“Tallerman takes tropes any reader of weird fiction will know well, and uses them to do something poignant and unexpected.”
David Tallerman is principally known as an author of high fantasy novels, but has, over the past few years, written a number of tales of the supernatural, which have now been collated in this volume, with an introduction by Adrian Tchaikovsky and illustrations by Duncan Kay.
It’s always admirable to see a writer stepping outside what may be their comfort zone, and the result here is a cracking collection of stories. Many have Victorian or Edwardian settings, and show a strong influence of ‘classic’ horror authors.
Most notable among these is HP.Lovecraft, as in ‘The Door Beyond The Water’ and in the title story, in which the lone survivor of an ill-fated expedition to Mount Everest chances upon an order of monks with a very different form of worship. Like many of the best Lovecraftian tales not written by HPL himself, Tallerman’s stories eschew a roll-call of Yog-Sothoths and Nyarlathoteps in favour of creating their own monsters and mysteries in similar vein.
The only Lovecraftian tale to refer directly to the existing Mythos is ‘My Friend Fishfinger by Daisy, Aged 7’, which uses child’s-eye narration to offer a fresh perspective on a familiar set of monsters. It’s a short, sharp piece, a palate-cleanser between longer, more substantial fare. So are ‘Caretaker in the Garden Of Dreams’ and ‘A Study In Red And White’, although these edge closer to Tallerman’s home turf, holding up a distorted mirror to the everyday and warping it into something fantastical and grotesque.
There are forays into psychological horror, as in ‘The Facts in the Case of Algernon Whisper’s Karma’. One of Tallerman’s period pieces, it has the feel of a story told in the smoking-room of a gentlemen’s club, leading the reader to expect a paranormal pay-off, but the reality is all too rooted in human misery and an impossible dream of happiness that goes horribly awry. Similarly, ‘A Stare from the Darkness’, one of the collection’s bleakest stories, begins in familiar Hammer Films territory before confronting us with something far worse—a horror with nothing supernatural about it, and for which there is no remedy. Finally, among this group of tales, ‘The War Of The Rats’ depicts one soldier’s descent into madness amid the greater insanity of the trenches of World War One.
Tallerman’s ghost stories are less reminiscent of MR James’, with their grotesque, inhuman and all too palpable revenants, than those of the less-known, but excellent, AM Burrage, as in the book’s curtain-raiser ‘The Burning Room’ and in ‘The Untold Ghost’, which is one of the two best stories in the collection. An honourable mention should also go to ‘Prisoner of Peace’, a strange and nightmarish tale set in the aftermath of the bombing of Hiroshima.
The best story of all is saved for last, with ‘The Way of The Leaves’. Two children, the unnamed narrator and his friend Charlotte, wander into the woods near their village and find what appears to be an old barrow. It still belongs to the Fae, and… but to go on would spoil the story. Suffice to say that Tallerman takes tropes any reader of weird fiction will know well, and uses them to do something poignant and unexpected.
Which is a pretty good summary of what The Sign in the Moonlight has to offer. The collection isn’t the most ground-breaking or original—predominantly we’re in the realm of familiar genre material given a skilful, entertaining and sometimes moving new spin—but there’s a lot to like here, and a real facility with the macabre. It’s to be hoped David Tallerman will write more stories like this; ‘The Way of the Leaves’ in particular suggests that this is a writer who has more to say, and that it’ll be well worth hearing.
Publisher: Digital Horror Fiction
Release Date: 22 January 2016
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