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Canadian dark fiction and horror writer Ian Rogers‘ debut story collection Every House is Haunted comes garlanded with accolades. The book has received the 2013 ReLit Award in the Short Fiction category, and praise from almost every quarter. It’s the sort of reputation that makes you hurry to start it to see what’s really inside.

The whole collection is structured like a house, with sections such as “The Vestibule,” “The Library,” “The Attic,” “The Den,” and “The Cellar.” This doesn’t mean any uniformity of content: The stories are highly diverse, some Lovecraftian (“The Dark and the Young,” “Inheritor”), some occult (“Cabin D”), and some plain mysterious (“Autumnology,” “The Candle”).

For a writer early in his career, Rogers is a polished wordsmith with a deft touch and a word hoard that sometimes seems beyond the dreams of his protagonists. Any shortcomings in his execution are more around construction or realization: a few stories give the feeling of inspiration insufficiently developed, or brought to a close too swiftly and too neatly. This is the sort of problem that can easily vanish with time, however, not least as one of the tales that feels like it could be at least three or four times its actual length is one of the stars of the collection, “The House on Ashley Avenue,” nominated for the Shirley Jackson Award, included in  The Best Horror of the Year, Volume 5, and recently optioned by Universal Cable for a film deal. A few stories give a sense of punches pulled, others, anything but: indeed, quite a number are nasty, brutish, and short. And others still are outright humorous, like “The Tattetail” and, in a darker vein, “Deleted Scenes.”

Some of the best stories, often the shortest, like “Vogo” or take that sketchy unfinished air and spin it into genuinely tantalizing ambiguity or irresolution. It’s at these times that Rogers comes closest to the current wave of highly intellectualized and even philosophical North American dark fiction typified by Simon Strantzas and Richard Gavin. More often than not, he’s closer to the traditional horror or ghost story, “classic horror in the style of Shirley Jackson, Richard Matheson, and early Stephen King,” as Library Journal puts it,”Cabin D” being a shining example. The parts may be greater than the whole, but at their best they’re very good indeed. And everyone is likely to find something to their dark taste in here – even if the title may get Monty Python fans humming “Every Sperm is Sacred” under their breath …

TeleRead Rating: 3.5 e-readers out of 5

 
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