Reviwed by Tim Lieder

Ghost Far from Subtle

Joe Rattigan

Rainfall Books

Copyright 2003

ISBN 0-9546178-1-9

If you read enough horror you begin to notice some very clear differences between American and British writers. Whereas American writers such as Dean Koontz, Stephen King, and Joe Lansdale jump right into the plot, British writers tend to take their time establishing atmosphere. Tanith Lee will paint a scene rather than describe it. Ramsey Campbell books feel like acid trips. Brian Herbert surrounds the reader with sensory overload. Forgive the generalization but British writers like to draw the reader into a paradise of imagery, atmosphere and style before lowering the boom. Joe Rattigan is no exception.

The six stories in this collection aren't terribly original but they all lay on the atmosphere. There's the killer tree story. There's the story about being lost in the woods. There are at least two about being stalked by ghosts. Placing “In The Deep Dark Woods” and “The Dark Side of the Woods” next to each other was rather unfortunate given the titles create a false expectation for the second story. Most of the time you don't care because what makes these stories work is the style. While there aren't any quintessential moments of great description, the overall picture he presents is much richer than your average horror writer. Dragging the reader into the tale, Rattigan liberally uses adjectives to maximum effect. I have not been more impressed with stylistic brilliance since Poppy Z. Brite's Swamp Foetus -- renamed Wormwood When the character is lost in the woods you feel like you're in the woods with him. When the character is outside a haunted asylum it doesn't feel like a cop out to have that character run away. There's enough atmosphere involved in these stories to keep things going.

Unfortunately the substance is still lagging behind the style of these stories. Quite a few lack that essential spark. “When She Calls” and “Wrong Side of the Tracks” are “stalked by a ghost” tales where there's not nearly enough invested in the protagonists to care. “In the Deep Dark Woods” is the second in three evil tree stories. British writers take their evil trees much more seriously. You aren't going to have a tree-on-girl rape scene ala Evil Dead in a British movie. One does begin to miss the humor that other horror writers use--sometimes badly--to lighten the mood.

Overall this is an excellent gift book. Joe Rattigan is a young talent and one only hopes to see better material in the future. When he's off there are too many tree descriptions, yet his capacity to play it a little too close to the bone offers up great material when he's on and he's on enough times.

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