The Catacombs of Fear
by John Llewellyn Probert
Published by Gray Friar Press, 2009.
Ah..the portmanteau of horrors, a sadly underused style these days. You know the sort of thing, Vincent Price sitting in a train telling a series of connected spooky tales whilst the main plot also moves forward in between. Crooked House, last years BBC christmas ghost story was another fine example. I like it, you get all the benefits of the short story but with the long story arc of a novel.
In this collection the five tales are linked by Chilminster Cathedral, a place of "narrow Stygian towers", where the Rev. Patrick Clements has been offered a job. On arrival at the cathedral it soon becomes apparent that things are not quite what they seem.
The Neighbourhood Watch is the first story, a tale of prejudice and murder amongst the suburban backwaters of Chilminster. It nicely shines a great big spotlight on the Daily Mail readers of Britain.
At First Sight sees a broken photo boooth in a local supermarket as the catalyst for a terrible transformation in a tale of domestic abuse and obsession. Indeed obsession is a running theme through all the tales here.
The Markovski Quartet shows a dance audition for an obscure eastern bloc ballet company which has dangerous, ulterior motives. Managing to create empathy and hatred for the antagonists in a clever piece of writing.
Mors Gratia Artis finds an unknown artist discover a new and astonishing technique to bring his paintings to life.
A Dance To The Music of Insanity, forbidden notes, obscure instruments and a family brought together by tradgedy star in this excellent country house romp. Agatha Christie meets Saw?
Linking all the stories is, of course, the realisation that Patrick Clements true role at Chilminster Cathedral is somewhat different to what he initially thought, indeed the Cathedral is different to what he initially thought.
There is something wonderfully old-fashioned about these tales. Maybe it's the way they are linked together or maybe it's the sometimes stilted dialogue. Interestingly the author provides some entertaining story notes and does point out that he wanted The Neighbourhood Watch to feel like a 1970's TV play and he has succeeded. All the stories here have a Tales of The Unexpected, or Hammer House of Horror feel, that's not a bad thing, just a bit unusual these days.
The stories are powerful and deal with some major issues but they are also entertaining and make their points without preaching. I missed JLP's previous collection, The Faculty of Terror but on the basis of what I have read here I will be looking out for it. You can read more about John Llewellyn Probert at his website here or at the Gray Friar Press site here.
Rating 4 out of 5