An ordinary town in modern-day America, Clifton Heights, hides dark secrets and the stirring of ancient evil. In this collection of linked short stories, author Kevin Lucia quietly and methodically explores the porous zones, those weakened areas where human greed and human need allow Something Other to extend into our reality.
The result is an entertaining collection, an exploration both of social morality and situations with dark suggestions of Lovecroft-style creatures, scuttling just out of sight. There’s a very traditional feel to this collection; it’s old school ‘horror’ not modern spatter-shock. It echoes Stephen King, especially in its small-town setting, where young people on the cusp of adulthood encounter the creeping things which normally exist just out of sight.
One story in particular, set in a utility company’s customer service office, where suddenly no one can leave and all connection with the outside world is severed, reminded me heavily of the supermarket shrouded in mist in King’s early short stories. But here Lucia makes it clear that the terrified, trapped strangers aren’t being threatened by an external force, but instead by something which has been nurtured within one of them…
Some of the stories are a little over-explained; the author could pare things back a little and trust his audience to join the dots, rather than googling demonic names and reciting entire wiki entries to tie up every loose end. But overall the writing is atmospheric and engrossing; genuinely unsettling at times, and with an authentic voice of its own. The introduction holds a particular power of its own, the insidious dread of a young man that the neurological condition which unravelled his father’s identity might already be eating away at his own faculties. No spookynatural demon needed to instil that all too common fear…
Then there’s the tale of a ten-time loser, a guy who can never hold down a job for more than a week, who holds a torch for a local beauty when she barely remembers his name – this story in particular is especially affecting. It demonstrates the power of an unselfish act, and in doing so challenges the notion that an ‘evil’ artefact must necessarily be used for awful purposes. It suggests the possibility of redemption in the least likely places; an unusually uplifting sentiment for an anthology of insidious supernatural episodes.
At the end, you’re left with the sense that the door into the otherworld has only been opened by a tiny fraction. Things with tentacles and bad intentions slither, just out of sight. Hopefully, the author will return to explore them in more depth in future.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Through A Mirror, Darkly is available as an ebook, hardback or paperback