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The Painted Bride
Stephen Gallagher
Subterranean Press, 181 pages

The Painted Bride
Stephen Gallagher
When Stephen Gallagher published his novel Oktober in 1987 it was to be his temporary farewell to genre fiction, at least as far as his readers were concerned. Never a writer to remain in one place for very long, Gallagher used the early part of his full-time career to examine supernatural horror (Valley of Lights), Northern European legends (Follower), dystopic science fiction (the novelization of his own radio serial, The Last Rose of Summer), and techno-horror (in Chimera). Oktober appeared, and here was Gallagher's murkiest and probably most ambitious novel at that juncture. A Kafka-esque tale of a man literally in the wrong place at the wrong time, Oktober is a tale of chemical malpractice on a continental scale, dealing as it does with a drug which unleashes the collective subconscious. The unfortunate protagonist is experimented on and afterwards persecuted, not least in the hallucinogenic scenes in the Nightmare Country. The book went on to out-sell even the successful Valley of Lights. But Stephen Gallagher was not resting on his laurels. He published mainstream thrillers for a while, although some of the material he presented during this time had been written earlier.

Stephen Gallagher Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: White Bizango
SF Site Interview: Stephen Gallagher

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Mario Guslandi

As I have mentioned before in different occasions, Stephen Gallagher is one of the few writers who can induce a confirmed lover of short fiction like me to handle the task of reading a full novel without getting bored or distracted. Never mind if the genre is horror, supernatural or, like this book, a thriller.

Frank Tanner's wife, Carol, has disappeared. He claims the woman has deserted him and their kids, leaving without notice for who knows where with who knows whom. But Carol's sister, Molly, a former drug addict, thinks she knows better and tries to convince the police that Frank is responsible for the disappearance, hinting that he may have murdered the woman.

On the other hand, Molly appears to be so clumsy and unreliable that her accusations remain not only unproven, but very unlikely. Worried and frustrated, Molly resorts to an attempted kidnapping of her sister's children, Louise and Jack, only to be defeated in her inept endeavour.

The continuous confrontations between Frank and Molly seem to enhance the feeling that the girl is just a loser and a liar, when all of a sudden things take a different turn. Much to the babysitter's alarm, Jack, the younger child, draws a picture of his mum lying on the floor, with her dress drenched in red stuff, supposedly blood. The idea that the child is reproducing on paper a scene he has actually witnessed -- her mother stabbed to death -- makes Frank a suspect.

I don't want to spoil the reader's pleasure by revealing the rest of the plot. It's enough to say that the pace of the story becomes frantic, breathtaking and electrifying. Gallagher is a master in building suspense, making literally impossible to put The Painted Bride down. His narrative style is, as ever, solid and extremely vivid, with a movie-like character which makes you feel like you're watching events taking place under your very eyes.

The characters are fully credible and the dialogues -- the Achilles' heel of so many unaccomplished writers! -- are simply great, natural and smooth.

This is pure fiction in its strictest sense. Thanks God Gallagher has no social, political or philosophical messages to communicate to the world, he simply has a story to tell and knows how to tell it well.

The only funny thing in this novel is that I found myself sympathizing with the bad guy, a melancholy man who, when dealing with his daughter Louise, appears to be a loving and caring father, whereas I simply couldn't stand that stupid woman Molly, in spite of her good intentions and affectionate concern for the children. Am I getting a bit deranged or Gallagher is so good at clouding the issue to trick even a shrewd reader like me?

Copyright © 2006 by Mario Guslandi

Mario Guslandi lives in Milan, Italy, and is a long-time fan of dark fiction. His book reviews have appeared on a number of genre websites such as The Alien Online, Infinity Plus, Necropsy, The Agony Column and Horrorwold.

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