Reviewed by Sheila Merritt
“I was depositing my wife’s severed head into the soil beneath my basement floor when I heard the telephone ring.” That’s an attention grabber, isn’t it? It is the opening line of a story entitled “Daniel,” one of the dazzling diabolical dozen in this collection. Richard Gavin is a Canadian with an uncanny gift of easily creating uneasiness in his tales. He molds his stories out of the clay of mundane existence, sculpting distorted realities and fantastical figures.
Each tale gives the sense of something off kilter; holiday traditions, family gatherings, vacations to foreign locations all have something sinister lurking. In “Strange Advances,” which is set in Venice, Gavin plays with that Italian city’s reputation of decay beneath its beautiful surface. Like in Daphne du Maurier’s “Don’t Look Now,” Venice enables metaphysical miscues. Even as the protagonist checks into his hotel, he begins to question his choice of vacation spot: “The concierge was a small man whose face resembled a boiled potato. It was oval-shaped, close-shaven, and embedded with eyes both black and beady. The man’s eyebrows desperately needed trimming, for they frayed off his brow like tiny feelers.” This story is dedicated to the late great horror short story writer, Robert Aickman. It is clear that his work is an inspiration to Gavin, whose nuanced subtle shudders echo Aickman’s.
Attraction and revulsion, the yin and yang of horror, is the theme of the succubus story “The Pale Lover.” This passage emphasizes the revolting aspect: “A woman — so old she was no longer incarnate — glided down the large stairway without the benefit of any of her vaporous limbs. Her head wobbled on the thin neck like a balloon. The face’s details were blurred by weeping waves of heat, the kind one sees in a mirage. The eyes were closed, the nose half-decayed, and the mouth … the mouth … It gaped wide and hungrily, like an uncapped sewer.”
Richard Gavin is a major find; someone who can shake up horror’s world with a whisper.