Left in the Dark: The Supernatural Tales of John
(Medusa Press, $40.00, 316 pages, hardcover, 2006, ISBN 978-0-9725324-1-9.)
Gordon is the author of fifteen fantasy novels (including the classic
Giant Under the Snow, recently reissued by Orion), three short
story collections and over fifty short stories.
Ostensibly addressed to a readership of young adults and children --
who, incidentally, constitute the main characters of most of his stories
-- Gordon's books are by no means to be labelled as children fiction.
On the contrary his darker tales are so disquieting that you may want
to hide the present volume and keep it out of reach if you have some
kid in the house.
This volume, published by the small Californian imprint Medusa Press,
collects thirty of Gordon's best supernatural tales spanning more than
thirty years of his career as a writer of dark fiction and constitutes
an affectionate homage by an emerging USA publisher to a British master
Needless to say, the book is so good that each story would deserve
to be praised and commented upon, but I'll limit my comments to the
pieces that, for one reason or another, strike me as the most remarkable
(not an easy task, I assure you).
The title story, "Left in the dark", sets the tone by portraying
a frightened little boy rescued by a supernatural intervention. "Death
wish" is a delightfully ambiguous tale where what could happen
is more important than what actually takes place...
In "The burning baby", a terrifying story told in a detached,
compelling style, a sinister revenge allows a dead, pregnant teenager
to get even with her seducer, while in "Better the devil you know"
the love games among a group of small town youngsters are tainted by
the obscure menace of ancient horrors.
"Under the ice" is a superb tale, chilling in more than one
way, disclosing the terrible secret lying under the surface of an iced
Weird families are among Gordon's favourite topics, as in "Bone
meal", a nasty piece depicting the disreputable activities of a
dangerous family, "Never grow up", an unforgettable, very
dark tale featuring a wicked mother, a weak father and their smart but
unhappy son, and especially in the outstanding "Catch your death",
one of the author's most acclaimed masterpieces, providing excellent
characterization of a selfish old mother, her unhappy daughter -- a
teacher -- and two very smart kids. Other fine examples are "Grandmother's
footsteps", a quietly frightening tale where a family's skeleton
in the cupboard is revealed to a little boy during a Christmas reunion
and "Little black pies", a nasty piece about sisterly hate
lingering beyond the grave.
There is, however, a great variety of themes. "The Basil pot",
although a trifle too long, manages to produce a fascinating atmosphere
while describing how a scholar pursuing his studies on Keats discovers
a deadly secret in the life of the unsympathetic museum curator.
"Without a mark" is a captivating, atypical crime story
in which the mystery behind the life and death of an old married couple
is discovered by the young nephew who inherits their house.
In the subtle, unsettling "Vampire in Venice" the time-honoured
vampire cliché is revitalized in a flawless narrative style.
The splendid "The girl outside" is a very short but delightful
yarn about a young reporter who, while covering a centenarian's birthday,
realizes how past and present are really alike and the frightening "The
black prince" narrates the strange occurrences taking place in
a museum during the night.
Gordon is a superb storyteller, capable of easily producing suspense
and dread thanks to a steady, masterful narrative style, a great command
of the language and an uncanny ability to credibly draw his characters.
Besides, he manages to elicit shivers and disquiet without ever resorting
to violence, gore or splatter.
In other words he's a great writer whose best short fiction is at last
gathered in this volume, a treat for anyone and a pleasant surprise
for those readers who may not be familiar with the work of this gifted