The Complete Symphonies of Adolf Hitler & Other Strange Stories by Reggie Oliver

9781905784516Yes, the title is awesome. Happily, so are the contents in Reggie Oliver‘s second collection of strange stories. Rooted firmly in the classic English ghost story tradition of M.R. James, E.F. Benson and others, Oliver’s stories are storytelling at its best.

The tone is conversational, the writing witty and eloquent; appropriately, the narrators are often unreliable, usually completely unhinged. Consider the title story, where a man purchases a boxed set of the symphonies of Adolf Hitler at a record store, only to be fingered as a suspect in his wife’s death. The events are almost certainly related, the most likely scenario being that the narrator has gone nuts from guilt.

No explanation is necessary, and the story offers only tantalising hints. Many of the stories leave the mystery slightly mysterious, offering barely a glimpse of something just beyond the veil. Now this can be somewhat frustrating at times, and a couple of the stories (Parma Violets, Bloody Bill) don’t quite hold up to the others, feeling both heavy-handed and still completely baffling.

But mostly the delicate balance between what is told and what is left to imagination is perfect. Particular standouts are The Time of Blood, about a nun who can prophesy the future, and The Skins, about a horse costume in a variety act, a story that manages to be both funny and intensely creepy. A special mention must go to Oliver’s illustrations, small miniature masterpieces that fit the style and mood of the collection perfectly.

**** (4/5)