The UK’s Tartarus Press, as many will know, has long been doing a superb double act of high-quality limited-edition rare dark and weird fiction, supplemented by well-formatted, cheap, and DRM-free ebook editions of the same works. The Hidden Back Room, by Jason A. Wyckoff is one of the latest – a compilation of 14 stories by a too-little-known modern American writer of strange tales.
Wyckoff is absolutely at the other end of the horror spectrum from spatterpunk, which may please some and put off others, but it’s undoubtedly a vocation he hews to well. His prose is occasionally slightly archaic and certainly well-mannered, and the unsettling chills are more quietly uneasy than visceral. There’s a definite suggestion of Robert Aickman in many of his stories, particularly the title piece, where an auto repair leads to strange encounters in a restaurant that recalls Aickman’s brilliant “The Hospice.” Thomas Ligotti is another writer that comes to mind, not least in “Comfortidor,” where an office building turns out to house a dragon in its basement, who messes with the A/C system. “The House on North Congress Street,” meanwhile, is a sardonic, calculated, and terrifically constructed ghost story, with a novel take on spectres and a mordant tone that recalls H.P. Lovecraft at his driest, or Ambrose Bierce. “In the Library” is a tale of an impossible room with an equally impossible archive of books that could have come from the pen of Borges.
For anyone who wants to know more about this still new writer, Wyckoff “was born in Columbus, Ohio, USA, where he still lives with his wife and their pets. He was awarded a Bachelor of Music Composition degree from The Ohio State University and then played indie-rock in dive bars for a decade or so.” That biography also has a hint of Ligotti about it, and as these illustrious comparisons suggest, Wyckoff is more than worth watching as he develops. Sad to say, this is one time when Tartarus’s usually excellent ebook layout has fallen down, with some oddities around the story titles in particular, but presumably this issue with the files will get a fix soon. And at the usual Tartarus low ebook price, this is fine writing for very little money. Recommended.