Reviewed by Mario Guslandi
Reggie Oliverâ€™s astonishing debut collection â€œThe Dreams of Cardinal Vittoriniâ€ was published in 2003 by the now defunct Haunted River press, followed, two years later, but the equally phenomenal collection â€œ The Complete Symphonies of Adolf Hitlerâ€ from the same imprint.
Since then Oliver has established himself as one of the very best contemporary authors of dark tales or, as he prefers to call them, â€œstrange storiesâ€. Many of his stories are set in the world of theatre which, Oliver being primarily a playwright and an actor, doesnâ€™t come as a surprise. And since life on stage is fictional and the theatrical environmentÂ is a real melting pot of talents, ambitions and jealousies , it provides the ideal setting for the development of odd events of horrific or even supernatural nature.
Producing accomplished work, however, requires manyÂ qualities as an author and Oliver possesses them all. Heâ€™s endowed with a fertile imagination and a superb writing technique. Heâ€™s a terrific storyteller who can write in a classy, elegant yet powerful narrative style, creating perfectly drawn characters and enticing plots.
Oliverâ€™s first two collections are out of print and currently unobtainable unless youâ€™re prepared to buy them at second-hand bookstores at outrageous prices. Â Egaeus Press must therefore be commended for reprinting a selection (made by the author himself) of stories from those elusive volumes.
Although all the tales are remarkable in their own way, some really stand out as unforgettable.
â€œMiss Marchantâ€™s Causeâ€ is a spellbinding supernatural story of madness and possession revolving around the murderous character of the deceased superintendent of an asylum for the insane.
The splendid â€œThe Boy In Green Velvetâ€ features a disquieting toy theatre and aÂ very disreputable play, while the intriguing, gripping â€œThe Golden Basilicaâ€ is about the quest forÂ an elusive book.
In the extraordinary â€œThe Time of Bloodâ€ dark secrets of the cloister are revealed, while the prophecies of a nun cast disturbing shadows on the future. By contrast the entertaining â€œThe Blue Roomâ€ blends the traditional setting of the haunted room with a peculiar touch of eroticism.
In the outstanding â€œThe Dreams of Cardinal Vittoriniâ€ we witness the horrors of the Inquisition, the dark side of faith and the continuous battle of the Church against the dangers of heresy.
The volume also includes the previously unpublished play â€œLove Unknownâ€ featuring an insightful portrait of MR James and the academic world around him (including his friends AC Benson and Oscar Browning). Jamesâ€™ passion for one of his pupils and the subsequent disappointment for the young manâ€™s marriage and the pain for his death are effectively and perceptively represented.
In short, a remarkable book not to be missed.