Gary Braunbeck is back! Many horror and dark fantasy fans have been anticipating this day for a long time. Raw Dog Screaming Press, a stellar entity, rarely misses on producing something special for readers. There Comes a Midnight Hour is one of their greatest achievements, from the stunning (and warped) cover to the arrangement of stories which first grasps the reader by the hand with the apocalyptic “We now pause for station identification” to the stylish closer “Down in darkest Dixie where the dead don’t dance.”
For those who are familiar with Braunbeck and his Cedar Hill mythos, which is akin to Ray Bradbury’s old stomping grounds, Charlie Grant’s Oxrun Station, and Stephen King’s Castle Rock, these fifteen tales will lull you back into familiar territory with new twists and realities that both seduce and infiltrate readers’ psyches, infecting the deepest recesses of minds where secrets and fears reside. He accomplishes this task with skills comparable to those aforementioned authors, sometimes surpassing them with a stray passage or line that pierces old wounds.
For those unfamiliar, sit back and enjoy the ride. Be prepared to revisit many of the stories between the covers, discovering new truths and lies within each story with each reading, as Braunbeck masterfully, yet subtly, burrows deep into the mind.
Finding a favorite story in this collection might be wholly impossible to choose. After three passes, absorbing each title in different moods, this reviewer has found new treasures and sharp edges in stories that appear different each time. However, a trio continue to rise to the top.
“Onlookers” delves into the golden age of film from the point of view of a boy, then grown man, as he first bumps into Buster Keaton (and Samuel Beckett) on a movie set. They discover the odd beings who seem to exist everywhere and defy reality as we know it. To say more would ruin the magic Braunbeck has conjured.
“Paper Cuts” could be construed as a vampire tale but to do so would be missing out the nuances and the ingenuity of the story. A young woman enters a bookstore where the rare volumes hold secrets that travel back centuries. How the author tackles a subject that could have fallen apart in lesser hands is baffling — but exquisite reading.
Finally, “Light On Broken Glass” hits on one of Braunbeck’s go-to themes: identity, or loss of it. It’s an experience that hits home, especially during this past lost year in Covid times.
Each story contains a microcosms of superb storytelling with the emotional impact of a Louisville Slugger to the heart. Braunbeck’s new collection is exactly what’s needed in dark fiction during this fractured chapter in human history.
Highly recommended as with all of the author’s work.