Reviewed by David A. Riley
This is the first time I have read any stories by George Berguno, although he has had two earlier collections, The Sons of Ishmael and The Exorcistâ€™s Travelogue. Like Egaeus Pressâ€™s other books, it is beautifully printed and of superb quality.
There are eight short stories in this volume, plus a novella. The first is the title story and is written as a Nordic saga, though with modern sensibilities, particularly with regard to motivations and character and some subtle humour. It did take some getting used to, but once I had I enjoyed it. Other than Three Drops of Death, which is another min- saga, the rest are set in contemporary times, though they are no less strange for that. Indeed, though there are hints of horror in most of them, including a character who may or may not be the Devil, there is nothing overt about them. The only British writer I could compare them to would be Aickman, though even so they could not be mistaken for one of his, having a unique flavour of their own. For me the most interesting story is the novella, A Spell of Subtle Hunting, which is divided into three cantos. The protagonist is the German writer and soldier Ernst Junger, who was marginally involved with the bomb plot against Hitler in 1944 and served most of the Second World War in Paris, where he was a friend of Picasso. Unlike most of the conspirators in the bomb plot Junger escaped with nothing worse than a dishonourable discharge from the army. The final canto involves a bizarre confrontation between Junger and the ghost of Hitler on a rowing boat!
Strange, surreal, with a dreamlike quality in which, as sometimes happens in dreams, there is a startling sense of realism, and filled with dark humour, these are very readable stories and refreshingly different, at least for me, to anything I have read before. Recommended.