Beneath the Surface, by Simon Strantzas
First appearing in 2008 Simon Strantzas’ debut collection Beneath the Surface promptly disappeared, becoming virtually unobtainable for years due to the premature folding of the publisher, the late Humdrumming Press. Thanks to Dark Regions the book is now available again, in an expanded and revised version.
Was it worth the wait? Yes and no. The collection was certainly a remarkable debut for a newcomer and includes some very good, thought-provoking stories. On the one hand, the book compares unfavourably with the author’s second collection, the outstanding Cold to the Touch, a superior volume, more accomplished, more varied and more mature.
The theme uniting the fourteen tales assembled in the present book is simple: beneath the surface of everyone is lurking something more (which, of course, is neither nice nor pleasant). This basic concept generates a general tone of dreariness, gloom and despair which may result in a growing, slight sense of boredom to the reader who, instead of savouring the tales in dribs and drabs, moves from one story to the next one without a break.
Strantzas’ pessimistic view of the world is evident, for instance, in “A Shadow in God’s Eye”, where a man is chosen to get the revelation of the true meaning (if any) of our universe; and especially in the excellent “Behind the Glass”, defined by another reviewer as a story of “corporate horror”, in which the mysteries behind a company’s nature are disclosed under a slightly Lovecraftian light.
In the compelling “A Love Thing” a writer’s agent discovers ,with tragic consequences, where the artist’s inspiration is coming from. “In the Air” is an ambitious tale of epic horror starting out with two women grieving for their dead husband and brother, then moving, not quite successfully, to a visionary concept of the universe.
The strongest story in the book to me is “The Wound So Deep”, revisiting the subject of evil lurking inside ourselves, here represented by a monstrous, murderous creature inhabiting the body of a man seeking vengeance.
If you’ve never met Strantzas’ fiction before you will enjoy this collection (but don’t forget to get Cold to the Touch later on!). If you’re already familiar with his second book you may feel a bit disappointed by this weaker, albeit noteworthy collection.