Reggie Oliver is one of those authors like Algernon Blackwood and Arthur Machen, who is master of a few key aspects of horror, terror, suspense, and description. Yet, he is not a perfect writer.
His stories are immersive, antiquated, and charming. Reading his work feels like sliding into another time, being confronted with images that refuse to vacate the mind, and sinking into the narrative flow effortlessly, until you are left breathless on the shore of some imaginative ocean. However, more than a few times in this collection, he bungles the ending, leans too heavily into his wry, aristocratic language, and grinds the tension to a halt with an unnecessary comment or four. None of these issues prevent this collection of stories from being a delight to read.
“A Child’s Problem” – a super-old-fashioned horror story from the perspective of a precocious child. Old mansions, jump scares, extremely slow-paced. Reminded me of The Haunting of Bly Manor. Overall effective, well-written, but very long. Could easily have been written by Blackwood. Liked the chess references, the authenticity. Verisimilitudes of classic frightful tales resplendent in the mossy setting.
“Striding Edge” – a consummately readable parable about a hiker with friends in a mysterious cult. A silly ending, but plenty of good imagery. Excellent atmosphere.
“Hand to Mouth”, “Singing Blood” – decent stories with the same fear-inducing atmosphere.
“Flowers of the Sea” – one of my faves from this author. I find the concept of dementia to be the most frightening thing on this earth. Try watching the short film Mémorable – you will never be the same. This story had a similar, powerful effect on me. Utterly chilling, heartbreaking. The ending was a strange choice, twisting the tone unexpectedly.
“Lord of the Fleas” – a compelling story with a pre-historic style. Features Samuel Johnson (somewhat unnecessarily). Quite good overall.
Several more similar stories ensue. One can grow weary of the strained cragginess of the upper-upper-upper crust British snootiness. When he’s not funny, he’s NOT funny. But once in a while a joke comes out of nowhere and gets me chuckling.
The collection is quite long. When I got to “Sussmayr’s Requiem,” I took a short break. This story features one of Mozart’s peers and is a prototypical tale of an artist suffering under the shadow of a genius.
“Come into my Parlor” – A farcical story from the child’s perspective. He portrays the childish mentality well, hearkening back to writers like Lewis Carrol or C. S. Lewis. His writing is comparable – but the ending is just bad.
“Lightning” – A tale about actors and a frightening performance. Well-told, lame ending.
You can detect a pattern in my criticism, but don’t think these tales are missable. He is a tremendous writer, who captures unforgettable moments. His style is rare nowadays, and his storytelling powerful. I will be reading all of his collections.