Ramsey Campbell, a man who needs no introduction unless you have been comatose since the mid-70s, kicks this collection off with an endorsement for the many talented female authors out there. In a world where positive discrimination is still largely present in literature, he lists Sarah Pinborough, Alison Littlewood, Caitlin Kiernan, and a host of other great writers as some of the best in the field, regardless of sex. And Thana Niveau, the author of this collection, receives very high praise indeed from Campbell.
In the first story, ‘The Curtain’, two brothers, Carlos and Martin, are deep-sea diving. The braver of the two, Martin, heads down into the depths where he stumbles upon a sunken ship, and much more besides. This is a creepy, claustrophobic start with rich imagery and a sense of palpable helplessness throughout.
‘The Coal-Man’ is the nightmarish tale of one woman’s struggle to forget the past whilst trying desperately to solve the puzzle of the mysterious pieces of coal behind the skirting-board. Dark, and full of sinister possibilities, Niveau jumps back and forth through time to set up a finale that you won’t see coming.
‘Antlers’ somehow succeeds in making ‘The Coal-Man’ look like a Disney movie with its sheer ferocity. Sophie arrives at a flat, which she intends to rent, but the young boy who greets her and the state of the flat ultimately change her mind. The option of simply leaving is taken away from her, and all of a sudden we’re in familiar backwoods territory. ‘Antlers’ is a gory, tense ride which leaves a lot of things open to interpretation.
In ‘The Cutting-Room Floor’ a woman responds to an advert recruiting self-cutters and bloodletters for photo-shoots. What follows is a very gory, strangely erotic, tale of retribution, compulsion and sacrifice. What perhaps adds to the horrors here is the fact that such websites and magazines are prevalent, cashing in on vulnerable girls like the main character.
‘Ultrasound Shadow’ is the story of Molly and how pregnancy slowly alters her personality. Though most women will be nodding along in agreement with this, Molly has a lot more than pre-natal depression to worry about. This is a wonderfully creepy tale of body-horror that gives good reasons for being Tokophobic.
In ‘The Death Of Dreams’, Leanne, a TV presenter, is plagued by nightmares in which she kills her perfectly healthy and adored baby. However, everyone is suddenly made aware of the dreams thanks to a government creation known as a Dreamcatcher. It is essentially the equivalent of the phone-hacking scandal that has recently blighted UK celebrities, only on a much grander scale. The shock conclusion proves that Niveau is not afraid to push the boundaries, and it works perfectly here.
‘The Pier’ is perhaps the most haunting story in the collection. Alan and Claudia are exploring a derelict pier, much to Claudia’s chagrin. She leaves Alan to it and heads back to the hotel, which is when a conversation with a couple of fishermen and the strange plaques adorning the pier lead Alan to believe that something is not quite right. Atmospheric and sombre.
‘The Scouring’ is another terrifically haunting story as Natalie and her son, Charlie, explore the mythology behind a hillside-carving. The scene-setting is breathtaking as Niveau slowly allows Natalie to peel her way to the truth behind the horse-shaped figure and its origins.
In ‘Under The Skin’, two girls go carolling at an old peoples’ home, only for things to go awry. The second half of the story tells of the aftermath twenty years later. With some very harrowing scenes,this is perhaps the most poignant story in the collection.
‘A Time Of Choice’ is ultimately a coming-of-age story with lupine undertones, as Hailey’s strange affinity with wolves is slowly uncovered. This is a beautifully told, succinct story that reveals a mellower side to Niveau.
‘Pigs’, on the other hand, is a brutal tale of infidelity and karma, as a pair of adulterous picnickers find themselves on the run from a nasty drove of piggies. This is tense stuff, and should be enough to make anyone thinking of embarking on an affair – or rearing a drift of hogs – think twice.
In ‘Strange Games’ Leah and Deb are lovers. Leah is a stripper, whilst Deb is a waitress at the same club. A mysterious man begins to frequent the place, and soon they realise his intentions are not entirely innocent. This is another erotically-charged story, which Niveau does so well.
‘Bruised Fruit’ begins as an exploration into eating-disorders before becoming something much more. The graphic descriptives are both physical and mental, and the tragic character of Elena is perfectly written.
‘White Roses, Bloody Silk’ is a period piece whereby a man who, it has been suggested, is a Satanist and murderer is invited to dinner at a family home. With more twists and turns than Spaghetti Junction, this elegant little ditty makes for some fun reading.
In ‘Stolen To Time’ a nude model begins to lose her memories, and as photo-shoots completely disappear from her mind she discovers something very sinister is occurring. Illusive for the most part, this is one of the best in the collection.
And Thana Niveau wraps it all up with an ode to one of the most infamous serial killers there ever was: Jack The Ripper. ‘From Hell To Eternity’ is the story of a detective’s hunt for a Whitechapel murderer, a killer that seems to be targeting rent-boys. This is a fitting end to an amazing debut collection. Niveau’s notes on what inspired her to write these truly astounding stories offer a little insight into her own fears and nightmares, which is a very nice touch, indeed. There is something here for everyone, providing you’re a fan of bloody good writing and thought-provoking prose. Niveau is one to keep an eye on. With From Hell To Eternity, it’s clear that she means business.
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