If you've ever followed my reviews, you'll know that I'm a fan of Dodwell's work. I've become friends with her via my coverage of her books (full disclosure) and I have to say, she's only getting better.
Lately she's been on a short story spree, as "Juniper's Shadow" was preceded by the very excellent "The Redwood Lodge Investigation". She's been doing well with this format, as short stories lend themselves very well to horror, and I'm excited to see what she will come up with next.
When Leighton Banks finds an extremely rare record at a music fair, he is thrilled with his find. However, after hearing the legends and creepy stories associated with the music, he beings to wonder if the record is cursed.
Thrown suddenly into a dark world where even music can put lives and souls at risk, Leighton soon learns that he must find a way to put a stop to a centuries long curse, or become victim to it himself.
Juniper's Shadow takes a little while to get started since much of its horror derives from Leighton's imperfect relationship with his pregnant wife Jessica, as the two constantly quibble about his dream to own a record store. She's supportive, but he feels like he's a failure since she's almost the main breadwinner. Leighton wants so desperately to succeed that it'd make sense that he'd jump on something that'd make a huge profit - a record by Victor Marlowe, a musician whose music has left a dark legacy. A legacy so dark that there have been efforts to eradicate all remaining recordings of his work.
This is where the horror comes in, because as the story progresses there's this increasing sense of dread. From the start Leighton is warned against purchasing the album (although the seller isn't that reluctant to let it leave his grasp), however he's lured in by its background and the idea of raising a large sum. He quickly grows obsessed with researching the record and if you're familiar with Dodwell's writing style then you know that what Leighton is going to find will be dark indeed.
Overall I was rather pleased with this story. It's not perfect, but that's mostly because this is something that I think would have worked far better as a longer piece, maybe as a novella or full novel. We're left with far too many questions at the end of this and while some don't need to be answered, I was just intensely curious as to the album's background. This next part is a mild spoiler, so I'll try to post it far enough down that those who want a spoiler free review can avoid it. It does somewhat pertain to the piece as a whole and it's not a major spoiler, if you're afraid of it giving away any large reveals.
If you're wondering if you should try this out, I say go for it. It's available for free for Kindle Unlimited readers and while $2.99 is a little pricey for a short story, I greatly enjoyed it.
Reader copy provided by the author
(Thar be spoilers)
(seriously, there are spoilers)
This isn't going to be a major spoiler, but I couldn't help but wonder what the motivations were for the old man selling the record. He was somewhat reluctant to sell Leighton the record, but not so reluctant that he wouldn't have sold it. There's this nasty sort of cat-and-mouse interaction where you can tell that he's baiting Leighton, who likely wouldn't have otherwise shown any interest. There are more revelations at the end of the story that I won't divulge here, but this was the main reason why I felt that this would work exceedingly well as a longer piece. There's a dark, nasty and entirely human force at work here along with the supernatural ones, which is what makes Dodwell's work so horrifying, because a large portion of the misery and darkness in her work comes from how people treat one another. If you look back at her other work, you'll see that while the supernatural does come into play, it's only there because the involved humans invited it, even if inadvertently. I think that this is why I continue to really enjoy her work, since I maintain that how humans treat one another is almost always the most terrifying aspect of horror. It's why books and films like Richard Matheson's Hell House (later adapted into the wonderful The Legend of Hell House) work so well - it has supernatural horror but most of it is a direct result of human interactions.