Kent-based author Erik Hofstatter’s latest offering is a dark, terse and keenly paced little chiller that consistently leads the reader into unexpected and ever unsettling places. The story concerns Aurel Schwartz, an unassuming young man whose tendency to sleepwalk begins to create tension within his family. When his somnambulant wanderings become strangely menacing, Aurel’s wife Zora believes he poses a real threat to her daughter Livie. Before long the family is caught up in a nightmare of missing teenaged girls, grave-robbing, astral projection and necromancy…
The brevity of the tale is deceptive as Rare Breeds brims with unsettling ideas and nightmarish detail. A particular revelation recalls a certain vintage Stephen King title, but Hofstatter’s approach is much more bare-boned and minimalist than King’s. The atmospheric rendering of the locations in which the story unfurls — Chatham and the Isle of Sheppey — places it firmly in the realms of Urban Gothic, and Hofstatter even finds time to offer quiet social commentary, reflecting on the plight of certain English regions left by the wayside after years of economic downturn.
This is very much a plot-driven work, and characters are drawn with broad strokes. While they verge on perfunctory, Hofstatter still manages to elicit some sympathy for them by contrasting their apparent ordinariness, even mundanity, with the way in which dread and horror gradually encroach upon their prosaic domesticity. Though they sometimes arrive, very conveniently, at necessary conclusions with only the briefest of reasoning, the result is a heightened sense of urgency and tension. This is partly what gives the story its power, as is Hofstatter’s commitment to subverting expectations, for while he frequently tricks the reader into thinking the narrative is heading in one direction, he shocks and excites by veering off into even darker territory. As the story hurtles to an appropriately grotesque denouement, Hofstatter’s systematic unveiling of horrific truths ups the ante and, more importantly, refuses to cop out.
Dark Silo Press