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- Published on Amazon.com
Fritz Leiber, despite being more widely known today for his award-winning science fiction and the sword and sorcery tales starring Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, was also one of the most original and most important horror authors in the history of the genre. His short stories from the 40's, such as "Smoke Ghost," "The Dreams of Albert Moreland," and "The Girl with the Hungry Eyes"--along with his classic 1943 novel, 'Conjure Wife'--were groundbreaking, and cemented his status as the most influential American writer of horror in the post-Lovecraft 40's, paving the way for near-future greats like Bradbury, Beaumont, and Matheson. Whereas most supernatural fiction before Leiber was set in isolated places, he brought the paranormal into the streets of modern cities like Chicago and San Francisco, with some of the finest prose in speculative fiction.
1977's 'Our Lady of Darkness,' Leiber's final novel is, in a way, the culmination of all his ghost stories up until this point. The story revolves around Franz, a horror writer and recovering alcoholic in San Fran loosely based on Fritz himself who, after discovering in a used bookstore an old handwritten journal of bizarre metaphysical ramblings--which he believes to have been owned by (real-life) horror fantasist and Lovecraft colleague Clark Ashton Smith--begins experiencing unexplainable, seemingly supernatural happenings in the city. He starts to notice--from the safety of his apartment two miles away, using binoculars--a mysterious, robed and hooded figure on the ominous hill named Carona Heights. Intrigued, he decides to visit the hill himself, and once atop it, tries to find his own apartment among the multitude with his binoculars, just for the heck of it. What Franz sees in his apartment window chills him: it's the same figure...staring at him.
To say any more would ruin the fun of experiencing the slow-building mystery that, while not exactly filled with blood-curdling terror, is stuffed with the sense of foreboding doom and unsettling, almost smothering atmosphere that Leiber began perfecting four decades earlier with the help of his semi-mentor and letters-correspondent, H.P. Lovecraft. Leiber, however, has a much more engaging style than Lovecraft, and there were times when I forgot I was reading, a rarity for me when reading a novel with such a seemingly outrageous premise.
Though it certainly won't be for everyone (as evidenced by the mixed reviews here), due to long passages of exposition that may not be to some readers' tastes, this was an extremely absorbing experience for me, and anyone looking for an entirely unique take on the classic ghost story could certainly do worse than 'Our Lady of Darkness.' This, along with 'Conjure Wife' and his short story collections--such as 'Night's Black Agents,' 'Heroes and Horrors,' 'Night Monsters,' and 'The Ghost Light,'--are without peer in the genre, and are absolutely essential for fans of intelligent, well-written horror.