by John Llewellyn Probert
Published by Screaming Dreams, 2010.
I last featured John Llewellyn Probert’s rather unique style of horror in The Catacombs Of Fear (review here). I enjoyed that book so I was more than happy to receive a review copy of his latest collection.
Against the Darkness has some similarities with The Catacombs Of Fear but also many differences. Whilst the former selection of stories were part of a bigger plot, the stories here are standalone but the connecting factors this time round are the main characters Massene Henderson, an “investigator of paranormal occurrences” and his friend/assistant Miss Samantha Jephcott.
These characters feature in a succession of stories which gradually develop their relationship and their personalities. We start with Henderson investigating a bat like creature in a church in Bother In The Belfry. The second story is the first to feature Miss Jephcott. A Fear Of Fitness features a haunted gym, which she manages and is the start of their interesting relationship.
We then get country estates under strange ownership (Bloodsucking in Berkshire), a possessed piano (Moonlight Sonatas) and Horror in The Heavens where our protagonists are on a hellish airplane trip. The State Of The Art is a clever story where paintings become portals to new worlds.
One of the standout stories is The Rhyme Of the Ancient Sub-Mariners which finds a seaside town haunted by the past and this is followed by the equally marvellous Within The Walls, an excellent tale of hauntings in a cathedral. The slightly disappointing Under Wraps find our heroes tackling a murder by a mummy.
We end on a high however with Happily Ever After, a much darker story where a wedding curse becomes reality. This is followed by the star of the show for me, An Element Of Emotion, ancient archaeological sites, earth energy and violent events. It’s the longest story in the book and for me, also the best.
The author provides helpful story notes and an insightful introduction which explains how the original concept was for these stories to form a TV series along the lines of the X-files “without the convoluted conspiracy”. In tone it is actually more similar to the new Matt Smith era Dr Who, powerful female companion working with a slightly eccentric but brilliant investigator.
The quality does vary somewhat and the earlier tales are much less powerful than the later ones. As the reader moves through the book the characters become more real and the fairly light tone of these earlier tales is replaced by an edgy darkness which contrasts nicely with the humour (again like Dr Who).
Fans of really dark fiction or visceral horror might not be satisfied with this selection but otherwise this is recommended. Horror often takes itself very seriously so it’s nice to find a writer who is happy to explore its less serious corners but still maintain respect for the genre as a whole. I look forward to seeing the TV series in the near future.
Rating 4 out of 5