As his lunatic father dies and bequeaths to him the family mansion, ambitious barrister Pollonius Ambrose sees an opportunity to once and for all escape a career-murdering legacy.
But first, Pollonius must confront the true mystery of his birthright – a mystery that runs far deeper and many shades darker than his lawyer’s mind can comprehend. —From Amazon
In His Father’s Place, by Lars Schwed Nygård, is a darkly madcap horror tale about a man returning to his childhood home after his father dies. Pollonius Ambrose can’t decide whether he wants to know the truth of his inheritance or to destroy it forever. The feverish spree that ensues is equal parts Poe, Gaiman, and Old Greg.
Nygård’s description of Pollonius’s father, Aldus Grim, as a lunatic in the summary is a bit misleading, probably intentionally so, as I discovered. The man may have been eccentric and was no doubt embarrassing, but he is also devilishly clever. By his son’s account, Grim’s life work was a series of theatrical productions known as the Wise Trout Dialogues, which bring unending shame to Pollonius. As a boy at boarding school, he was humiliated by the following review in the local paper:
From this day on, let not a single enthusiast of the thespian arts live in ignorance of the name Aldus Grim. Knowing the name should serve as inoculation against suffering the pox of absurdist infantilisms that bleed from this undeservedly self-proclaimed playwright’s pen.
As an adult, Pollonius changes his surname to escape the unfortunate association and spends his career seeking exactly the serious respect he never found at Blackpond House, the family mansion, after his mother’s tragic (and suspicious) drowning when he was a child.
The night of the story, Pollonius is revisiting the ruined estate for the first time in decades to set free his father’s macaw and parakeet. The birds, though, won’t leave, and more bothersome still, they follow him from room to room squawking the delirious words of Aldus Grim. Not until the parakeet warbles, “Pollonius Grim was never my son,” does it dawn on Pollonius that any logic might be at work in their utterings. The possibility that some proof exists to sever his connection with Aldus is too tantalizing for Pollonius to ignore. As this is a horror story, unlocking the birds’ riddles leads Pollonius to a bait and switch worthy of Papa Justify.
Nygård brilliantly captures the tension between Pollonius and Blackpond House, both long ignored, both bowed under heavy secrets, both unable to banish the demons caged within. It is a physical struggle from the opening scene in which Pollonius fights his way through thorns to reach the front door. Nygård fills the space with bizarre details that ride the sharp edge between chaos and cunning: faux-Egyptian columns, Chinese demon’s head knocker, an ebony desk, a barnacle-ridden ship’s wheel chandelier, a crystal ball, a skull inkpot for Pollonius to smash against his father’s portrait (Hamlet twofer). There’s even a creepy, nearly-perfect recreation of his childhood bedroom featuring a photograph of his dead mother.
Sigils, runes, and other nonsense scarred the ancient oak boards. Had his father intended them to ward off ghosts or evil spirits? If so, he should have carved them into his own deranged head.
The most curious artifact is a trophy rainbow trout mounted above the drawing room door, which is singularly dust-free. He’s been told it is a reminder of a happy father-son fishing expedition on Black Lake, but as we learn, he would be wise not to trust his memories. The symbolism of “luring” a fish is noteworthy.
All of this is surrounded by effective descriptions of the humidity, the moldiness of the ramshackle structure that infiltrates with each breath. Under such circumstances, it seems only natural that Pollonius expresses himself with a series of sharp-object metaphors (axe, scythe, whip, chain of fire). It is exactly this fixation—on destroying his father—that makes Pollonius so vulnerable to Aldus’s machinations. All the son ever wanted was to be taken seriously. Perhaps he is not so unlike his father after all.
- Writing: 5
- Plot: 5
- Technical: 4