In the craft of writing, there are many things to love. One of them is that no matter when a story is composed during a writer’s career, it can always be taken from the fabled trunk, dusted off, and – with some diligent hard work - brought back into the present for a new audience. After carving out an enviable swath of horrific tales over the past few years, Daniel I. Russell has no doubt piqued more than enough interest over this time period for people to take notice – to wonder (perhaps in their own private musings), what other stories the author may have squirreled away. The Collector - Daniel’s second book – is one such tale ... a story Dark Continents have taken an interest in and (wisely) decided to give life to beyond the fabled trunk.
Penny Crescent has its share of flawed characters. There is the Harper house, home to Frank, his wife, and their two young children. With an unhealthy coffee addiction and a predilection for violence, Frank’s seething temper almost results in unemployment from his current position as a physics teacher. Across the road lives elderly Eleanor, a student of the occult. Her grandson Joe does not like her isolation, nor the street itself. But when he arrives in Penny Crescent on a mission of rescue, he soon finds leaving will not be an option for either of them.
And neither will it be an option for the malcontent Dean twins or their helpless mother. Reckless, the boys have made their shared cul-de-sac a personal playground, with no one immune from their criminal tirades or ruffian antics.
Not even Penny Crescents new arrival, The Collector.
He comes furtively at first, a tall stranger in a bowler hat. With red hair, a clipped accent, and the ability to read minds – The Collector soon gives up all pretence of kindly old scholar. The residents of Penny Crescent – ignorant of another world that lies just adjacent to them - have something he wants. And with a supernatural army at his disposal, the new stranger goes about the cat-and-mouse task of securing it.
The character of The Collector is by no means new. Down the corridors of speculative fiction over time we can see him manifest over the decades: Mr Dark from Something Wicked This Way Comes springs to mind ... also Leland Gaunt from Needful Things and Andre Linoge from Storm of the Century. Ancient, otherworldly – and with just slightest trace of humour, they are the antagonists who passively sit in the background whilst Hell’s minions run rampant at their command. That isn't to say we don’t still find them endearing – we do. And Daniel makes sure this particular one has just the right balance of sophistication and malign intent.
With any novel this big, there will be drawbacks. And with The Collector I found it was something I hinted at earlier: time. Being only the author’s second book we can see a distinct flavour of simple, somewhat juvenile prose (and monsters) running throughout the chapters. The story itself is like a bridge in Daniel’s reading habits; an amalgamation of Richard Laymon and Clive Barker respectively. And as a whole this can be grating - because the styles do not suite as a working duality within the same book.
But there are also strengths ... and that’s Daniels trusted ability to simply to entertain. The dialogue is realistic, and the characters are abhorrent and likeable enough in equal measure. If I could compare this to another work that has a similar framework it would be The Regulators by Richard Bachman. In that book, worlds collide and the horrors of suburbia are made manifest through the dreams of very ordinary people. Here Daniel I. Russell is working a very similar formula, but in his own distinctive voice. With a sequel on the way, The Collector is a tale that will only get better.