Pendragon Press and is a collection of stories from Gary McMahon featuring his character Thomas Usher, the conflicted hero of the novels Pretty Little Dead Things and Dead Bad Things.
The stories, fourteen in all, take place prior to the events that unfold in the two novels, a kind of "Usher, the early years" if you will, and provide a back-story for the character, tracing his development and charting the changes he undergoes as his psychic abilities uncover the dark truths hidden behind the veneer of reality. It's true abyss-staring stuff here and yes, as the stories progress, the abyss does a lot of staring back...
The opening story Late Runners is really quite benign, especially when compared with some of the stories that follow, a gentle story that is sad yet touching and introduces Usher's abilities as a benign force.
There are some traditional ghost stories in here, Reflections, for example that deals with a mirror that may, or may not be haunted, and there's a welcome nod to the Banshee in Even The Wind Fears but as the book progresses the darker elements begin to appear and as it draws to a conclusion it's obvious that Usher regards his gift as more of a curse than a blessing.
There's an absolute belter of a story in this very strong collection. The Good, Light People is one of those stories that leave me with goosebumps when I've finished reading them. It wasn't till I'd finished the book that I saw that there were notes on each of the stories and that Gary himself thinks this is the best story he's ever written. It could well be. It's profound and disturbing, addressing the issue of faith in a thought-provoking and utterly terrifying way. It's a turning point too in Usher's progression, ending on an epiphany of sorts, one which will define his life from here on in.
To Usher, The Dead is another fine collection of stories from Gary McMahon. I loved the two novels, put them on a par with the Concrete Grove trilogy, and these stories are a wonderful addition to those two books, adding to the character of Usher and introducing the themes and ideas that are brought to fruition in the novels.
A few typos aside (and a TOC that seems to gone somewhat awry with its page numbers) this is a beautifully produced book (I particularly like the black page marker). The stories date back to 2005 but this collection as a whole reinforces the fact that Gary McMahon is consistently one of the best, if not the best writers of contemporary horror fiction around.
Absolutely, thoroughly recommended.
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