no ghoulishness, no ‘in-yer-face’ horror. Even the supernatural moments are brief and spaced far apart (and are all the more effective for it), but this is still one of the best stories of its kind. Despite its civilised tone, it builds slowly and inexorably towards a shocking outcome. All the way through it is enriched by those tantalising mysteries of the East, and yet we spend much of its running time in the company of jabbering, assertive English folk whose main purpose in life, it seems, is to make minor material gains. I’m not one of these readers, by the way, who believes that Ranji the cat – one of the key characters – is actually evil; he just happens to be resourceful enough to make the best of his ‘Calcutta street-child’ type existence. So forget the cat. There is a much darker entity at the heart of this charming but chilling little ditty.

First published in INTERZONE 103, 1996.

Two For Dinner by John Llewellyn Probert

A wealthy but vindictive man discovers that his wife is having an affair with his son’s piano teacher. He invites this gullible third party to dinner, drugs him and then ties him into a specially-made torture chair. A night of unparalleled horror follows.

The first thing I should say is that this story doesn’t go the way you expect it to. Okay, it’s not exactly pleasant. There’s no question that John Llewellyn Probert is a big fan of the ‘Pan Horror’ sub-genre and in fact this story makes several overt references to the more grisly extremes of certain tales within the Pan pantheon. In terms of style and execution, it’s clearly cut from the same distasteful cloth – it’s about a gruesome and protracted revenge, it’s about what happens if you’re foolish enough to try and steal from a maniac. Familiar territory of course, but in actual fact this joyously camp thriller is firmly tongue-in-cheek. It’s written with great wit and charm, and despite its squirm-inducing premise it isn’t particularly gory. But don’t be too fooled. Appearances can be deceptive. The mental anguish to which our increasingly unmanly hero is subjected knows no limits. And no horror story written in tribute to the great Pans of old would be complete without a thoroughly nasty (and of course darkly amusing) sting in the tail.

First published in THE FIFTH BLACK BOOK OF HORROR (pictured), 2009.

The Overseer by Albert E. Cowdrey

A southern farming family is impoverished by the events of the American Civil War. The eldest son survives and must make his fortune in a new world, a task made easier by the evil spirit of his father’s one-time slave overseer.

If there was ever such a thing as an epic ghost story, this is it. The sweeping backcloth of major historical events commences in the backwoods of the 1850s and finishes in New Orleans in the 1900s, visiting the battle of Shiloh and the birth of the Ku Klux Klan along the way. But this is also a human journey, charting the gradual but total breakdown of one man’s personal morality. Though there are strong supernatural elements here, most if not all of the horror stems from an atmosphere of malevolent self-interest, which inevitably leads us to look below the beautifully written surface detail and into the turmoil of a tortured soul. Our anti-hero Lerner is in no doubt that his wicked deeds are influenced by the demonic ghost of Monsieur Felix, the murdered overseer. But is he? Sure, we see Monsieur Felix too. But we see him through Lerner’s eyes. Isn’t it more likely that, as a result of his horrific experiences – his world and family laid waste before him – Lerner has created the overseer’s ghost as his brutal alter-ego? It’s a long story, this, but it bears more than one reading to fully appreciate it. An old-fashioned saga, but a modern masterwork.


On a completely unrelated subject, I'd just like to remind anyone who happens to be in the Wigan area this coming Saturday that I'll be in the town centre Waterstone's store for most of the day, signing copies of my brand new Doctor Who novel, HUNTER'S MOON. Maybe see you there.

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