Hardcover, 128 pages, $14.95
Review by Sheila Merritt
Douglas Clegg knows the power of a ghostly whisper in the ear. In Isis, he creates a subtle yet scary spectral story; no screams are necessary. Eerie atmosphere is established at the outset: A secluded estate on England’s rugged and mystical Cornwall coast. Its inhabitants are a family at odds with their environment; and often with each other. Two in the household have a bond; a tie so tight that it defies death.
Young Iris, who is later known as Isis, and her older brother Harvey are very close. They share a moody mother, an away from home father, and two other brothers (one is Harvey’s twin.) Also living on the premises is a dotty grandfather who spouts scriptures, but hides porn in his library. Iris relies on Harvey’s humor and devotion to offset the dysfunctional aspects of their clan. He jokes to her about local legends and the family burial site on the estate. They exchange cares and concerns. As they grow into adolescence, discomforts mount. There is no parental guidance, and when Harvey’s twin becomes sexually active, the tryst triggers tension and tragedy.
Iris, the first person narrator of the novella, is shattered by the subsequent death in the family. She also almost dies in the accident. Embittered, antagonistic, and angry, she immerses herself in exploring the occult. Her near death experience has given her a “window” to the other world. She describes an unearthly encounter, thus: “I saw a wriggling movement in the shadows of the stone walls. A whirl of motion, as of leaves and seedlings stirred up by a sudden breeze. As if I were connecting parts of a puzzle drawn upon the air, I saw a strange form manifesting itself from the soft white milk thistles that blew in a circular motion at the garden wall. It seemed to be the outline of a man.”
Bringing back the dead always has its consequences; in horror fiction they are brutal. W. W. Jacob’s “The Monkey’s Paw” and Poe’s “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” are just two short story examples of necro-nightmares, which result from not letting the departed rest in peace. Iris’ clingy and selfish love does revive a relationship; but it also alters it. A change occurs within herself, as well. She is now like the ancient Egyptian deity Isis; whose beyond the grave tampering produced a disastrous denouement.
Clegg’s book is a period piece prequel to his Harrow Mythos trilogy. Isis’ character is a part of the series. Her early story, unveiled in this novella, is a fine stand alone volume. Based on its lovely illustrations by Glenn Chadbourne, the book has been adapted into a computer game. Isis is a quietly disquieting tale of terror written by a recipient of The Bram Stoker Award and the International Horror Guild Award. It doesn’t shout to shock; it merely masterfully murmurs.