By Jeani Rector (Turner Maxwell Books; 2009)
The third volume of stories by Jeani Rector follows fast on the heels of her previous collection OPEN GRAVE, which appeared in mid-2008. That book for me remains her most resonant, but AROUND A DARK CORNER made quite an impression. It’s definitely the meanest of Rector’s publications thus far–this book will never be mistaken for a splatterpunk entry, but its evocation of physical horror is unusually strong (the cover illustration of a woman’s face devoured by maggots gives a good idea what to expect).
“The Dead Man” starts things off, consisting largely of a protracted description of the dismemberment of a corpse; the twist ending feels a bit trite in light of the intensity of the rest of the tale, but it can’t undo the sense of lingering unease the story imparts. “A Medieval Tale of Plague” follows, an impeccably researched account of a young woman’s nightmarish existence in plague-ridden London.
Taken together, the above stories are good indicators of this book’s considerable range. Its contains a tale of demonic invocation (“The Spirit of Death”), a peek into the mind of murderous psychopath (“Horrorscope”), a trickily structured werewolf story (“In Any Language”), an account of a man with a maggot fetish (“Maggots”) and an uncomfortably intimate description of a plane crash (“Flight 529”). There’s also a reprint of “The Golem,” Rector’s best story, which initially turned up in AFTER DARK (2006). It fleshes out the Jewish legend of The Golem in a manner that ties it in to FRANKENSTEIN, its most famous inspiration, and does so in riveting fashion.
The final entries are two longish tales, “Lady Cop” and “A Teenage Ghost Story.” The first is a compelling study of a rookie cop’s brutal induction into some of the uglier realities of her profession; it’s not a horror tale per se, but has the impact of one. The second is something else altogether, a gentle look at two teen girls thrust into an age-old mystery that’s vaguely reminiscent of the young adult scare fests of Richard Peck (particularly his classic THE GHOST BELONGED TO ME).
It all adds up to another memorable volume by an author who goes from strength to strength, and who I’m confident will become a major voice in the field. Want to catch a rising star? Get this book. You’ll be glad you did!