Book Review: The Necromancer Candle and Two Other Stories by Randy McCharles


Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing (June 25, 2014)
Language: English

Multiple winner of Canada’s Aurora Award, Randy McCharles presents three tales of dark fantasy in The Necromancer Candle and Two Other Stories.

In The Necromancer Candle, McCharles plumbs a medieval curse to its depths, and tracks it into the present day. Cassie, a young girl with terminal brain cancer, has also suffered the desertion of her father in a dreadful year. While she has accepted her body’s fate, she refuses to let it defeat her spirit, and continues working at her family’s candle and gift shop.

The shop houses one particular candle, a hideous concoction of yellow, brown and dark red swirls, that has been guarded by members of Cassie’s family for generations. In the midst of her pain and illness, Cassie must rise to a new challenge – preventing the candle from falling into the possession of a hideous man who resembles a fading candle himself.

Cassie’s ingenuity, as she eludes both the man hunting the candle, despite break-ins, assaults and murder, and a Child Services agent intent on shutting her up in a group home, away from the people she loves, provides much-needed splashes of relief from the intense drama of McCharles’ story. A deeply satisfying ending will give readers a sense of justice well served.

Full House uses a prelude from the past with less success than The Necromancer Candle. Several families living on a quiet street in modern-day Calgary are puzzled by their reclusive neighbors at the end of the street, the Badlins.

Jonas Smith, a newly unemployed oil pipeline analyst, finds he has plenty to keep him busy. His divorced daughter Susan falls prey to her ex-husband’s stalking activities; his wife’s sister Ann develops what was a mild eccentricity into apparently full-fledged insanity; and on top of all this, his wife Gwen really wants him to paint the house.

He seeks refuge from his daily cares in poker games with his other neighbors, Larry, a handyman and stock speculator, Phil, a history teacher and Andy, a retired military intelligence officer.

As Phil, obsessed with local history, tells his friends more gruesome details about the Badlins past and present, the neighborhood comes to see Jonas as the only one who can solve the murder of the Badlins’ son, William.

The reader receives vague hints about the connection between the Badlins and the Arthurian legend of the Grail in the poker hands that are played, such as three knights and two queens.

Red herrings abound, however, and the story’s denouement has the feel of a poker game won with a bluff rather than a viable hand.

Merlin’s Silver needs no prelude.

When Joan Longmeyer goes to an estate auction of a local family she has always been curious about, and spends several thousand dollars on a beautiful solid sterling silver tea service, this decision comes back to haunt her fast.

Within hours she receives offers from two distinct sources to buy the tea service:  the man she outbid at the auction, and a peculiar fellow who calls himself Odds Bodkins. He further clouds the issue by telling Joan that the “desperate men” looking for the tea service will stop at nothing to obtain it, and sets himself up as her bodyguard.

Joan, completely bewildered, decides to trust Odds Bodkins when her husband Patrick, a man logical and sensible to a fault, goes missing en route to a conference in Toronto.

Soon, even her best friend Sally starts behaving strangely, as she also offers to find Joan a buyer for the tea service. When a telephone message presents a fourth offer to purchase the tea set, Joan realizes that she is in inescapable danger.  She joins forces with Odds Bodkins and her newly impulsive husband to solve the connection of the tea service to Merlin, the ancient magician.

Throughout Merlin’s Silver, the city of Calgary itself plays a strong supporting role. Joan navigates the city’s infamous Beltline to meet a gypsy who can provide her with more protection, and, when she needs a respite from her rapidly increasing paranoia, she regains her peace of mind by gazing at the world-renowned Calgary Stampede and Exhibition Grounds.

Humor and wit sparkle throughout this effervescent tale, keeping the reader turning pages as fast as possible to reach an exciting and unexpected conclusion.

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