Written by Gary Fry
Published by Spectral Press
The debut entry in small British publisher Spectral Press’ “Spectral Visions” line of novellas, author Gary Fry’s The Respectable Face of Tyranny paints a portrait of fiscal, personal and mental decay as foreboding and desolate as the rocky shores on which it unfolds.
In the wake of a disastrous stock market crash, protagonist Josh finds himself a single father residing in a run-down seaside caravan with his teenage daughter, Sally. All but abandoned by Josh’s materialistic, superficial ex-wife, Denise, the pair try to get by as best they can in their new Whitby homestead. Struggling to find work, and with his daughter approaching her most rebellious years (“Dad, I’m getting a tattoo” forms the opening line here), Josh takes to introspective strolls on the beach. That’s when he begins to see the creatures.
Starting with strange symbols etched into the Whitby sands like footprints, Josh’s encounters soon evolve into observations of amorphous, glowing bird-like apparitions at night time, and gigantic moving figures that threaten to break away from the cliff faces forever haunt his peripheral vision.
At 80 pages long, The Respectable Face of Tyranny is a short read that will easily manage to hook you from start to finish with Fry’s impeccable realisation of characters Josh and Sally. The family dynamic is very much alive and, more importantly, authentic. Presented from both sides of the coin, the reader can empathise with both Sally’s yearning for increased independence and individuality and also Josh’s escalating fearfulness for her safety against not only the cruelty of the outside world, but what he is increasingly convinced may not be entirely benign entities slowly encroaching.
This is also a tale based on a very simple, and very solid, metaphorical standpoint — one which may seem a little too much for some readers. The concrete boat half buried in the sands of the bay, the particular shape of the footprints and especially the revelation of what the giant cliff-side figures are all have their own thematic context, but as events escalate, the story feels set to slip into a realm of such bizarreness that it threatens to lose touch. By the end, however, Fry has finished his tale on such a poignantly chilling note that something inside you turns, like a worm under the skin.
Before you know it, The Respectable Face of Tyranny will be haunting your thoughts, peeling back further layers upon deeper consideration and nestling in at the tip of your spine. Ambiguity and madness reign here – but Fry’s skilful generation of mounting dread and horror does clash quite harshly at first with the strange absurdity of some imagery on the first read. When it all falls into place, though, it sure isn’t enough to prevent this from being an astute piece of contemplative, creeping fear well worth digesting.
3 1/2 out of 5