Mind-Shaft is a collection of five paranormal short stories along with one that is more of a novella. I thoroughly enjoyed every tale, all of which reminded me of my old favorite of the TV anthologies, Rod Serling’s Night Gallery. Each has twists and surprises, always dipping into the supernatural with a dose of horror and themes such as retribution and rightful assumption.
“Sisterly Love” sets the tone with a creepy look at sibling rivalry exploding into a potentially lethal and gruesome plot. “Halloween Homecoming” is more of a traditional monster tale, except we cannot always tell who are the monsters. “A Place So Cold” surprised me a bit, starting out more like a police procedural with a psychic aiding the FBI’s search for missing children, some already found too late. Soon it turns into an urgent thriller, racing toward what everybody desperately hopes will be a last-second rescue, but which we have no right to expect. “Spin” offers a curious hypnotism theme, with a woman seeking psychiatric help to escape devastating nightmares. I loved the rather ironic ending, both a twist and a surprise, along with a denouement that would be almost comical if not so otherwise tragic.
“The Director’s Cut” is the longer piece, as well as my favorite, mainly because it offers a chance to see how Ms. Burke develops a more complex tale. She succeeds wonderfully, crafting a classically styled mystery about birthmarks and destiny, spanning the worlds of Hollywood elite and old-country mythos. The eponymous piece, “Mind-Shaft” is a rousing finale of murderous intent, ambition, and karma.
Burke knows her way around the fun-but-chilling genre of paranormal campfire yarns. She creates characters both unique and instantly recognizable, their dialogue real, their behaviors authentic. She artfully sets up future plot points without telegraphing her intent, and because we never know which direction she’ll take us, each is a fast-paced romp through the dark side.
I especially enjoyed her spare-but-poignant descriptions, the way she paints each scene so we experience it with all our senses. “The waterfall… gushed out and sprayed rainbows in the sunlight, bending trees at its edges with its force. The rocks gleamed with moss the color of emeralds, and wildflowers clung valiantly in a profusion of gold and blue untouched nearby.”
He description impresses most when she finds simple ways to say who we are, how we feel, what we know: “…they curled together in perfect symmetry and slept the deep sleep that children know, the sleep that comes before the innocence is torn away.” I could go on, but better to go on to another book by S. Burke, this being my first. If you’re old enough to remember Rod Serling’s show, as well as that other little anthology of his, The Twilight Zone, you’ll appreciate the high praise of my comparison. Whether you know that name or not, remember the name of S. Burke. She paints narratives every bit as entertaining as the best of what hung in Serling’s gallery.
–Review by Stephen Geez
S. “Sooz” Burke lives in Bathurst, New South Wales, Australia—far west of her previous home in Sydney. Always wanting to write, she didn’t begin her journey as an author until her early fifties. She publishes as Stacey Danson, Suzanne Burke, and S. Burke. Find her on Twitter @Pursoot, Facebook as “Welcome to the World of Suzanne Burke,” and at her blog, Sooz Burke Author.