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Reggie Oliver
Madder Mysteries
Reviewed by Mario Guslandi © 2009

Ex Occidente Press
First Edition Hardcover
ISBN 978-973-8964-46-9
Publication date: February 2009
Date reviewed: 06-12-2009

Index:  Horror  Fantasy  Mystery

Playwright, author and writer, Reginald (Reggie) Oliver is the author of three previous, outstanding collections of dark stories appeared in limited editions from small imprints such as The Haunted River (“The Dreams of Cardinal Vittorini” and “The Complete Symphonies of Adolph Hitler”) and Ash Tree Press (“The Masques of Satan”). In a few years Oliver has become one of the most respected new authors of supernatural and horror fiction both in his native UK and on the other side of the Atlantic, at least in the restricted circles of connoisseurs and fans of the genre smart enough to keep off the mass market bookstores and find their spiritual nourishment in the specialized indie press.

Oliver’s latest work, 'Madder Mysteries,' is published by a new small imprint, the extremely promising Ex Occidente Press, based in Romania, which is offering a further venue to the most distinguished dark fiction writers from all over the world. Predictably, the book is as enticing as the previous work by the same author and even more varied in its content.

The first section is devoted, as always, to fiction, including eight delightful dark tales. “Baskerville’s Midgets” is a very enjoyable story introducing a group of disquieting midgets, whose presence brings tragedy and death into a respectable boarding house for actors. “TheWig: A Monologue for an Actor”, is a captivating story of revenge featuring two rival actors and a peculiar wig.. The author’s storytelling is (as always with Oliver) so good that the reader remains spellbound even when the outcome becomes easily predictable.

“Tawny” is another brilliant piece where idle gossip eventually turns into a gory tragedy, while the splendid “The Head” describes the fatal bond between an aged art critic and a smart chaffeur. In “The Devil’s Funeral”, a long, enjoyable tale in the tradition of MR James depicting a sodomite relationship between two clergymen, the tone of the comedy is constantly under the menace of supernatural evil lurking in the background. “A Donkey at the Mysteries”, a learned but in places rather obscure tale set in Greece and revolving around greek mysteries and myths, although able to convey a feeling of horror, somehow remains a cold exercise of ‘bravura’.

By contrast “The Game of Bear”, a very dark tale where an obnoxious woman dispossessed of an inheritance seeks and finds revenge in life and death, represents an extraordinary posthumous collaboration with MR James, whose unfinished manuscript is completed by Oliver with remarkable adherence to the master’s style. Finally, the excellent “The Devil’s Number” effectively portrays an unknown episode in the life of Giacomo Casanova.

The second section of 'Madder Mysteries' reprints a bunch of interesting non-fictional pieces, such as a critical, affectionate essay on the supernatural work of Stella Gibson, a look at Montague Summers as a Jamesian character himself, and commentaries on the work of the two James (Henry and MR). The last section of the volume is a collection of short literary oddities, some quite funny, others simply weird.

Once again, the quality of the book is further enhanced by a series of beautiful, fascinating black and white drawings by Oliver himself, that show how his artistic gifts are not not confined to the crafting and reciting of words.

While highly recommending the book I must warn the interested reader to hurry up, because I understand that only a handful of copies are left. Alas, this is the major problem with small imprints, due to their limited print run. It’s a shame that an excellent writer such as Reggie Oliver is not available to a larger audience, due to the narrow mind and lack of courage of the big publishing companies.

But this is another story entirely.

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