Stages of Undress: The 3rd Collection
By Steven Deighan

Dark Monster Publications
ISBN 978-0-99560912-1-5
4.99 GBP/$8USD 196 Pages
Review by Kent Knopp-Schwyn

In this short collection, the author gives the reader four perfectly crafted short stories. Each extremely well written tale is replete with expert word choice, interesting characters and a strong sense of unease. Additionally, all four tales easily fit into what Charles Grant referred to as “quiet horror” leaving much of the gory set dressing off stage and focusing more on character, atmosphere and menace.

In a brief introduction, Tim Lebbon discusses the difficulty of a writer learning his or her craft in the critical public eye and then goes on to state that Mr. Deighan displays admirable poise and maturity in his narrative style but seems to still be searching a bit for his narrative voice.

The four tales provide strong characterization and description, but, adhering to their “quiet horror” designation, provide very little that would be termed as action. “Cappuccino Stains” presents the reader with an average Joe whose heart and destiny are much darker than they appear at first blush. “The Beating” is a moderately predictable tale of urban angst and the degree to which we remain anonymous to each other even when crammed together in an old, crowded apartment building. “Stages of Undress,” the most emotionally engaging tale in the collection, concerns an ultra rich artist and the lengths to which he will go and the depths to which he will sink in order to feel, once again, wholly connected to his art and to the world around him. Last, the author presents the compelling novelette, “The Medium,” which is both a fascinating character study of a stage-performing mesmerist and an interesting look at the ordeals faced by an individual truly gifted with paranormal power.

All four narratives are well wrought, slice of life stories and all do an admirable job of letting the reader fill in detail and back story. If the action is sparse, the characters and their motives prove interesting and entertaining. Mr. Deighan slips just a bit by not providing a strong emotional bond between the reader and his characters; the stories lack a sense of urgency or danger. Still, the sense of disquiet and unease that pervades each story makes for a highly entertaining collection. All in all, Stages of Undress provides a pocket-sized frisson of fear and a fine introduction to a developing talent from across the pond.

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