by Jeffrey E. Barlough
Review by Colleen Cahill
Gresham & Doyle Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780978763411
Date: 31 October 2008 List Price $14.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
The Western Lights series by Jeffrey Barlough is an interesting collection of works that while set in the same world, can hardly be said to be the same story. No retelling the same tale for this author, as he moves from Dark Sleeper, a Dickensesque tale that includes an Etruscan demon, to the Lovecraftian House in the High Wood and the myth driven Bertram of Butter Cross. All take place in the cities and small towns on the western edge of North America, ones that have survived the "sundering" which may have wiped out all other human civilization. The society here is very English, a place that any early 19th century Brit would find comfortable, except perhaps for the mastodons and deadly saber-cats. In his latest addition to this series, Anchorwick, Barlough writes a different story then he has before, a ghost story, but with the same masterly style he has displayed in the other books.
The jewel of the city of Salthead is its university, a center of learning and culture. Eugene Stanley finds himself there not as a student, but as an assistant to his Uncle, Professor Christopher Greenshields, who is striving to finish a scholarly work. While retrieving some papers one night, Eugene is shocked to see an apparition appear, a ghostly form that pleads for his help. It is not the first strange occurrence at the University of Salthead; writings have been found on two windows that were too high for rowdy students to reach, even if they could have gotten their hands on a ladder and done the job unseen.
The first two messages were quite mysterious; HIC SUM, latin for "I am here" was followed by the untranslatable UMSNOG IPSHOD. All these seem tied to the disappearance of Professor Winston Haygarth, who has been missing for two years. Haygarth's sister and granddaughter beg Eugene and his Uncle for assistance, which sends them on a strange quest that involves a peg-leg man who deals in corpses, a seer who tries to warn them off their task, and a peculiar oil that seems to be the center of the puzzle.
Barlough is a masterful story-teller, weaving wonderful plots and dark secrets. His attention to detail is delightful and you can't help but feel you have visited an old university like Oxford and spent time in that academic culture. Indeed, the author does not skip over anything, from student drinking parties to the various alliances and jealousies of the professors. Eugene guides us not only through this unfamiliar world, but eventually he follows the path of Haygarth to a strange "shadow land" that is filled with shades of the dead. It is here that Eugene not only solves the mystery of Professor Haygarth's disappearance, but also an older tale that will have impact on the living.
As with his other works, I find Anchorwick a wonderful tale that takes me to both another time and a different world. While inspired by writers of the 19th century, Barlough has created a work that is solely his own, one that is perfect for a cozy and exciting read.