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Book Review

Book Cover

Absinthe & Arsenic


Author: Raven Dane
Publisher: Telos Publishing
RRP: £12.99, US $7.99
ISBN: 978 1 84583 858 4
Publication Date: 31 July 2013

Victorian England, a land of imposing moorlands and fog encased streets is a favourite playground for horror writers. Raven Dane, a self-confessed fan of M. R. James and Wilkie Collins has produced a book of short stories which mines this particular vein of Horror.

Absinthe & Arsenic is a collection of sixteen short stories. The stories are a mixture of gothic horror and steampunk. Dane is an award winning author of both short stories and novels.

The good news is that Dane's narrative construction is good, not an easy thing in a short story. Given the length of the stories the construction of each tale is very similar. She sets the scene, infusing each story with an air of mystery and dread before she introduces the source of the fear and then moves to conclude the piece.

As I read each story the only thing troubling me was that Dane invariably leaves the dread behind by revealing the central big bad, which strips away some of the mystery which should be inherent in tales of this type. Nothing wrong with this except that by such revelations she misses the fact that most people’s imagination can conjure worse things than most writers can describe. This creates a slight disappointment in each of the stories.

The books opening story, The 10.15 to Lealholm, quickly turns from an oddly disturbing meeting on a train to a pretty straightforward zombie survival tale. The Attic Nursery feels like little more than a shortened version of The Others (2001). As we move through the other stories it does feel like a collection of horror tropes, so we have a Jack the Ripper story, ghost stories and tales involving death.

It’s no easy thing to construct a short story and probably this collection will appeal to her fans and fans of gothic horror especially.


Charles Packer

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