OR: The Shadows of Kingston Mills

A review that originally appeared in Black Static #17:-

Stoker Award winner David B. Silva is an ‘old voice’, and an assured one as the twelve stories collected in THE SHADOWS OF KINGSTON MILLS (Dark Regions Press paperback, 189pp, $17.95) amply demonstrate. Kingston Mills is another of those archetypal American small towns – like Green Town, Illinois or Eerie, Indiana – where the edges of reality become a little blurred and pretty much anything can happen. There’s a Twilight Zone feel to the enterprise and Silva is a writer who wears his influences lightly, so that you get a sense of familiarity about many of these stories, with their genre templates obvious, but at the same time he has the ability to make the ideas and plot twists seem refreshingly new, to give them a different slant.

‘It’s All Happening on Fillmore Street’ has a family stay overnight in a motel in Kingston Mills, and the father wandering round the eponymous thoroughfare, being given valuable items by various retailers, only to find that his wife has been murdered. There’s the strong suggestion that what is happening is really the protagonist avoiding reality, retreating into a dream world of nostalgia, but Silva never quite lays it on the line regarding cause and effect, so the reader has wriggle room. The story is an excellent start to the book, movingly written and with a genuine feeling for the material, but operating on several levels, and plugging into the reader’s own desire to recover treasured memories and memorabilia.

The same contrast between fantasy and reality dominates ‘Darkness and Light’, in which a young girl abused by her mother survives by living in a made-up world where everything is right for her. It’s one of the shortest stories in the collection, and also the most powerful, a heartbreaking tale of how the most terrible circumstances can be endured through imagination. ‘The Itching’ is the story of a putative serial killer, who is empowered by a fine and upstanding member of the community to enact his deepest desires, the narrative begging the question of how monsters are created and if society colludes in their genesis. Contrarily, ‘The Most Painful Companion of Death’ is a straightforward adventure story with strong echoes of the film Jeepers Creepers, an action piece in which two men join forces to destroy a monster that periodically preys on the people of the region. There’s no hidden meaning, no secret agenda, just a whole lot of fun with guns and explosives, written with an eye for the telling detail and solid sense of who the characters are, why they act as they do.

In ‘Love Never Lost’ the girl who walked out on a young man many years ago, implicating him in her disappearance, returns to reveal the truth and make a terrible request of her former boyfriend, the story having a nice feel of completeness to it, of closing circles, with a keen emotional subtext. People go missing from Kingston Mills in ‘Nothing As It Seems’, and a grieving father learns the truth about what is happening and seizes the chance to make matters right. This is another plot driven story, but rich in ideas and imagery, with a central conceit that put me in mind of King’s From a Buick 8, though Silva takes the concept further, giving us a vision of another world and its inhabitants that chills to the bone. Perhaps my favourite story in the book, ‘Circle of Death’ mimics the structure of Arthur Schnitzler’s famous play La Ronde. There’s a chain of connectivity that examines how the actions of one person effects another, the idea cleverly executed, with a genuine feeling for the situation and plights of the various characters in the narrative. While the reader might soon twig where Silva is going with this, there’s an immense satisfaction in watching how he works out the ramifications of any one occurrence, the ripples that spread ever outward.

The young boy who is the protagonist of ‘In Your Head’ becomes aware of the existence of a monster that possesses others, only there is nothing he can do about it, and indeed his own life is in danger. It’s a clever story, one that gives a novel twist to the possession trope of horror fiction. Beautifully written, as all these stories are, with far more implied than is actually stated, so that the plot remains rich with potential, it offers a high note on which to end a very strong collection, one packed with solid storytelling by an author who seldom puts a foot wrong.

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