Friday, June 6, 2014

Hoffman's Creeper and other Disturbing Tales

For a few years now I’ve been watching Australia’s Cameron Trost – from humble beginnings publishing with Midnight Echo, to his shorter novel Letterbox, and finally acting as midwife and editor-in-chief to Black Beacon Books, an independent publishing venture specializing in mystery, suspense, psychological horror, and the just plain weird. In short, all the niches we’re here to promote. Though still in a stage of infancy, the small press is already showing professional hallmarks by working with a gifted team that includes Greg Chapman (whom I’m sure some of you met at the recent WHC), David Schembri, and Sandra Fowke. With Hoffman’s Creeper, Cameron gives us all the stories that have led him to this point – an imaginative chart showcasing broader influences while at the same time giving rise to his own unique voice.  Here is a snippet of some:

The Ritual.

One of the collections openers is probably its strongest, the tale of a small cadre of female school students who - in order to gain power - turn to thaumaturgy and establish a coven. It’s one containing an amiable twist, with a side of perversion. Foremost, it establishes Trost’s style: a fair heaping of dialogue with subtle mystery in the background like far-off radio noise.

Kangaroo Point.

A kind of reverse-coin approach to mental-illness. Eric Sanderson, while taking the walk home along the path past Kangaroo Point, encounters another man in the act of suicide meditation. With nicely crafted characterization, this is somewhat evocative of King’s tale The Last Rung On the Ladder. Here Cameron weaves the human into horror.

Hoffman’s Creeper

The title tale is also one of the more memorable ... the story of Professor Samuel Hoffman – a professional botanist whose adoration of the plant realm will see him adopt some eccentric (and macabre), practices. Though one could call this a more staid take on Little Shop of Horrors, I found something more here: a perspective of the world that views other species (in this case plant life), humanity’s equal if not better. In the real world it’s a science we are only now beginning to penetrate – just how conscious is the green world surrounding us?

So ... what can we take away from the collection? As a working whole, the stories presented are 'light' dark fiction (some bordering on YA). Though Cameron knows how to construct a clean sentence, the subtle horror provoked – at times - a casual response. A positive method Cameron employs is a kind of fail-safe twist (usually within the closing paragraphs) designed to rock reader's perceptions of what came before. It’s a token technique – one that other writers aspire to but which Trost seems to have mastered.

With any debut collection there will be drawbacks (novice things like show, don’t tell), but for the most part Trost has laid down solid groundwork for future endeavors.