Reviewed by Nigel Robert Wilson
There are two delights associated with Tartarus Press publications. The first is an assurance of good writing, well-edited with a coherent plot that will draw the reader into a parallel existence. The second is the experience of holding a properly bound book which is pleasing to both handle and possess. These days cheap is mistakenly deemed to be cheerful. This might be adequate for pot-boilers, but quality will always demonstrate its value.
Inside the cover of Mirror Dead the publisher makes the statement that the ghost story remains in good health at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Whilst the ghost story is in excellent health, my inner pedant cavils at defining Mirror Dead in this way. The book is not really a ghost story in the traditional sense, but it is a superb tale of possession. It certainly belongs in the supernatural category, but its complex psychology goes well beyond any easy classification. Put simply, this is by far the best written modern horror story I have yet experienced.
The Mirror Dead appear when you wish to see your own reflection. They manifest in your mirror at a moment when they cannot be ignored, demanding immediate attention. What a brilliant comment on our narcissistic times!
Our hero, Simon is not an attractive figure, but if you were possessed by the spirit of a dead unborn twin, named Gray whose fleshly substance you absorbed in your mother’s womb, you too would not possess a model pattern of behaviour. In the tale both Simon and Gray narrate their own stories. Gray fascinates. He is secure in his control of Simon, who he names Dopey for reasons that are apparent. He likes to manifest in a very camp manner and is in the possession of Doors. No, this has nothing to do with Jim Morrison, as these are the doorways in the mind through which he travels. In Gray, McQueen has created a superbly, creepy creature. Her delight in him is evident throughout the piece.
Then there is Rose, the object of Simon’s lust, or is it really Gray’s avarice? She has a sister, Miranda who is an in-patient at a mental hospital. Miranda has her own possessor, a demon whom she calls Angel who contrives to meet her in a virtual night-club located somewhere in her head, where probably the weirdest barman ever serves exotic liquids.
McQueen has a very agreeable off-hand manner in describing the way our civilisation chooses to see itself. There is an almost Len Deighton style of deprecation at work here which is sharp, reflective and accurate in exposing the conceits of our times. The sub-culture of sex, drugs and the dafter end of the occult are explored. The consumption of drugs, whether they be prescription or otherwise is to be deplored as reality is bad enough as it is. Why risk altering it? Such is the rage of the glass-half empty brigade.
This tale is a delicious mix of the conscious and subconscious hard at work. It illustrates the terrors we can inflict upon ourselves as we struggle with that predicament called life. It is an unconventional story which can be happily classed as modern literature. The price of £35.00 will be deemed high by some but its possession is worth every penny.