‘The Places Between’ by Terry Grimwood

13 09 2010

'The Places Between' by Terry Grimwood, 120pp, Pendragon Press, ISBN: 978-1-906864-2-00, £7.99

Reviewed by Simon Marshall-Jones

There are some writers who like to let the horror and suspense build slowly and gradually, emphasising the ordinary vs the phenomenal in the story they’re telling. Not so Terry Grimwood in The Places Between, his latest novella from Pendragon Press – right from the outset, we’re plunged into a world of extraordinary possibilities, dangerous otherwordly creatures from who knows where, exotic characters, blundering headlong flight and an unsuspected truth behind the reality we know. From the very first word the pace is relentless, breathless and breakneck, leaving us little time to ponder just what is happening and with no space to take a much needed breath – our only concern, as it is Rebecca Ann Samuels’, is to survive the mad drive to the forest to bury the body of her husband, Dr. David Samuels, who she has just recently beaten to death with a hammer.

And that’s how it starts, with a rollercoaster ride of a car journey, a dead body bouncing around in the boot and a panic-stricken wife driving through dark country lanes. And from here on in everything gets slippery, both plot- and character-wise, as explanations are presented and then snatched away, as paranoia starts to mount, madness beckons and distorted creatures from myth stride into her life. Rebecca knows she has claw-hammered her husband’s skull in, killing him in a welter of blood, knows she has driven pell-mell at night into the local woods, knows she has dug a shallow grave and then dumped his body in it; that is her version of how things are. Yet, she feels like she’s being watched. Also, that something isn’t quite right, that something wrong is happening and causing reality to shift. A feeling which is emphatically underlined when, just as she confides in her best friend Lynne to the killing of her husband, he walks through the door as if her world hadn’t gone disastrously wrong. So who is this Dr David Samuels? Is he the real one? Did she really kill him? Is he even human?

The beauty of this novella is that it keeps the reader constantly guessing as to what is going on; it’s a series of layered puzzles, enigmas that, even when solved, become nothing more than the most tenuous of mists and fogs. Through the semi-opacity you can sometimes catch glimpses of further secrets and mysteries awaiting, shifting and moving, and also hear the tinkling of laughter beckoning you in deeper. Ultimately, the novella is about that thin veil that exists between possibilities and other places, other times and other existences. How easily the human species ignores those very possibilities, or how we as a species have effectively pushed them away from us, simply because our worldview has been moulded in ways markedly different to that of our ancestors’ perceptions.

It’s also about the equally thin barrier between sanity and madness, at least in the early part of the book; that the reality Rebecca had cocooned herself in is slowly dissolving through the twin agencies of encroaching paranoia and insanity, as well as the physical existence of the police closing in on her. Suffocating claustrophobia is ever-present within the narrative, both when Rebecca’s attempting to deal with her guilt and its aftermath, and when she finally accepts the reality that’s been thrust upon her. Perhaps she has succumbed to madness, after all, and this is either her punishment or, at the very least, that it has skewed her relationship with the world that you and I live in.

It’s a difficult novella to pin down precisely, and not just because of the slipperiness of the narrative and plot. Elements of horror, contemporary fantasy and even a light touch of steampunk are mixed up with borrowings from traditional folklore. Perhaps my only criticism, a minor one at that, is the sheer rapidity and breathlessness of the telling of it. I read it in a single sitting, it being only 112 pages long, but I felt exhausted and drained after putting it down. There were dips in the pace, yes, but even so, I felt like I’d been whisked away by a whirlwind and summarily dumped when it was all over.

However, the ending is perfect – that despite all the horror and the dread, the potential for everything to repeat itself endlessly and uselessly, there are still choices to be made. Choices that very much shape the outcomes of what happens next, or whether that repetition occurs or not. That, perhaps, nothing is ever completely graven into stone, and that we all need to consider our choices carefully; VERY carefully, in fact. Because when all is said and done, unlike David and Rebecca, we very often don’t get second chances in this life.

The Places Between will be launched at FantasyCon 2010 and is available for pre-order at a special price from Pendragon Press.

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