Kathryn Ptacek is a fine example of a writer devoted to that rare but precious subgenre called “quiet horror” where there is no place for gore and violence, but only for subtle uneasiness and spookiness generated by a frightening reality of false normality or downright strangeness. Not surprisingly, Ptacek has been married for many years to Charles L Grant, another recognized master of “quiet horror”.
Ptacek’s stories have been appearing in a number of prestigious anthologies and magazines and it was high time to find them collected in one volume. The present book assembles twenty tales published during the last twenty years or so, which represent an appropriate showcase of the author’s work..
”Three, Four, Shut the Door” is the delightful portrait of a girl whose obsession for counting becomes her downfall, while “Bruja” is a thrilling tale of witchcraft taking place in an airport terminal.
In the disquieting “The Grotto” a dying woman returns to her homeland in Tuscany to meet her fate, surrounded by cruel Etruscan gods, and in the vivid “Little Contrasts” a mistreated and humiliated wife finally takes her revenge.
“Hair” is an excellent piece effectively portraying the daily life of a woman obsessed with hair and “Solitaire” a moral fable where a the ghost of a dead wife watches her former husband and her sister getting married and having a baby and finds a way to punish them.
The superb, insightful “Dead Possum” depicts the gradual dissolution of a marriage and the ruin of a man who doesn’t care enough for animals, while the gentle ghost story “Each Night,Each Year” features a dead man hanging around his house now inhabited by his lonesome daughter.
“The Lake” is another extraordinary, perceptive description of a collapsing marriage only slightly spoiled by a not quite convincing ending.
Finally “The Home” is one of Ptacek’s personal additions to her husband’s Greystone Bay saga, a moving and sad story revolving around a nursing home.
In short, a splendid collection of disturbing but classy dark fiction.
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