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Michael Reynier
Five Degrees of Latitude
Reviewed by: Mario Guslandi © 2011

Tartarus Press
UK Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-1-905-78437-0
Publication Date: 07-01-2011
270 Pages, ; £32.50/ $50
Date Reviewed: 08-03-2011

Index:  Horror  General Fiction  Fantasy  Science Fiction  Mystery

Life is full of surprises and the life of book lovers makes no exception. Sometimes you happen to find in your hands a volume by a perfectly unknown writer, an absolute beginner, and you get mesmerized by his/her debut collection. This is exactly the case with Michael Reynier 's first collection of short stories (well, more accurately "longish" stories…) just published by Tartarus Press. Reprinting past gems of dark and weird fiction is not the only scope of that excellent UK imprint. Discovering new, extraordinary talents is their purpose as well. Fine examples are Mark Samuels, Quentin S. Crisp and Angela Slatter, just to mention a few.

'Five Degrees of Latitude' includes, as the title suggests, five pieces of uncanny fiction. The first two stories are simply outstanding.

"Le Loup-Garou" is a stunning, very dark piece depicting a series of disappearances and animal mutilations taking place in a remote French mountain village. Partly a horror story, partly an intriguing whodunit, the story is told in a detached but enticing narrative style quite amazing for a newcomer.

"No. 3 Hobbes' Lane" is another astounding, quite original tale cleverly built around the mystery of a house on a cliff devoid of windows facing the breathtaking view. It's an extraordinary story, graced by a superior storytelling ability, which analyzes in depth the events — imbued with a supernatural nature — revolving around that puzzle.

The third story in the volume, "The Rumour Mill", is not quite outstanding (actually, I found it a bit overlong) but surely very good. It investigates the life and the experimental research in verbal communication by a distinguished academic, whose work came unexpectedly to grief.

In the fully enjoyable "Sika Tarn" we can savour the vivid report of the weird experience of two hikers exploring woods, cliffs and a forsaken mountain lake. Dark, supernatural secrets from the past become gradually unearthed.

The last piece "The Visions of Lazaro" didn't work for me. Therein Reynier tries to melt in the same pot two different stories (one concerning a religious sect from the past, the other, an expedition to a deserted outpost), continuously shifting from a sort of magic realism to a kind of soft SF. In spite of the author's solid narrative technique, the plots do not really grip the reader's attention and the result is somehow unconvincing.

With this distinct exception, 'Five Degrees of Latitude' remains an extraordinary book, featuring stories with very original subjects and such a mature, superior writing style that it's hard to believe that this is the debut work of a brand new author and not the product of a skilful veteran storyteller.

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General Fiction
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Supernatural fiction, supernatural horror and non-supernatural horror.

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