Recent Reads

Mexican Gothic

From the Blurb:

“After receiving a frantic letter from her newly-wed cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom, Noemí Taboada heads to High Place, a distant house in the Mexican countryside. She’s not sure what she will find—her cousin’s husband, a handsome Englishman, is a stranger, and Noemí knows little about the region.

Noemí is also an unlikely rescuer: She’s a glamorous debutante, and her chic gowns and perfect red lipstick are more suited for cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing. But she’s also tough and smart, with an indomitable will, and she is not afraid: Not of her cousin’s new husband, who is both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch who seems to be fascinated by Noemí; and not even of the house itself, which begins to invade Noemi’s dreams with visions of blood and doom.

Her only ally in this inhospitable abode is the family’s youngest son. Shy and gentle, he seems to want to help Noemí, but might also be hiding dark knowledge of his family’s past. For there are many secrets behind the walls of High Place. The family’s once colossal wealth and faded mining empire kept them from prying eyes, but as Noemí digs deeper she unearths stories of violence and madness.

And Noemí, mesmerized by the terrifying yet seductive world of High Place, may soon find it impossible to ever leave this enigmatic house behind.”

Review:

One of my Halloween reads for 2020 was the highly acclaimed horror noir novel Mexican Gothic by Mexican-born Canadian author Silvia Moreno-Garcia.

Mexican Gothic is set in 1950s Mexico and follows female protagonist, a wealthy young socialite Noemi Taboada. After a mysterious letter arrives from her cousin, Catalina, newly married a year but moved to her husband’s estate in a remote village in rural Mexico, Noemi goes to check on Catalina as her father’s envoy and hopefully procure permission of Catalina’s husband, Virgil Doyle, to take Catalina back to Mexico City for psychiatric care. But within moments of arriving at High Place, Noemi is uneasy within the old house and near-abandoned village below serves as a brutal reminder of the once flourishing community, now gone. Despite Noemi finding that Catalina seems much improved, now claiming a case of tuberculosis and suffering an odd listlessness and occasional lapses of paranoia. Unsatisfied with this uncharacteristic behaviour of her cousin, Noemi starts visiting the traditional healer once-frequented by Catalina. There she learns the dark and tragic history of murders, epidemics and murder-suicides that have dominated High Place since Virgil’s grandfather first arrived from England. Now aged and dying, Harold Doyle is still the master of High Place, and is a cold, repellent man Noemi cannot abide and also fears.

Certain the aggressive and ever-present house staff are keeping Catalina in a constant drug-induced sleep, Noemi finds Catalina’s husband to be as cold and unpleasant as his grandfather. Virgil’s true character is revealed in his increasingly threatening and lecherous behaviour toward Noemi. Out of options to save her cousin but unwilling to leave Catalina behind at High Place and to the mercy of Virgil, Noemi finds an unlikely ally in Virgil’s younger brother, Francis, a kind, awkwardly shy man who is everything Virgil is not.

Slowly, Noemi’s grasp on reality starts to fade and the haunting atmosphere of High Place begins to affect her just as it did Catalina, dominating her waking fears and nightmares. Noemi becomes sure of a malevolent presence within the house itself and starts seeing apparitions, hearing the voice of the now-dead daughter of Harold Doyle, who committed a murder-suicide, killing her family except for Virgil, Francis and Harold Doyle. In the quickly escalating events, Noemi discovers how Harold Doyle bears the responsibility for cursing his lineage and how his cruel and vile actions gave life to a malevolence within the very fabric of High Place.

My Thoughts:

Mexican Gothic was a dark twist on the disturbing greed of colonial dominated Mexico and the ideals that allowed racism and classism to flourish. The interesting history of anthropological sciences, the history of eugenics provide the foundations for an unusual re-imagining of a haunting, making Mexican Gothic a ghost story in the Lovecraftian fashion of weird fiction.

My Conclusion?

Recommended for anyone who appreciates historical noir fiction, the gothic noir of The Crow Garden and classics like Frankenstein and A Turn of the Screw.

Recent Reads

Flyaway

From the Blurb:

“Strange what chooses to flourish here. Which plants. Which stories.

Bettina Scott lives a tidy, quiet life in Runagate, tending to her delicate mother and their well-kept garden after her father and brothers disappear – until a note arrives that sends Bettina into the scrublands beyond, searching for answers about what really happened to this town, and to her family.

For this is a land where superstitions hunt and folk tales dream – and power is there for the taking, for those willing to look.

Review:

From my 2020 Halloween reading list, I read the gothic folklore novella Flyaway by Australian author Kathleen Jennings. This was an unexpected gem of a book, evoking the haunting beauty of the Australian landscape.

When first introduced to the protagonist of Flyaway, Bettina Scott seems a sheltered young woman caring for her frail mother. But there’s a darkness lurking beneath the surface, Bettina’s behaviour and cautious treatment by those living in town hint they fear her mother. Soon a dark mystery begins to unearth itself and things about Bettina, the town of Runagate, the Scott family and events of several decades earlier start to surface.

Bettina clearly has gaps in her own memory and the circumstances to her father’s disappearance and those of her brothers are just the most recent attempts to forget those who have disappeared. But as we are told, disappearances aren’t unusual in Runagate, and all seem fearful of the wilderness beyond the boundaries of the town. A mysterious note lures Bettina back into her past and forces her to uncover the truth about herself, her family, the history of Runagate and the dark reality of what she and others have tried to keep buried beyond the tidy limits of the town.

