Dale Bailey is a writer I probably never would have read if not for my time in graduate school. That was the time when I tried the hardest to become a published author, so I subscribed to a lot of genre fiction magazines to know the market better. During that time, I stumbled across the writer in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and saw that he was a professor at the school where I was enrolled. I reached out to him and asked if he would have time to speak with me about my writing, and he said he did, but for whatever reason, I never made that appointment. Despite that, his name stayed with me,but it took until just this past week to read anything more than that one story of his.
The Fallen is a pretty straightforward horror novel. The main character, Henry Sleep, returns to the town where he grew up after his father commits suicide. While there, strange things happen, and he's put on the trail of a mystery that's been lurking for hundreds of years. His allies are his old girlfriend, from whom he left on bad circumstances, and a newspaper reporter named Benjamin Strange.
(Which brings me to a minor annoyance at the characters' names. Sleep? Strange? These sound like comic book characters, or at least the names of characters in an urban fantasy novel. I know I've complained of the bland names Charles L. Grant uses, but could we find a middle ground between forgettable and unlikely names?)
The story is probably more fantasy than horror, though if pressed, I would recommend it to fans of horror over fantasy. There was never a real sense of dread throughout the book, though there was definitely something supernatural, and that it was a huge, unknown thing. There were some eerie scenes, and some atmosphere thanks to the central setting of the abandoned coal mine, but for the most part the heart of the story was the mystery. It was still engaging (this was a book that begged me to finish it), and I enjoyed Bailey's style and pacing, but it just didn't strike me as straight-up horror. The characterization wasn't the best, either; even the main characters, Henry and Emily, felt like they weren't fleshed out, and the death of another of the protagonists felt hollow due to not being realized enough.
Despite all that, for a book published in 2002, The Fallen feels like a book that could have come out during the horror boom of the 1980s and early '90s. It's not a carbon copy of anything that came out in that time, but there's something about its structure, pace, and format that reminds me of all the books I read back then. It also doesn't hurt that I read a Signet mass-market paperback edition of the book, and that the feel and smell of the book made me wax nostalgic.
I liked the book well enough to want to read more of Bailey's work, but I'm not sure if I would recommend it to other horror fans. There's a lot to like about it, style-wise, but I found the story to be lacking in too many ways.