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Mark Samuels
The Man Who Collected Machen and Other Weird Tales
Reviewed by: Mario Guslandi © 2011

Chomu Press
UK First Edition, Paperback
ISBN 978-1-907681-05-9
Publication Date: 03-16-2011
178 pages, £9 ; $12.50
Date Reviewed: 02-12-2011

Index:  Horror, General Fiction

Mark Samuels is a London-based British writer of weird fiction, the author of a novella and of three collections of short stories (among them the remarkable 'The White Hands' from Tartarus Press and 'Glyphotec & Other Macabre Processes' from PS Publishing). His literary influences include Machen, Lovecraft and (by his own admission) Poe, Borges and Ligotti, but I keep thinking of Samuels as a modern Kafka, toying with the darkest and more horrific aspects of human society and probing the strangest secrets of an alienating world.

'The Man Who Collected Machen and Other Weird Tales,' Samuel's fourth collection was first published in a very limited print run by the Romanian imprint Ex Occidente Press. This slightly expanded edition is from Chomu Press, a new small, but very active English publisher devoted to dark fiction. The volume collects eleven tales ranging from the surrealistic to the overtly horrific, mostly imbued with that sense of gloom and anguish which is a trademark of Samuel's fiction.

A fine example of the author's fiction at its best is "Losenef Express", an upsetting but quite fascinating story featuring an American horror writer traveling in East Europe. After committing an absurd murder the man runs away by taking a train ride bound to an unexpected, amazing destination.

The title story "The Man Who Collected Machen" is the lucid report of an overwhelming obsession shared by a wealthy, unscrupulous collector and by a young man of limited means. In the extremely creepy "A Question of Obeying Orders" a war deserter ends up in a remote village where the dead respond to an irresistible summons, while in the offbeat "Thyxxolqu", yet another of Samuels' disquieting nightmares, a mysterious language spreads all over.

"The Black Mould" is a phantasmagoric piece of cosmic horror and "A Contaminated Text" a dark allegory about the power of the written word. Finally "Xapalpa", a traditionally tailored tale with a sinister undercurrent, gives the author the opportunity to exhibit his ability as a straight storyteller as opposed to his usual, oblique narrative style.

Samuels is a master craftsman whose pessimism about the universe and the human condition transpires from every sentence, but this is the material of which dark fiction is supposed to be made, isn't it? Monsters can strike terror but real horror is always the result of trip into the dark side of life.

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