A.S. Mott,
Gothic Ghost Stories:
Tales of Intrigue & Fantasy
from Beyond the Grave

(Ghost House, 2004)

A.S. Mott's Gothic Ghost Stories opens, quite rightly, with a death. That opening story, "The Last of the Seven Brothers," then spends time making dinner, studying clothes and cleaning house before a dark dream throws the portent of the story into focus.

It's a fitting introduction to Gothic Ghost Stories. In understated ghost stories moving from the land of fairy to history to high rise offices, Mott develops more atmosphere than drama, more sympathy than shock. Aside from "The Last of the Seven Brothers," none of the ghost stores are especially frightening. These ghosts are all of the sad or helpful variety; even the darkest creatures of the night spend more time fretting over their wardrobe than threatening victims. But Mott seems to be striving for contemplation more than fear, exploring his own musings on what it means to be Goth in the modern sense. The apparent focus of his work towards younger readers closes off some of the more sensual explorations of gothic philosophy, leaving Mott to work with the most basic elements of death and beauty. Within his limitations, Mott finds wide variety in those themes.

Jessica Dean's artwork helps maintain that dark, dreaming attitude. Her understated pencil work may not be as eye catching as color plates, and there are notable shifts in quality from one illustration to the next. But the overall quality of her work is far above the average for a small publisher like Ghost House. At her best, as with the portrait of a madman in "Empathy," Dean can condense the essence of several pages of prose into a single picture. Even her less inspired pieces complement the soft-edged frights of Mott's narrative.

Gothic Ghost Stories may be a little simplistic for adult audiences. The thrills are less sharp than an episode of The Twilight Zone, and most dedicated readers will have seen enough reworked fairy tales to put Mott's collection at a disadvantage. But then, Gothic Ghost Stories isn't for such established, easy-spirited adults. From the dedication, Mott clearly directs his work "to all the girls in black dresses and white makeup who no one understands." For all those Goth girls, Gothic Ghost Stories may be a sympathetic voice as well as a good read.

by Sarah Meador
7 January 2006

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