When I saw this novella in a stack of discounted books awhile back, I was intrigued by its premise. Seeing it was authored by Susan Hill, who wrote WOMAN IN BLACK, which has been adapted to film more than once, intrigued me even more. THE MAN IN THE PICTURE (2008) is primarily told to the protagonist by his elderly college professor, who owns a unique painting that depicts a street carnival scene in Venice, Italy filled with an assortment of masked revelers celebrating along the waterways. When examined closely, however, one will discover ominous details about the characters peopling the scene. The examiner also runs the risk of awakening the demonic force inhabiting the painting. This tale is rich with atmosphere. You can feel yourself sitting before a crackling fire in a book filled room listening to the dark story of the painting, or wandering the crowded streets of Venice crowded with peculiar, often threatening, masked denizens. There’s a strong M.R. James influence at play here, although it fails to attain the level of horror his best tales inspire. I enjoyed learning the history of how the painting came to reside with the professor, or more importantly, how its previous owner came into possession of it for a time and the terrible toll it exacted. If you are a fan of M.R. James, J. Sheridan LeFanu, or even The Twilight Zone, I believe you will enjoy this quick, eerie read.
Review by Matt Cowan