Voyeurs of Death
Dark Regions Press
Trade Paper, 200 pages, $16.95
Review by Sheila M. Merritt
There is something uncanny about British authors’ affinity with the strange and other worldly. Shaun Jeffrey is an Englishman who reaffirms the notion that Brits have a facility to verbally capture, and splendidly convey, that which is odd and fey. Voyeurs of Death, a collection of Jeffrey’s short stories, is aptly titled. Many of the tales deal with observations of people or creatures, dead or in the throes of dying. Of course, as readers, we are inherently voyeurs because we are reading the macabre and morbid words of the author. It is a shared exchange of the eerie; a willing participation into a realm of the sinister and the supernatural. Shaun Jeffrey takes the reader by (a chillingly cold) hand, and leads him or her into a universe uniquely reflective of horrors most English.
The volume opens with a powerful narrative called “The Flibbertigibbet.” The title refers to a preternatural beast with a wail that sounds like “mournful pipes.” The antlered entity is matched in malice by an unscrupulous entrepreneur, who is eager to turn the monster’s habitat into a potential vacation getaway. The developer’s designs are decidedly diabolical; the location and weather are less than ideal. Commerce and carnage collide as greed escorts gore galore.
In “The Quilters of Thurmond,” material, rather than material gain, is central to the weaving of the yarn. A young woman who is leaving home for the first time, resents her mother’s meddling regarding what to pack. The mother implores her daughter to take with her a quilt that local women have made. The coverlet contains drops of the quilters’ blood, and possesses properties beyond being a bedspread. The older woman’s attempts at persuasion fail; dismissed as sentimental claptrap. Age has its wiles and wits, however, and the comforter does accompany the daughter. The power of the patchwork, infused with the sewing circle’s magic, creates a fantastical fabric: Protective with a malevolent vengeance; it’s the stuff that screams are made of.
Departing home turf often causes anxieties, even on sabbatical. Venice, Italy has a huge reputation for lovers of horror. Daphne du Maurier’s “Don’t Look Now,” which was set there, was turned into an influential film. It solidified the concept of a beautiful place having a dark side. In “Venetian Kiss,” Shaun Jeffrey explores the murky waters of the city known for its canals. During carnival, a female tourist discovers what masks may hide: “The gondolier’s face was grotesque, inhuman, and worse than any mask imaginable. Instead of flesh, he seemed to have scales that reflected a rainbow of muted colours across its surface. His fleshy, fishlike lips peeled back to reveal small, sharp teeth and he gazed at her hungrily, his bulbous eyes looking about ready to pop out of their sockets.”
Voyeurs of Death compiles seventeen previously printed tales, and three original, never before published, works. Its author maintains the grand tradition of spooky story spinning so prevalent in Great Britain. He hits the moody menacing notes; striking chords that resonate like those “mournful pipes.”