Dying Embers is that rarity: a supremely unsettling horror collection where the horror is varied, elusive, and constantly shifting, leaving the reader with no solid ground, no point at which they can say with confidence that they’re sure they’re safe, because he would never, or he always. The dangers in these stories are unpredictable, nuanced, and often inescapable. More than that, they’re haunting: you can close the book and still find them running through your mind.
Cosby has themes he returns to throughout–a sense of survivor’s guilt, the experience of bearing witness to something incomprehensible, the pull of the past, failing families–but they’re touched upon lightly, leaving you with a cohesive collection with a bleak, resonant sense of concerns but without, like I said, that sense of predictability. Cosby’s execution often recalls Aickman, but his concepts are often stunningly original (“Building Bridges” is an absolute knockout in that way), his themes are distinctive (it’s the familial ties, not the monster, that is the most awful twist to “La Tarasque”), and his pacing is distinctive. Pacing sounds like a strange thing to be touched by, but it affects how fresh these stories feel even as they allude to the old masters: it struck me particularly in “The Next Terrace,” which carries us smoothly from the past to the present, and instills that lingering, haunting sense I mentioned before.
The title is appropriate. Dying Embers is less about the flash of fire and more about the unsettling reminder that there was a fire–that what you’re encountering is either a persistent echo or evidence of something you cannot quite understand. The stories have that glow to them–the low-heat, deliberately controlled prose. And, of course, if you’re not careful, they’ll burn you.