Jeani Rector, Open Grave. Publish America, 2008. Pp. 273. ISBN 978-1604417128. $21.95 / £13.95.

Reviewed by Mario Guslandi

After her first short story collection named After Dark, Jeani Rector continues her literary journey into horror with this volume assembling nine short stories and a novella.

Ever faithful to traditional horror themes, Rector produces most of her tales by smartly reshaping standard subjects as in ‘A Case of Lycanthropy’ a tongue-in-cheek analysis of the predicament of being a werewolf; ‘Ghoul’, an effective, excellent voodoo story featuring a naive psychiatrist, an ambiguous patient and a mischievous secretary; and ‘Crystal Ball’, a tense, intriguing narrative exploring the world of fortune-tellers and showing how deceptive some prophecies can be. The only notable exception to this adherence to the tropes of the genre is ‘Ebola’, a short, chilling piece where horror spurts from the disquieting reality of a lethal african virus.

Compared with her early stories, which this reviewer felt displayed a certain lack of originality, Rector’s work is getting much better and consequently more ambitious. Thus, here we find a longer piece, the title novella ‘Open Grave’, in which she tries her hand at creating more developed characters and a more complex plot. Does she succeed? Yes and no.

On one hand the story of Rick—a university student who, bewitched by a strange dark lady, neglects his girlfriend, his studies and his work to get involved in the unholy practice of necromancy—suffers from a slow, boring start where the reader has to bear pages of pretentious talking about spiritualism and ghosts. Moreover Rector’s narrative style and wording are not always pristine and some portions of the novella are rather repetitive. In other words, Rector is a fine writer who badly needs an editor to review the occasional lapses in her phrasing and to trim and abridge the overabundances in the text.

On the other hand I must admit that, in spite of its faults, the novella is compelling, hard to put down, and once the story gains momentum it becomes irresistibly engrossing. Furthermore, the final twist in the plot does come unexpectedly (even though weighed down by a too long explanation) and brings into question the meaning of the events that the reader has been witnessing.

In short, this collection is defective in some ways, but worth reading nevertheless.

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