DarkEcho Horror
deccoclock by Rick Berry
Book Review

The Damp Place and Other Stories
Frank Chigas
Medusa Press / $40 (?) /348p
ISBN: 0972532404

There's nothing wrong with this collection--everything is. It contains what are supposed to be traditional terror tales, but you'd be hard pressed to find any definition of "story" fulfilled in most of the attempts. You *will* find prime examples of everything one should *not* do when writing short fiction: telling rather than showing; plodding pace; lack of structure; characters who can't drive a paragraph, let alone a plot; stilted dialogue enlivened only by exclamation points (even some dialogue in Czech gets them) and, unfortunately, more. Imitation may be a form of flattery, but attempts to imitate several classic British ghost story writers, Lovecraft, Poe, King, and others (sometimes several in the same story) fail miserably rather than flatter anyone involved. There are also several repeated patterns, including a fascination with hidden spaces and openings. In the first story there is a hidden subchamber, in the following 19 in order: a hidden cavity in a hall wall; a secret hiding place behind a tapestry; a small locked room containing a "skeletal corpse" (dead 70 or more years in a house in a swamp -- a forensic miracle); tunnels under graves in a cemetery; a gaping "bottomless" hole in a floor; an armoire from whence a "horrible pale" dead woman crawls, an "impossibly tight opening in the earth"; a hollow column ("Inside the column was a thing. A thing so grotesque, so loathsome, even now I shake when repeating this."); in story # 10, "A Face at the Window," we are somewhat relieved of spaces, but it does have the titular window; next, a face is pressed against a small front window to watch a "nightmarish scene"; the protagonist hides under a bed for nine hours in "In the Shadow Room"; then there's a body crammed in small space between beams in a low basement entered by small window. Finally, in the fifteenth story we have an "accursed meadow" with nary a crevice in sight! The next story takes place on a whaling ship (a sort of enclosed space, one might posit), features "the entire insides of [a] whale... littered with black tumorous growths" (and the immortal line: "'That tree! We must leave here!' he said, excitedly.") Finally, the last story, we discover a "foul cave" -- "inside was a nightmarish scene: bodies, purple and bloated littered the floor like debris!"

The book is illustrated inside and out with drawings (by the author) that could easily be equaled by any bored 7th grade male in a macabre mood (as long as he has never benefited from an art class.)

The author of THE DAMP CHAMBER seems to be an intelligent person with a genuine fondness for horror fiction. It is obvious he could learn to write. I just wish he'd done so before publishing a collection.

In the book's favor: it is well copyedited, is well printed on high quality heavy paper (although set in teensy-tiny eye-tiring type), and is nicely bound. The edition consists of 500 copies, which is, I fear, 499 too many.

--originally appeared in DarkEcho #36

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Copyright © 2004 Paula Guran. All Rights Reserved.