The Darkest Shade of Grey
Alan Baxter

The Red Penny Papers, Digital, $1.99
Review by Matthew Tait

The Red Penny Papers is a journal (electronic) of fantastic fiction publishing novellas in a serial style reminiscent of a bygone era. Merged in this fashion with a webfiction factor and you have an appealing disparity of new technologies with a penny dreadful twist – a welcome hybrid of the modern with the historic. With The Darkest Shade of Grey, Alan Baxter has concocted a tight and stylish supernatural thriller daubed in the ethereal tones of film-noir.

David Johanssen is a broken man. After a devastating encounter with an Ouija board many years previous he has slowly succumbed to a species of insanity, losing his entire family in the process. Now his days are regulated to imbibing huge quantities of alcohol and trying to keep his job as a small time reporter intact. It doesn’t help that he has begun to see the auras of those that surround him – colours and ill-defined shapes that reflect a world burgeoning with chaos and mystery. When a homeless hobo drifts into his life espousing the cryptic message of another realm, David is soon drawn into the dark underbelly of a different world entirely – a world where deities play among the masses and salvation is just a fairy-tale for mortals.

Right off the cusp we’re introduced to Alan’s breezy style, and it’s one that most readers of speculative fiction will find easy to digest (if not find overly eccentric at times). There’s an everyman quality to the syntax with subtle humor smirking from just around the corner of every paragraph. Our protagonist is flawed but ultimately good: a motif that works – especially within the confines of noir – because it taps into the constant reader’s receptivity. With novella length stories becoming more admired at every turn in the publishing industry, The Darkest Shade of Grey is just the right length to fit nice and snug into a serial arrangement or have a permanent home on an e-reader device.

The only quibble I had with the tale (and it’s minor) has to do with personal predilection. When Gods and Demons stampede across the pages of dark fiction, I have often been disillusioned when they inhabit human form. A perfect example of this would be the dovetailing plot-strands of the latter episodes of the TV series Supernatural. Angels shift into our realm, and when they do, the effect can become juvenile (or comedic) and frequently overshadows any emotional impact we might have expected in the climax.

Predilections aside, this is an accomplished little tale from a writer whose evolution has been interesting to watch. Also featured is a mini- author interview where Alan talks about the genesis of David Johanssen.

The Darkest Shade of Grey is available to read in serial format at The Red Penny Papers and can also be purchased in the Amazon Kindle store.

[Editor’s Note: Matthew Tait’s novella Slander Hall is currently available for the month of May for only $0.99]

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