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Darker Places
Richard Matheson
Gauntlet hardcover $55

review by Michael McCarty

In the dedication of this short story collection, Richard Matheson writes: "To Barry Hoffman - with many thanks for resuscitating so much of my early work." That statement sums things up dead-on. Hoffman, the publisher and editor of Gauntlet Press has been collecting the early works of Matheson that might have remained in obscurity if it wasn't for his publishing company.
   In the year 2000, Gauntlet published Matheson's first novel called Hunger And Thirst, the author's first novel, written half a century ago and unpublished. A 'whopper novel' of over 600 pages tells the story of a young author completely paralysed by a gunshot wound in his New York City apartment, slowly dying of hunger and thirst and unable to get help. The book unfolds with a series of flashbacks and is interspersed with the current drama of life and death survival. It was an ambitious book for a 24-year-old writer and at times, seems like it's a horror version of a Tennessee Williams' drama. Nevertheless the book is a borderline macabre masterpiece and the reader can see the future writing career being born.
   Now comes Darker Places, a collection of two novellas and four short stories, conceived when Matheson graduated from the University Of Missouri in June of 1949, and before his first short story sale, Born Of Man And Woman, in the summer of 1950 - to the third issue of The Magazine Of Fantasy and Science Fiction, an instant classic.
   Much like Hunger And Thirst, Darker Places is the young Matheson, close to finding his niche as a writer. The collection kicks off with Revolution, which gets a little too heavy-handed about animal rights (would have been a new thing back then), but makes great use of the dog character Muggs. The Puppy is another dog story, this time very creepy. The way the story unfolds is similar to a tale Matheson would write years later, one of my favourites called Bobby. Early brilliance in storytelling is evident here.
   Little Girl Knocking On My Door is one of the best stories in this collection. This yarn about a little girl who is quiet and shy, but slowly becomes overbearing, is both creepy and well written. Cassidy's Shoes is also well written, and is about a dancer who achieves greatness when he buys a new pair of shoes. After he dies, another dancer gets his shoes and becomes great too. This spooky backstage story keeps the pages turning until the surprising end. Unfortunately, The Hill, and Intergalactic Report are too short to reach any critical mass. The screenplay Creature, which is an adaptation of a John Saul book, is also brilliant (of course, this is the only thing in the collection, post 1949). It would still make a great TV movie or cable movie.
   Darker Places lives up to its name - the author takes us to darker places and I was all too eager to read more. Expect more collected work to come from Matheson and Gauntlet.
Darker Places

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