Charles Black has chosen 16 tales and gathered them into this relatively small book of less than 200 pages.
Wisely he starts out with a very dark tale The Anatomy Lesson where although you may guess what will happen the shock still remains. Grab your audience with a good opener and you have a chance and this volume does that. Not all the tales are of such a high standard but there's plenty horror and very black comedy here to keep most horror fans amused for many hours.
The Anatomy Lesson (John Llewellyn Probert) - a brilliant dark opener with a twisted sense of humour with an anatomist who goes one step further than most.
The Mall (Craig Herbertson) - a trip to a special store in the lower level of a shopping mall, would have been a great tale for one of those old Amicus movies.
Salvaje (Simon Bestwick) - a pregnant woman is dragged forcefully into a search for a secret stolen from the time of the Spanish Civil War
Pet (Gary Fry) - Edgar has to work away from his usual location and stays at his mother's house but his mother is a little strange.
Ashes to Ashes (David Williamson) - it started with a slight itch of the scalp.
The Apprentice (Anna Taborska) - a very dark tale of a baker who mistreats his staff and takes on a young dumb apprentice.
Life Expectancy (Sam Dawson) - whilst searching their newly renovated lodgings student Judy finds an old telephone in the attic. Not one of my favourites I have to admit, it just didn't grab me first time round, far better on a second reading.
What's Behind You? (Paul Finch) - this is far better, a reminiscent tale of a painter taking a group of students on a painting holiday to the Welsh seaside in 1960, an old apparently haunted house and a twist.
Ben's Best Friend (Gary Power) - Ben doesn't have many frienhds but if you visit him make sure you leave before 1030pm, another dark humorous tale.
The Things That Aren't There (Thana Niveau) - a frightened child, a babysitter and those things that hide in the shadows but you sometimes see them from the corners of your eyes.
Bit on the Side (Tom Johnstone) - the probable inspiration for the cover, a strange smell follows Nick as he and his daughter around the house and in the garden.
Indecent Behaviour (Marion Pitman) - desperate for money two local thugs attack an old man leaving a gay bar, the man later dies but leaves an odd curse behind.
His Family (Kate Farrell) - Hospital Porter Damien loves his family, however they are dead so he decides he needs a new one.
A Song, A Silence (John Forth) - a fairly long tale that starts off with a clever red herring then like the car veers off to the side into a creepy fantasy world.
The Man Who Hated Waste (Marc Lyth) - Stevie hates waste and after an accident takes recycling to the ultimate lengths.
Swan Song (David A. Riley) - seeing a couple of old tramps in a park really annoyed Bennett so he and a couple of friends decide they will sort them out.
The whole volume is dark and creepy, some pretty graphic scenes especially JLP's cracking opener but there's lots of dark humour throughout. The Black Books of Horror are always on my to buy list, Paul Finch even includes a reference to the first Pan Book of Horror printed way back in 1959 and this series with its great cover artwork is well on the way to becoming as essential to me as the Pan books were way back yonder.
There are not a lot of things I look forward to each year. Most of the time they fail to live up to my expectations. However one thing I do really look forward to is the publication of the latest Black Book of Horror. This anthology edited by Charles Black is im my humble opinion one of the best and most consistent anthologies out there. The range of story styles and mix of lesser known and more well known authors is almost pitch perfect. The Ninth Black Book of Horrors keeps this high level of excellence going for another year.
I do judge a book by it's cover, the cover to this book is excellent, but a book only succeeds if the stories are worth reading.
I don't know how many submissions Charles must have to read through to get to the final draft of the book, judging by the high standard throughout this anthology I would be interested to see some if the stories that didn't make the grade.
The anthology kicks of in glorious, theatrical style with a highly entertaining and macabre story form the splendid John Llewellyn Probert. The Anatomy Lesson is just brilliant, John balances the gory elements of the story with a sense of dramatic flair that is sadly lacking from a lot of horro writing today.
The other fifteen stories in the collection are all of a very high standard, that manage to bring in a lot of different styles and tones to the anthology. Some of the other stand out stories for me were
Thana Niveau's The Things That Aren't There, this is a wonderfully subtle and creepy story, with horrible things living in the shadows beneath the stairs. It's stories like this that keeps my electricity bill so high. One of these days I'll become brave enough to turn the hall light out when I go to bed.
Paul Finch's What's Behind You? Where and art teacher takes seven of his students on a trip to supposedly haunted rectory, where hey are warned "not to look behind them" is a classic example of supernatural horror. Chilling, spooking this story will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand to attention.
Marc Lyth's The Man Who hated Waste is a fun blackly humorous piece of writing.
Simon Bestwick's Salvaje, sees a couple terrorised by a gang of mercenaries determined to retrieve something her Grandfather had buried after the Spanish civil war. This is a brutal and powerful tale of revenge.
If you are going to buy one horror anthology this Christmas, then I think this is the one for you.