Hodder & Stoughton
446 pages; £ 6.99
Publication date: 06-06-2005
Date reviewed: 06-17-2005
Reviewed by Mario Guslandi 2005
Class is class, no matter what. So when a classy mystery novelist like John Connolly turns for a while into a short story writer dealing with the dark and the supernatural you can only expect the best (and you'll get it). 'Nocturnes' is a superlative collection that I've enjoyed in the extreme.
The opening title ,'The Cancer Cowboy Rides' -- a great title for a great piece of dark fiction -- is a novelette smoothly blending the horror of fast-spreading cancer in a small US town with the sense of dread coming from the realization that evil itself is deeply rooted within the human soul.
From the very first page Connolly displays a terrific storytelling ability, as well as a remarkable talent in mimicking the writing style of some American authors, such as Stephen King at his best.
The following story ('Mr Pettinger's Daemon'), clearly inspired by the atmosphere of MR James' fiction, although absolutely original, comes then as an unexpected change of style. Depicting the encounter of a clergyman with an ancient demon, this terrifying tale combines the use of a very elegant prose with the handling of a quite unsettling theme.
After these two outstanding pieces, the next few stories, although actually very good, almost constitute a kind of anticlimax: 'The Erlking' tells about yet another bogeyman whose memory haunts a man from childhood to maturity; 'The New Daughter' describes how a new house in the country exerts an evil influence on a restless teenager; 'The Ritual of the Bones' reveals the hidden secrets of an upper class school; 'The Inkpot Monkey' is a conventional story about a haunted inkpot and its odd guardian.
The temperature gets hot again with 'The Furnace Room' (pun intended), a disquieting tale full of symbolisms where a veritable nightmare engulfs a guilty man.
In 'The Underbury Witches', we are delighted by a case of witchcraft told in an extremely captivating manner that sends shivers along our spines, while in 'The Shifting of the Sands' ancient, pagan gods keep ruling over a small village by the sea. In 'Some children Wander by Mistake', clowns acquire a sinister shade. The shifts in tone and style are very effective, as are the stories themselves.
'Deep Dark Green' is another extraordinary tale of terror set in the deep, unfriendly waters where hungry creatures lurk. A similar atmosphere, even more unsettling, can be found in 'The Wakeford Abyss', a terrific and terrifying story of unspeakable Lovecraftian horrors.
The secrets of a well-respected gardener are disclosed in the cute ' Miss Froom, Vampire', whereas a malevolent presence inhabiting an old house is the main feature in the extremely dark 'Nocturne'.
'The Reflecting Eye' sees the return of detective Charlie Parker, the hero of Connolly's mystery novels. Here our man meets supernatural horror in a tense, gripping novelette featuring pure evil lingering in a forbidding, lonely house in Maine.
As an extra bonus, the current paperback edition of 'Nocturnes' includes three previously uncollected stories. 'The Bridal Bed' is a short, moving tale of love beyond the grave.
'The Man of the Second Fifteen' represents a superb example of a terror tale that features a man going astray during a thunderstorm and meeting with a frightening reality. 'The Inn at Shillingford' is a delightful piece about an unlucky country inn and its disreputable innkeeper.
Everything in this collection is absolutely enjoyable: the plots are fascinating, the characters well crafted, the dialogues sublime, the narrative style positively outstanding.