Scott Thomas,
Midnight in New England
(Down East, 2007)

The blurb on the back cover of Midnight in New England compares author Scott Thomas to Poe and Lovecraft. It's an impressive claim -- but only if the work within can live up to the claim.

Thomas, sadly, falls short of the mark. It's not that he doesn't make a strong effort -- he has a knack for evoking a certain atmosphere, certainly -- but the payoff isn't there.

In part, the flaw is a lack of story. Most of the tales in this collection generate a mood but fail to provide a plot. For instance, it's weird when the young woman in "The Copper Mask" vanishes, leaving in her place a pile of dead birds. It's odd that anyone who trespasses into the old factory in "The Collector in the Mill" loses a limb and, eventually, their sanity within. But why do these things happen? If Thomas has a clue, he's not sharing it with his readers.

The foundation of the stories here lies on two principles: the dead don't always rest quietly, and bad people sometimes have bad things happen to them. Neither is sufficient to build a whole story -- much less an entire collection of stories -- upon, but Thomas gives it a try.

"The Recurrent Silence" hinges entirely on a clever gimmick that just isn't clever enough. "Sharp Medicine" again gives us a tale of horror without any sort of reason or explanation ... and it makes one very basic mistake: "Now, no one knows exactly just where Nathan Bell was buried alive, but they claim it was under this very field...," the story tells us -- but, the story also makes it clear that no one knows what happened to him at all, so how rumors got started about where he was entombed, I'll never figure out.

Perhaps the most successful venture here is a tale called "Whispers," in which an affair leads to murder, which leads in turn to terrible revenge. It almost works, until the final paragraph brings it all crashing down to spoil the tension Thomas worked so hard to create.

Scott Thomas demonstrates a fair gift with a pen, but his narrative skill flounders without adequate plotting to support it. Perhaps he needs more practice, or maybe a writing partner to generate ideas, but this book doesn't reach its potential.

book review by
Tom Knapp

4 September 2010

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