Mills, Daniel. The Lord Came at Twilight. Dark Renaissance Books (2014). Paperback. 228 pages. ISBN-13: 978-1937128876.This is the second time I’ve reviewed a collection in these pages that contained a story that I’d previously acquired for publication in Fungi. As with the last such occasion, I consider myself lucky enough to call Mr. Mills a friend, though I must admit that I was a fan first. I was introduced to the work of Daniel Mills when he and I shared a couple of tables of contents. Then I quickly went on to his debut novel Revenants, a complex and gripping meditation on past sins and the haunting power of the untamed wilderness, themes that crop up again and again in his fiction. I loved Revenants, but at heart I’m a short story guy, and so I’ve been impatiently awaiting a Daniel Mills collection for what seems quite a long time now.
With it finally in my hands, I can say that The Lord Came at Twilight doesn’t disappoint. I’d read several of these fourteen stories before in their original habitats, but I happily devoured them again here, even re-reading “Dust from a Dark Flower,” Daniel’s story for Fungi, for what must have been about the millionth time.
As with the best collections, the stories in The Lord Came at Twilight benefit from their proximity to one another, sliding together to create a sustained sense of atmosphere and mood, without ever feeling too similar. All of Daniel’s signature obsessions are here, in stories set throughout the history of New England. Perhaps his greatest gift as a storyteller is the ability to create a tale that perfectly evokes both the actual setting of history and the weird fiction of a past age, without his stories ever feeling old-fashioned themselves.
While Daniel has his finger on the pulse of a variety of masters of the supernatural tale – Hawthorne is there, of course, along with Poe and Blackwood, and, naturally, the Old Gent himself, who crops up in these stories in sometimes unexpected places – what he creates from that beat is a song entirely his own. The stories in The Lord Came at Twilight may have the feel of traditional supernatural tales, but they also bring a unique inventiveness to the genre. There is little here that could be called simply a ghost story, or vampires or werewolves or typical Lovecraftian beasties. Instead, the stories are filled with something more haunting and altogether more ineffable.
There are few clean resolutions here, few explanations, and almost every story leaves you with more questions than answers. There’s a line near the end of “The Photographer’s Tale” that I pulled out while reading: “And hidden within his tale itself there is another kind of darkness, a history hidden from the light of narrative: shadowed, secret, and thus ineradicable.” It could serve nicely as an epigram for Daniel’s work. Within each of the stories contained in this book other stories are hidden, half-glimpsed and secret and all the more ineradicable for it.