The Old Knowledge and Other Strange Tales
 by Rosalie Parker

The Swan River Press
2010, hardback
First collection







"It took some time for Geraldine to become fully awake and a few seconds more, before she understood that she had been dreaming again& Why did she still feel that there was something familiar about the dreams? Something she should remember."

Reviewed by Mario Guslandi


Following the steps of her partner RB Russell, Rosalie Parker, editor and co-owner of Tartarus Press, has decided to try her hand at dark fiction. And, like Russell, Parker has chosen to stay on the quiet side of the horrific and the ghostly, creating subtly disturbing tales of unease, eight of which are now assembled in her debut collection. If you like low-key dark tales, this is the book for you.

The title story, The Old Knowledge, ostensibly about archaeological excavations, is actually an atypical tale of witchcraft, while the captivating Chanctonbury Ring is the report of a strange incident befalling an archaeologist exploring ancient sites in the English countryside. The story leaves behind the obscure, disquieting feeling of an unsolved mystery.
"She rose and, motioning me to stay where I was, crept into the enclosure& After a minute or so she reappeared, now carrying a large wicker basket by its two handles. She put it down on my feet. To my astonishment, lying inside and wrapped up warmly in a plaid blanket was a sleeping baby."
The picture is a compelling, short piece revolving around an oddly haunted drawing.
"This is a warning. You are meddling with something you do not understand. The picture must be returned from whence it came, otherwise youll be held responsible. It should not be displayed. HEED THIS WARNING OR SUFFER THE CONSEQUENCES."

Spirit Solutions reports a case of poltergeist:
"The answer is in your hands. There is an unquiet one among you and the spirit feeds on it. The spirit will not rest until you have found the one and soothed away its energies or expunged it from your hearth. Only you will know the solution. Seek and ye shall find. Be careful. We see danger."
In the end the story offers less than what it seems to promise in the beginning, but does manage to unsettle the reader.

In the Garden, selected for the latest Best New Horror volume, is a fine, clever piece casting a new, worrisome light on the innocent hobby of gardening. Parker first delivers a lesson about gardening:
"Gardening is a creative pastime, but the result is always a work in progress; unlike a painting or a piece of music, a garden is never fixed in time"
but later on her sentences acquire another, rather sinister meaning&

To me, however, the best stories are others. One is The Cook Story, an excellent werewolf tale, cunningly disguised as a mainstream piece with an unexpected, final denouement.
"Ive decide to prepare the venison very simply& Im going to pan fry the steaks and make a simple herb jus & 'I think I would like to help with the herb sauce. I will pick some herbs for the table, then we can sprinkle them over the food. She seemed very dreamy and far away, a little-girl-lost. I felt suddenly, without knowing exactly why, very sorry for her."
The other one is The Rain, a longer, atmospheric tale depicting, in an unassuming but insightful  narrative style, the ways of a small rural village where a woman is spending a short break from the city troubles. Subtly unnerving and purposely, deliciously ambiguous.
"The place was beginning to give her the creeps, and she would have to make an effort to think about everything rationally. If her car was not fixed then she would just have to walk to the next village, however far it was. There, hopefully she would find a telephone box&"
In short, Parkers debut collection appears very promising, especially for those who favour steady, well crafted prose hinting in soft  tones at the darker side of reality, rather than  describing in garish colours the horrors lurking around the corner.



Mario Guslandi lives in Milan, Italy. Most likely the only Italian who regularly reads (and reviews) dark fiction in English, his book reviews have appeared in a number of genre websites such as The Alien Online, Infinity Plus, The SF Site, The Agony Column and Horrorworld.
Mario's other Short Reviews: Simon Stranzas "Cold to the Touch"

Cern Zoo anthology

Deborah Biancotti "A Book of Endings"

Joseph Payne Brennan "The Feaster from Afar and Other Ghastly Inhabitants"

Paulo Bacigalupi "Pump Six and Other Stories"

"Null Immortalis anthology"

Steve Redwood "Broken Symmetries"
                     
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Rosalie Parker is co-proprietor and editor of the independent publishing house Tartarus Press, and lives in the Yorkshire Dales. She has degrees in English Literature & History and in Archeology.

Read an interview with Rosalie Parker