Final thoughts:

Flyaway combined elements of traditional gothic folklore with the unique Australian landscape that was reminiscent to me of descriptions early explorers provided of the Australian wilderness. The harsh and haunting beauty of the natural world is a constant throughout the story, the characters seem equally caught between the past and the present and like the land around them, are products of the past, the effects still visible like scars.

My Conclusion?

Beautifully written, haunting and magical. A must-read for lovers of gothic folklore or Australian fantasy.

Short Stories

Forthcoming: Horror Anthology

I am pleased to announce my horror story “Them” will feature in Wrath (Seven Deadly Sins, #7) Anthology published by Black Hare Press. As with other stories in this anthology, Wrath is the common theme. My short story “Them” is a psychological horror, inspired by history of criminal theory and demonic possession where aberrant psychology in past eras has been attributed to demons manipulating humans toward violent behaviour. If you want to know more about the inspiration and research behind the story, you can do so here.

Release dates and how to purchase a copy of the Wrath (Seven Deadly Sins, #7) will be updated when available. Keep an eye out for the release of the Greed (Seven Deadly Sins, #5) Anthology featuring my dark fantasy story.

Short Stories

Psychological Horror & Demonology


I have recently finished writing a psychological horror short story inspired by the theme of wrath. My recent story focused on an unlikely suspect for a violent crime spree to explore the intersection between modern and past perspectives of criminal theory, such as aberrant psychology currently explaining what past eras accredited to demonic possession. The foundations of my short fiction developed from demonology resources, often examining demons from different cultures and the specific traits and proclivities associated with each of them, including the possession and influence of human emotions and actions like anger, violence, war, deception and murder.

Short Stories, Writing

Dystopian Apocalyptic Fiction

Recently, I’ve finished writing a short story that was originally a novelette written for the Higher School Certificate Extension II English course when I was seventeen. Topical for 2020, the story is set in the near future, after the collapse of global nations, a Third World War and climate disasters. Speculative fiction at its core, a volatile figure, the veteran warrior and vampire suffering from post-traumatic stress holds the answers to reuniting two siblings who never thought to see each other again. I was interested in exploring parallels throughout history, the repetition of similar events, where in the story, the decimation of organised nations by governmental decay has a parallel in the fall of Ancient Rome and the beginning of the dark ages. Similarly, the effects of conscription on battlefield tactics and society has a parallel in the modern history throughout World War I and the Vietnam Wars. The addition of climate induced crisis and detrimental environmental impact is yet unprecedented on a global scale but seems possible for our future.

Short Stories, stories, Writing

Gothic Fiction & Victorian Science

I recently finished writing a short story continuing my fascination with Victorian science. I focused on the anatomical sciences that inspired many gothic and urban folklore of the Victorian era. Some of the most classic Victorian era gothic tales including Frankenstein and Dracula involve the unease in Victorian society about the dead, superstition, burial practices in an era governed by religion but embarking on the Enlightenment period. Into this societal unease came the expansion of the Sciences but also the Industrial Revolution. The challenges to mind, body and physical environment were no doubt confronting. My short story explored some of these concepts from the perspective of an anatomist tasked with examining a set of twisted bones returned from a disastrous archaeological excavation into an ancient limestone quarry purportedly cursed.

Recent Reads

The Crow Garden

From the Blurb:

“When Nathaniel Kerner takes up his new position as a mad-doctor at Crakethorne Manor, the proprietor, more interested in phrenology and his growing collection of skulls than his patients’ minds, hands over the care of his most interesting case.

Mrs Victoria Harleston’s husband accuses her of hysteria and says he will pay any price to see her well. But she accuses him of something far more terrible . . .

Nathaniel becomes increasingly obsessed with Victoria and her condition: is she truly delusional or is she hiding secrets that should never be uncovered?”

Review:

I read The Crow Garden by UK author Alison Littlewood for my 2017 Halloween Reads.

Set in the bleak Victorian landscape amid asylums and seances houses, The Crow Garden follows Nathaniel, a young male psychiatrist on his posting to the North Yorkshire moors and the crumbling ruins of Crakethorne Manor. There, Nathaniel begins with high aspirations of curing what he considers some of the most-forgotten asylum patients in England. Nathaniel soon discovers the proprietor is more obsessed with the study of skulls, often those of former patients once they have died, than seemingly caring for their minds during life. The eerie garden feared by all the patients with its waiting crows and the seemingly endless supply of skulls alerts Nathaniel to a worrying suspicion of how the proprietor obtains his skull collection. Before Nathaniel can begin to focus on discovering the answer to that worrying question, a new patient is handed into his care. A very beautiful, young wife, Mrs Victoria Harleston is accused of hysteria by her husband. Any treatment and any price is acceptable for her recovery. But Mrs. Harleston accuses her husband of being every type of liar and scoundrel and despite her claims to of fraud and falsehood, she is accused of delusions and confined to Crakethorne Manor. But Nathaniel cannot let her case go so easily. Increasingly obsessed by her claims, Nathaniel walks a fine line between delusion and truth himself and for them both, the ever-present crows wait in the asylum garden, the grave plots slowly increasing in number.

Final Thoughts:

The Crow Garden is a challenging and often confronting tale of the darkness within humanity and the power of the past to haunt the present. The willingness of self-deception to avoid facing reality and the brutal reality for women who did not conform to the ideal social paradigm. A chilling and haunting tale.

My Conclusion?

A recommended read for those who enjoy historical noir, gothic folklore and Victorian gothic horror. Not for the faint-hearted! Modern gothic horror at its best.