Alan Baxter is a British-Australian author who writes dark fantasy, horror and sci-fi. His collection of short stories, Crow Shine, is light on the sci-fi but certainly allows his skills in writing dark macabre to come to the fore. From clawing death, to angelic interlopers through time-twisting magic and the secrets of good moonshine, the collection is, as one would expect of an award-winning short-story writer, tight compact and engaging.
Engaging, but at times very uncomfortable. The stories are, like all good horror, full of demons and dark forces, enticing, beguiling and consuming poor humans who are all too ready to succumb to the forces of evil for a reward. Yet, reading each one of the nineteen offerings, you cannot help but see the underlying messages, the deeper stories and the uncomfortable questions being asked.
The love of a grandfather and his addictions, the pleading of a daughter for her quickly waning father. The sacrifice of a husband to save the suffering of a wife, the angst of a country town teen, turned to anger and vengeance. They and more are wrapped in stories that, whilst none are in verse, are most definitely Poe-esque in terms of shade and subject. They delve into the deeper psyche of the human condition and just when you thought all the world was lost, offer some quite blinding moments of hope and joy.
“Where there is any vestige of love, there is hope,” says one of an angelic host to a particularly battered character in ‘The Darkest Shade of Grey’ and in that simple phrase, you could be forgiven for thinking our protagonist’s fortunes are about to come good. Yet, Baxter isn’t that much into happy endings and can’t resist, in the final line of that story, to offer his readers the chance that the character will completely screw things up again.
Dark and mysterious for the most part then, but with odd shafts of light to offer hope, the collection also contains humour and I did love the prospect of visiting Beston-on-Sea. A town that puts a whole new spin on that dreaded of British institutions, the seaside B&B. Although for cat lovers, you’d be in your element.
Overall, I can’t pick a favourite story as I enjoyed each for its own journey, but the closing paragraphs of the last in the book, ‘The Darkness in Clara’ did have me cheering inside and proved that, despite his love for the ‘horrible’, occasionally the author can be swayed to let good win out.
To wrap up, I’ll admit it has been a while since I read a collection of short stories, but Crow Shine has renewed my interest in them. It is definitely a bonus to be able to dip in and out of a book, in small bite-sized pieces that leave you satisfied in their completeness. So, if you are into your reading being a bit dark and scary, with a gravitas that will make you consider the deeper motivations in life, then this is a collection you should definitely have a look at.