When the Door Closed
Review by Lisa Morton
Nightjar Press is a new British publisher dedicated to producing quality chapbooks of dark short fiction, and if their two recent releases from Joel Lane and Alison Moore are any indication, they have a fine preference for well-written, literate horror with unnerving ambiguities.
Strangely enough, both of their recent offerings – Lane’s “Black Country” and Moore’s “When the Door Closed, It Was Dark” – have nearly identical themes, both centering on a protagonist dealing with urban decay, unhappy children, and self-destructive tendencies that interfere with the performance of a job. In Lane’s tale, a middle-aged policeman is forced to confront his own difficult childhood when he’s assigned to investigate a rash of crimes committed by pre-pubescent perpetrators in an area that was once his hometown; now, decades after his family left the area, the town has been subsumed by redistricting and urban development. As the investigator (who narrates the story) drinks too much and at last essentially dreams the solution, he discovers that his own ties to these strange, petty crimes are uncomfortably close. Lane’s slightly elliptical style induces anxiety, and his description of the rotting suburb (“Cats or seagulls were crying somewhere in the night”) is always evocative.
Even more disturbing is Moore’s piece, in which a young nanny journeys to an unnamed foreign land to care for a baby whose mother has mysteriously vanished. The foreign country Tina finds herself in is never given a name, but its misogyny could be nearly anywhere. Tina is trapped in a family dominated by a stern “Grandmother” and two men (“Father” and “Uncle”) who treat her as little more than chattel; they take her money and passport, and casually mention her potential as a girlfriend while Grandmother sizes up her hips. As Tina grows increasingly anxious under the unwavering scrutiny of the family, she begins to make mistakes that grow from casual to catastrophic. Moore experiments with style throughout the brief story, moving back and forth from present to past tense to give the story an uncomfortable immediacy. The denouement is genuinely shocking.
Both stories are relatively light on gore (Moore’s does begin with the slaughter of a pig in the family’s bathroom), but drenched in atmosphere and dread. Nightjar is offering up these small (16-page) books in attractive and very reasonably priced signed and limited editions (contact publisher Nicholas Royle at email@example.com to inquire about purchasing). After reading these two, I look forward to Nightjar’s future releases.