(PublishAmerica; 2006) At a time when nearly every genre publication promises to “reinvent” the horror genre, it seems downright revolutionary when an author opts to deliver simple old-fashioned scares. That’s the case with AFTER DARK, a collection of thirteen stories by Jeani Rector. Most of them are effective, being no-nonsense campfire tales of the type that appear to have largely gone out of style, at least with the major publishers.
Yes, this book was printed by an independent publisher, which is obvious from the claim on the copyright page that “At the specific preference of the author, PublishAmerica allowed this work to remain exactly as the author intended, verbatim, without editorial input.” Much of the book appears to have been conceived specifically to irritate the majors, most notably its many history-based tales, including “The Golem”, a dramatization of the old legend of the Golem of Prague; “William Burke”, about the infamous Burke and Hare murders (the inspiration for the film THE DOCTOR AND THE DEVILS); “The Black Death”, set in the time of the Bubonic Plague that decimated Europe in the Fourteenth Century; and “The Rye Witch”, a novella-length account of the 1792 Salem witch trials.
It was these stories that resonated most with me. The author has clearly researched her subjects in thorough fashion and done a good job transposing them to fiction. Plus Rector adds some novel twists, most notably in “The Golem”, which answers a number of questions I’ve had about the Golem legend, such as what exactly did the Golem, a monstrous figure created from clay to protect the residents of the Jewish ghettoes of 16th Century Prague, do other than scare people (which is all it does in Paul Wegner’s famous 1921 film on the subject)? Did it kill people? And if so how might its alleged creator Rabbi Loew (a real historical figure) feel about that? All are satisfactorily covered in Rector’s account, which also cleverly ties the legend in with FRANKENSTEIN, its most famous offshoot.
“The Golem” was nominated for an International Horror Guild Award, as was “The Ghoul”, a fine, twisty account of a voodoo curse. Other modern-day set tales include the ingeniously constructed (if slight) “Horrorscope”, which concludes with a twist you won’t predict no matter how hard you try, and “The Boogeyman”, a marrow-chiller about a boy who fears the you-know-what, only to discover a real-life menace far more terrifying.
Naturally, a few of the stories didn’t work for me. “Night of the Banshee” began in riveting fashion but fizzled out in a predictable ending, and “The Kraken”, about the fabled sea critter (the inspiration for the creature from PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN 2), suffers from a similarly underwhelming fade-out. As for “The Rye Witch”, the book’s longest piece, I found it uneven. While it deserves credit for setting the record straight on quite a few issues in the Salem Witch trials (as portrayed in the story, the accused witches were hung, not burned at the stake), it’s overly moralistic in its approach; I know the witch trials were wrong and don’t need to be lectured on that fact…although, considering the fanatical direction in which our country seems to be increasingly heading, I think many of our current leaders could use just such a reminder!
For more information, visit www.afterdarknovel.com.