'The Mosaic Maze' by Victoria Day
And so we come to the end of the maze, and the beginning - as is the way of mazes. We have penetrated to the heart of the mystery in various ways. The Ghosts & Scholars Book of Mazes (Sarob Press 2020) was of course inspired by 'Mr Humphreys and His Inheritance' by M.R. James, so it's a neat conceit that the final story begins where that tale ended.
Victoria Day's tale begins when a young professor visits the redoubtable Lady Wardrop to discuss an unusual find at a Roman site. The story is couched in the familiar style, with a framing narrative taking place in her ladyship's house while the action is safely located at another remove from the reader. Except that it doesn't quite conform to the cosier definition of a Jamesian tale.
The eponymous Roman mosaic has at its heart something genuinely disturbing, an original conception of one of those Old Gods that can seem like a convenient McGuffin. Not so here. In this case the mystery escalates as events grow increasingly horrific, resulting in a nightmarish climax. 'The Roman Mosaic' has the feel of a between-the-wars ghost story by Wakefield, Dickson Carr, or maybe Burrage in one of his grimmer moods. It's a suitably dark and very entertaining finale for a first-rate anthology.
And so we leave the labyrinth, a strange realm where the pathways are kept in good order by Ro Pardoe, but if we stray too far from the right course we encounter - well, who can say? All I can be sure of is that this is one of those books that are definitely worth returning to, a maze I will be exploring again very soon.
|Cover art by Paul Lowe|