Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Servante of Darkness Bookshelf
Horror Story Critiques by Anthony Servante

Abbot's Keep A Ghost Story
by Benedict Ashforth

Author Biography:
Benedict Ashforth lives in Dorset, England, with wife, Lynne, and son, Antony. Benedict was born in Redhill, Surrey, and was schooled at Ampleforth College in North Yorkshire. Follow Benedict on Twitter, or email him:

Book Summary: 
When Clifford Fox QC receives a desperate letter from his estranged younger brother, Simon, he departs his comfortable Yorkshire home to locate him. The letter outlines the harrowing events that have led Simon to the very edge of sanity. Following a stint at the Brentwell Rehabilitation Unit, failed architect and recovering alcoholic, Simon, is invited by an old school-friend to Abbot’s Keep - a Tudor residence, nestled deep in remote Berkshire countryside. Soon after arriving he is left to explore the neighbouring monastery ruins and discover the house’s dark history. But the more he learns, the more certain he becomes that he is not alone at Abbot’s Keep, and that nothing is as it seems. But can he stop the house’s medieval past repeating itself one final time? And can his brother find him before it’s too late?

After reading and reviewing so many zombie and werewolf books, it was a welcome change of pace to read a ghost story, especially one so charming and well-written as "Abbot's Keep". Initially, however, I was a bit lost in time. The format of the story is written in correspondence, that is, letters, an antique art thanks to the Information Age of emails, tweets, and IMs. But that is not what caused my mental misstep. It was the language of the narrative, for in each letter the use of formal English lent itself to an earlier age in England's Victorian Period or turn of the century (fin de siecle). I had to turn back the page more than once to check the date on the letters, which were dated 1980; the idiomatic speech suggested 1880 (or circa, as the case may be). Yet this is not a criticism. It was a pleasure to read such a well-presented narrative, not unlike the works of Charles Dickens or Henry James, whose stories employed a similar narrative voice.

So, when the history of the Keep comes to light, it echoes the nuance of the language. It is a haunting device that Ashforth utilizes with storytelling skill. The reason the novelette device works so well is that the ghosts suggest old things, suspenseful shadows where unknown fears await our curious characters, and to have their fears laid out in letter form adds to the antiquity of the story tone, making for a creepy reading experience. It may be 1980, but we are just as lost in the Keep as the characters and ghosts themselves. 

Succinctly told, the story of Abbot's Keep is a Pandora's Box of chills and frights. I wish I had read the book at night over coffee by the fire. Much of its haunting charm was subdued a bit by my reading it at a Starbucks with talky neighbors and clacking laptop keyboards. So, allow me to recommend you read Benedict Ashforth's Abbot's Keep in the evening, alone, with something warm to drink. It's a quick read so turn off the phone as well. To truly enjoy this tale of the supernatural, it's best to let the setting of the reading match the scary mood of the story. 


Dracula's Demeter
by Doug Lamoreux

Author Biography:
The last, quite possibly the least, Renaissance man, Doug Lamoreux (a father of three strong men and a grandfather), a lifelong horror film fan and child of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, recognized his incompatibility with the rest of the world - and gave it all up to act and write. He appeared in Mark Anthony Vadik's The Thirsting (aka Lilith) and Hag. He starred in Peter O'Keefe's Infidel and Boris Wexler's The Arab. All interspersed with forty years in theater (during which he fell off the stage twice). Now he writes swell horror novels. The first-ever Igor Award recipient from The Horror Society, Doug is also a former Rondo Award nominee, and his novel, Dracula's Demeter, was a 2012 Lord Ruthven Award nominee for fiction.

Book Summary:
July, 1897. The Russian schooner, Demeter, sets sail from Varna carrying fifty oblong boxes partially filled with earth. A month later, in the midst of a raging storm, the derelict Demeter runs aground in Whitby, England, her crew missing save for her captain, tied to the wheel with a crucifix in his lifeless hands. The only living thing aboard is a huge dog that escapes into the night. 

In his classic 'Dracula', Bram Stoker, with a few cryptic entries in an unnamed captain's journal, offered scant hints regarding the terrifying voyage that brought the vampire king from his homeland to a blood-rich London. Now, the whole mind-rending tale is told. The story of Trevor Harrington, a British scholar and fugitive. Of Swales, the old Scot cook, who deceives their commander, but knows a good deal "aboon grims and boh-ghosts". Of Ekaterina Gabor, a beautiful Romanian who follows her lover by stowing away. Of Captain Nikilov, fighting for his ship and crew while something evil, more virulent than the black plague, decimates their number. Of Demeter herself, named for the Greek goddess of renewal, lost and tossed on an unforgiving sea. And of Count Dracula, at rest in Demeter's dark hold until the unintended actions of her crew resurrect the vampire and his unquenchable bloodlust.

In 1979, I saw the movie ALIEN, Ridley Scott's classic monster movie, itself based on the movie IT! The Terror Beyond Space (1958). That same year I began work on my Master's Thesis on the Grotesque in Romantic and Victorian Era Horror Stories. I read Dracula for the first time. What stayed with me about Bram Stoker's masterpiece of terror was the journey of the Demeter, the ship that carried Dracula from Varna to England. The book gives only a sparse account of the crew's deaths at the hands of the unwelcome stowaway, Dracula. I thought, this account would make a great story in the vein of ALIEN. I wrote the story in the narrative style of a Science Fiction story, like WHO GOES THERE by Don A. Stuart (aka John W. Campbell, Jr), another inspiration for ALIEN. Well, Doug Lamoreux also had the same idea in mind, but as he told me in an IM, his version of the Demeter would follow the narrative style of Stoker so that the story would be an extension, per se, of the Dracula novel. And guess what? It worked.

"Dracula's Demeter" is the missing chapter to the Dracula legend. Lamoreux extends the story of our most popular vampire by filling out the full account of Dracula's journey, from home, aboard the Demeter, and onto England's shore. He creates a likable and believable crew for the ship that captures the period of Victorian England. He even has a female onboard, and we all know that women were believed to be bad luck on maritime vessels of that period. And boy does bad luck come to this crew.

Lamoreux goes beyond simply filling in the voyage of the Demeter; he creates an adventure of horror that answers many questions Stoker posed but left to the imagination of the readers. This gives the author plenty of elbow-room to pull out all stops to the thrills, tension, and killings so that it echoes the original novel but remains Doug's original vision while staying true to Stoker's narrative style. 

When I discovered the story had been written with this style in mind, I couldn't wait to read it, and I wasn't let down. The only hiccup for me was the female in the story, but how else can you have a love story within the horror tale without a damsel in distress? Whether or not you are a fan of Dracula or a student of the British novel, you will enjoy Dracula's Demeter. But fans and students will love it just a bit more.  

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