There is a sinister world just veiled beneath the world we see every day . . . at least that’s how it seems in the world where Mark Samuels’ short stories reside. In his collection, The Man Who Collected Machen and Other Weird Tales, relatively ordinary, but not quite innocent, people discover dark and sometimes unpleasant things reside right here and now, hidden from view by the thinnest of veils.
From an author who gets sucked into an anti-book demon cult to a man that discovers he’s infected with a deadly language, the tales within this compact book are at times almost mundane, but by the time you reach the end, leave you feeling just this side of disturbed. Many are infused with hopelessness . . . that there is no way to escape the macabre fate of intergalactic mould or towers that appear only to the chosen.
Mr. Samuels’ work has been compared to Arthur Machen, a Welsh author who wrote tales of the macabre in the 1890s and early 20th century. And, at least to the degree that his style is very much of that time period—even when talking about things that happen in the modern world—this is true. Many of the short stories in The Man Who Collected Machen feel old-fashioned, as if the author was a contemporary of H.G. Wells (1866-1946) and Ambrose Bierce (1842–1913). There is a dated style to word choice and sentence structure that, in some cases, enhances the mood of the story, giving it a musty, decaying ambiance, but in other stories just distracts.
The endings to many of the tales sneak up on you and drop in your lap in the last paragraph with a flourish. Sometimes this is effective, creating an “Oh!” moment, but at other times not so much, leaving you scratching your head and wondering, “What?”
As a whole, the stories in The Man Who Collected Machen and Other Weird Tales weave a feeling of dis-ease, a sense that things are not well with the world, and you better watch your back or you’ll find yourself confronted by the things that terrify you the most.
Individually, the stories are inconsistent, but get better the deeper into the collection you read. The writing style keeps you at arms length from the protagonist and the things going on in the tale. Therefore, this collection is not for everyone . . . it is an acquired taste.
Modern readers who are used to and prefer modern writers are advised to skip this book; however, if you don’t mind a little old school story telling and are brave enough to open the closet door when you’re done reading a horror story, Mr. Samuels’ little anthology will take you to strange places and reveal divergent realities in unlikely places.