Phantasmagoria – edited by Trevor Kennedy – is a fab magazine showcasing all that is good in UK Horror. If you have not bought a copy before then do it now. Buy it here
This edition also has reviews for superb anthology Alchemy Press Book of Horrors #2; a fab collection from Tina Rath Talking to Strangers and other warnings and Phil Sloman’s deliciously creepy novella Les Vacances
The latest copy has a fabulous review by Con Connolly for my novella, A Small Thing for Yolanda (which you can buy here) in paper or digital format)
Phantasmagoria issue 15: A SMALL THING FOR YOLANDA by Jan Edwards
Reviewed by Con Connolly
The Paris Metro murder of May 1937 remains an unsolved real-life locked-room mystery and it seems papers relating to the investigation are sealed by the French authorities until 2038. Laetitia Toureaux, a young Italian widow, was seen boarding a first-class Metro carriage at Porte de Charenton station and ninety seconds later at Porte Doree she was found alone and dying with the knife that killed her protruding from her torso. Laetitia was the widow of a well-to-do young Frenchman who, snubbed by his snobbish family, was forced to work in a factory. By night she was said variously to be a bar hostess in the Montmartre district; that she was planted in the club district to spy on the notorious La Cagoule (a far-right anti-communist terror group that operated in France between the wars) for the French security services; that she worked for a detective agency; that she spied for the Italians and made many clandestine trips to their embassy.
Any or all of those rumours may well have some basis in fact. The investigation into her death did point toward La Cagoule yet, at the outset of WW2, the case was set aside as a ‘crime passionnel’. And after the war ended the case file was ‘sealed’ by the French authorities and remains unsolved. Jan Edwards takes this fascinating true-life mystery and provides us with a both a solution and a stand-out tale of occult fiction.
Taking the rumoured double life of Letitia as a take-off point, she introduces us to Yolanda, Mme Toureaux’s alter-ego, an elegant Mata Hari figure, skilled in the art of seduction and the craft of espionage. A freelance operative with private investigation agency, L’Agence Rouss, Youlanda is engaged by two clients, Fortier and Le Carreau, themselves obviously with the security services (although reluctant to specify which branch), to use her charms to get close to Etienne Plourde, a man whose involvement with far-right terror groups has brought him to the authorities’ attention. Plourde falls quickly for Yolanda and their first tryst ends literally with a bang, after an explosion in his apartment in which she has seen evidence of the presence of disturbing and unnatural creatures and is puzzled as to the presence of a box of silver
It becomes apparent that Yolanda was the target of the detonation and a further encounter with a horrific monstrosity in Pere Lachaise cemetery, while visiting her late-husband’s grave, confirms that there are dark forces at play that mean her harm. Yolanda, however, is not without resources and allies of her own, and discovers that the enigmatic Le Carreau may know something about the mysterious ailment that killed her husband. The denouement, of course, takes place in a Metro carriage and does not disappoint.
This is a superb novella and Jan Edwards packs a multitude of delights into its eighty-six pages. The sense of place is brilliantly done, evoking both the glamour and the intrigue of the Parisian entre-deux-guerres epoch, while still retaining a wry contemporary sensibility. Letitia/Yolanda is an appealing and fascinating creation and her double life nicely sets the tone for a tale where most of the other characters have alter egos and/or hidden agendas. The shift from the world of espionage, political unrest and the emerging struggle between fascists and communists, towards a hidden conflict between occult forces and creatures is tensely and subtly done and while the experienced horror reader may predict a certain direction when Yolanda finds a box of silver bullets, Edwards is too well versed in the supernatural to confine her tale to lycanthropy alone, although, fittingly for a tale set in France, the legend of the Loup-garou does indeed feature.
For a novella, an impressive range of topics are raised, from the art of seduction, to the rise of the far-right in inter-war France (foreshadowing the Vichy regime), to Nazi spies (Herr Tildmann, an associate of Etienne Plourde, is a memorably monstrous creation) and the Third Reich’s fascination with the occult, and quite a few mysteries are resolved, including the tragic and unexplained death of the late Msr. Toureaux. The petty snobbery and thinly veiled racism and sexism of the 1930s is subtly evoked by the various characters’ treatment of and attitude towards Laetitia/Yolanda, whose liberated sensibilities and independent nature cause her to both rise above it and view it with a cynical detachment. Of course, being a horror tale there is gore and scares aplenty too, during Yolanda’s visits to Claude’s apartment, Pere Lachaise and in the Metro.
Overall, this is a rich and rewarding read and one wishes that it were longer as the welter of detail could easily carry a full novel; failing this, one hopes that Jan Edwards will choose to set more tales in the supernatural Parisian milieu she has created so evocatively (and this is added to even more by the amazing cover, courtesy of Peter Coleborn). While we only have eighteen more years to wait until the French authorities release details of the investigation into the murder of the real Mde. Toureaux, these will have to be sensational indeed to match the ingenious solution contained in A Small Thing for Yolanda.