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Valley of Lights

by Stephen Gallagher

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.)

Review by Mario Guslandi

cover scanIn 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 -- ending.

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 of Lights.

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. Enjoy.

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