Reviewed by Mario Guslandi
Since Reggie Oliver, a well known actor and playwright, decided to try his hand at writing dark short fiction, his tales have been already providing material for four published collections.
By now Oliver is rightly considered one of the very best among the current authors of horror, supernatural and ghost stories, endowed with a knack for superb storytelling, the ability to create enticing and plausible plots and to draw credible characters in a few pages. Understandably his stories are often set in the world of theatre, where the author feels more at home.
Oliver’s narrative style is elegant but solid, sometimes unassuming, but apt to subtly disquiet and unnerve rather than scare with gore and violence.
The latest collection (the fifth) by this extraordinary author assembles a bunch of excellent tales which confirm his uncommon talent as a teller of creepy, uncanny stories. Some of the stories have already appeared in various anthologies, others are original to this volume.
Most of the included material is well worth mentioning, from “The Philosophy of the Damned”, where the arrival of a mysterious impresario and his company in a small town to perform a weird play becomes the allegory of a terrible, devilish reality, to the creepy and delightful “Mrs Midnight” casting a new light on the Ripper Murders by portraying an unconventional doctor turned into a music hall entertainer.
“A Piece of Elsewhere” is a truly unsettling piece about a young boy who, while spending a little time at his aunt’s house , discovers frightening, paranormal aspects of reality, while “Countess Otho” is a complex, supernatural tale depicting a number of dark events taking place behind the stage curtains.
Among a series of excellent stories, some are, quite simply, outstanding, such as “Mr Pigsny”, a captivating cross between a gangster story and a spiritual meditation about afterlife, “Minos or Radamanthus” describing the last, unearthly encounter between an old, stern schoolmaster and one of his pupils, and “The Brighton Redemption”, a tragic tale of sin and redemption with a strong ghostly undercurrent.
Due to the extremely high quality of the book it’s hard to single out a favourite story, but my preference goes perhaps to “The Giacometti Crucifixion” a splendid mix of crime and supernatural, which frames an extraordinary Jamesian tale entitled “Quieta Non Movere”
It is a shame that Oliver’s fiction has appeared so far only in books published by distinguished but small imprints, hence in limited print runs. He certainly would deserve a much wider audience and recognition.