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Jim Rockhill and Brian J. Showers, Editors
Dreams of Shadow and Smoke: Stories for J.S. Le Fanu
The Swan River Press
Ireland Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-1-78380-003-2
Publication Date: 08-13-2014
375 Pages; 196 Pages; 30 €
Date Reviewed: 10-26-2014
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2014

Index:  Horror  Mystery  General Fiction

Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu managed to be what very few writers even aspire to, much less achieve. He was an inventor, an innovator in a time when there was more room for innovation, to be sure, but nonetheless a trailblazer whose name is no longer so familiar as that which he created. It is arguable that both the vampire novel and the ghost story, as we know them today begin with Le Fanu. And his original work is still worthy of not just exploration on its own merits, but as a direct inspiration to new stories.

Jim Rockhill (Ashtree Press) and Brian J. Showers (The Swan River Press) have gone to no small trouble to bring readers a collection of stories written in tribute to and inspired by J. S. Le Fanu, and the results are predictably outstanding. 'Dreams of Shadow and Smoke' offers readers ten top-notch supernatural stories by names that are familiar, obscure and both at once. If you're familiar with Le Fanu's work, this is a must-buy collection. If you're not, and simply want a superb assembly of supernatural fiction, it's also essential, and a grand pathway to the actual work of J. S. Le Fanu.

The stories here are the stars, but it's worth noting that Showers and Rockhill provide a pitch perfect introduction to the volume; whether or not you know Le Fanu, they give you enough to get started and feel informed as well as entertained. Afterwards, the writers provide story notes, and there are accompanying writer biographies as well. These are helpful, as two of the writers (Emma Darwin and Sarah LeFanu) are descendents of J. S. Le Fanu. They'll also lead you to a wealth of other reading.

The stories are strong, weird and varied. There's the dark, edgy seaside desolation of Mark Valentine's "Seaweed Tea" (a riff on LeFanu's most famous short story, "Green Tea") and the quiet documentary feel of editor Brian Showers' wonderful "Some Houses—A Rumination." Derek John's "Three Tales from a Townland" plays well with suburban legends, while Angela Slatter takes a vacation from Lodellan in her powerful story "Let the Words Take You." It's a fine summary for what you'll find throughout the volume; well-written stories of supernatural imagination with a nice referent to a generally unheralded master and innovator of the genre.

Le Fanu's descendents have both inherited the writing gene; Sarah LeFanu offers "Alicia Harker's Story," a finely updated tale, while Emma Darwin's contribution, "A Cold Vehicle for the Marvelous" might provide yet another effective summary of the volume as a hole. Martin Hayes explores a life in "Echoes," the sort of story that casts a pall over a reader. "The Corner Lot" by Lynda Rucker is a nicely disquieting take on the "bad place" story. "Rite of Possession" by Gavin Selerie is more upfront than some of the other stories you'll find here, a nice contrast. The collection concludes with "Princess of the Highway" by Peter Bell; he's a master of this genre and earns his keep in spades as the finishing touch.

One is well advised not to forget that the publisher, The Swan River Press, offers readers beautiful books to hold. As assembled, the stories and the extras that accompany them are nicely paced and long enough to feel full, but never so long as to overstay their welcome. The feeling that lingers after reading the stories here is one of anticipation; both of reading for the first time or re-reading Le Fanu himself, and of seeing what else the writers and editors have to offer in a future that looks to be the author of more unpleasantness than the past which brought us this fine work.

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