By: Joel Lane
Release Date: October 1, 2022
Publisher: Influx Press
Award: Shirley Jackson Award Nominee for Novella (Finalist, 2009); British Fantasy Award Nominee for Best Novella (2010)
Received From: Publisher
(All reviews are our own, honest opinions.)
The widely acclaimed The Witnesses Are Gone by Joel Lane finds new life with Influx Press’s 2022 printing. It is of little wonder this novella was nominated for multiple awards upon its first printing, namely as a finalist for the Shirley Jackson Award for Novella in 2009 and a nominee for the British Fantasy Award Nominee for Best Novella in 2010. This is an engrossing, all-consuming tale that pulls readers into the strange, unknown world of Jean Rien and the old movies which may or may not exist at all.
Martin Swann is the tale’s protagonist and narrator. One day, he happens to stumble upon an old movie by an extremely obscure French director named Jean Rien. There doesn’t seem to be much information about the director and even less about the movie. Even cinephiles don’t seem to know who this Jean Rien is. This only makes Martin more obsessive in his search for information, for answers to questions that keep appearing. It isn’t just the director himself who is illusive. The movies themselves are difficult to find. Even when Rien’s films are scheduled for special showings, Martin finds other movies playing its place.
Questions are immediately posed at the start of this novella. Answers are illusive when found at all, and only snowball into larger, more pressing issues. Martin is drawn to a sketchy underworld in his search for the director. Rumors abound, and warnings are largely unheeded. Odd rumors and a sketchy underworld quickly evolve into outright rituals, cult-like behavior, and nothing short of an all-consuming obsession that threatens to consume Martin and all he holds dear.
This is an incredibly atmospheric read. The dark city streets, strange films, abandoned villages, and quiet theaters seem to grow right out of the page to consume the reader. From the streets of Paris to the Mexican desert to abandoned villages in the UK, each one comes to life even in its dilapidated, forgotten state. As the story morphs and grows, a great almost Lovecraftian cosmos seethes to life. This deep, unknown horrific thing feels alive.
The Witnesses Are Gone has the singular, remarkable ability to make this firsthand account feel totally, completely believable. It doesn’t feel like an author telling a tale filled with scares, strange happenings, and odd individuals. It feels like something that has been experienced, something that is real and lurking just beneath the surface of the known world much in the same way Lovecraft’s Cthulu mythos or Jeff Vandermeer’s Annihilation. This is a remarkable, singular ability and makes the novella well worth reading all on its own. Suspension of disbelief isn’t needed; it’s straight-up believable.
The novella The Witnesses Are Gone by Joel Lane is a remarkable read. This is the perfect book whether you are interested in horror, the psychological, strange tales, or simply are looking for a very atmospheric read.