When John Skipp began making noise about Ravenous Shadows, the new horror fiction line that he is editing, he said he'd be publishing short novels and novellas that told powerful stories without an excess of fat. The first Ravenous Shadows title I read (and reviewed right here at FEARnet), Tribesman by Adam Cesare, did just that. That book had a minimal page count, and it hit the ground running and never once paused for breath. Mission accomplished.
So the next Ravenous Shadows title I picked up was House of Quiet Madness by Mikita Brottman. First thing I noticed: 230+ pages. Hmmmm. Next thing I noticed was that Brottman, unlike Cesare, was in no hurry to tell her story. She's assembled a large cast of characters and she wants us to get to know them. So we meet Danielle, a girl who wakes up in a strange place, in chains, with no memory of how she got there. She escapes her situation and bounces from place to place until a man shows up to claim her as his long-lost wife. And then Danielle disappears again, not from her husband but from the story, and instead we're spending time with Ruth, her husband Peter and their daughter Anne.
Eventually we wind up at Windfall Lodge, a secluded "house of rest" where Ruth, on the verge of a nervous breakdown, goes to spend some recovery time. The pace of life at Windfall Lodge is relaxed to say the least, and the book settles into a comfortable rhythm that matches that pace. We meet the residents, we learn the rules, and every now and then we check in with Anne (who is working as a security guard at a rundown London zoo) and Oliver (Peter's estranged brother and antique shop owner).
If you are paying attention, you'll notice that Brottman begins to sprinkle in some subtle hints about what's going on at this "house of rest" like: comments about the Windfall Lodge grounds and its stunningly beautiful gardens, unsettling psychic flashes experienced by Anne, and the way the rules of the Lodge are dressed up as promoting peaceful conditions while they thoroughly cut its residents off from the outside world. Before you know it, Brottman has you dreading the turn of each page. She ratchets the tension up behind your back, and by the time you start worrying about the characters you'll want to slap your head, because you should have been worried all along.
Through House of Quiet Madness, Skipp shows us that powerful storytelling comes in all shapes and sizes. It doesn't have to be ultra-violent and in your face to pack a punch. It's a lesson we learned long ago, taught to us by guys like Charles L. Grant, Ray Bradbury, and T.E.D. Klein; it's just that, in today's fast-as-lightning world, we forget sometimes. Thanks for the reminder, Skipp. And thanks also to Mikita Brottman, who has written a fun little slice of suspense that reels you in nice and slow, hooking you long before you realize you've been hooked.
House of Quiet Madness is a great showcase for the versatility Skipp is bringing to the Ravenous Shadows line. It's all about quality storytelling that is easily digested but not easily forgotten.
Once again: mission accomplished.
Blu Gilliand is a freelance writer of fiction and nonfiction. He covers horror fiction at his blog, October Country, and contributes interviews to the Horror World website. Follow him on Twitter at @BluGilliand.