of the first edition of
The Eve of St Eligius
I have read stories and articles by Tom East before and they have always left me reflective, informed and - there is no other way to say it - in a better place than I was before I began to read. That still applies even when you have laid down his latest short story collection “The Eve of St Eligius,” and moved on to other things. I was going to say “and forgotten” but stopped myself. This is a stunning collection that can never be forgotten. They come back to haunt you, like all good mystery or ghost stories – speculative fiction as we would say now.
The stories are full of atmosphere and, depending on your preference, are not always tales to be read at dusk. They say that electricity in our houses destroyed the ghost story which belonged to an age of guttering candles and gas light. This collection confirms this as a platitude and, more importantly, as a falsehood. The ghost story – if that is what these are – is alive and kicking, decidedly kicking.
“The Eve of St Eligius” is a series of disturbing and somewhat harrowing short stories – dark stories as the author says - twenty two of them, ranging from fantasy fables to tales of horror and tragedy. The influences are wide ranging, from the Mabinogion to Dickens, from Edgar Allen Poe to more modern writers like Michael Moorcock.
Having said that, the stories in “The Eve of St Eligius” are not mere copies or slavish reproductions of tales from the past - far from it. East puts his own slant on each of them, an attention to detail and character that catch the reader and hold him or her in their spell. He has the natural writers’ appreciation of the three essential elements of a story – strong and interesting settings; memorable characters; a fascinating problem that needs to be worked through but which is not always successfully solved.
There was not a false note in any of the stories but any reader will quickly discover “favourites” Mine was probably “The First and Last Letter,” a tale based on a true event. Read the book and discover your own.
- PHIL CARRADICE - Author of over 70 books and historian.
I'm a fan of short stories. The best ones drag the reader in and provoke a reaction. It could be revulsion or longing, joy or sorrow, but an emotion of some sort will be engendered if the writer has done his, or her, job. I’m happy to say, such stories abound in this collection.
It’s not a sparse collection. Twenty-two tales, with enough variety that even the pickiest readers will find something they’ll enjoy.
Although the stories are described as ‘dark’—and many are—not every one ends badly for the protagonist. Take ‘Before the Kettle Boils’, for example: I found this to be a nostalgic look at the differences between big city and rural living, an uplifting tale despite the appearance of a ghost.
That’s part of the fun in reading this collection—the reader can never be sure whether the tale will turn out to be as dark as night, or more a shade of grey. Mr East knows how to keep readers on their toes.
There are ghosts aplenty within these pages. Dreamworlds, too, and demons and elves. My favourites? The story from which the collection takes its title, with its psychopathic narrator; ‘The Contract of One Thousand’, with its allure of an extended lifespan in return for an unspecified payment that the reader can only believe will not be a good deal for the payer; and ‘The First and Last Letter’, revealing the descent into madness of the letter writer—based on a true story, my only gripe is that it ended too soon.
A fine collection, worthy of standing on the book shelf of any short story aficionado.
- SAM KATES- Author of the Earth Haven and Elevator Trilogies.