by Lisa Mannetti
Shadowfall Publications (December 2010)
Deathwatch is actually a collection to two new novellas from Lisa Mannetti, and each offers the same kind of chilling historical horror I loved from her debut novel, The Gentling Box.
In the first novella, Dissolution, a disgraced medical student, Stuart Granville is summoned north to Hyde Park in New York for what he assumed is a position as tutor to a doctor's twin daughters. Soon after his arrival, however, he realizes he is primarily there to assist in a controversial and secretive surgery--the twins are conjoined at the hip. Desperate to regain his good standing in the medical community, Granville agrees to the doctor's terms. But, there's a malevolent spirit lurking in the house that means to interfere, and Granville finds more than his reputation on the line.
Then there is The Sheila Na Gig, a story of a young man's exile from Ireland and the tragedy that sent him on his way to America within the bowels of a shipping vessel. Tom Smith recounts his story to a drunken shipmate, a story that sees him under the thumb of a withering grandmother, a lecherous and consumed father, and an entire family dysfunctional on more levels than can be counted. His cousin, Ellie, whom he's in love with dies after fleeing the family and the sexual abuse of Tom's father. When his grandmother tempts him with promises of having Ellie back in his life, if he brings her a talisman known as the Sheila Na Gig, he's both drawn and repulsed by the old witchy woman's offer.
2011 has only just started, but I do believe Lisa Mannetti has set the bar quite high for the rest of the year. It's hard to say how many of the hundred or so books I read this year will be new releases, but I would not be surprised to see Deathwatch wind up on my favorites list at the end of the year. Evocative writing abounds, and Lisa's talent of weaving alluring and repugnant facets of humanity in the very same scene is something to envy. Dissolution is a particularly disturbing story, given the depths to which Granville sinks as he resides in the haunted house. As for Tom Smith's tale, there's a greater tragedy to be seen there, and while it carries its own measure of unseemly behavior, I sympathized with the young man's insurmountable plight. If I'm to pick one over the other, I'll go with The Sheila Na Gig, but both are exemplary of why Lisa Mannetti is a name to watch when it comes to quality horror fiction.