REVIEW: Grave Warnings

Review by Daniel Tessier

Grave Warnings is a compact, evocative book of horror stories, with five authors penning short, punchy tales of terror. Although the title and cover to the book would suggest that this is a collection of ghost stories, it’s more varied than that. Although ghost stories do feature, the five tales cover an impressive array of styles and genres between them. If there is one thing that links the stories, it is that the true horror is often not at the hand of something supernatural, but is very human in origin.

The collection opens with “Deceased Estate” by Sarah Parry, a very effective story that sets the grim tone for the book. Parry cleverly shifts the storytelling from light and conversational to desperate and horrific, creating a chilling tale with a hint of a modern Lovecraftian vibe. In spite of the inhuman monstrosities it hints at, “Deceased Estate” is a warning on the perils of unchecked greed.

The theme of avarice continues with Craig Charlesworth’s “The Dumb Show”, the most traditional ghost story in the collection. A fun pastiche of Victorian-era short stories, Charlesworth’s story is a penny dreadful that sees money-hungry men try to use a haunting to their own financial advantage, even as one tries, or claims to try, to turn over a new leaf. The biting final scene proves that it is the living that present the most to fear.

“The Specimen” by Jodie van de Wetering is a brief interlude between the heavier stories, and  introduces a man whose unwholesome pastime leads to his becoming truly lost to nature. It’s the shortest but most immediately potent story, simply and effectively told.

Hannah G. Parry presents “The Citizen”, an unassuming title for a disquieting and powerful story. Although it is a ghost story, “The Citizen” inverts the usual conception of a haunting in order to make her protagonist question his choices. It’s an unsettling tale of cowardice and brutality, emotions so easily entwined, set against the very real, very human horror of revolutionary France, when Paris was, not for nothing, known as the Land of Fear. This story is my personal highlight of the book.

Finally, “Vacancy” by Hamish Crawford brings us back to seemingly ordinary life, with a story that makes us question the protagonist’s sanity as he relates the story of how his life changed when he took in a new lodger. With only a hint at something supernatural, “Vacancy” draws on some of the same concerns as “The Citizen”: that we, as men, can commit acts we never thought we were capable of.

Grave Warnings is a a pleasantly unsettling set of stories, and I look forward to more. 8/10

Reviewed August 2017

Published December 2016
ISBN: 9780995319509
Paperback, 128 Pages. $15.95 CAD

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REVIEW: Sapphire and Steel Omnibus

Review by Chris Beiting

To American audiences, Sapphire and Steel is one of the ultimate British cult TV shows.  Lasting only 34 episodes that aired between 1979 and 1982, it featured some major stars (David McCallum and Joanna Lumley) and garnered a critical reputation, but unlike Doctor Who or Blake’s 7, it never aired on American television (although it has been readily available on DVD in this country, first from A&E, and more recently from Shout! Factory).  Moreover, apart from one guidebook, (Assigned!: The Unofficial and Unauthorized Guide to Sapphire and Steel), there has been almost no published material available about the show.  Helping to fill that gap is the Sapphire and Steel Omnibus, edited by Bob Furnell and Jez Strickley.

The Sapphire and Steel Omnibus is an anthology of materials about the show, done by a variety of writers.  There are essays, interviews, reviews, fiction, and even a comic.  As one would expect, with such a variety of materials and authors, there is also a variety of quality.  Where good, the Sapphire and Steel Omnibus is very good, particularly in its analyses of the episodes of the show, and in the interviews of some of the people involved in it.  The Omnibus also covers some of the other media treatments of Sapphire and Steel, examining the Big Finish radio productions, the novel, the Annual, and some of the comic versions.

Where bad, the Omnibus isn’t actually terrible, but it is a little obscure, (an essay about the reception of the TV show in the Netherlands is likely not to be of too much interest to anyone outside the Netherlands, and the piece of fiction and comic may not appeal to all readers of the work).

There are also some maddening gaps in the way the material is presented.  For example, while all of the episodes of the original TV series are carefully considered, (several times actually), the essay on the Big Finish audio dramas doesn’t even list the individual episodes, which seems a terrible oversight.  Furthermore, I do take issue with a work which, when it considers the post-Sapphire and Steel careers of its actors and crew, sees fit to consider the David McCallum’s role on NCIS while not mentioning Joanna Lumley’s star turn on Absolutely Fabulous.

These quibbles aside, The Sapphire and Steel Omnibus is a welcome addition to a field where there is a dearth of sources, and will hopefully help garner some more attention to this moody, enigmatic, atmospheric cult TV classic. 7/10

Reviewed August 2017

Published December 2015
ISBN: n/a
Paperback, 128 Pages. $15.95 CAD

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