My book review for Fugue Devil: Resurgence first appeared in The Horror Zine. It is reposted here with permission.
What started out as a dream for a young Stephen Mark Rainey turns into nightmares for his fictional people in Fugue Devil: Resurgence. In his introduction to this collection of thirteen tales of, mostly, the unfortunate, he notes how his younger self was “most enamored of monster movies” and how he “religiously collected copies of Famous Monsters of Filmland, Castle of Frankenstein, [and] The Monster Times.” These were monsterkid magazines that showcased his favorite cinematic horrors. Indeed, Rainey’s allusions to literary and cinematic themes pepper his stories, putting the salt in the wounds he inflicts on those caught between this world and those mysterious other ones his horrors hail from.
It is through these other worlds that his pulp-style approach (a focus more on outward events rather than inwardly emotional ones) makes him a close relative to H.P. Lovecraft and Robert W. Chambers, a distant one to Robert E. Howard, and a family all his own with his vision of the Fugue Devil; of which, three stories directly pivot on, while relatives of the Great Old Ones appear in the other stories.
Those three stories include Fugue Devil, Threnody, and The Devil’s Eye. Every seventeen years a mysterious event happens to the town of Beckham, Virginia; a monstrous thing that “if you know about it, it knows about you,” emerges from the woods and people go missing. Is it a tall town’s tale or something more sinister? Newly arrived kid around town, Mike, convinces Ronnie to tell him more about the Fugue Devil, and that gets others involved. The terror begins when they decide to see for themselves if the gossip and fear is real or not. Rainey contrasts the terror to come with another kind of terror within Mike’s family, moving this story beyond the pulp-only framework, to better explain Mike’s interest in the Fugue Devil beyond mere curiosity, which provides a stronger motivation for him doing something we all know, from horror movies and horror fiction, will usually prove to be a bad decision.
But where Fugue Devil presents the “present” horror as it stands, Threnody tells us how it possibly started in pure pulp style. Here is where the younger Rainey’s influences and interests foster allusions to Lovecraftian beings and the summoning device in the Evil Dead movie. These allusions involve a scarce and odd book called The Spheres Beyond Sound by Maurice Zann and a reel-to-reel tape recorder. Also written in first person as Fugue Devil, a man inherits his family’s house in Barren Creek, a few miles from the town of Aiken Mill, that is surrounded by dark and brooding woods. He finds the book, falls under its spell, and finds tapes recorded by his grandfather. Listening to those tapes, he turns up the volume and hears the results as his grandfather leads some neighbors in playing music from the book. Need I say more?
With The Devil’s Eye, we return after the events of Fugue Devil, but seventeen years later, when Jack, brother to someone who went missing that fateful night years ago, returns to find the truth. He enlists the aid of a local independent film maker to assist him, to capture proof with a camera, either way. Unfortunately, without him knowing, others are invited to act in the documentary event, and the situation worsens from that point on. More background to the Fugue Devil is provided: as the story goes, it appeared on the summit of Copper Peak when a man from Beckham played his violin to summon it. Still, there remains mystery surrounding why someone would do such a thing and mystery why the Fugue Devil returns every so often to do so much harm.
Moving from the Fugue Devil’s Virginia woods to a necropolis far from Viroconium in Roman Britain, Pons Devana (pons means bridge), leans more toward Robert E. Howard’s sword and sorcery, but with a theme of yet another dark, other, space exerting its evil influence on ours. This is one story that cries out to be made a novel because it ends while still in progress. As it stands, Quintus Marcius is ordered to investigate the maneuverings of centurion Titus Fabius, who is acting strangely. When Marcius finds Fabius, the centurion is wearing peculiar armor he has not seen before. Odder still, Fabius is married to a strange woman and there appear to be rats scuttling around in the shadows, though none are ever seen. Dark rooms and narrow hallways, tombs and crypts, and malevolence hanging in the air do not bode well for Marcius or Fabius. Unseen things grow close and even here Rainey brings the horror to the woods too. The story is reminiscent of the shadow beings in Babylon 5, but we are left with not knowing more beyond the unknown threat emerging from the necropolis.
Turning from Howard to Robert W. Chambers, whose supernatural work figures prominently in Masque of the Queen, we meet a twenty-eight-year-old woman, Kathryn, desperate for an acting job. She finds it with a play whose story follows, oddly enough, the fictional play The King in Yellow. As rehearsals continue, the play and those acting in it, become more and more disturbing and disturbed. Three actors leave but she is convinced to stay. It is at this point that the use of the word “fugue” by Rainey becomes most clear, explaining his approach to each of his stories in this collection. On the one hand, fugue means a musical composition, and we see that in his stories centering around the Fugue Devil and other horrors. The word also means a loss of awareness of one’s identity, and it is here in Masque of the Queen, that the loss of identity becomes all too real as the crescendoing moment in the play, where the character of Cassilda sings her song, and acting gives way to stark terror and another other space intrudes with dire consequences for her.
This other space is set aside, briefly, for an inner one in Somewhere My Love, where a music teacher practices a more personal sorcery on a young student, who continues the spell into adulthood. One gets the feeling this is a more personal and less fictional story for Rainey, but it goes deeper than pulp-style and garners more emotional involvement. The musical summoning theme reappears with a boom When Jarly Calls. A couple on a wine-holiday find out who the true vintner is and what else gets crushed along with the grapes. This story also ends on a more positive note, or so you may hope.
Through all these stories, other-worldly music, bizarre sounds, and big and little monstrous things that should not be seen or heard in a normal world, intrude into the woods, the towns, and the cities with their deadly intentions. This is not a book for those who like happy endings.
Horror fans will appreciate that.
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