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Made Ready & Cupboard Love

by Terry Lamsley

(Subterranean Press, $35, 114 pages, March 2006.)

Review by Mario Guslandi

cover scanThe appearance of the long-awaited new collection by Terry Lamsley is a special treat for the countless dark fiction lovers who, having greatly enjoyed the excellent award-winning Under the Crust, Conference with the Dead and Dark Matters, were eager for more material by this gifted writer.

So at last here it is, a meagre booklet of 114 pages containing two novelettes, published by the invaluable Subterranean Press. Probably not enough to satisfy the appetite of Lamsley's fans, but hopefully a mere sampling of a more substantial literary meal yet to come.

In the first story, "Made Ready", a man on vacation in a foreign land separates for a day from his wife to explore an island where a rather famous, ancient statue is located. The ferry crossing takes place in an already ominous atmosphere, among loud German tourists, a businessman of sorts wearing a Panama hat, four mysterious ladies -- apparently some kind of nuns -- and a score of natives. During the trip the "nuns" perform an odd ceremony by putting in the water a basket holding a child-like doll. The island turns out to be a wild place and the statue an ugly, coarse art object, while the general atmosphere gets bleaker by the minute. A hike around the island brings about heat, fatigue and an assault by a herd of aggressive goats. The man gets lost, has a fleeting, inconclusive encounter with an unhelpful native woman who doesn't speak English, but finally manages to return to the island's only hamlet where he had disembarked. While a kind of party is going on at the local café we discover that things are not really what they seem and that the hero is doomed to meet an unlucky fate.

The story starts out in a very relaxed way, but we know that Lamsley's storytelling is often deceiving, dropping tiny dark hints hidden in apparently insignificant details that will become meaningful in due time. The feeling of obscure menace becomes stronger as the plot gains momentum. At first we just get uneasy following the steps of a man lost in an inhospitable place during a summer thunderstorm, share the man's apprehension of being unable to get back to the harbour on time for taking the last boat out and his subsequent relief in arriving there safely.

As we suspect, however, this is only a temporary break before the actual nightmare begins.

Lamsley's uncanny ability in gradually disclosing the truth about the island and its inhabitants makes the story unforgettable. The rhythm of the narrative -- smooth but frantic -- the perfect wording, the almost obsessive attention to every dark detail, contrive to make us hold our breath in terror even when the upcoming, inevitable conclusion is already plain to see.

Equal to Lamsley's compelling, previous production, "Made Ready" confirms the writer's exceptional talent in creating dark tales capable of chilling and unsettling without ever resorting to gore or violence. That's how good horror fiction should always be.

"Cupboard Love" features Stephen, a workaholic, successful businessman taking at last a vacation in an expensive resort accompanied by his wife Juanita and by her acquaintance Emma. (Oddly enough, in Lamsley's opinion vacationing seems to be getting increasingly dangerous.)

As welcome tokens a dead bird is floating in the pool and an odd piece of furniture -- a heavy cupboard -- is sitting on the patio. Trying to examine the cupboard Stephen hurts his thumb and his chest, which makes him more irritable and drives him to take a long stroll on the beach all by himself. His spouse, in the meantime, becomes influenced by the unexpectedly wild behaviour of her new friend who, scantily dressed, is smoking dope and drinking heavily. The two women end up hanging around with a couple of men and possibly (but the point is deliberately left hazy) having sex with them. The mutual dislike between Stephen and the undecipherable Emma will have a tragic conclusion, leaving us with a lot of unanswered questions about the woman's real nature and her apparent but obscure relationship with the cupboard.

Less accomplished than the previous story, the tale, although extremely dark and quite disturbing, remains frustratingly puzzling. Many details are unfocused and entire parts of the plot appear as a sequence of cryptic events, so much so that one wonders if the author was purposely trying to baffle the reader making the story more enigmatic. Once again, however, Lamsley manages to unsettle and unnerve, leaving us with the unpleasant sensation that the world is an unsafe, much darker place than we previously thought.

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