The premiere issue of Nightmare Magazine offers some strong nonfiction work, including a column by R.J. Sevin (analyzing the "horror" label and the way horror movies have "tainted the genre") and the first half of a lengthy interview with Peter Straub (who is as expansive as erudite in giving his responses, as always). It's the quartet of stories, though, that forms the main attraction here, and allows editor John Joseph Adams's latest literary venture to live up to its bold title.
Nightmare's lead piece, "Property Condemned" by Jonathan Maberry, is the perfect October story, centering as it does on a group of children's exploration of a reputedly haunted house. Maberry builds suspense masterfully through his protagonists' slow approach to, and hesitant entry of, the eerie and dilapidated home (an infiltration that will end up haunting them in unexpected ways). "Property" falls squarely with the town limits of Maberry's Pine Deep trilogy of novels (an adolescent Malcolm Crow serves as the story's viewpoint character), but can be read as a stand-alone.
Genevieve Valentine's "Good Fences" is the least effective of the selections as a horror story. The short narrative conveys a vivid sense of urban blight, and thoroughly blurs the boundary between personal delusion and external reality, but the story's obliqueness ultimately leaves the reader cold rather than chilled.
Sarah Langan plays the psychological-or-supernatural-explanation card much more adeptly in her entry, "Afterlife." The story, involving the attempts by a disturbingly disconnected woman to help the shades of dead children pass into the beyond, reads like an episode of The Ghost Whisperer (without the saccharine sentiments or the cleavage) scripted by Shirley Jackson. Fans of Langan's last novel, the award-winning Audrey's Door, will certainly enjoy this story, which similarly features elements of insanity, familial dysfunction, and creepy New York City real estate.
But without a doubt the standout piece of the first issue is Laird Barron's novelette "Frontier Death Song." Barron exhibits a familiar knack for seamlessly melding genres, here combining the Jack London adventure story with the cosmic horror of H.P. Lovecraft, and presenting the mix as a hard-boiled, Hammett-esque narrative. In this harrowing reworking of the mythological story of the Wild Hunt, the author once again proves himself unparalleled when it comes to evoking utter dread.
I'd be remiss not to mention the extras that accompany the fiction selections. First, there is the "Author Spotlight," a brief Q&A session in which the writer provides further insight into his/her particular story. And for those seeking a multi-sensory experience of the pieces, there are accompanying podcast readings. For me, listening along to Dave Robison's narration of "Frontier Death Song" made the narrative doubly enjoyable, as his voice was perfectly suited to the first-person story.
Overall, the magazine scores top marks for both content and presentation. Based on this month's debut issue, Nightmare is something I'm looking forward to having on a recurring basis.