Lucius Shepard, . . Golden Gryphon, $21.95 (144pp) ISBN 978-1-930846-14-2

A lethargic Louisiana backwater with roots sunk deep in supernatural legend provides an atmospheric backdrop for this sultry tale of bayou hoodoo and doomed love. Every 20 years, in obeisance to a local myth dubbed the Good Gray Man, the town of Grail picks a Midsummer Queen whose job is to draw all the bad luck to her so the town can prosper. Enter Jack Mustaine, a wandering musician stranded in Grail just a few days before the end of Vida Dumar's tenure as the reigning queen. Jack sees the alluring Vida as a muse and mate who might inspire his songs with a spark of passion. Vida sees Jack as her deliverer from a reputation as the town pariah and from a diabolical ex-lover who bedevils her with weird sendings. As Jack and Vida pair to find the shared sensibilities that will give them strength, St. John's Eve and the festival of the Midsummer Queen approach with the grim inevitability of Shirley Jackson's lottery. As always, Shepard's (Colonel Rutherford's Colt) forte is his characters, whose emotional lives are invariably more complex and credible than the basic plot he crafts to draw them out. Jack and Vida make an affectingly tragic couple trapped in a preordained fate, but equally intriguing is the chorus of well-drawn locals, whose every gesture and casual word convey a sense of the foreboding and intractable. Laced with sex, superstition and sorcery and illustrated with J.K. Potter photomontages that effectively capture its shadowy magic, this short novel is sure to please Shepard's fans and lovers of dark fantasy fiction. (Apr.)

Forecast:Poppy Z. Brite's foreword will help bring this book, the first novel from a press known for its high-quality story anthologies, to the attention of people in the horror community who might otherwise miss it.