Anyone who's ever spent any length of time travelling on London's underground system knows what a nightmare it can be, the congestion, the chaos, the stifling heat in summer; the delays, and of course the dark foreboding tunnels that snake into the hidden heart of the metropolis. In The End of the Line, Editor Jonathan Oliver has put together a collection of contemporary horror tales set in or around the underground, and not just London's famous Tube, but other underground rail systems and places of the deep.
The first story in the collection is by Paul Meloy, a writer whose work I've not encountered before. His story Bullroarer is an interesting choice to open the collection with. Unfortunately, although I enjoyed his writing style, the story didn't really work for me. It is essentially a tale of revenge for childhood bullying with a mythological twist. To me it came across as a little juvenile. I also felt that it could have happened anywhere. The fact that part of it takes place on a London Underground train seemed entirely incidental. I would have liked an opening in which the theme of the underground felt essential to the story, and apart from the possible mythical metaphor of descent to the underworld, this didn't really have that for me.
Next up, is The Girl in the Glass by John Llewellyn Probert. I found this addressed the theme much more fundamentally, with the haunting story of a girl who falls under a train desperate to get her life back - literally. A creepy tale and one I enjoyed. This is followed by the stand out story of the collection for me, The Lure by Nicholas Royle. This takes place in Paris, and uses the world famous Metro for part of its setting. I'll not say too much for fear of spoiling it, but suffice is to say this is a rich tale which is evocative and subtly disturbing. I Loved it!
As I progressed through the collection, I felt that some of the stories really explored the theme in interesting ways while others were becoming almost a little repetitive, especially as the collection went on. There are a number of stories which didn't quite live up to the potential of their premise. This includes the one by Ramsey Campbell, which as the work of an author I admire, I have to say left me disappointed. The Rounds, a very topical play on paranoia and prejudice, just fell completely flat for me. A tale that ended with a fizzle rather than a bang. Conversely, In the Colosseum by Stephen Volk had impact. It explores the idea of surveillance culture being used for the ultimate in voyeuristic pleasure. It has a driving cynicism behind its social commentary and is quite disturbing actually, but at the same time perhaps just a little too obvious. Then there are a few stories such as Siding 13 by James Lovegrove which I found to be reasonably good, but not really memorable alongside the others.
Still, there are plenty of other very good stories here. Funny Things by Pat Cadigan is one that stands out. I'd never heard of her before, but I will definitely be looking up her work after reading this clever tale of multiple timelines. Adam Nevill's contribution is On all Underground Lines. It's a simple tale, but one which effectively evokes the feeling of claustrophobia and paranoia that can occur deep within the chaotic bowels of The London Underground. I really enjoyed Fallen Boys by Mark Morris which uses an old Cornish Tin Mine for its setting. Atmospheric and creepy, this is an old school chiller that is one of best in the collection. Exit Sounds by Conrad Williams has a dilapidated old cinema with a secret underground passage linked to the Tube. It's stylish, pacey, and expertly captures the sense of haunting history that can exist in a place, although again, the underground theme did seem almost incidental.
Diving Deep by Gary McMahon and Crazy Train by Natasha Roads also deserve a mention as both are a bit different. Gary McMahon's take on the theme in particular is one of the most original in the anthology - it's good too. The final story by Christopher Fowler, Down is a poignant tale that makes for a much better closing to the collection than its opening. It explores the ghosts of some major events that have happened in the history of London's Tube up to the recent past. It once again shows Fowler as a writer in tune with the spirit of this great city.
I love anthologies for the fact that they provide a great opportunity to discover new writers, and to see a different side to those whose work I already enjoy. This collection has a great premise and it's really interesting to see how the authors have interpreted it. It doesn't always work, and some of the contributors seemed to have struggled to totally engage the theme. It also suffers from feeling a little repetitive in places. That said, I enjoyed it on the whole, and there are enough good stories here to make it a worthwhile addition to any horror fans collection. The end of the line? I suspect this is just the beginning for an exciting new collection of themed horror anthologies from publisher Solaris.