Valley of Lights
introduction by Stephen Laws
(Telos, £9.99, 298 pages, paperback, Valley of Lights and Film
Diary first published 1987, this edition published 2005; ISBN 1-903889-74X.)
my way of thinking dark fiction, to be effective, should be contained
within the length of the short story or, at the most, of the novelette.
This because suspension of disbelief cannot last for too long and stretching
it throughout a whole novel is extremely hard. Yet, most horror writers
seem to feel frustrated until they have finally produced a novel, publishers
-- at least in the mass market -- appear to be preferring novels and
readers are claimed to do the same. If the latter is true or is just
a cliché by marketing managers of the publishing industry can
be a matter for speculation.
Anyway, the truth of the matter is: most of the dark novels sitting
on the shelves of our local bookstores are boring: they may start out
with a brilliant idea, develop into an original plot, but after a certain
number of pages the author has to introduce some foreign element (e.g.
a love story, possibly with a few sex scenes) to keep his grip on the
reader's attention and to guide him to the logical -- or unexpected
There are a few exceptions, of course, namely novels written not by
good but by great writers, gifted storytellers able to
keep you reading without putting down your book no matter how late in
the night it is. Stephen Gallagher is one of those exceptions and Valley
of Lights an excellent example.
First published in 1988, the novel features Phoenix police sergeant
Alex Volchak, a lonely widower just starting a relationship with his
neighbour Loretta -- and whose daughter Georgina represents the child
he never had -- but basically a cop fully devoted to his job. Suddenly
he finds himself thrown into an incredible case dominated by the supernatural,
where his opponent is an ageless killer using human bodies as empty
vessels for his perverse personality. From merely professional, Alex's
interest in pinning down the criminal becomes also personal when Georgina
is abducted and the game becomes really dangerous.
Thanks to Gallagher's uncanny narrative ability the novel comes along
quite nicely, remains credible despite the intrinsic implausibility
of the story's initial assumption and forces the reader to keep on turning
the page till the final solution.
For those interested in this kind of things, the Telos edition includes
an afterword by the author, recollecting the circumstances under which
the novel was written and published, and a diary about his trip in the
USA to visit the locations for an aborted film version of Valley
As an extra bonus, the volume also reprints 'Nightmare, with Angel',
a novelette written already in 1983, using some of the original research
material later utilized for creating Valley of Lights but totally
unrelated to the novel in terms of plot and characters.
If the novel is great, 'Nightmare' is simply outstanding, an extremely
dark, atmospheric story where Dianne, a young woman trapped in a monotonous
existence as the maidservant in his father's motel, has to face the
reality of religious madness, cruelty and murder. A nightmare, indeed.
Elsewhere in infinity plus: