“Tightly structured and blackly comic” – The Night Visitors by Jenn Ashworth and Richard V Hirst

tnvjavFor the past several years, a group of authors have self-published anthologies of horror, inspired by the likes of Aickman and Shirley Jackson. The group – known as Curious Tales – have managed to capture a part of reignited fascination on both those authors and the horror genre as a whole and their shared love for these kinds of stories has helped to gel their anthologies together in ways that other anthologies could only dream of.

It’s extremely welcome then to see two of those authors, Jenn Ashworth and Richard V Hirst, collaborating together on The Night Visitors, a new novella from Dead Ink books.

The Night Visitors is an epistolary novella, a series of emails between Alice Wells, and Orla Nelson, two writers at either end of the spectrum of fame. They are also, tenuously, related – “I’m Kenny and Barbara’s daughter and Barbara is your cousin’s daughter so that makes us family, sort of,” Alice writes in one of her introductory emails.

Alice is trying to write a book about Hattie Soak, a famous star of silent cinema and ancestor to both characters. Soak fled the scene of an horrific murder (or was horrifically murdered herself) and was never seen again.

The epistolary structure is really the key to why this works as well as it does. This book is as much about what the characters are not saying to one another in their emails as it is about what they do decide to reveal. Their growing bond, and the subsequent decline of their relationship is so much about the things that each of them knows to be true.

The way in which Ashworth and Hirst convey each woman’s idea of their own self, and hint at the truth behind it all is a marvel. There’s a nice thread of dark comedy in the relationship between the characters which brings to mind some of the best of Shirley Jackson, and the structure gives the story an uneasy claustrophobic edge to it which pulls the reader right through to its unnerving conclusion.

Any Cop? A great novella, tightly structured and blackly comic. The Night Visitors packs a punch that lasts far longer than its short length.

 

Daniel Carpenter

 

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