Midnight Call and Other Stories
Trade Paper, 264 pages, $15.00
Review by Sheila Merritt
Ghosts and a gorgon, the pathological and the pagan, unstable characters and the instability of society, are addressed in Midnight Call and Other Stories. In this collection, author Jonathan Thomas shrewdly examines social pressures while focusing on the individual who must deal with them. The characters have qualms and phobias. Most carry a heavy load of emotional baggage. Fear is a prevalent factor in motivation and action. What is striking in the stories is a wry observation of mundane concerns that mushrooms into terror; everyday events become extremely off kilter. Sometimes it is the character who is the catalyst for what occurs. In other instances, the protagonist is merely a pawn in a greater destiny.
The twenty-five tales that comprise this volume are exceptionally high in quality. There’s a chill that resonates: From the first entry, “Eben’s Portrait,” which sends an artist on an ominous assignment, to the last, “Ariadne’s Hair;” a spectral story that looks at parenting and pushing of buttons with unflinching clarity. Thomas consistently manages to smoothly merge every day anxiety with the fear of the unknown. This may sound simple, but it’s easier said than done. His writing style is quirky, his voices are varied, and he can deliver a tingle up the spine with a mere sentence. There’s also an odd rationality to some of his commentary about the supernatural which is appealing. In the story “Some Days Before Shadow Damsel,” for example, there’s the observation: “And from a latter-day vantage, much could be said for a ghost love. To whom else would a lack of affluence, lack of status, lack of worldly ambition mean so little? Pregnancy not an issue, nor physical deterioration.” Psychologically pragmatic cultural commentary about ghosts; what’s not to like?
In the story grouping entitled Conjurings and Celtic Holidays (A Thematic Set), there are five tales of pagan encounters. Each touches on a specific celebration, such as Samhain or Beltane. These stories stem from cultural anthropology, but the emphasis is on a character who must confront a personal supernatural awakening. Although rooted in the pre-Christian past, the emotional connection is timeless.
In his foreword to Midnight Call and Other Stories, esteemed literary critic of horror and fantasy S.T. Joshi praises Jonathan Thomas. He notes that while Thomas is unknown to most readers of horror, these tales display the author’s “deep reading in the work of Blackwood, Lovecraft, and M.R. James.” Thomas does indeed pay tribute to these icons of horror fiction in this volume; he understands their contributions and reveres them. The excellent writing, however, is uniquely his own.