We know that many fairy tales are more disturbing than our childhood selves might have us remember; full of child abductions, violent monsters and wicked witches. Delphine extracts this creepy horror and distils it into an intense work of macabre.
The main character is a nameless young graduate, looking for Delphine, the girl he fell in love with at school. She disappeared at the end of the school year, heading home to look after her ill grandmother, then failing to reply to any of his letters.
So he goes off to find her, calling in first at the address he’s been sending his letters to. This is just the start of his journey through a horrific, isolated town, cut off from the world and apparently beyond the law and teeming with creepy people.
It follows a similar theme to Sala’s post-apocalyptic The Hidden, which saw a small group of kids trying to survive in a nightmarish world. In this, the protagonist is on his own, but he faces similar horrors as he stumbles through his lost love’s town, from one grim encounter to another.
It’s a disturbing book, though it works on a psychological level, rather than relying on the spilling of blood and guts. While violence plays a crucial role in the book, it’s sudden and shocking when it hits, and Sala’s pacing keeps the book ticking along. It’s a modern fairy tale that channels the spirit, if not the sentiment of the fairy tales we grew up with. It’s a good job Richard Sala isn’t responsible for writing bed time stories to children, however, as this book carries a creepy bite that could give the bravest people nightmares.