Having previously loved Lucie McKnight Hardy’s novel Water Shall Refuse Them, I was very excited when it was announced that she had a collection of short stories coming out this Autumn, and even more excited when a proof copy arrived which felt like a perfect, chilling read for Halloween.
Dead Relatives is a collection of 13 stories, beginning with the title story which is the longest in the collection, and also one of my favourites. From the opening pages I was hooked as McKnight Hardy sets the tone for this story and those that follow as she sets an eerie scene, one in which we get a sense of an unusual family, and the ambiguity surrounding their home, the way they make a living, and the dead relatives whose portraits line the landing, and how they communicate with the story’s narrator, Iris. This was a story that contained a lot of elements that I enjoy – a large household, family secrets, and a sense of unease throughout as we learn that things may not be as they seem on the surface. I became so engrossed in this story as I read it on my lunch break at work that I forgot I was in the office and it took the sound of the photocopier to haul my mind back from the sinister world that had been created. The lead story in this collection was expertly written, with plenty of intrigue along the way, and little pieces of information that gradually make more and more sense as the chilling nature of the story becomes clearer, although the reader is left with a sense that there is still a lot left buried…
Whilst ‘Dead Relatives’ was my favourite part of the book there are plenty other stories within the collection that I also loved, with ‘Jutland’ and ‘Wretched’ being another couple of standouts for me. There were various key themes which were explored through several of the stories, including motherhood, family dynamics, and the fragility of the human body. This helped bring elements from the individual tales together, to make a cohesive collection of stories surrounding these themes. Throughout the stories there was often a growing sense of foreboding, and an eerie sense as a reader that we are waiting for the rug to be pulled from under us, but we are not quite sure when. And in some tales, there is use of body horror, with some particularly sinister imagery (‘The Pickling Jar’ – I am looking at you) All in all, this was a wonderfully written, chilling set of stories with a sense of trepidation throughout. It is a book which is sure to leave a lot of readers in suspense as Lucie McKnight Hardy invites us behind closed doors into a strange and sinister world, and the fascinating and unusual cast of characters that inhabit it, and stay with you long after you have turned the final page.
Dead Relatives was published on 21st October 2021 by Dead Ink Books. With thanks to Jordan Taylor-Jones and Dead Ink Books for providing a proof copy for review.