OR: Phantoms of Venice

A review that originally appeared in The Third Alternative #33:-


Edited by David Sutton

Shadow Publishing hb, 223pp, £25

Lavishly produced in a limited edition of 200 copies and with an evocative cover by Harry O. Morris, this collection contains ten stories of the supernatural and horror set in the city of Venice, a venue that, with its paradoxical atmosphere combining romance and decay, has always appealed to writers of such work, as adeptly demonstrated by Joel Lane in his comprehensive but by no means exhaustive foreword.

‘The Bridge of Sighs’ by Peter Tremayne has a visitor to Venice ensnared by a spirit from the past, a ghost seeking new flesh to claim as its own, the story presented in the form of a statement to the police and deftly capturing the dreamlike quality of the city, a place where past and present commingle in ways that are not always advantageous to the tourist. The same atmosphere pervades Cherry Wilder’s ‘Alive in Venice’, with a young girl fleeing some family scandal, the details of which are never pinned down, and finding escape of a kind in the city’s less explored byways. In ‘Rose Nere’ by Eddy C. Bertin a gangster returns to avenge the murder of his family, only himself to fall victim to one of the city’s ruling deities. ‘City in Aspic’ by Conrad Williams is the story of Massimo, who is terrorized by a menace from his past, a tale that powerfully and ingeniously captures the feelings of guilt engendered by a crime ignored. Mike Chinn’s ‘Facades’ effectively demonstrates that very often love cannot endure, even in the most romantic of cities, while in ‘Last Exit for the Lost’ by Tim Lebbon a man’s past shortcomings are forcefuly brought home to him by the parcels he receives from a daughter exiled to Venice as a result of his behaviour. Sutton’s entertaining ‘La Serinissima’ is more in the line of traditional horror, with two young women falling victim to some of the city’s older inhabitants, grim subterraneans with a lust for warm flesh. ‘Bride of the Sea’ by Anne Gay is one of the best stories in the collection, as a sculptor is afforded revenge on the man who stole her work, an oblique and moody piece with larger than life characters and an understanding of the nature of the artistic experience. Past and present merge once more in ‘Angelo’s Bar’ by Pauline E. Dungate, with two narrative threads that ingeniously overlap as a widow returns to the scene of her past happiness and an archaeologist unearths a lost and cursed tomb. Finally there’s ‘The Devil’s Comedy’, a historical piece by Brian Stableford and perhaps the most accomplished story here. A young Englishman on the Grand Tour and with an interest in theatre attends Venice’s Carnival, where he is unwittingly drawn into a drama with an alarming supernatural subtext. Stableford’s evocation of an age now lost is never less than convincing and his masterful direction of the plot’s diverse elements is sheer joy. It’s a fitting note on which to bring down the curtain on a collection that’s sure to be loudly applauded by those who appreciate dark fantasy and solid storytelling, though what the Venice Tourist Board may have to say about this offbeat take on their city is another matter entirely.

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