Thursday, October 01, 2009

"A Killer in the Dark" by Robert Edmond Alter

It has been too long since I have posted an original review, but here, finally, today, I have one. The story is older—published in 1963—and the author is new to me: Robert Edmond Alter. Alter died young. He was born in 1925 and died in 1966. He wrote two Gold Medal novels that were reprinted by Black Lizard in the 1980s (Carny Kill and Swamp Sister) and a myriad of short stories.
I read his short story “Killer in the Dark”—Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, August 1963—and while it has its share of flaws, it is nevertheless entertaining and enjoyable. I read it in Alfred Hitchcock’s Grave Business anthology.

Peter Dawson has a daughter and a wife. He is enjoying a warm summer evening when a neighbor interrupts him. Her son glimpsed a Diamondback rattlesnake scuttle into Pete’s basement through a broken windowpane.

Pete is dubious, but he decides he better take a look. Unfortunately nothing quite goes right—his daughter and her friend are in the basement playing the monster game, the basement light is burned out, and the flashlight doesn’t have batteries. And it gets much worse before the story ends.

“A Killer in the Dark” is a dark suspense story with a chilling and downright frightening premise—an angry rattlesnake lurking in the basement with two young girls who are not only unaware of the danger, but oblivious even to its potential. Mr Alter masterfully creates suspense by measuring sharp and harrowing setbacks to the protagonist, but, unfortunately, he goes a little too far with the climax. The scene quickly loses its fear and dread and crosses that thin line into silliness.

With that said, I enjoyed "A Killer in the Dark," blemishes and all. The prose is tight and simple. The story is dark and fear inducing. It is a professional tale that is entertaining and fun. It is horror with a chill and a laugh; in other words, it is escapist fiction of the first order.

1 comment:

Ed Gorman said...

He had a pretty solid career going when he died in his early forties of cancer. When Vintage bought Black Lizard they did two of his books but despite some good reviews he disappeared again.