horror, women in horror

Door by Catherine McCarthy

Whether it’s a character in Neil Gaimen’s Neverwhere, or Issac Asimov’s glimpse into a possible future, doors are fascinating portals into unknown worlds. That is what this collection of dark short stories is all about. What if our world was full of portals to other dimensions, and beings have been using them to enter our world for centuries?

Bookended by connected stories, Door contains twelve tales from twelve different time periods. Starting with the titular Door, a contemporary story that relies strongly on suggestion, proving that sometimes the scariest monsters live in our imagination. The next story travels into the distant past with Hunter. Plague, set in the Middle Ages, brings to mind Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. Billabong takes us to Australia and one of the first clashes between Europeans and the indigenous people. Mine delves into the depths of welsh mining history. Ash concerns an ancient cult in Lanzarote. Wave brings us to more recent times with the disaster at Fukushima. Charity is a charming Christmas story. Shams grapples with the complexity of quantum physics. The last story, Bunker, is set during the Second World War.

McCarthy is skilled at capturing the different time periods and the differing mentalities of the characters that reside there. Each story fully immerses the reader into the location, and it is a joy to experience where each new story takes you. It is obvious that the author has meticulously researched her subjects, and you know you are in safe hands.

In the tradition of writers such as M R James, McCarthy fills her stories with suspense, creating atmosphere to unnerve rather than overt horror. As a result, much is left to the imagination, and the reader is included in the creative process, left to ponder what happened to the characters after the story is finished.

Where the stories excelled for me was in their settings, with no anachronistic elements destroying my suspension of disbelief. Particular stand outs were Mine, especially for the depiction of child labor in the coal mines. Charity, perhaps the most overt of the tales, for its different take on a Christmas story. Billabong for its Australian setting and it’s inclusion of the myths of the indigenous people.

There is a chilling realism in these stories, and reading them I almost forgot that they were fiction and believed that these were real historical events, recounted by those who survived. Each feels like a spooky story recounted by a friend, where the thrill comes from not quite knowing what exactly happened.

Unfortunately it is this very element that I also found frustrating. Just like in life, not knowing the full story leaves me yearning for more. While I don’t want every thread tied neatly in a bow, some of the stories left me wishing there had been a little bit more information. But that’s the point of Door; sometimes we don’t know, and we have to get used to disappointment.

I look forward to reading more from this author.

I award Door

Door is available for $2.58 ebook and $7.99 print book on Amazon.

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