DarkEcho Horror
deccoclock by Rick Berry
Book Review

Introduction by Ramsey Campbell
ISBN: 1892389088
$25 / 256 pages
Night Shade Books

Brit Tim Lebbon is one of the very few horror writers of professional quality to emerge in the last few years. One hopes he is proof of the old adage that "if it is good, it will eventually find a home" -- but his collection AS THE SUN GOES DOWN also serves to remind us that most old adages in publishing are no longer valid. Of the sixteen stories here, half of them are original to the collection. The remaining eight were published by extremely small press or online. There just aren't many "homes" left out there for short fiction.

Lebbon's first mass market paperback, novel THE NATURE OF BALANCE (Leisure, October 2001), is now out but Lebbon's novella "White" is probably his best known work. Originally published as a chapbook, it won a British Fantasy Award and was an International Horror Guild Award nominee. It's been reprinted in YEAR'S BEST FANTASY & HORROR: VOLUME 13 and THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF BEST NEW HORROR 11.

Lebbon is a writer well worth reading. Still poised -- at least with this collection -- between adept and apprentice, he occasionally slips. The result is a frustrating unevenness, but for a writer whose only been published for half a dozen years in an era sorely lacking in editorial guidance it is, perhaps, only to be expected and easily forgiven.

If there is any connecting theme to these stories, it may be that there is order to the universe. Any human act, whether made by an individual or as a species, has its ripples and its consequences. Sometimes its a Newtonian "to every action there is a an equal and opposite reaction," but more often Lebbon tosses his dark stones into the cosmic pool of his imagination then describes the undulating outcome.

COVER Opener "The Empty Room" concerns cruel inaction. Two boys go seeking ghosts and one gets trapped in a hole in the ground. The refuses to save him. It's haunting if not truly suspenseful, but stumbles a bit in over-explaining the psychological underpinnings of the heartless protagonist and underplaying what may or may not be the supernatural aspects of the story. "Life Within" also focuses on a young boy whose experience with his dog's birthing a litter turns into graphic nightmare. Predictable to a point, its final three paragraphs are, however, masterfully chilling.

The next two stories are stronger still. "The Butterfly" weirdly echoes two Ray Bradbury classics -- "A Sound of Thunder" and "The Veldt" -- but twisting in a murderous mother and eco-terror to make something very harsh and dark indeed. "Endangered Species in C Minor" features a man who thinks he is the last of his species and turns Darwinism into pure horror.

"Dust" is science fictional -- space voyagers marooned on a desert-planet -- but really deals with human depravity and how that which condemns can also act as salvation.

In "Fell Swoop," a man meets himself -- or rather the man he could have been. Surrounded by what appears to be total earthly annihilation he's eventually led to a very personal end of the world. "Recent Wounds" shows the danger in craving the truth about reality and "The Repulsion" is an ambiguous relationship story. A grieving widower discovers a link to his past through dolls he finds in "Reconstructing Amy." All four of these tales show one of Lebbon's strongpoints: quiet surrealism.

"Unto Us" is the eerie story of a man who finds the long-dead remains of an infant in his home's wall. It comes very close to four-star quality, but loses half-a-pentacle with its lack of the necessary inner logic to really accomplish its considerable potential. Poignant "The Last Good Times" is set in a near-future where ghosts return and make the living even lonelier. Death is not exactly final in the dark (wizards and spells variety) fantasy "King of the Dead," either. Zombies walk in the brief and nasty "The Beach."

In novella "The Unfortunate", a passenger survives an air disaster with the help of four entities -- angels? demons? -- who make him swear never to forget or deny them. Their gift is not only life, but luck. But there is, of course, a price to pay. It's a bleak and hellish story and one of the most effective in the collection. Finale "Bomberís Moon," is similarly strong and a summation: "A moment of madness. An act constructed from the rapid response to events way beyond their ken...and the result was beyond changing."

Lebbon is still a new kid on the horror block, but he's got the talent to eventually possess a good chunk of its better real estate. (March 2001) -- Paula Guran (From "Waves of Fear", Cemetery Dance #38

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Copyright © 2002 Paula Guran. All Rights Reserved.