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Issue #127 - March 2006

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Quiet Horror Stories

By Mario Guslandi

Opening the debut book by an unknown writer is like unsealing a letter from a faraway lover: one is torn between anticipation and dread, hoping for the best, but afraid of the worst. As for the credits on the back cover, they are often deceiving… So, what can be said about Sherry Decker and her first short story collection, Hook House and Other Horrors? Is she a good writer? Yes, she certainly is. What kind of fiction does she write? Dark, but gentle, what we used to call "quiet horror" — I don’t know if the term is still fashionable — a genre mastered in the past by writers such as Charles L. Grant.

If you are looking for gore, violence and splatter, you’d better search elsewhere. If you like getting subtly unsettled, if you enjoy being kindly disquieted, this is the book for you.

In the title story, "Hook House" you’ll read about a haunted house, inhabited by family ghosts, each one with his terrible secrets. "Hicklebickle Rock" is an effective, pitiless portrait of the American countryside, the petty mysteries of a small town, a killer above suspicion and a rock that’s not simply a rock…

In the entertaining "The Clan" a feud between a witch and her vampire neighbour is described in a semi-humorous way, while in the compelling "Heatwaves" a little girl able to hear people’s thoughts learns the facts of life during a hot summer afternoon. Another good story is "Gifts From The North Wind", the cryptic, disturbing depiction of a girl with unusual powers and the difficulty of living twice.

Obviously not every story hits the mark. "Chazzabryom", is a bizarre hybrid between "The Silence Of The Lambs" and a vampire tale and never really takes off, while "Shivering We Dance", a gallant attempt to create a horror story from an impalpable plot, fails to attain any suspension of disbelief.

On the other hand, "Twisted Wishes" is a beautiful, nasty tale revolving around the peculiar relationship between a girl and her mother. "A City in Italy" is a nice study of a split personality where a none too original subject is masterfully handled by the writer. In the brilliant "Jessica Fishbone" an old lady discovers unpleasant events in her family’s history and in "Terissa" we are presented with a vivid story of witchcraft and damnation.

The themes, the atmospheres and the narrative style are clearly feminine and downright American, both features adding further charm to the writer’s narrative style. In short, to repeat the customary phrase that Decker is "a writer to watch" would be unfair. She’s simply a writer "to read".

Hook House and Other Horrors - Sherry Decker - Silver Lake Publishing - trade paperback

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