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Vintage Horror, September 2009
Reviewed by Matt Cowan
"This palm-sized book is about an author in Dublin, Ireland whose fiancÚ rents him a house in a small secluded village for a week to help him break out of debilitating writers-block he has been suffering through. The name of the house is Tigh an Bhreithimh. On a walk through the sparsely populated area, he comes across a strange old stone cabin with a scared, starving dog tied to a stake outside it. When a rainstorm forces him inside, he finds it not only oppressive but containing hints of what disturbing former use it held. This is a ghost story filled with atmosphere and dread. Writer Brian J. Showers is able to paint vivid pictures of the lonely Irish countryside and the hints that something dark is lurking beneath the surface in a concise and appealing economy of words. Fans of M.R. James, and J. Sheridan LeFanu (both of whom get a brief mention in the story) should enjoy this tale. Spread throughout are wonderfully atmospheric illustrations by Duane Spurlock that detail the eerie ambiance of the story. I personally enjoyed this book a great deal."
Supernatural Tales, 2006
Reviewed by David Longhorn
When the up-and-coming Irish writer Brian J. Showers asked me to review some of his booklets, I was naturally intrigued. I expected a small parcel of long-ish stories. Imagine my surprise when, a few days later, I received an ordinary letter sized envelope that seemed a little on the bulky side. Sure enough, inside were three titchy booklets. I'm not sure what the proper designation for such petite volumes might be, re: paper size. (A7, or A8, perhaps?) Anyway, the three of them fit comfortably in the palm of your hand.
Never judge a book(let) by its cover, but they're also nicely produced. Each has a good cover and internal illustrations, too. Considering the small canvas (well, paper) on which the artists had to work, the results are impressive. There's a touch of old-fashioned charm about Duane Spurlock's drawings, while those of Meggan Kehrli are neat and evocative.
Yes, but what of the stories? Again, the term old-fashioned springs to mind. Here you'll find no (post)modern experiments, extremes or expletives. The settings and plots have a slightly familiar feel. I suspect this will add to the stories' appeal--not everyone can stand too much reality, or realism, and the ghost story (as M.R. James warned) should be treated gently. So in The Old Tailor and the Gaunt Man there are no shocks, as such. It's pretty clear what's going on from the moment the eponymous characters meet. But pleasure is to be found mainly in the atmosphere of this kind of story, rather than in the incident.
The same can be said for The Snow Came Softly Down which is subtitled The Kindness of Ghosts. I'm not a great fan of the benevolent ghost in fiction, and this tale of a man's trek across snowfields and his encounter with mysterious children is, as wistfully good-natured as the Wordsworth poem, 'Lucy Gray', that provides an epilogue. But, again, it is good of its kind.
My personal favourite is Tigh an Bhreithimh, though don't ask me to pronounce it. The Irish phrase is translated at the end, but I won't spoil the surprise here. This story is more to my taste perhaps because it shows more than it tells, and hints at a spirit of place born of cruelty. There's still charm in the rural Irish setting, but also a touch of Le Fanu in the sense of bleak isolation Showers conjures up. Le Fanu, Poe and James are explicitly evoked in the opening paragraphs, and quite right too.
Again, the plot is very familiar--a 'spook story' writer rents a country house to work and finds himself encountering the real thing, or things. But the execution is fine, and the imagery--something unpleasant involving dogs--is memorable. If I have any advice to offer the author, it's to focus on Ireland and the Irish. From what I've read, he performs best on his home turf, so to speak.
Dr. Albert Power, 2006
Editor of the Bram Stoker Society Journal 1996-2001
This is a sepulchral riddle - from its title to its disparate ghostly elements, apparently unrelated, which converge to culminate in a shuddering climax. Spiced with sage reflections on the literary delineation of fear, Tigh an Bhreithimh links the spectral theme with the intricate weave of the detective story. Who was the unlucky woman with the reddish-brown hair? What was her connection with that weird stone hut? What has she to do with the house where the narrator is staying? Why had the rescued dog been tethered to the mysterious ring of stakes? Above all, what was the significance of that single stake "the size of a tree trunk" that the narrator only dreams about? Hints of M.R. James's "The Rose Garden" and J.S. Le Fanu's "Laura Silver Bell" and "The Child That Went with the Fairies" A blend of creepy antecedents in a satisfyingly original mix.
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