A Glow Of Candles (Charles L Grant)

charles-grantThis collection, which gathers the best of his mid to late 1970s work is mostly impressive. I really enjoyed two thirds of what is on offer. All his usual devices are used to maximum effect: foggy nights; faint rustling in the grass and trees; eerie moonlight; hooting owls; creeping shadows etc, and feature protagonists that, while not loners, are usually lonely.

Charles Grant is not your typical horror author. He relies more on atmosphere than gore, dizzying descriptions instead of fast action. He loves the long, slow build of giallo. But when something bad happens, instead of displaying the results for the world to see, he leaves you relating to the lead characters’ “What the hell was that??” He describes enough for you to get a mental image, but it’s an image that leaves you disoriented, feeling like you’ve missed something as seemingly humdrum scenes suddenly become twisted parodies of reality.

These stories are the very definition of “quiet.” You’ll get no axe wielding maniacs or flesh-eating zombies here. Grant is all about suggesting — in his uniquely poetic way — what might be out there, making those shuffling noises; what might be causing those distorted shadows just outside the window. He’s very old-school. Sometimes his stories can suggest just a bit too much, but I believe that A Glow of Candles gets it just right most of the time, and out of the many books of his I’ve read over the years, this is probably the best and most unnerving as a whole, as well as the most diverse (some of the stories here have a slight science-fiction bent). There were only a couple stories where I kept waiting for something to happen.

And I’m still waiting. Even when you know what’s happening, you’re still not sure what to expect at all. The whole thing feels like a nightmare, and for me everyone else gets measured against his brilliance when it comes to capturing that dreamy feeling. Ignore reviews that said he was a Stephen King wannabe. Grant is the Argento to King’s Carpenter. There aren’t many horror writers that I can think of, living or deceased, that are better at letting the reader’s imagination run wild than Charles L. Grant. And he most certainly is missed.

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