Cold Hand In Mine
 by Robert Aickman

Tartarus Press

Awards: World Fantasy Award for Pages From a Young Girl's Journal, included in this collection

"It has become exceedingly cold, almost icy… I doubt if I shall write any more. I do not think I shall have any more to say."

Reviewed by Mario Guslandi

Robert Aickman defined his unsettling and puzzling tales "strange stories", avoiding the terms "ghost" or "supernatural" because his literary enigmas were usually well rooted into reality, although often one of unfathomable and deceiving nature. His short fiction is collected in eight volumes, most of which are by now virtually unobtainable or items for a few wealthy collectors. o the delight of the numerous fans of that cult writer, UK-based Tartarus Press is gradually reprinting all the Aickman collections in elegant hardcover editions.

Cold Hand in Mine, which originally appeared in 1975, is one of the author’s best known books, featuring eight classy stories which offer a fascinating showcase of Aickman’s cryptic but enticing narrative style.

The opening piece, The Swords is one of the most typical and famous Aickmanesque tales, inscrutable and disquieting, blending eroticism, weirdness and the disturbing feeling that something terrible lurks behind our trivial daily existence.
Obediently, she did everything I asked.... To me she still felt queer and disappointing – flabby might almost be the word – and certainly quite different from what I had always fancied a woman’s body would feel...
In the melancholy The Real Road to the Church Aickman, in his customary oblique way, tries to probe into the mystery of the supernatural, intended in a religious sense, seeking the meaning of life and death in a world where God remains inexplicable and unreachable.
"Who am I ?" whispered Rosa. "And who are you?"

"I am your soul," replied a remote voice she did not know.

"But," cried Rosa, "where then are you going?"

"To the church. Where else should a soul go?"
The Hospice is yet another puzzling tale featuring a lost motorist who finds shelter in an odd "hotel" where guests are encouraged to overeat and where much more than meets the eye is actually going on. Atmospheric and eerie, the story triggers a lingering feeling of deep unease.

Pages from a Young Girl’s Journal stands out as a clever but traditional, straightforward vampire story, by no means a typical Aickmanesque piece. Although winner of the World Fantasy Award, it never struck me as one of the best among the author’s stories, due to the lack of his trademark subtlety and ambiguity.

By contrast The Same Dog, an apparently realistic yet elusive piece, is endowed with an astonishing ending as Aickman’s unmistakable signature.
"Rubbish, Hilary. Dogs don’t live twenty years." But he wasn’t quite sure of that.

"That one has."

The long Meeting Mr. Millar, in which a mysterious firm of accountants disrupts the quiet routine of the tenants of an apartment building, needless to say is open to different interpretations. Strange doings of dubious nature take place in the premises, all the activities revolving around the inscrutable character of Mr Millar. A truly engrossing story, although somehow slightly unaccomplished.

In the grotesque The Clock Watcher a British man marries a girl from Germany’s Black Forest, whose bond with clocks goes beyond a simple obsession to become the source of her health and her very existence.
It was as if Mrs Richardson had to fight with the clocks. As if they just didn’t want to go. And all the time the man just stood there watching her struggle.

Lovers of contemporary dark fiction should not miss this splendid book, a fully enjoyable , unique reading experience providing full evidence that life’s dark corners are much more scary than monsters, zombies and werewolves.

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"

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Paulo Bacigalupi "Pump Six and Other Stories"

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Steve Redwood "Broken Symmetries"

Rosalie Parker "Old Knowledge and Other Strange Tales"

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Alice Perrin "East of Suez"

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Robert Aickman (1914-1981) is the author of eight collections of short stories and two novels. He also edited the Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories for several years.