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Out of His Mind

by Stephen Gallagher

introduction by Brian Clemens

(PS Publishing, £35, 412 pages, signed, numbered, limited edition hardback, ISBN 1902880986; also available as signed, numbered, limited edition slipcased hardback priced £60; published July 2004.)

Review by Mario Guslandi

I've been reading Stephen Gallagher's stories for years, one in a magazine, another one in a horror anthology and so on. And every time, with no exception, those cover scanstories left me pondering on what a great writer he was and wondering where I could find a collection of his short fiction. But to no avail.

Meanwhile Mr Gallagher, in addition to the occasional short story, has been busy writing successful screenplays, teleplays and of course a bunch of well received novels. Being a short story nut, I seldom venture to read long fiction, even by my favourite authors. Probably my "suspension of disbelief" span is too limited, hence I get easily bored while reading novels. Furthermore, I'm convinced that the short story is a supreme form of literature and the ideal for dark fiction.

Which means, I never read a novel by Stephen Gallagher. Which means I've been waiting for years, patiently, for the present volume, his only and first (!), overdue collection of short stories. The book, beautifully produced by PS Publishing, collects twenty-two tales and novelettes, previously appeared in print in various magazines and books from 1985 to 1997, plus a piece of short fiction original to this collection.

So fresh and sparkling is Gallagher's writing style that it's hard to believe some of the tales are almost ten years old. There's not a single piece that I didn't like, both among the stories I already knew and among the ones that I missed in the past. Contrary to what usually happens with collections or anthologies there are no misfires: the stories are all consistently so good that I should discuss each one in detail. So I'll have to limit myself to some brief remarks, that will show what a variety of themes and atmospheres can be found in this volume.

Among the book's pages you'll make acquaintance with a mighty strange car ("Driving Force"), a malevolent house bringing bad luck to its tenants ("The Visitors' Book"), a mysterious chatline summoning up a dead woman's voice ("Lifeline"), a couple of east European illegal immigrants playing the role of femmes fatales ("Like Shadow", "No Life for Me Without You, Vodyanoi"), the inmate of a mental institution deeply affected by the facts of life and death ("The Sluice"), the school's laughing stock taking his terrible revenge on the local bully ("Magpie"), deadly road games where survival is the only prize ("Not here, not now), a "handy Andy" making every effort to please his pretty neighbour from upstairs ("God's Bright Little Engine"), a pair of red shoes sealing the fate of a woman ("Old Red Shoes").

Along with such a load of excellent stories, there's a group of tales so outstanding that I can't refrain from talking a bit more at length about them.

"The Drain" is a terrifying adventure featuring three boys, a dog (?) and a network of claustrophobic tunnels under a park. A masterpiece of dark fiction which made me hold my breath for the whole second half of the story.

In "The Horn" three strangers find shelter in a hut near the motorway during a tremendous snow blizzard. The sound of a truck horn will lure them out in the freezing hell where a long-dead woman awaits her vengeance. Chilling in every way, the story is a veritable masterpiece of terror.

"Jigsaw Girl" is an extraordinary story built around an odd jigsaw, memories of the past, glimpses of the future. Gallagher at his best.

"Gethsemane" is an engrossing, superb tale describing a subtle intellectual game between a clairvoyant and his sceptical opponent, a man devoted to disclosing frauds and deceptions.

To further make the volume attractive to anyone who loves first-class dark fiction, the author has added some interesting comments and notes on the stories, explaining when and how they were written.

Partial as I may be to Gallagher's work, I am positive that, by highly recommending this book, I'm giving excellent advice to any potential reader.

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