Written by M.V. Montgomery, BEYOND THE PALE is a collection of short mysteries with unusual and quirky endings, often comedic undertones, and a heavy dose of the supernatural. As the book description implies, it echoes “old Saturday afternoon creature features and Alfred Hitchcock mystery anthologies.” The collection is an interesting assortment of stories that leaves the reader musing about the possible supernatural influences behind seemingly innocuous but unusual events, as well as the possibility of the paranormal present in our everyday interactions.
Broken into three sections, a series of entertainment industry mysteries are outlined and ultimately solved from the point of view of “M.V.”, our protagonist and narrator. The first section features a number of supernatural queries, starting with the investigation into the sudden derailment of a film featuring a true vampire, in “Beyond The Pale.” Although the drama and excitement of capturing an authentic undead— a “pijavica“—piques our protagonist’s interest, the real mystery lies in what is ultimately captured on film. In “The Heart of the Matter,” M.V. delves into, and discovers, a bizarre and comedic twist of fate that led to the ultimate timing of a brilliant opening sequence in a famous film. As M.V. reveals: who needs good directing and timing when the World Cup is being played in the background? A timely goal and celebration takes the place of “action” in this quirky outcome. In a more macabre twist, the discovery of an artist’s depiction of a serial killer who has succumbed to an end created by his own design is the focus of “The Artist of the Dead.” Finally, within the first section, “The Evan Chronicles” highlights the comedic dynamic between our protagonist and a friend actor, with a series of random events outlined throughout each chapter.
The opening of the second section is captured by “Zombie Triptych,” humorous stories of the interaction between these undead and those very much alive; while, “Tractatus Victus-Mortuus” (“Treatise on the Living Dead”), offers enlightening information about this subspecies of undead. “Witch-Hunter Puzzles” also provides comedic relief with humorous endings to short riddles; while “Three Stories That End in Exclamations” provide short, humorous vignettes. Finally, in a story set in the future, “Clickerland” delves into the creepy Big Brother-esque life of technology; how it could rule our world and our thoughts, a sobering reflection upon our ability to maintain free will in the face of opposing forces.
The third section of Montgomery’s collection highlights three stories about humans becoming supernatural creatures, in fiction or reality. “A Methodical Madness” follows the mystery of the Beast of Atlanta, “played” by an actor who, in delving into his role, becomes the beast, and who is ultimately defeated by an unlikely hero. “An Unknown Quantity” highlights the intersection of science and the unexplainable and how knowing little about scientific discoveries can lead to misinterpretations and misguided accusations. In a humorous twist of a film idea, “The Lycan, The Witch, and The Wardrobe” enters into the bizarre world of a film student plotting to kill her roommate on film, with the help of a medicated foreign student who falsely believes he’s a werewolf. We revisit on early story (“The Heart of the Matter”) in “Lost in the Mix,” revealing the mystery behind scary noises and voices in a deceased director’s home. The collection ends with “Trouble in Paradise Valley,” another bizarre twist of fate in the film world.
Always keeping the reader guessing, waiting for the next über evil or badly medicated film student, this collection of short stories is an entertaining, albeit unusual, read. –Jessica Driscoll
Dr. Jessica Driscoll is Publishing Editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal (Australia).