Michael McCrann,
Midnight Tableau
(Double Dragon, 2004)

I don't really have a lot of background in the horror fiction genre, so I was intrigued by the opportunity to read Midnight Tableau by Michael McCrann, which gave me a chance to find out what I have been missing.

Here we have a collection of shorter works covering a wide range of horror by an author who has been compared to Stephen King and Shirley Jackson (both on the back cover of the book and in the introduction). Since I have only limited experience with both these authors, I can't really use that as a basis for comparison.

In the first story, "Lured," protagonist Craig has a lot of emotional ambivalence in his life when he embarks with scuba-diving gear to explore a submerged wreck. But he becomes lost within the confines of the ship, and the tension builds as he recognizes his plight.

These tales present very human characters, and McCrann is highly skilled at character development. I felt for many of these people as the events in their lives took turns for the terrible. Jenna in "La Arana Afortunada" is the awkward teenage girl trying to fit in with the cool kids. This involves disobedience and a trip to Mexico with the group of kids and the boy she likes. Again, there is a lot of tension throughout the tale.

"The Pledge" also follows along the motif of finding danger while seeking peer acceptance. Roger is a nerd trying to garner acceptance in a prestigious fraternity. He endures many hardships and much ridicule, but tells himself it will be worth it once he is initiated into the group. Of course, he is biting off more than he can chew. Will it be worth it? McCrann seems to understand the old adage, "Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it."

McCrann does not rely on monsters or the supernatural in most of these tales; most of them created a tension based on human nature that I enjoyed. You don't have the predictable monster leaping out at every turn; often, you find your heart racing and then nothing happens. This tension and build-up is what makes the stories work for me.

Some of the tales like "Down the Cellar" and "What Needs Doing Will Get Done" do utilize supernatural motifs, but they are the exception. In these tales we have creatures living in the sewer and gnomes that attack children. These tales work because McCrann has a lot of talent. He still manages to create a believable backdrop for these tales. Plus, I think we all grew up fearing the rat in our cellar.

The book concludes with a novella called "Coven of the Unwanted." This story revolves around a deformed but delinquent girl named Jessica. She is sent to a reform school. Her face is burned by her abusive father. The story also creates a conflict between Jessica and Nancy, who runs the office at the school. Both characters are very human and flawed. There will be an ultimate confrontation eventually. This story is good because the reader comes to care for both characters as well as other players in the story.

This was a really great collection of stories. I was pulled into each story. I found the author to be quite adept at creating a creepy mood and drawing strong settings. Then the characters were able to build on the story till they could reach a peak. The stories had a lingering creepiness because most of them were dealing with human fragility. It is an enticing read. I recommend this for fans of horror and of quality fiction in general. I look forward to more writings from McCrann.

- Rambles
written by George Schaefer
published 19 February 2005

Buy it from Amazon.com.