cover image The Fifth Doll

The Fifth Doll

Charlie N. Holmberg. 47North, $14.95 trade paper (281p) ISBN 978-1-477806-10-4

Holmberg effortlessly shifts from fantasy (the Paper Magician series) to horror with this creepy short novel set in Russia. At age 26, Matrona Vitsin is considered an old maid in her small provincial community, and her parents are delighted that they will be marrying her off to butcher Feodor Popov. Early on, Holmberg drops subtle clues that Matrona’s village is a bit unusual, as when Matrona is surprised by the local crank’s reference to something called snow. Her act of kindness to a neighbor, Slava Barinov—returning a fancy paintbrush that had been dropped outside his home—exposes her to even more surprises. After she enters Slava’s house, Matrona is astonished to observe over 100 wooden dolls painted to resemble the villagers, including one that looks like her father. Her attempt to open that doll to discover its contents is interrupted, and when she returns home, she finds her father has been stricken with a mysterious and painful ailment, which proves not to be coincidental. The plot’s unexpected detours are entertaining. (July)