REVIEW by John C Adams

The Stain by Ruschelle Dillon
(Black Bedsheet Books)

‘The Stain’ is the latest horror creation from my colleague at the Horror Tree website, Ruschelle Dillon.

Dillon is an eclectic writer who focuses on dark humour and horror. Her short fiction has been published in a number of anthologies from smaller presses, and in magazines such as Siren’s Call, Sanitarium and Story Shack. Short-story anthology ‘Arithmophobia’ was published in 2017 by Mystery and Horror LLC. The novelette ‘Bone-sai’ was also published by Black Bedsheet Books, so this is her second project with them.

228 Briar Street sports a freshly painted and mortared Pennsylvania 1930s faux German style, but this brave face conceals its stained and ugly past. The building is a keeper of hideous secrets. We’re warned from the beginning that the house is a soulless beast, chewing out and spitting out the harmless families hoping to make a home under its roof. It is at this point that the narrative opens up, when Marc and Claire Simmons and their two children move in.

The house and the weird creature living in it waste no time in terrifying the family. As usual, the kids are determined to deal with them without seeking adult advice and assistance: a move that strikes me as utterly realistic whenever I encounter it in fiction. A portrait of the origin of the creature terrorizing the family runs alongside the main action. Blood sacrifice demanded of the Shawnee Indian Tribe leaves a stain upon the soil, and the Trickster is born.

The prose in the opening section possessed a richness that I found delightful. There was quite a poetic feel courtesy of the variety of language used. I was also drawn in by the mystery as to the very nature of the narrator and instantly longed to know more about the dark presence that is watching humans come and go in the isolated location over generations and generations. It was a very powerful start to the novel. After that, the action kicked in properly via Claire’s point of view, but it was a great way to establish the house, and the dark forces within its perimeter, as characters in their own right. The richness of the metaphors, similes and imagery continued, however, and this was one of the things I enjoyed most.

The characters were very vivid, especially the Trickster, who was simultaneously repellent and terrifying. I liked the way that the story developed to embrace a sensitive treatment of the trafficking and sexual exploitation of young women.

At 169 pages as an e-book, it is at the shorter end of the horror novel spectrum, but I didn’t like it any the less for that. Some of my very favourite novels, including ‘Burnt Offerings’ by Robert Marasco and ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ by Ira Levin fall into that category.

Highly recommended.


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