Historical London, where King Cholera kills while magicians entertain with imagined death, is the backdrop for these short stories. But there’s something stronger than imagination in the magic act portrayed at the start of David Haynes’ four tales in Mask of the Macabre. If Lewis Caroll’s Alice is too full of nonsense for the self-absorbed narrator, the magician’s act might seem equally too full of unperceived sense. “You, Mr. Lovett, wear a mask every day,” the magician says. But that mask remains a macabre mystery waiting to be resolved.
What follows is a series of four connected stories built on the fabric of the Bethlehem asylum and the masks of doctors, patients and sinners, each dark, horrific and gruesome, each told in the smoothly bleak narration of Victorian mystery, and each gripping in its own way. Masks shift and turn. Crimes find us out until only the puppeteer remains, pulling strings at the grave.
The final two tales feel slightly rushed compared to the first, but the whole is a nicely intriguing collection, a novella in four parts, each haunting and dark.