There’s a lot of dross available on the Kindle and its rival e-readers – that’s the nature of the beast. However, when so much of that content costs less than a cup of coffee from Starbucks it doesn’t hurt so much to take a chance on work by a lesser known writer. The Mill by Mark West is one such work that you’ll be glad you gambled on; a diamond hidden amongst a mountain of coal.
The Mill is the story of Michael Anderson, a recently bereaved widower, who joins a support group seeking out interaction with people who know his emotional situation, rather than his family and friends who can offer only weak platitudes and empty condolences. Michael strikes up particularly strong friendships with two fellow group members, meeting host Drew and lonely widow Saskia, and the release of emotional tension they engender in him acts as a catalyst for his receptiveness to the supernatural elements of the story.
The location that gives this novelette its title is an eerie, secluded spot with the merest remnants of the mill that once stood upon it. It is first encountered by Michael in a series of vivid dreams in which he sees fleeting glimpses of a woman who he believes to be his dead wife Nicola. These visions are well described and build a sense of foreboding that builds towards the final scenes and give the piece an accomplished sense of structure. The history of the Mill is well handled, the events of its destruction and its subsequent role as a popular suicide spot are related in an authentic exchange between Michael and Drew that never feels like exposition for exposition’s sake.
Back-story is another aspect of the narrative that is handled well by the author. Threading scenes of early married life, the discovery of Nicola’s cancer and its devastating after-effects, into the story, help to convey the sense of loss, guilt and helplessness Michael feels and goes a good way towards providing the reader with a sense of his thought processes as he’s propelled towards his final visit to the Mill.
The Mill is a heartbreaking ghost story that has a freshness to it that raises it above the recognisable genre tropes that are inevitable in a gothic story of guilt and loss. The prose is a delight but ultimately it is the well developed characters which enable this story to tug at the heart-strings and ensure its place amongst the very best in the ghost story tradition.
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