by Charles de Lint

Subterranean Press



The Hour Before Dawn
Cover by Charles de Lint

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

The Hour Before Dawn is a collection of three unrelated short stories, all set in Newford, by Charles de Lint.

"The Hour Before Dawn" is a period piece, set in Newford during the 1957. Focusing on a private eye named Jack Daniels, de Lint turns his imagination to create a detective noir story.  Divorced, living in his ratty office, with a dead partner, Daniels's life seems to have hit a dead end.  His life isn't made any easier by the visitation of ghosts, usually in the titular time frame.  When he learns that his ex-wife's sister-in-law, Ina, died when her spirit visits him, he sets out to learn how and why she died, despite his innate dislike for her. Over the years, Daniels has learned that people who become ghosts generally have unfinished business.  In "The Hour Before Dawn," Ina teaches him that unfinished business could take a variety of different forms.

De Lint wrote "That Was Clash Radio" upon the occasion of the Clash guitarist Joe Strummer's death in 2002.  Opening in a bar, a down and out wannabe musician named Sarah Blue talks to a bar fly about the night she saw the Clash perform and how beginning that night she seemed to make all the wrong decisions in her attempt to pursue a boy and a career.  Meeting a mysterious man who calls himself Eddie Ramone, she is given a chance to return to that night and is able to make something of her life knowing what decisions not to make, and when she returns to the bar on the same night she originally visited, she is much more successful, and finds a note from Eddie.  Although the mechanism by which Sarah was sent back in time is never discussed, but the importance of looking out for others plays a role as Sarah attempts to help others in the same way that Eddie helped her.

An on-going theme in fantasy is not to upset the spirits.  In "The Butter Spirit's Tithe," a Conn O'Neill, a musician who is making ends meet as a janitor, finds out that spirits can take offense when none is meant.  When he inadvertently mistakes a butter spirit for a young boy, the spirit extracts vengeance by cursing him with a series of annoyances, ranging from pants that won't stay up to a girlfriend with a deadly allergy to his presence.  Most fearful is the spirits promise to tithe O'Neill's soul to the Grey Man at the end of seven years.  With the seventh year rapidly approaching, O'Neill confides his problem to his musical partner, Miki, who wishes that people would just stop talking about the Irish spirits that people think Irish musicians know about.  "The Butter Spirit's Tithe" results in an interesting take with the classic deal with the devil story as Miki and O'Neill attempt to figure out how to outsmart the butter spirit and escape the Grey Man.

The Hour Before Dawn
That Was Clash Radio
The Butter Spirit's Tithe

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