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But First The Dark
Frank Chigas
Medusa hardcover $40

review by Mario Guslandi

Six years after the appearance of his stunning debut collection The Damp Chamber, Frank Chigas is finally back with a couple of volumes of new short stories. But First The Dark collects ten "tales of the uncanny" which certainly make up for the long wait.

The stories, ranging from the ghostly to the horrific, from the weird to the supernatural, have a common feature: good, quite enjoyable storytelling. The Missing Voussoir is a nice Jamesian pastiche revolving around some haunted pieces of tapestry, while Demons is a bleak story about the frailty of memory, the untoward effects of too much drinking, and the dark secrets of city streets at night time.

In the sinister Indian Pipes, an attempt to purchase a house from an elusive old lady discloses a dark, horrific story of Satanism, while in the gruesome The Visitation; a ghoul deprives a man of his beloved wife. The Pocket Watch is an eerie, atmospheric tale where a watch saves the life and the soul of a teacher from a dangerous encounter with evil.

Ms Trent's Dark Holiday, the effective portrait of a rather aloof widow, gets gradually imbued with a growing sense of terror, leading to a grim, tragic ending. The Singular Sufferings Of One Arthur Shelby is a mix between a study on schizophrenia and a ghost story, which, despite a rather weak plot, is graced by a steady narrative style, and Strange Companion is the frightening report of an odd encounter with a stranger during a snowy winter night.

In the disquieting Fletcher Alan, a mother's obsession about his baby boy turns out to be well founded. My favourite story is the offbeat The Pageant Of Desolate Days, a dark bitter fairy tale told in a visionary, vivid fashion, where a deadly pageant visits a poor rural village. Once again Chigas exhibits a knack for crafting well told dark tales apt to provide many pleasant shivers to genre lovers.

But First the Dark by Frank Chigas



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