Frank Chigas,
The Damp Chamber
& Other Bad Places

(Medusa, 2004)

Frank Chigas very nearly writes a good horror tale.

He creates good characters and puts them in interesting settings packed with atmosphere. He builds suspense and develops plots that stir the imagination and sometimes make you shift uneasily at strange noises in your home. He makes dark places seem real and excites the imagination where supernatural possibilities are concerned.

But, in The Damp Chamber & Other Bad Places, his hefty collection of short stories, Chigas consisently demonstrates a vital weakness in his writing: the endings.

We can blame his publisher for issuing a book with such tiny, eye-straining text. But Chigas alone must bear the blame for making his climactic conclusions so anticlimactic. Many of the stories in this book drew me into his world and, frankly, creeped me out -- and then, when I reached the last page or paragraph of each, I was yanked unceremoniously from the prose with a disappointed feeling of "That's it?"

Some stories are weaker than others, and Chigas has a tendency to pick a formula and run with it. For instance, how many secrets must he reveal through the conceit of a hidden diary? But his love for the works of classic horror writers is evident and he emulates some of their strengths with a practiced hand. Perhaps too practiced; while his stories are set in varied times and places, he writes with a specific stilted, gothic tone that gives them all the same general feel.

The stories are illustrated with drawings -- also by Chigas -- that dream of Gorey, Geary and Addams but fall far short of the mark; rather than providing creepily cartoony visuals to the tales, they interrupt the flow with childish scrawls. Next time, Chigas should hire an artist or -- better yet -- leave the drawings out altogether and increase the size of the text.

Chigas quite clearly has potential as a writer of short horror fiction. With some work on his endings and a little more variety in his approach, he could be great.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 26 February 2005

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