by Mark N. Drake
1922 is shaping up to be a good year for private investigator, Jack Glennison. His good friend and investigative associate, Miss Josine Young, is over from America and installed as his secretary providing much-needed order and efficiency. But it appears she is on the run from the murderous Church of the Celestial Shadow who are fast approaching Manchester, and then the sinister siren call of Darkisle is heard once again….
Reading Drake’s Darkisle series* is the literary equivalent of sitting by a roaring fire and enveloped in the cosiest of armchairs although with a nagging sense your comfortability may be about to change. There is, overall, wonderful ease, reassurance, and deft brilliance to his prose that makes these books so entertainingly engrossing.
Personally, this outing is the strongest. I sensed Drake really enjoyed writing this instalment, there is a subtle seam of knowing humour that runs through the narrative without detracting from what is a pretty gruesome and intelligently worked horror.
As ever, there is a nod to the cosmic supernatural weirdness of Lovecraft but What Festers Within also tips a wink to Covid. The story’s main thrust is back on the wonderfully realized and unsettling menace of an island that is Darkisle, with its ominous atmospherics and the unnerving indigenous population.
The plot in this third novel is more straightforward (although there is a subplot that simmers in the background). It’s tightly constructed and never becomes ridiculous or over-engineered. It remains believable, especially in the wake of the pandemic, and, consequently all the more disquieting and compelling.
Indeed, there are some truly grim and visceral scenes. Drake is achingly good at building suspense and toying with both the characters and readers’ fear of the unknown, albeit playfully at times. He throws a few red herrings and ensures his writing is fluid, well-paced, and never too frantic, guaranteeing What Festers Within is impossible to put down.
As with the previous two books, What Festers Within is drizzled with meticulous period features and specifics, possibly more so. The decision to set this collection in the 1920s was an excellent one, it complements the nature of the stories perfectly and adds a strong layer of early twentieth-century insight and observational interest that is as absorbing as the tales themselves.
However, Drake also uses his excellent historical detailing to drive the narrative. The devil most certainly is in the detail in Darkisle, there is no superfluity from the merest of mentions to the largest of signposts – every era-related nuance has a purpose in this tale, and it’s so cleverly yet delicately done.
What Festers Within is littered with marvellously authentic characters, some incredibly amusing, others downright creepy but all depicted with originality and depth. Further, they incite reader curiosity as you are never too sure who to trust on Darkisle and Drake is masterful at playing with the reliability of individuals.
Glennison, after showing a touch of emotional vulnerability in Book 2, stews with a little frustration in this case. There is a wave of slight anger under his normally jovial, pragmatic surface and, occasionally, it seems intriguingly internal.
Josine grounds him and provides light-hearted banter in the bleakest of moments and I think it was an excellent decision not to further the dynamic between them. Yes, there is the occasional frisson flickering but the platonic nature of their relationship is its strength and the backbone of this novel, in particular.
What Festers Within is another wonderfully imaginative, superbly penned, and beautifully crafted old-school Lovecraftian horror story from an immensely skilled storyteller and writer. Highly recommended.
*Click here for my review of The Gathering of Shadows (Glennison Darkisle Book 1)
(this first in the series is available for only 77p/99c - purchase links in review)
*Click here for my review of Those Under The Hill (Glennison Darkisle Book 2)