Saturday, March 19, 2005

Mr. Gray's Folly by John Connolly

“Mr. Gray’s Folly” by John Connolly, Dangerous Women Edited by Otto Penzler, Mysterious Press, Trade Paperback, $13.95

This story takes place in England. At least I think it’s England. An apparently well-to-do man and his wife, Edgar and Eleanor Merriman, have purchased an estate, Norton Hall, in the countryside. It’s a beautiful place, late Eighteenth Century construction, sculptured gardens and fifty acres of land. Unfortunately there is a structure on the grounds, a folly (I assume that to be something along the lines of a gazebo), which is horrendously ugly. It also produces a feeling of unease in those who linger in its vicinity. A previous owner, Mr. J. F. Gray, had it constructed as a memorial to his wife.

Norton Hall has an unsavory history. The prior owner, Mr. Ellis, committed suicide after his wife disappeared. Speculation abounds about where Mrs. Ellis went, if, indeed, she went anywhere.

Almost from the first day, Eleanor Merriman has wanted the folly demolished. Edgar is inclined to agree, but just can’t seem to bring himself to have it done. One day while sitting in the folly Edgar sees a man come out of the woods. He stands a distance away and speaks. Edgar can’t hear him, but he knows what he is saying: “Let the folly be.”

Meanwhile Edgar notices a change in Eleanor. She seems to be losing weight to the point of gauntness.

Later Edgar finds a handwritten journal in the library, “A Middle-Eastern Journey by J. F. Gray.” In it Gray tells of a trip to Syria during which he found and stole a reliquary containing the bones of Lilith, Adam’s first wife. Lilith was reputed to be a demon, the symbol of the male fear of ultimate female power. The journal goes on to tell about his wife’s decline in health and the reliquary’s role in her ultimate demise. Eleanor is showing the same symptoms as Mrs. Gray.

Mr. Connolly has given his inclination toward the supernatural full rein with this story. It’s a bit formulaic. In fact I could see this story as part of the H. P. Lovecraft canon. But it is well written and kept my interest.

In short, a fun story.