I was offered a free review copy of this book by the author back in the summer, and I read it in the run up to Halloween, which seemed a better time to get to grips with what looked like a scary read.
To be honest, I would not have chosen this book without Veronica Dale’s kind gift of it, because I’m not keen on creepy, scary or sinister books, but she persuaded me that there was more to be gained from this slim collection than terror and sleepless nights. (I am VERY easily scared, with a vivid dreamlife including anything that’s frightened or upset me during the day. )
To my relief, I really enjoyed all of the stories, and I didn’t have to sleep with the lights on once! I also enjoyed the opportunity to learn from its introduction about Carl Jung’s concept of the Shadow, which provides the unifying theme for the collection.
In fact, I found the stories insightful, charitable, fascinating, and often funny, with imaginative twists and developments of character and plot – not at all what I’d expected from the cover (which I think is a lovely design, by the way, though it comes out a bit dark on the web here).
Unusual Structural Device
Although the stories share a central theme, they are all quite different. The author has used an unusual but effective means to set the mood at the start of each story, so that the reader is not wrong-footed by reading dissimilar stories in succession. I was glad about that, because that’s one of my pet hates when reading collections or anthologies. Her device is a brief introductory paragraph, as you might see if reading the story in a magazine, to whet your appetite. Though I was taken aback when I saw the first intro, I thought it worked remarkably well, and was left wondering why more authors don’t follow suit.
Clever and Compassionate Writing
Veronica Dale is a slick and accomplished writer, and I wasn’t surprised to see that many of the stories have won prizes or been shortlisted for awards. As with any collection, I liked some stories more than others, particularly the more structured ones, and my favourites included the poignant “Dried Beans”, the wacky futuristic “Persons of Marred Appearance”. and the very clever “Within Five Feet”.
Occasionally a story broke a rule or two, e.g. what I’d taken to be a main character got sidelined as a new one was introduced, but Dale is a sufficiently powerful storyteller to get away with it.
As I finished reading, I realised that the book hadn’t been scary at all, but is more an antidote to the fears that can take too easily take hold when we’re at a low ebb at this dark time of the year.
I was interested to learn that Dale is also a Christian minister, which I’m sure colours the book, but it’s not remotely evangelical, and is inclusive of other faiths. If you didn’t know this biographical fact, I don’t think you’d spot it from the stories – you’d just think the book was written by somebody kind and thoughtful.
Recommended reading, especially while the nights are long and dark!
Night Cruiser is available to order in paperback or as an ebook.
You can find out more about Veronica Dale and her work on her website: www.veronicadale.com.
Incidentally, Night Cruiser put me in mind of a short story of my own, Lighting Up Time, which is about fear of the dark, set on the winter solstice, which, as I write this review, is fast approaching. You’ll find it online as a stand-alone single short story, available exclusively as an ebook.