cover image The Hidden Back Room

The Hidden Back Room

Jason A. Wyckoff. Tartarus, $50 (312p) ISBN 978-1-905784-85-1

As in his first book, Black Horse and Other Strange Stories, the 14 fantastic tales in Wyckoff’s new collection are refreshingly nontraditional in the theme and run the gamut from the whimsically fantastic to the genuinely horrific. In the title tale, the architectural peculiarities of a restaurant’s layout make it an inescapable nightmare for a patron desperate to flee its eccentric staff. “Tanoroar” is a monster story in which two luckless travelers are waylaid at a remote farmstead and forced to serve as sacrifices for a modern incarnation of the Minotaur. There are two haunted house stories: the eerie “The House on North Congress Street,” about a house whose legendary haunt is never seen or explained but whose terrifying power is gauged by its effects on those who endure it; and “Stronger Than All Storms,” in which a terminal cancer victim finds surprising solace from a ghost who gives him perspective on mortality. The novella “The Dreams of Pale Night” is a uniquely inventive fantasy about a small town in Alaska that has to engineer its own form of nighttime to prevent debilitating “sun-sickness” during the harsh midnight-sun days. Wyckoff creates characters with whom the reader can easily identify, and that makes their dramas seem all the more disturbing when events move them into the more shadowed recesses of personal experience. His stories abound with surprises that even diehard readers of weird fiction are not likely to anticipate. (July)