This is a review I originally wrote for SFReader, probably something like three years ago, and I've been thinking about several of the stories recently so I thought I would dust it off and give it some new life. It also doesn't hurt that I'm busy right now--we (my employer) just transitioned into a ten hour work day and I haven't quite caught up with it yet.
But I do have a few new reviews planned: Bill Crider's Red, White and Blue Murder, and Warren Murphy's The Hands of Lazarus. I'm also reading a terrific little science fiction novel titled Unholy Domain by Dan Ronco. I'll keep you posted, but until then read this one and the collection too.
Black Evening, written by David Morrell, is advertised as a collection “of dark suspense.” These stories represent twenty years of Mr. Morrell's best short works. Each of the stories is a departure from his novels in that the focus is on the horror of fear, rather than international intrigue or action. The tales range from the supernatural to the more realistic and each is dark and very frightening. The stories are personally, honestly and intimately, introduced by the author. He explains the story, how it was written and why it was written. The stories stand well on their own, but with the addition of the introductions, the sincere explanations, they seem to take on new life: the life of their author, and very much the life of their reader. Morrell created them, but as you read them they will be yours, exclusively and alone.
Black Evening opens with the story “The Dripping.” It was Morrell’s first professional sale, and as he describes in the story’s introduction it was written shortly after he finished his novel First Blood. “The Dripping” is a story of loss. It is the story of a man who moves, with his wife and two daughters, into his childhood home. One evening he arrives home to a seemingly empty house, he calls out to his wife, to his daughters, but there is no answer. The only sound is constant and steady dripping. This story is horrifying. It, as are many of the stories in this collection, is written in first person and the narrator speaks with a sense of loss, fear and doom that adds to the gloomy terror that seeps through the narrative. It is the first story, but it sets the tone and mood for many of those that follow.
While all of the stories are well written and entertaining, a few of the more notable are: “The Beautiful Uncut Hair of Graves,” “Orange is for Anguish, Blue for Insanity,”—both winners of the prestigious Bram Stoker Award for best novella—“But At My Back I Always Hear,” “Dead Image,” and “The Dripping.”
“The Beautiful Uncut Hair of Graves” is odd because it is told in second person and present tense. I had never read a story written in second person that worked—the use of “you” to describe the protagonist always gets old and trite—until this story. The first few paragraphs were difficult, but once I found the rhythm of the prose it enveloped me. It is the story of a man who has quite obviously gone insane. His parents are killed in an accident and while he is going through their personal items he stumbles across an adoption contract. He suddenly questions everything: Were his parents truly his parents? Is he who he thinks he is? Is he even Jewish? The questions push him to find answers, but what he finds is dark and evil. What he finds changes everything, forever.
“Orange is for Anguish, Blue for Insanity” is the best story in Black Evening, if not the best story David Morrell has ever written. It is the story of an art historian, Myers, who becomes fixated on the work of an artist named Van Dorn—a very close match to real-life artist van Gogh. Van Dorn lived his adult life in poverty, and in the end he went insane and gouged his eyes out. Myers is looking for a critical understanding of Van Dorn’s work. He decides to follow the same path as the artist, see the same scenery, and hopefully gain an understanding of the art. Myers is all too successful. He discovers the secret that blossoms in Van Dorn’s art, and the insanity, perhaps evil, that it holds. This story is haunting—it will stay in your mind for weeks. The images are perfectly rendered: the art is visual and keen, the characters are vivid and believable, and the insanity that permeates the story is thick and frightening.
“But at My Back I Always Hear” is one of the spookiest and thoughtful stalker stories I have read. A female student stalks her literature professor. She claims that he is sending her psychic messages that he wants to sleep with her. He deals with her politely and sternly, but she won’t go away. The prose is so tight and swift that it feels like you are the professor. You can feel the mounting terror build with each scene. The impending doom is suffocating. The climax is horrifying.
“Dead Image” is the story of a film writer and an actor who eerily resembles James Dean. He not only looks like the famous movie star, but as the story progresses, he begins to act like him as well. The actor’s behavior becomes erratic and reckless. He seems to be reliving the life of James Dean even to the point of racing, and crashing cars. This story is a haunting look at identity and loss. The ending is unexpected and illuminating. Like all of Morrell’s stories “Dead Image” will stay with you long after the last page has been read.
Black Evening is not for the timid. The stories are rough, at times frightening, and always thoughtful. Each of them pace the life of the author and explore his innermost fears. These fears give the stories a credibility—realism—that is often lacking in American genre fiction. The stories are images of the past, almost postcards from a dark, inner world of torment, anxiety and fear. This collection is a winner. The stories are superb and the author’s insights are well placed and thoroughly illuminating. David Morrell is a master of the modern story, and Black Evening is his primer of dark tales.