The following review is by Paul St John Mackintosh.
Daniel Mills has already appeared several times on Lovecraft eZine, as commentator, interviewee, and general Lovecraftian and weird author. He’s also garnered quite a reputation for his dark and weird fiction, especially the stunning collection The Lord Came at Twilight (Dark Renaissance Books, 2014), which brilliantly married period settings and diction to imaginative and often very disquieting cosmic horror. Now he’s accomplished a similar trick at full length with Moriah (ChiZine Publications, May 2017), a dark story of suspect spiritualism and revenants of all kinds, set in Reconstruction-Era Vermont. The mountain village of Moriah, where Silas Flood the haunted protagonist, a journalist, would-be psychic investigator, and traumatized former Union army chaplain, goes to cover cases of alleged spirit summoning, is named after the Biblical mountain where Abraham tried to sacrifice Isaac. As well as being a key plot point, that sums up the brooding, fundamentalist aura of dread and brutality that hangs over the whole story.
The Yellow House of the Lynch family, the self-styled mediums who Flood comes to report on and perhaps expose, is a rendezvous for a mixed crowd of the broken and the bereaved, each of them carefully and separately delineated by Mills’s deft, understated prose. The Lynch family are anything but blessed by their gift, and just as haunted as any of their customers (or perhaps dupes?). The story is told from several points of view, but Flood’s predominates. The dialogue and narrative are unstintingly consistent with the character of the times, but unobtrusive and completely natural, with no affected archaism. (And that’s a refreshing contrast with even some modern Lovecraftian fiction.) The atmosphere is as cloying and suffocating as the air of that unnaturally hot Vermont August, and Mills handles the progressive revelations with great craftsmanship. And the horrors, when they do come, are very horrible indeed. No, they don’t come with tentacles. But they do come with poignant dread.
There is one observation I’ll make which I hope won’t come across as a spoiler: this is not a full-on work of blatant supernatural horror. Think rather of Flannery O’Connor at her most gruesome, or Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, with its relentless suggestion and ambivalence, and fantastic suspension between interpretations. And yes, Moriah is good enough to invite those kinds of comparison. As well as a genuine work of true horror, for “the living here know more of darkness than all of the unnumbered dead.” More than one kind of abominable thing lurks in the dark wooded hills of Vermont. Pray you don’t meet any of them.
Reviewed by Paul St John Mackintosh.