I’ve always enjoyed Paul Finch’s work, but somehow I missed this collection when it came out a few years ago. And while the afternoon of Christmas Eve may be a tad late for some of you to enjoy these stories, you should keep it in mind for next year.
In a Deep, Dark December contains four short stories and one novella. I took a detailed look at the novella, “The Killing Ground”, a few years ago. You can read the review here. I’m not going to rehash what I said. I did reread the story, and it held up quite well. Instead I’ll discuss the other stories.
The first tale is “The Christmas Toys”. Two burglars get a bit more than they expect when they raid a house in a nice part of town on Christmas Eve. They expect to sell the presents they steal, but they find out the toys they take aren’t nice.
A man traveling by bus on Christmas Eve ends up in a small town when the bus has to pull off the highway due to the snow. Rather that wait in the bus station, he heads out into the storm to find a hotel. Unable to locate one, he stops at a church to seek directions. The vicar offers him a bed for the night if he’ll participate in the “Midnight Service”. He should have asked what is role would be before agreeing.
In an act of defiance and passive-agression against his wife, a man takes his daughter to his sister’s for Christmas, but they are unable to reach their destination due to the weather. Seeing a nearby house all lit up, they take shelter there, only to find that the house is occupied by “The Faerie”.
In “The Mummers”, a pair of journalists decide to take revenge on the people who have replaced them when their paper merged with another. So they invite their new bosses to a party at an old country manor on Christmas Eve. They neglect to tell their guests about the mummers who are expected to show up at midnight.
Paul Finch is British, so naturally all these tales have a British feel to them, invoking Dickens and Christmas traditions that aren’t observed as much here in the US. Finch’s prose is lean and readable, his dialogue pulling the reader into the story. His characters sound like real people, meaning they don’t all talk alike. He knows what is scary, and he uses that knowledge to good affect. Not every story has a happy ending, but neither do they all end tragically. Knowing this helps to heighten the suspense.
So throw another Yule log on the fire, pour yourself a hot toddy, and settle back for some chills that aren’t due to the wind and the snow. And pay no attention to those shadows and that scratching at the window.