cover image Holidays from Hell: Fourteen Stories

Holidays from Hell: Fourteen Stories

Reggie Oliver. Tartarus, $50 (328p) ISBN 978-1-905784-91-2

Each of the 14 stories in Oliver’s seventh collection (after Flowers of the Sea) is a gem of subtly evoked horrors whose climaxes are skillfully understated but still effectively chilling. In “Absalom,” a period exercise in the antiquarian ghost story tradition of M.R. James, a packet of 17th-century documents secreted in an old chest at Oxford’s Trinity College discloses a terrifying act of supernatural vengeance against a reprobate student. “The Green Hour” features Edgar Allan Poe’s dilettante detective, C. Auguste Dupin, and his efforts to solve an interrelated series of fiendish butcheries on the grounds of the Paris Exhibition of 1867. “The Book and the Ring” is presented as the confession of a 16th-century composer to a hideous incident of witchcraft that explains the circumstances of his peculiar burial: standing up in the wall of a cathedral. “The Maze at Huntsmere” tells of an obnoxious screenwriter who hopes to film a horror film on a storied baronial estate, unaware that its hedge maze is home to a sinister pagan survivor from the past. In all these stories, Oliver establishes his settings credibly with detailed descriptions that make the horrors seem all the more believable when they erupt. He even shows a sure hand with ghoulish humor in several tales, among them “The Perfect Author,” in which a mystery writer is unable to determine whether an attendee at a convention with the name and look of one of her characters is a devoted fan or the character herself sprung loose from the printed page, and “Rapture,” in which the pair of evangelical Christians fawning over their next-door neighbor gradually reveal themselves to be anything but benevolent. As in his previous collections, Oliver shows himself to be one of the most skilled modern practitioners working in the classic horror tradition. (Jan.)