Richard Gavin’s latest collection of stories, “The Darkly Splendid Realm,” further solidifies his reputation as one of the best current writers of the weird tale. Gavin’s style seems to be influenced by Algernon Blackwood and Arthur Machen, two writers who explored horrors both natural and beyond nature — spectral fears, ancient evils, and entities that the human mind can barely fathom much less protect itself against.
Like the best writers of supernatural fiction, Gavin knows how to unsettle the reader by taking the everyday and tweaking it slightly to make it frightening. He takes the reader into dreams that turn out to be nightmares. Like in “The Astral Mask,” in which a man stops off after work to pick up his dry-cleaning, and ends up being hunted by a demonic version of himself.
In the historical tale “Children of the Mound,” crusaders tasked with setting up a church on pagan ground learn that Christianity isn’t always welcome.
“Primeval Wood,” the longest tale in the book and one of the best, displays the most concise example of Gavin’s work in exploring that which lurks beyond nature — things that are truly supernatural. He gives up plenty think about in this woodsy tale of identity, loss, and a horror that lurks just beyond the edge of civilization.
In “The Bitter Taste of Dread-Moths,” Gavin channels his inner Cronenberg to tell a tale of a woman who is able to bring her fears into horrific, physical life.
One of the more effectively disturbing tales is “Getting the Strap,” in which a young boy is repeatedly punished by his grandmother and then given large amounts of food. (How’s that for enticement?) “Waterburns,” which tells the story of two sisters and how their lives are irrevocably changed after an encounter with a creature in a lake, might be my favourite story in the collection.
Gavin does for fiction what David Lynch does for film. He creates beautiful mysteries that exist in the borderland between dreams and nightmares. The contents of “The Darkly Splendid Realm” read less like stories than the missives of people trapped in those lost places. I strongly recommend you check it out.
“The Darkly Splendid Realm” was published by Dark Regions Press.