on 17 October 2010
October 2010 has been a great month for horror anthologies. First we get the reprint of the first Pan Book Of Horror Stories and now the latest edition of its spiritual successor. With 17 tales of horror from some of the best in the business it promises a lot but does it deliver?
* The Pier by Thana Niveau
This story takes us to the remains of a burnt out pier in an English seaside resort. Despite the warnings Alan and Claudia venture out onto the pier revealing its dark secrets. Short story but with rich descriptive passages evoking an excellent sense of place, 4/5.
* Minos or Rhadamanthus by Reggie Oliver
A former schoolboy is reunited with his sadistic former teacher in unusual circumstances in this dark story of punishment and torture, 4/5.
* Morning's Echo by Joel Lane
A very short story concerning an unusual affair, short but clever, 3/5.
* It Begins at Home by John Llewellyn Probert
JLP's fiction often tends to the humorous side of scary but this story is much darker as it exposes the black heart of advertising, 4/5.
* Flitching's Revenge by Gary Power
An excellent tale of revenge as a group of vigilantes pick on the wrong person, 5/5.
* Rest in Pieces by David Williamson
Undertaker, nagging wife...need I say more. A humorous take on the revenge story, 4/5.
* Walk To The Sea by Rog Pile
Rog Pile evokes a marvellously, malevolent air in this story in which a walk on the beach turns into a nightmare, 5/5.
* Romero's Children by David A. Riley
A new and clever take on the much used and abused zombie tale in which an anti-ageing drug has some terrible side effects, 5/5.
* The Green Bath by Paul Finch
Paul Finch manages to include his usual blend of horror and history but spices it up with a large doze of eroticism in this ghostly encounter, 4/5.
* Telling by Steve Rasnic Tem
A short haunted house tale that left me wanting more, felt a bit unfinished, 2/5.
* Swell Head by Stephen Volk
Marvellously surreal tale of a young boy's coming of age and his relationship with his "different" brother, 5/5.
* Walking The Dyke by Alex Langley
A writer seeks revenge on a critic in an unusual way, having read what could happen there's no way I was going to give this a bad review, luckily I didn't have to, 4/5.
* The Creaking by Anna Taborska
A slightly rushed feel to an otherwise enjoyable tale of an innocent girl caught up in a case of mistaken identity, 3/5.
* Bernard Bought The Farm by James Stanger
No detail is spared in this vicious mix of All Creatures Great and Small and Saw. Bestiality, perversion and extreme animal cruelty are depicted in eye watering detail. Of course this level of violence won't be for all. For me it's one of the less enjoyable yet probably the most memorable of the stories, 3/5.
* Ted's Collection by Claude Lalumiere
Another violently disturbing tale which starts well but the repetitive shock tends to wear off towards the end, 3/5.
* New Teacher by Craig Herbertson
Decidedly unsettling tale of what goes on behind the staff room doors, 4/5.
* The In-betweeners by Tony Richards
Tony Richards conjures up some excellent imagery in this piece when urban culture meets horrific monsters, 4/5.
So there you have it, an excellent collection by anyone's standards and one of the best Black Books so far. Standouts for me were Stephen Volk's surreal Swell Head and David A. Riley's resurrection of the zombie tale in Romero's Children but as always the beauty of these collections is the sheer variety on offer which means there is something for all tastes. Try it, you won't be disappointed.
There are 17 tales here covering many aspects of the horror genre, some chilling, others disturbing and the odd curved ball of as tale thrown in that doesn't always work.
The Pier (Thana Niveau) - a great opener, a couple go for a walk along an old largely abandoned pier following a series of odd signs, the woman leaves but the man continues ignoring the obvious clues that something is wrong.
Minos or Rhadamanthus (Reggie Oliver) - back to school, a student who used to be beaten regularly by one of his teachers re-visits the school and particularly an old cricket pavilion, has a really nice twist, nice to see a decent ghost story this early on in a collection.
Morning's Echo (Joel Lane) - very short, 4 pages. A policeman befriends a girl who is looking for her lost boyfriend and come across a series of body parts.
It Begins at Home (John Llewellyn Probert) - a down on his luck photographer cannot capture that tear jerking image his boss wants for a charity campaign. He is advised to see a professional charity photographer where he learns a few disturbing tricks of the trade, a particularly nasty and delightful story filled with black humour.
Flitching's Revenge (Gary Power) - an outsider falsely accused of murder and killed by a small group of local officials returns from the grave to seek revenge. Oddly this has quite a subdued ending.
Rest In Pieces (David Williamson) - an undertaker hatches a plot to take care of his nagging wife, not one of the best tales here.
Walk To The Sea (Rog Pile) - this is more like it, an old woman walks through a deserted village to the sea-side where she finds a body laid in a pool, then darkness starts to creep in on her and she hastily heads back to the safety of her home, a spooky ghost tale that will have you thinking, what exactly did she see?
Romero's Children (David A. Riley) - an anti=ageing drug has turned those who took it into flesh eating zombies the few survivors of humanity live as best as they can, until one day they finds a zombie who shows signs of intelligence.
The Green Bath (Paul Finch) = a young couple on holiday rent out a villa next to an abandoned hotel run by a young woman and her mother. An overtly erotic tale.
Telling (Steve Rasnic Tem) - an artist and her lover are searching for the ideal place to buy so she can gain inspiration, they find an abandoned house which seems ideal but then she starts to see things.
Swell Head (Stephen Volk) - great, a man who was grown up leading a solotary existance as he looks after his brother who has one major deformity, the title gives it away, Touching at times and ultimately tragic.
Walking The Dyke (Alex Langley) - a writer visits a town made famous by the writings of an horror author, now deceased. Whilst being given a tour by a local she finds out the town is also home to another author, one she though far less of in a review.
The Creaking (Anna Taborska) - whilst living alone in the woods Alice makes a living trading cures and remedies from nature with locals from a nearby village. Then one day a boy "goes missing", a nice tale with a grim ending.
Bernard Bought The Farm (James Stanger) - this one will divide readers, the tale of a weak son who is turned into a sadistic monster who revels in animal cruelty by his father. The descriptions are quite graphic and to be honest I speed read several pages, has a suitably macabre ending that I didn't expect.
Ted's Collection (Claude Lalumière) - another odd ball tale, Ted, a loner is befriended by his neighbour an old veterinarian who lets him in on his hobby stuffing dead cats. Later on in life Ted is befriended by a school class mate, Nicole, who introduces him to the odd world of devotees, people fixated with amputees and it gets stranger.
New Teacher (Craig Herbertson)- largely set in a school staff room as a bunch of couldn't care less teachers laugh at the screaming noises coming out of a room where a new teacher is supposedly teaching a particularly troublesome class, good twist at the end that threw me.
The In-Betweeners (Tony Richards) - a reasonable tale to end on, once again set by the seaside. A man sees a group of youths acting strange and after a local tramp has been killed he sees the gang again and this time witnesses something really frightening.
This is one of the best of the Black Book collections to date combining horror often subtle but occasionally truly grim with some really dark humour. Among my favourites are The Pier, It Begins at Home, Walk to the Sea, New Teacher, Swell Head and although I found the vivid descriptions of Bernard Bought the Farm are very disturbing the story itself works a treat. These more than make up for a couple of lesser tales.